Koksijde International Airshow (July 6th & 7th, 2011)
Every couple of years, Koksijde, home of the 40th SAR Sqn, is the venue for a major airshow in Belgium. However, each time they hold the airshow, they have to cope with several other major European airshows the likes of Zeltweg, Waddington, Yeovilton and Luxeuil, which often makes it very hard to attract some star items for an airshow.
Since there were many anniversaries during the 2011 airshow at Koksijde, notably the 65th anniversary of the Belgian Air Force, the 40th anniversary of Search and Rescue operations, 35 years of the nearly retired Sea King and 40 years of the Alouette III, so they really wanted to make something special of the event.
What the organizers did really shows some creative thinking: first of all, it was decided to put both showdates on consecutive week days instead of in the weekend. A big advantage of this is that participating countries can use the venue as a standard operational exercise without heaving to deal with any extra weekend expenses. Also, no other shows are held at that time, so theoretically, everything's available.
Secondly, the first showdate, Wednesday July 6th , was chosen as sort of a “sunset-airshow”, with displays happening between 2pm and 10pm.
Their bold scheme worked as they did manage to attract a mouth-watering list of participants, not to mention 2 very hard to get demonstration teams: the Saudi Hawks and the USAF Thunderbirds.
Come show day on Wednesday, the skies did not look very promising as there was a lot of wind, some rain and a low cloud base. However, as the show started just after noon, the skies suddenly opened up and Koksijde saw some beautiful blue skies, the perfect kind of weather for a sunset airshow.
No such luck on Thursday as the winds kicked in again accompanied by heavy showers resulting in some cancellations that day, such as the BBMF Lancaster, and limiting the demonstration teams to flat displays only. Sadly, the Red Arrows fell victim to technical problems which cut their display short that day. The Thuderbirds also had to cut short on Thursday because of heavy rainfall.
Furthermore, Team Iskry and Baby Blue Team only displayed on Thursday, while the Turkish Stars, the Victors and the RAF Tornado demo role were limited to Wednesday only.
If you take a look at the participant list, one would expect to see non-stop action from start to finish, but sadly, this was not the case. There were a lot of gaps in the program (because of several pleasure flights in the Embraer, Sea King or Alouette offered to the public) and having the runway obscured from view by a field of crops didn't help either.
After every display the aircraft had to back-track the single runway after landing, but since they were not visible from the crowd line this resulted in some dead time for the crowds. The runway is sadly also a long way from the crowd line, resulting in the displays being flown a considerable distance from the crowds and one also has to face the sun all day long.
Nevertheless, since it was a sunset airshow, the sun actually did not pose a problem photography-wise on Wednesday and the program was still a very attractive one to say the least and above all, let's not forget the great atmosphere surrounding the Koksijde showgrounds.
The Saudi Hawks were given the honor of opening the show on Wednesday (following a big Belgian flag in the sky by our own rarely seen Alpha Jets) with a beautiful display. The official name is the “Saudi Hawks Aerobatic Team” and they fly the BAe Hawk Mk. 65 and 65A jet trainer. They are the official demonstration team of the Royal Saudi Air Force. They made their debut in 1999 in Saudi Arabia as part of the Saudi Arabia 100th anniversary celebrations. They have six Hawks at their disposal, painted in green and white colors. This is their first international tour.
They were just one of the many demonstration teams present at the Koksijde airshow. Others were the Thunderbirds, Team Iskry, Baby Blue Team, the Red Arrows, the Patrouille De France, the Turkish Stars, the Victors and the Red Devils.
The next hour and a half was filled with more “quiet” displays in the form of the Extra 300, the Belgian civilian display team “the Victors”, the RAF King Air and Tucano and the BBMF Lancaster (which did not land at Koksijde).
The Czech Air Force cancelled almost everything that was announced (Gripen, L-159 and the Mil Mi-24 Hind), but did send the small but very nice W3A Sokol helicopter which gave away a very spirited display, throwing the little helicopter in every possible direction.
More noise followed in the form of two RAF Tornado GR4s in a simulated attack on the airfield and the Dutch solo F-16 display.
The RAF Red Arrows flew in from over the Channel to stun the crowds with an excellent presentation of formation flying as well as some fast head-on crossings and breaks. Since 2011 they moved their home base to RAF Waddington. The Red Arrows were formed back in 1964 and initially flew with seven Folland Gnat trainers.
In 1966, the team expanded to nine members and in 1979 they made the switch to the BAe Hawk trainer.
Since their existence, they've performed well over 4000 displays in over 53 countries. As usual, they showcased another example of precision flying combined with some thrilling solo passes.
They were followed by, well … a 20 minute break in the program.
After break number one, things started to build up slowly again with a display of the Belgian Air Force demo team: the Red Devils team. They fly four SIAI Marchetti SF260 aircraft, painted in an overall red paint scheme, in honor of the original Red Devils display team of the 60s (flying Hunters and the Fouga Magister). The original team stopped displaying in 1977.
The current team was re-formed in April of 2011 at the Beauvechain air base, as all display pilots (Commandant Alain Collard, Lt. Stefaan Braem, Capt. Albert Baltus and Lt. Olivier Gilson) are instructors from the Beauvechain Basic Flying Training School.
They were followed by a display of Belgian history in the form of a Belgian product: the Stampe-Vertongen SV.4B.
After a small demonstration by a Dragon Rapide, a first of many anniversary or tribute formations was presented to the large crowds: a DC-3 in formation with a BAF C-130 Hercules.
Next up was the BAF A330 Airbus flypast which was then intercepted by a couple of F-16s demonstrating the aircraft interception procedure. When the interception was over, one last flypast was made with both F-16 hanging on the A330s wing in a high alpha (high angle of attack) position.
This was followed by a bunch of aircraft which were all operated by the Belgian Air Force at some point in time: two T-6 Harvards, a nice display of a privately owned Fouga Magister and a French AF Alpha Jet solo display.
The helicopter part of Belgian history were represented in the form of the BAF Agusta A109 solo display, an Austrian Alouette III and the ever present image at Koksijde airbase: the Westland Sea King Mk. 48 of 40 Sqn.
The 40th Smaldeel was established on April 1st , 1961, in Koksijde, near the Belgian coast. The unit received five Sikorsky HSS-1s, of which two were used by the Navy. In July of 1963, a second flight was established bringing in an additional seven Sikorsky S-58Cs, which were acquired from Sabena. Their task was short range transportation of heavy equipment and personnel.
On April 1st , 1971, the Heliflight got the status of “Smaldeel”, comprising of four Flights, one of which was a Navy Flight and one of which was a Maintenance Flight.
In order to accommodate helicopters on board their ships, the Belgian Navy replaced the Sikorsky HSS-1s with Alouette IIIs, with the first helicopter being delivered on March 14th , 1971, and the third and final example on April 29th .
In 1973, the Transport Smaldeel was disbanded and replaced by one Smaldeel operating the C-130H Hercules transport.
The Squadron crest was redesigned on April 24th , 1973, an carries the words “Aude Audenda”, which, freely translated, relates to “risk what needs to be risked”.
The 40th Smaldeel made the next step in their evolution in 1976, when they made the transition to the Westland Sea King.
After an intense training period at RAF Culdrose, five brand new Sea Kings were ferried to Koksijde on November 8th .
The Sikorsky would remain in service until 1986 (transport & training), but the SAR role was taken over from the Sea Kings in 1977.
The Sea Kings of the 40th Smaldeel often carry out heavy rescue operations in often extreme circumstances. Other than SAR, the Sea Kings are also used in civilian and military aviation accidents, to transport patients with burn wounds, provide help to ships in difficulties, aid in the search for missing persons and coastal patrol duties.
The received extra fame in the Benelux as a result of the Belgian TV-series “Windkracht 10”, revolving around the 40th Smaldeel and SAR operations.
Due to its age and increasing maintenance costs, the Belgian government decided a couple of years ago to replace the Sea Kings with NH90 helicopters, a medium sized, twin-engine, multi-role military helicopter manufactured bu NH Industries. Eight NH-90s are to be delivered in 2012, four of those in the NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter) version and four in the TTH (Tactical Transport Helicopter) version.
Back to the display sequence: next in line was a great display by a Dutch owned Spitfire. Especially excellent was the flypast of the Spitfire in formation with Mitch in his demo colored F-16.
The switch back to jets was made with solo displays of the British Gloster Meteor and the Hawker Hunter. As the sun slowly began to set over the Koksijde blue skies, it was time for another of the main stars of the show: the USAF Thunderbirds. Their display was scheduled at 6:45pm. Because of the unfortunate layout of the Koksijde airbase, the ground procedures, which are part of the show as well, could not be seen by the attending crowd. Including these ground procedures, their entire show runs about 1 hour.
The Thunderbirds are the air demonstration squadron of the USAF and are based at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada. The annualy tour the United States and sometimes abroad from March to November. The winter months are used to train new members. Their European tour lasted only one month in 2011 and took them to Turkey, Romania, Italy, Denmark, Finland, the Baltic area, Bulgaria, the UK (Waddington) and as a last stop, Koksijde.
The origin of The Thunderbirds goes back to May 25th, 1953, when the Air Force's 3600th Air Demonstration Unit was activated at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. The name came from the strong Native American culture and folklore from the southwestern United States where Luke Air Force Base is located.
Seven officers and 22 enlisted were selected for the first demonstration team. Major Dick Catledge, a training squadron commander at Luke AFB, was chosen as the team’s leader. The famous WWII twins Bill and Buck Pattillo were selected and flew the left and right wing, respectively. The Pattillos, both captains, were ideal choices as both had flown with a demonstration team for the previous three years. For the difficult position of slot, the position sandwiched between both wingmen and behind the leader, Capt. Bob Kanaga was selected. The spare pilot was Capt. Bob McCormick. Like the Pattillo brothers, he also had demonstration team experience.
The team started out flying the F-84G Thunderjet and throughout the years maintained the tradition of performing their shows using frontline US fighter aircraft. The only exception was made in 1974, when, due to the fuel crisis, The Thunderbirds traded their F-4 Phantoms for T-38A Talon advanced trainers.
They returned to their tradition on June 22nd, 1982, when the first red, white and blue F-16A Fighting Falcon was assigned to the team. They still fly F-16s today, albeit an updated version of the fighter. They currently fly six F-16C block 52s and two F-16D block 52s (often used for PR flights).
They took off and performed an immaculate display in the deep blue sky. Their show is always a good showcase of precision formation flying and some thrilling opposing solo passes and mirror formations.
Then it was time for … break number 2, lasting another 20 minutes.
The birthday boys were up after the second break. The Turkish Stars celebrate 100 years of the Turkish Air Force. The Turkish Stars themselves were formed on November 7 th , 1992, but were only given the name in January of 1993.
They fly eight Canadair NF-5s, making them one of the few national aerobatics teams to fly supersonic aircraft and the only with formations of eight supersonic jets. The team have twelve F-5s available as well as a C-130 and C-160 as support aircraft. They are housed at Konya airport and comprise of 10 pilots, 7 public affairs personnel and 11 maintenance personnel.
The Swiss F/A-18 Hornet solo display had the honors of filling in the slot between the Turkish Stars and the French national demonstration team, the Patrouille De France. Originating in 1931, it is one of the world's oldest and most skilled demonstration team.
After a long time flying the Fouga Magister, they made the switch to the Alpha Jet trainer in 1981. They fly 8 aircraft during their display and what a display it was, pleasing the crowds under a setting summer sun.
As day turned into dusk, the Swip Team was up with their glider display, complete with pyrotechnics.
Nearing the end of the show, the Dutch AH-64D Apache demo was due up, but had to cancel due to technical problems. This just left the BAF F-16 solo display, flown by pilot Mitch Artiges. The Fighting Falcon belongs to the 349th FS stationed at Kleine Brogel airbase. 2011 was also Mitch's final season as demo pilot for the specially painted F-16 named Vortex. The show for the 2011 season was completely new and demonstrates the limits of the F-16 and the pilot flying it.
The display is pimped a little using flares at certain points during the display. This effect is further enhanced whilst flown at dusk.
In all, the organisers of the 2011 airshow can look back to a very successful two-day event. The choice of putting those days in the middle of the week and the addition of a sunset event really paid off and pleased the thousands of visitors.
Personally, I'm hoping this was not a one-time event!
Way to go, organizing crew!