Trip Report: Belgium 2018

With a very strong international line up Gary and Matt Decided to head out to Belgium for Belgian Air Force Days at Kleine-Brogel. Heading out to Brussels-National Airport from Birmingham with Cityjet on one of their Sukhoi SJ-100 Super which was another new type for both of us. Like all of CityJet’s flights they were in fact operating the flights on behalf of Belgique national carrier Brussels Airlines. The flight was painless with nothing much to write home about although the constant throttle changes during the cruises was something neither of us had experienced before on a western built airliner.

A few small airfields and wrecks and relics were photographed whilst heading to our hotel.

Day One at Belgium Air Force days was specially set aside as a spotters day, it aloud photographers to get up close with quite a few of the aircraft arriving for the show, the most notable has to be the two SU-27’s from the Ukrainian Air Force, which after arriving into the circuit with a formation run and break with the Ilyushin IL-76MD Midas misunderstood the instructions of Air Traffic Control and turned off and onto the parallel taxiway which at the time was being used by contractors setting up the VIP enclosure rather than back tracking the runway, meaning some very close moments with the pair of Flankers.  The main purpose of the event was to show case the 3 jets in running for the successor to the F-16 for the Belgian Air Force, those being the Dassault Rafale C, Eurofighter Typhoon and finally the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. All three aircraft were on static display with both the Rafale and Typhoon also featuring in the flying display.  Whilst the French Air Force Rafale’s and Royal Air Force Typhoon’s had already arrived on the Thursday prior to spotters day the F-35A courtesy of the Italian Air Force along with its C-27J Spartan support arrived during Fridays event. As well as the show showcasing the F-16 successor it also featured Airbus’s A400M which will in coming years replace the aging C-130H’s of the Belgian Air Force one of each was on show for the public to peruse with the A-400M being dragged out of the static park to also participate in the flying display. Aswell as featuring the new it was also the swansong of the venerable Westland Sea King Mk48’s used in the Search and Rescue role. 40 Squadron Belgian Air Force are currently duel operating the Sea King along with the NH Industries NH-90 NFH, the Marinized NH-90 will soon take over the SAR duties from the Sea King’s which are set to retire early in 2019. With rehearsals from some of the display acts such as the home grown Dark Falcon F-16 display and the Royal Jordanian Falcons breaking up the arrivals.  It must be mentioned aswell that some of the support aircraft for the various fast jet and display teams, these included Swiss Air Force Citation, Spanish Air Force C-130H but probably our highlight the C-27J Spartan from the Slovak Air Force supporting their Mig 29. 

Saturday and Sunday were public show days and a lot more crowed compared to the Friday. As we said in the opening line, we came to Kleine-Brogel because of the line up of aircraft that are very rarely seen in the public domain such as the French Army, EC-120, NH-90 and Tigre Helicopters, almost all of the warbirds were native to Belgium and not seen outside of the country certainly not in the UK. and quite possibly the star of the show has to be the Agusta Westland EH-101 Merlin Mk516 of 751 Squadron, Portuguese Air Force. It was great to catch up with the Merlin crew who we’d been lucky enough to spend time with last December, After an eight hour transit with a fuel stop in France they arrived quite late into the evening after the spotters day had ended. The flying display was very fast Jet heavy with no less than four differant F-16 displays. Aside from the noise and power of the fast jets, we were quite impressed with some of the “filler items” were just as entertaining as the roar of constant jet noise.

Sunday soon came and we headed back towards Brussels via a number of small airfields and wrecks and relics. Of note was the Winter of 1945 museum at Borlo where unbeknown to us we had arrived at the same time as their liberation remembrance service, which included a flypast from three rather unusual aircraft namely a Cesna 150D, Pilatus P3-03 and Stampe et Vertongen Stampe which you wouldn’t expect to preform a flypast for a world war two memorial service. Close to Borlo was Sint-Truiden-Brustem-Limberg-Safrenberg Airport, which we couldn’t really compare to anywhere in the UK, its a abandoned air force base (1996) which has a very active GA community, a stored Magister, a preserved Mirage 5BD and being constructed was a droneport (A centre of excellence for unmanned aerial flight)

Hoping to catch the arrival back into Melsbroek of the KC-135 from Kliene Brogal, we spent a couple of hours at the newly opened viewing enclosure, located next to the immigration detention centre. Sadly the Andrews based tanker opted for runway 25 Right. However we did manage to get some nice arrival shots of some of the commercial traffic into Brussels National that was using Runway 25 Left

South West Aviation Photographers would like to thank all at the Belgian Air Component for making this article possible.

Report by Gary Morris & Matt Sudol

© South West Aviation Photographers 2018