Ursel Avia, a major Belgian aviation event, expanded to include full airshow on its final day for the first time in 2022. Ursel has a proud aviation history having started life as a Belgian military airfield in 1939. It is most famous however for its role as Advanced Landing Ground B-67 housing four RAF Typhoon squadrons from September 1944. Today, just to the north of the original landing ground is a large military reserve runway hidden amongst woodland which also houses two civilian aero clubs. Ursel Avia was a celebration of all forms of aviation with a strong emphasis on the airfield’s history and current activities.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from Sunday’s ‘Flying Day.’ All photography by the author.
Ursel is not too far from the English Channel and is situated between the cities of Bruges and Gent. Aviation started at Ursel in the early part of the Second World War as a military airfield for Belgian Air Force Hawker Foxes and Renard R16s. It soon came under attack from the Luftwaffe and German military and by July 1940 it was captured and became a Luftwaffe airfield. By Autumn 2940, it was being used by the Italian Regia Aeronautica with 50 FIAT CR42 fighters for operations against the UK. Liberation came in September 1940 and the airfield was re-designated Advanced Landing Ground B-67 housing four RAF Hawker Typhoon squadrons.
Today, the massive post war concrete runway built at Ursel is now a reserve airfield for the Belgian Air Component. It is also a home to some general aviation with the Bruges and Ursel Flying Clubs based at one end of runway. Perhaps its best-known residents are the Victors Formation Team that often appear at European events.
Ursel Avia 2022 ran over three days. The weekend started on Friday for a ‘spottersday’ where enthusiasts could view arrivals for the event. Saturday saw ‘Open Cockpit Day’ which allowed the public some very close access to the aircraft assembled for event and some experience flying in the likes of a visiting Polish Antonov An-2 and other general aviation aircraft. An added bonus to the opening days were some aircraft headed to other airshows in the continent including Plane Sailing’s Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina. Saturday evening also saw a small VIP event with some sunset flying displays. Sunday closed the weekend with the main ‘Flying Day’ which boasted a six-hour flying display featured a large number of very unusual participants alongside some more familiar faces from the European display circuit.
With few open areas around the airfield, the car park for the event was some distance from the event and it was a near two kilometre walk through the woodlands on arrival first thing – while it was a fairly pleasant walk it was not so great for any visitors for mobility issues. Later arrivals were able to catch ‘land trains’ from the entrance to the B-67 memorial. This was a particular relief after the show saving a long walk in the very strong summer heat! Even better was finding Red Bull promotions staff handing out free cold drinks in the car park on the way out!
Once inside the event, visitors were greeted by quite a small showground at the centre of which was a large re-enactment area recalling Ursel’s days as a RAF advanced landing ground. There were also various exhibitions from the Belgian military plus a selection of aviation organisations and local businesses alongside the usual airshow traders. There was also a large gathering of aircraft at the very end of Ursel’s runway which included many of the flying display aircraft plus some other eye-catching participants. Sat in the long grass was a beautiful example of a Bleriot XI representing the dawn of aviation. Just a few metres away were some unusual military visitors – a Dassault Falcon 7X from the 15th Air Transport Wing based at Melsbroek and a French Air Force Embraer EMB-121 Xingu.
Sunday’s flying display was divided into themed segments each representing a different period in aviation. Interspersed amongst the themes were some of Europe’s top civilian display teams. Rather than just string of displays set to commentary, each segment opened with a short introduction before the displays were set to music, much of it drawn from movie and television sound tracks with just small doses of commentary. The very different style of presented the aerial displays was complimented by ‘drive-bys’ by various classic vehicles and re-enactors while some of the aerobatic displays were augmented by a local youth dancing group.
The displays opened with ‘The Pioneers, Tasting the Magic’ which celebrated the flying clubs and aircraft that many pilots have used to get into aviation. This segment featured Slingsby Cadet TX3 glider, a formation of four Piper Cubs, an EAA Acro Sport II and a Yakovlev Ya-52 which flew various patterns at different heights set to the music from ‘Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.’ They were soon followed by a Belgian operated pair of Pilatus P3 trainers which looked superb in their bare metal Swiss Air Force colours against the very sunny skies.
Closing out the opening segment was a quite superb display of glider aerobatics flown by Peter Mink in the Glider Aerobatic Showteam’s MDM-1 Fox Glider. Peter’s display showed off just what a potent machine the Fox is with some aggressive aerobatics as he descended back to Ursel’s runway.
‘The Golden Years of Aviation’ followed with a spirited look at flying just before the Second World War. Some Art Deco elegance was brought to this theme by Paul McConnell’s Beech D17 Staggerwing and a Lockheed 12 Electra Junior which both performed some flypasts to open the sequence. However, the outstanding highlight of this theme and perhaps the whole show was the Swiss ‘Classic Formation’ team with their Douglas DC-3C and thee Beech 18s. Their display starts off conventionally enough was some big formation passes but they then split in different solo and formation sequences which include some really dramatic opposition passes and re-joins. Closing out the Golden Years was the Belgian Pitts Team flying three different variants of the classic aerobatic biplane. Their display was a punchy mix of formation, solo and pairs aerobatic the deservedly received a round of applause and cheers from the crowd as they taxied back in. One of their pilots, Luc Coessens also performed a solo display later in the afternoon.
Unsurprisingly the biggest themed section of flying recalled the Second World War and was dubbed ‘Reaching for Liberation.’ It opened appropriately with a Morane Saulnier MS506L Criquet F-BDXM playing the role of a Luftwaffe Fiesler Storch flying low over the Belgian woodlands. It was soon intercepted by Fast Aero’s Supermarine Spitfire XVI flown by Kris van den Bergh who saw off the intruder before performing his own solo display. A cavalcade of American types then following with the Boeing Stearman Kaydet and North American AT-6D Texan from Stijn De Jaeghere. Peter Kuypers should have also displayed in this slot with his RAF marked Beech D17S Staggerwing but a small technical issue meant his display was delayed until later in the afternoon. The warbird action was closed by the wonderful Commonwealth CAC-13 Boomerang flown by Remko Sibjen representing war in the pacific. To demonstrate aerial combat, the Boomerang was pitched against another North American AT-6 Texan which was equipped with tail-gunner!
The Victors Formation Team not only perform at airshows but often perform flypasts for various commemorations in Belgium. It was therefore very appropriate that Ursel’s own resident display team closed the Liberation theme with their colourful display of formation flying with their four Piper PA28 Cherokees.
The next collection of aircraft marked the Cold War and the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. This sequence saw some really unusual aircraft take to the skies including a really eye-catching Bell 47 in full US Army Colours, a French Air Force marked Dassault MD312 Flamant, a former French Army Aerospatiale SA341 Gazelle and a North American Harvard from the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight. However, for the Belgian public it was the return of a Westland Sea King HAR3 that really got eyes turning skyward. There is great affinity with the Sea King in Belgium as the type was used for many years in the Search and Rescue role. While it wasn’t one of their own Mk48s on display from Historic Helicopters, the locals clearly were fascinated and enthused to see a Sea King back in action at Ursel. I suspect when Historic Helicopters do return with one of the Mk48s they acquired in 2021, it will be even more emotional!
French aerobatic displays are always very special and Patrouille Carnet de Vol were another highlight of the afternoon with a very unusual pairing. The team is lead by former Patrouille de France and Mirage F1 display pilot Bertrand Boillot flying a Pitts S-2B and he is joined by World Aerobatic Champion pilot Eric Vazeille flying a Mudry CAP222. As you would expect, their display was beautifully choreographed highlighting the performance of two very different aerobatic aircraft.
The shortest theme of the afternoon reflected on the Vietnam War with the Postbellum Foundation’s Cessna O-2 Skymaster performing a solo display. That was followed by another international aerobatic team, Team Raven from the UK. Now flying six Vans RV8s, Raven have always been popular in Europe with their fast-paced display of big formations and tailchase aerobatics. In the late afternoon skies, it is not hard to see why with their heart perhaps getting the biggest reaction from the crowd of the afternoon.
The most unusual theme of the afternoon was the ‘Future Flying’ segment. It started with what may have been the first public display in Europe by a Pipistrel Velis Electro. This aircraft is squarely aimed at the flying school market providing a cheaper and more sustainable path into aviation for student pilots. It was also a surprisingly agile aircraft and sounded more like a quiet turboprop aircraft. A special missions variant of the Diamond DA42 Twin Star then performed a flypast before perhaps the strangest shape in the sky, a Verhees Delta, rounded the theme off with a display set to Imperial March from Star Wars.
The final hour of flying concentrated on the modern-day Belgian Air Force and featured a search and rescue demonstration from a 40 Squadron NH Industries NH90NFH Caiman before some flypasts from an Airbus A400M Atlas from the 15th Air Transport Wing. The short look at the modern Belgian Air Force closed with a spectacular flare filled display from the Agusta A109BAi ‘Razzle Blades’ helicopters.
Ursel’s finale was another international team, the Royal Jordanian Falcons. Their regular European tours are very much aided by Belgian support so Ursel was a very appropriate starting place for their 2022 tour. After nearly three years away, they really enjoyed their return to the European display circuit enthusiastically waving to the crowds on their departure and return to their parking slots. Their display is as entertaining as ever and includes a number of subtle changes since they last displays at Sanicole in 2019.
Ursel Avia had a very unique take on presenting a flying display and as a whole was a very original experience with lots of little quirks. If you are looking for something with a historic slant and slightly out of the ordinary, Ursel Avia may well be the show for you.