Beauvechain Air Base Day

Beauvechain Air Base Day

Beauvechain Air Base, some 25 miles to the south east of Brussels, is home to the 1 Wing of the Belgian Air Force as well as the Basic Flying Training School. At the start of the Easter School holidays the base hosted “Air Base Day” which was a chance for families to meet the Belgian Armed Forces and learn more about its work and possible career paths. As part of the day’s entertainment there were flying displays from the Air Force display teams plus some dynamic role demonstrations.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.

The Belgian Air Component (more frequently known as the Belgian Air Force) have always been good supporters of air displays across Europe. Every two years it hosts its own military airshow known as Air Force Days at one of its major air bases such as Florennes or Kleine Brogel. It also gives a lot of support to Belgium’s only major civilian airshow, the International Sanicole Airshow. It’s aims like many other air forces to engage with the public to showcase the work it does and highlight career paths for the next generation. That latter aim has become increasingly more important recent as the Air Component sets about meeting the challenges of becoming a 21st Century military service with new aircraft and roles being created.

Beauvechain may no longer feature as a venue for the Air Force Days show, but does still occasionally host the popular Heli-Days events. However, for 2019 it focussed much more on its own work and that of the whole Belgian Air Force with the “Beauvechain Air Base Day.” It was event aimed at attracting a new audience being held mid-week during the early part of the Easter School Holidays and a clear desire to attract the next generation with all children under 12 admitted free and adult tickets costing just 5 Euros (around £4).

On the ground there was plenty to see all day. Much like Cosford Air Show or Yeovilton Air Day there were major exhibitions in two of the base’s hangars as well as further exhibition areas around the showground. Many of the different military trades were on show but there were also displays from the civilian sector too.  Examples of Belgian Air Force aircraft on display ranged from the Glaser-Dirks DG300 glider and Piper L-21B Super Cub of the Royal Belgian Air Cadets through the Lockheed Martin F-16BM Fighting Falcon from the F-16OCU at Kleine Brogel. Within the hangar displays, 80 Squadron displayed one of their IAI-Eagle B-Hunter UAVs and there was perhaps one final public appearances for a Belgian Dassault Alpha Jet E from AJETS.

The ‘home team’ also featured well on the ground with a number of examples of the Agusta A109BAi operated by 15 and 17 Squadrons on display. As well as a standard configuration there were examples of the MEDEVAC version with its enlarged side doors and a Quick Reaction Alert equipped example with side mounted machine guns. Beauvechain’s other rotary residents, 18 Squadron, were also represented by a NH Industries NH90TTH on display with support equipment. An aircraft from Beauvechain’s fleet of SIAI-Marchetti SF260s was also outside in the static display with two further examples in the hangars. All were wearing special tail markings celebrating the types 50 years of service with the Belgian Air Force.  By attending the Air Base Day, there was also the chance to go flying with the Air Force through a ticket lottery. The lucky winners could fly on the NH90, A109 or an Embrear ERJ135.

Adding some international flavour to the ground show was the Czech Air Force with the pairing of Mil Mi-24V Hind and Mi-171 Hip on display. Civilian organisations were also represented. The Belgian Police Air Support Unit send one of their MD Helicopters MD900 Explorers and there was a good selection of other general aviation displays. There was also a small collection of historic military aircraft which included a Pilatus P-3, Piper L-21 Cub and Stampe SV4.

Throughout the day they were various military displays. Some of these were entirely ground based activities such as military unarmed combat techniques, military dog demonstrations and how troops control suspect vehicles. There were also flying displays throughout the day too. All of the Belgian Air Force’s dedicated display teams performed during the day which marked their first public apperances of the year. Beauvechain is home to two of the teams. Opening the flying action were the Red Devils flying four SIAI-Marchetti SF260’s from Basic Flying Training School. Like other SF260s, the team’s aircraft wear the ’50 Years of Service’ tail art for the 2019 season. Their display is a elegant mix of formation aerobatics, tail-chases and solo sequences. The orginal Red Devils was a jet team flying the Hawker Hunter and then Fouga Magister. The name was revived in 2011 when it was adopted by the Hardship Red team to mark the 65th Anniversary of the Belgian Air Force.

Also drawn from 1 Wing at Beauvechain is the solo display of the Agusta A109BAi solo display. Captains Jo Jacobs and Stijn Soenens put on a punchy display in the type. The A109 performed two displays during the day (as did the Red Devils) with their second performance providing a fiery finale to Air Base Day with liberal use of flares during the routine.

Completing the line-up of official Belgian Air Force displays was the Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon solo flown by Captain Stephan ‘Vador’ Darte. ‘Vador’ operated from his home base of Florennes with his special marked display jet ‘Dark Falcon.’ For the 2019 season, the aircraft’s tail has been changed to reflected the 40th Anniversary the type entering Belgian service. Unfortunately, due to the display area being primarily aimed at helicopters, the F-16 display was slightly distant but nevertheless impressed as like the A109 ‘Vador’ made good use of flares to highlight various parts of his display.

Further flying action came from a number of role demonstrations. 40 Squadron from Koksijde presented a search and rescue demonstration with one of their NH Industries NH90NFH helicopters. The squadron retired the last of their Sea King Mk48s earlier this year and the NH90 has fully taken over the SAR role in North Sea and English Channel. The Training Center for Parachutists (TrgC Para) also took part with a trio of parachutists jumping from an A109.

The Beauvechain based helicopters presented two much larger scale role demonstrations with combinations of Agusta A109BAis and NH90TTHs. Joining them in both displays was a German Army NH90TTH highlighting the importance of international cooperation in modern military operations. The first scenario was titled “Air Mobility” and first saw a small force of Forward Air Controllers inserted on to the battlefield by two A109s with one acting as an escort with side mounted machine guns. The air controllers then coordinated a strike by two F-16s before the NH90s came in fast-roping troops and dropping supplies ahead of a ground operation against a hostile force. The end of the operation saw a medical evacuation of wounded combatants by A109 before the NH90s return to recover the troops and equipment they dropped earlier.

The second role demo was a special forces operation to extract a high value target from a moving convoy. This saw two A109s intercept two trucks before the special forces force were dropped by the NH90s. The target was immobilised by the use of a military dog released from the German Army NH90 and after his capture was extracted by the NH90s.

Beauvechain Air Base Day was a really interesting insight in the Belgian Armed Forces. It was not a traditional airshow and much more relaxed even though the crowd was estimated at 10,000. There was more than enough to see on the ground in between displays plus plenty of food and drink on offer!