Florennes International Airshow (June 23rd & 24th, 2012)
The annual Belgian Air Force airshow was held at Florennes airbase, home of the 2nd Tactical Wing (comprising of the 1st and 350th fighter squadrons both operating the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and more recently the 80th UAV squadron).
A major airshow at the Florennes airbase is somewhat of a rarity in Belgium, the last meeting dating back to 2001. The event coincided with two major celebrations: the 70th anniversary of military aviation at the Florennes airfield and the 95th anniversary of the N° 1 Squadron, the "Stingers”.
The first theme, 70 years of military aviation at Florennes airbase, was highlighted by the presence of several WWII era warbirds, as well as a large reenactment area, taking the public back to the early 1940s. The aerial highlight of the celebrations was the formation flypast of a Supermarine Spitfire and local based new demo F-16 aircraft FA-87, the first and most recent aircraft flown by the 2nd Wing at post-WWII Florennes.
The show promised to be one of Europe's biggest military events, sporting some great international military participation, despite the current financial crisis reigning in Europe. No less than 4 (!) F-16 Fighting Falcon solo displays, a Sukhoi Su-22 tactical demonstration, a MiG-29, F/A-18 Hornet and 7 international display teams were part of the display program.
The only minor “downside” of the program was the complete absence of any RAF and German Air Force (except for a lone static Tornado) aircraft and the cancellation of the Italian Eurofighter.
Biggest showstopper however proved to be the weather: Saturday was a good day with a partial cloudy sky and large sunny intervals, but on Sunday the aerial displays were almost completely cancelled due to heavy rainfall.
It all started back in June of 1942, when the German Luftwaffe (the Todd organization) built a rudimentary airfield near the town of Florennes to complement their defense line against the RAF and USAAF bombing raids.
Once the airfield installations were ready for use, the Luftwaffe's 1 Gruppe/ Nachtjagdgeschwader 4 became the first operational users, with the Messerschmitt Me-110 being the first aircraft to land at the new airfield. At a later stage they were joined by the Jagdgeschwader 26 which provided day-time fighter support. Other famous German aircracft to be stationed at Florennes were the Junkers Ju-87 Stuka bombers and Bf-109 and FW-190 fighters to provide additional support to the Blitzkrieg.
In mid-1944, the Florennes airfield was pounded by the Allied bombers, dropping thousands of tons of bombs on the airfield and its surroundings. The airfield infrastructure is so badly damaged by these carpet bombings that the Germans are eventually forced to abandon it.
Later in 1944, with the Allied forces invading the European main continent, the airfield was taken over by the 1st US Division and was repaired as best as it could for operational use by the Allied air forces, and more specifically the aircraft of the 9th Air Force.
Above right: Florennes in 1944 - above left: Me-110s of Nachtgeschwader 4 - above right: P-61 Black Widow nightfighter
Later in 1944, with the Allied forces invading the European main continent, the airfield was taken over by the 1st US Division and was repaired as best as it could for operational use by the Allied air forces, and more specifically the aircraft of the 9th Air Force.
In September of 1944, the USAAF 370th Fighter Group, equipped with Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter aircraft and Douglas A-20 invader light bombers established themselves at Florennes, now dubbed A-78, or Advanced Airfield 78, by the Allied forces.
They were joined the following month by the 474th Fighter Group and 344th Bomber Group, the latter operating 4 squadrons of B-26 Marauder medium bombers.
With the end of WWII, the Florennes airbase was handed back to the Belgian Air Force, who began modernizing it. In 1947, the 2nd Wing, equipped with the 1st and 2nd Fighter Squadron equipped with Spitfires found there home at Florennes.
The Wing further developed and operated aircraft such as the F-84E Thunderjet, F-84F Thunderstreak and Mirage 5.
After a brief stay at Bierset airfield (between 1971 and 1988), No. 1 Squadron returned to Florennes and began transitioning to the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Florennes was also the host of the TLP (Tactical Leadership Program) from 1989 until 2009, when it moved to Albecete in Spain.
Nowadays, the Florennes airfield is home to the 1st Squadron “Stingers”, founded as far back as 1913, and the 350th Squadron “Ambiorix”, originally established in the UK in 1942 during WWII and the 80th UAV Squadron.
Back to the 2012 Florennes airshow: the flying program started serene at around 10.30 local with a couple of warbird and civilian displays such as a Fiesler Storch (which actually was the French built Morane-Saulnier equivalent), T-28 Trojan and the Hawker Hunter.
These were followed by the Belgian civilian display team “The Victors”, flying the Piper PA28-161 Cadet and Warrior III aircraft. They comprise of 5 aircraft.
They were followed by more warbird aircraft such as the Morane MS 406 and North American T-6 Harvard duo. The Harvard was an advanced trainer of many fighter pilots during WWII and well into the 1950s. The aircraft are marked H50 and H210 and were flown by former BAF Colonel Eric Vormezeele (H50) and Danny Cabooter(H210). If you would like to know more about the history behind the paint scheme of H210 you can click here to find out more in the report of the Stampe Fly In.
After the Yak-52 display it was time for the first official Air Force display in the form of the Austrian PC-7 solo display.
The first part of the program ended with flight demonstrations of a Messerschmitt Me-208 (with the actual type demonstrated being the French-built, re-engined version known as the Noralpha 1101), a civilian helicopter EC 120 Calliope, the Antwerp based North American P-51 Mustang PH-VDF “Scat VII” and the Croatian Air Force PC-9 solo display.
In the early afternoon, the more dynamic (and mostly louder) part of the display program was announced by the flypast of 6 BAF Alpha Jets, trailing smoke in the Belgian national colors. The Alpha Jets of the Belgian Air Force are nowadays stationed at the French training base of Cazaux under the control of 11Sqn as part of the French-Belgian Advanced Jet Training School.
First fast jet display and also the first of four F-16 Fighting Falcon displays was the local based BAF F-16. The Belgian Air Force F-16 Solo Display Team is based back at Florennes for the first year of a new 2 or 3 season cycle (between Florennes and Kleine Brogel). Taking over from 349th FS pilot Michel “Mitch” Beulen, local 350th FS pilot Renaud “Grat” Thys, with over 1200 hours of flight experience in the F-16, enters his first display season in 2012.
With the change of the demo team, there is both a new pilot and also a new dedicated demo aircraft. Replacing “Vortex” is FA-87, which is, in keeping with recent tradition, also painted in a colorful paint scheme.
Grat flew a high energy varying display, definitely showing the capabilities of the Fighting Falcon to its best.
The additional use of flares during certain stages of the display sequence brings a little extra to the show and is also becoming more and more frequent amongst various solo display teams.
A very interesting and spectacular addition to the display at the Florennes airshow was the joint formation flight of
FA-87 with Christophe Jacquard's Supermarine Spitfire PR XIX. The sight and especially the combined sound of a Rolls Royce Merlin and Pratt & Whitney F-100 engines are truly breathtaking. As mentioned earlier it was also a great reference to the first WWII and current aircraft based at Florennes.
Next up was another BAF aircraft displaying, namely the Agusta A-109BA helicopter. First Wing Heli Demonstration pilots Igor Craeghs and Filip Perremans present the flying capabilities of this light helicopter in a 15-minute display routine.
For the 2012 display season, Agusta A-109BA helicopter H-24 is also sporting a special color scheme underlining the 20 years in service of the Agusta in the Belgian Air Force. During their display, both pilots show the limited aerobatic capabilities of the helicopter as well as some proper flare shooting of their own.
The Agusta A-109AB is primarily used in the anti-tank role within the Belgian Air Force.
Following the Agusta was the second solo F-16 display (and more flares) of the day: Soloturk! The Solo Türk is the official F-16 demonstration team of the Turkish Air Force and was established in 2011 in order to celebrate 100 years of the Turkish Air Force.
Like many aerobatic demonstration teams, its objective is to present the high-performance maneuvering capabilities of the aircraft and the high training and skill level of its pilots. The display featured a great number of tight turns, rolls, loops and high speed pass, ending with a landing off a loop. To complete the show aspect, a colorful brake parachute is used to slow the aircraft down after landing.
The demonstration pilot is Captain Fatih BATMAZ, flying withe the 141st “Wolf” Squadron stationed at Ankara. He has over 2000 hours in the F-16.
As with both the Belgian and Dutch F-16 demo teams, the Turkish F-16C Block-40 demonstration aircraft is also painted with a colorful and striking paint scheme of bright black, silver and gold.
A graphic design on the bottom of the aircraft depicts the Turkish flag while on the vertical stabilizer a large eagle head is painted.
The fast jest display was followed once more by another helicopter display, this time the almost retired Belgian Air Force Westland Seaking Mk. 48, Belgium's premier search and rescue helicopter.
The Sea Kings of the 40th Smaldeel, based at Koksijde, 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 Sea Kings are due to be replaced with the NH Industries NH-90 helicopter sometime next year.
The Swiss were next with one of their two national display teams, the PC-7 Team, along with their F/A-18 Hornet solo display.
Both took off in succession and presented the crowd with a nice joint-formation fly-past, with the Hornet climbing away from the formation and starting it's display sequence.
Ralph “Deasy” Knittel of Fliegerstaffel 17 has been the Swiss Hornet Solo Display pilot since 2010 and did his very best to show off the extreme maneuverability of the F/A-18C Hornet, dazzling and deafening (two General Electric F-404 turbofan engines in full afterburner create quite some noise) the crowds with some high-energy maneuvers, loopings (including the so-called “square loop”), rolls and fast and slow passes.
The PC-7 Team is one of two aerobatics teams of the Swiss Air Force, the other being the Patrouille Suisse. The team gets its name from the aircraft it flies, namely the Pilatus PC-7.
The team was founded in 1987, but was not active in 1988. In 1989 however, supporting the 78th anniversary of the Swiss Air Force, that 9 new pilots were designated to begin training and eventually forming the PC-7 Team.
The team mostly flies displays in Switzerland and only occasionally performs abroad and comprises out of 9 aircraft. They present a dynamic, elegant and precise formation show, flying aerobatics in close formation with propeller-driven aircraft.
The Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer, equipped with a turboprop engine, is a two seated tandem low-wing monoplane with a retractable tricycle gear, designed for military and commercial training. Both cockpits are equipped with flight and navigation instruments that allow sophisticated instrument flight training, also in combination with the integrated autopilot. It is the basic trainer of the Swiss Air Force jet pilots who eventually graduate to the Hornet.
Following the Swiss, the attention turned to the Polish Air Force, with a rare sight over Belgian skies, namely not one, but two Sukhoi Su-22 Fitters in a sort of tactical role demonstration. The Su-22s are soon to be retired and taken out of service. Both aircraft made several passes: high and low speed pass, a pass with the gear down and one pass where one Fitter had the wings in the full forward position while the second had its wings swept fully back.
Another Belgian Air Force demonstration team presented itself next, flying 4 SIAI SF-260 Marchetti aircraft. The “Red Devils”. Originally formed in 1977, the Red Devils disappeared from the airshow circuit due to the retirement of the Fouga Magister within the Belgian Air Force.
The team was given new life however in 2011, as a development out of the previous “Hardship Red” demonstration team.
They fly four all-red painted Marchettis, which is the primary trainer of the Belgian Air Force.
From one demo team to another: la Patrouille De France! Originating as far back as 1931, it is one of the world's oldest and most skilled demonstration team. The team's aircraft have evolved from the Morane-Saulnier MS-230 to the Stampe SV.4 just after WWII, then 12 in number. Following their popularity a number of other similar units were formed within the French Air Force, amongst them a team of 4 F-84s.
Carried away by the show he just witnesses at an aerial event at Maison Blanche in Algeria, the show's commentator gave the team the name “Patrouille de France”.
Over the next decades, 4 seperate Air Force units continued to perform both at a national and international airshow circuit. In 1964, budget cuts led to reductions in the French Air Force, leading to the dissolution of the teams. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Defense did not want the name and reputation to become lost and created an official “Patrouille de l'École de l'air”, flying 6 Fouga Magister aircraft.
They became the French national display team for the next 16 years, ending with 9 aircraft.
In 1980, the aging Fouga was replaced with the newer Dassault Alpha Jet advanced trainer aircraft and the team switched to 7 aircraft, with an additional aircraft added in 1982.
The team made history when in 2009, Commandant Virginie Guyot was appointed leader of the team, thus becoming the first woman in history to lead a demonstration team. 2009 also marked the 75th anniversary of the French Air Force and the Patrouille travelled over 50.000 km in 2 months on a worldwide celebration tour, displaying above Moscou, Québec, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chili, Martinique and Dubai.
Another Fighting Falcon followed, this time it was up to the Dutch demo team to show off their capabilities in the F-16.
The 2012-2013 demonstration team is based at Volkel (as with the Belgian F-16 demo team, they also alternate between two airfields/squadrons, namely Volkel and Leeuwarden every two years).
The current team is comprised of personnel from both Volkel based Squadrons, the 312th and 313th . Captain Stefan “Stitch” Hutten is flying his first season as the display pilot. He is assigned to the 312th Squadron and has accumulated over 800 hours on the F-16.
As is the intention with most fast jet solo displays, the RNLAF F-16 Demo Team routine contains maneuvers that are common during normal operational missions. The thing which makes those displays so spectacular is that all of these combat maneuvers are smoothly choreographed together and are performed at very low altitude. Even though during the routine, the pilot's body is exposed to enormous positive and negative G forces, his goal is to give an accurate illustration of the aircraft's outstanding maneuverability and the skills required by every Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 fighter pilot.
What differentiates the Dutch team from other display teams is that all team members are current operational personnel in the Air Force. Not only do they perform daily operational tasks required for the demo team, but they also deploy to operations throughout the world during the demo season. This enables the team to be the most current operational representative of the Dutch Air Force.
The first RNLAF F-16 demonstration dates as far back as 1979. The current display aircraft is J-015, which is also painted in a special color scheme, called “the orange lion”. Former demo pilot Ralph “Sheik” Aarts now operates as team coach to the current display team.
Russian airpower was next in the form of the Slovakian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum. Due to the rarity over western skies nowadays, Russian hardware is always a great thrill to see, especially a good ol' Mig-29 with those typical smoking Klimov RD-33 engines. The Slovak pilot treated the crowd with some great afterburner action.
The four familiar Extra-300 aircraft of the Royal Jordanian Falcons were also invited to the show. The Royal Jordanian Falcons is a perennial national aerobatic team formed in 1976 at the initiative of His Majesty the Late King Hussein Bin Talal. It was his Majesty's intention to promote the Jordanian Family, peace and friendship to the world through the art and science of aviation. The team has an international reputation for precision, professionalism and spectacular performance.
Their unique status as a professional aerobatic team allows them the opportunity not only to present the sophisticated state of aviation in Jordan, but also to promote goodwill and interest in their native country.
The team started with 2 Pitts Special-S2A aircraft and later an additional aircraft was added to the team fleet to perform in a 3 ship formation. In 1992, the team exchanged their Pitts for 5 Extra-300 aerobatic aircraft. In 2007 they switched to the modernized Extra-300L.
The team typically displays in a 4-ship formation presenting a blend of both formation and solo aerobatic performances. All of the display pilots are Air Force volunteer pilots who usually fly with the team for a period of 3 to 4 years before returning to their fighter squadrons.
Since 1976, the team has performed in many countries throughout the world, such as Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Indonesia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Norway Austria, Luxemburg and Netherlands.
The Baltic States also created a professional aerobatic team back in 2008, named the Baltic Bees. They perform in various airshows and events in Europe using 5 Aero L-39C Albatros aircraft.
The L-39C is a 2-seat jet training aircraft, which is also used by another non-military display team, the Breitling Jet Team. The home base of the Baltic Bees is at Tukums airport in Latvia.
The show remained in a demo-team state-of-mind with the next act, namely “ Krila Oluje”or “Wings of Storm”. This is the Croatian air force aerobatic display team.
The team 'Krila Oluje' consists of the pilots from the 93rd Military airbase Zemunik.
The team made their first flight in 2004 during the opening ceremony of the European sailing championship in Zadar, but it wasn't until the 5th of August 2005, in Knin, with the 10th anniversary celebration of the military and police operation known as 'Oluja' after which the team was named, that the team 'Krila Oluje' has been officially presented to the Croatian public. By the end of the year team grew to a 5-plane formation, and first flight with 6-plane formation was made in 2009.
During the performance, the aircraft fly at the distances less than 2m from each other, at speeds of up to 550km/h. During their display, the pilots must endure G-forces ranging between -2.5 g and +6.5 g.
For training and displays, the ' Krila Oluje' do not have specific aircraft and equipment, as the majority of display teams in the world do, instead they use the aircraft from the Squadron of 93rd air base according to availability.
In between the Wings of Storm and Cartouche Doré display teams was a solo display of the Czech Air Force L-159 Alca.
The "Cartouche Dore" are the second French Air Force aerobatic display team, next to the Patrouille de France. Their team consists of 4 Socata TB-30 Epsilon piston-engine training planes. Three aircraft are used in the demo routine, the fourth is a spare. The pilots for the team are also instructor pilots, so they must train for shows in their spare time. The team also uses technicians drawn from the aviation school in Cognac, which is the team's home base.
The team was formed in order to celebrate 100,000 flying hours on the TB-30 Epsilon training plane in 1982. For this special occasion, three pilots from the Cognac base formed an aerobatic team with three Epsilons. The aircraft were originally painted in black and yellow color scheme, which inspired their name of "Cartouche Dore" (Golden Patron). The team was originally created just for this particular event but the resulting show made a very positive impression on the public, and so the team continued to exist.
In 1994, during commemorative ceremonies for the Normandy invasion, the team performed a display in a new paint scheme, overall white, blue and yellow, which has been retained to the present day.
In 1995, the team received permanent status and officially became a unit in the French Air Force.
The honor of show-ending act of the day was given to “Zeus”, the Greek F-16 demo team. “Zeus” is the team's callsign during the demo flights, representing the father of the Olympian Gods of the Ancient Greek Mythology.
The team is currently flying its third display season and it is the only Block 52 variant of all F-16 demonstrations flown at the show.
The current team comprises personnel from the 340th and 343rd Squadrons, both of which are based at Souda Air Base. Demonstration pilot in his second season is Captain Emmanuel Karahalios. Captain Karahalios is assigned to 340th Squadron and has accumulated over 1300 hours on the F-16 since 2003.
Although the HAF F-16 demo aircraft is not painted in a spectacular paint scheme, the demonstration itself was not outdone by its Belgian, Dutch or Turkish counterpart.
As mentioned above, the show sported 2 main themes. The second theme was the 95th anniversary o f Florennes' N° 1 Squadron "Stingers”. For this occasion, Major General Claude Van de Voorde, Belgian Air Component Commander and Lt. Col. Vincent Maniet, N° 1 Squadron Commanding Officer unveiled F-16AM FA-121 which was decorated with a special tail to mark this feat.
Along with the 350th Squadron, 1st Squadron is one of 2 Squadrons to comprise the 2nd Tactical Wing based at Florennes airbase. N° 1 Squadron "Stingers" is the oldest Belgian Air Force flying unit still operational. It's crest, the Scottish thistle, is one of the oldest “Smaldeel” markings of the Belgian Air Force, dating back to 1917. The Squadron itself was formed by a Royal decree on April 16th , 1913, in Brasschaat, near Antwerp.
The squadron saw its first combat with the outbreak of WWI, during which the unit was attached to the 3rd Artillery Division, stationed at Ans, near Liège. The first combat mission was flown on August 4th , 1914. The first official aerial victory came on April 17th , 1915 when Captain Fernand Jacquet and observer Lieutenant Hans Vindevogel shot down a German Albatros. They were flying a Maurice Farman MF.11.
The 1st Squadron sports some legendary Belgian aces of WWI, the most notable (and belgian ace-of-aces) being Willy Coppens, who attained no less than 37 aerial victories (3 enemy aircraft and 34 enemy observer balloons).
On one occasion, the balloon he was attacking shot upward and Coppens actually landed his cobalt blue Hanriot HD.1 on top of it. Switching off his engine to protect the propeller, he waited until his aircraft slid off the top of the balloon, then restarted the engine and watched as the German balloon burst into flames and sank to the ground.
It was also the first and only Squadron to be equipped with the British Hawker Hurricane in the months prior to the German invasion in 1940. However, with the invasion, all aircraft are almost immediately destroyed on the ground and the pilots are forced to fight the war flying with the RAF.
After the Second World War, the Squadron is moved to Florennes and equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire XIV. In June of 1951, the Spitfire gave way to the first jet aircraft used by the 1st Squadron, the Republic F-84 Thunderjet.
Later on, the Squadron flew aircraft such as the F-84F Thunderstreak and the Dassault Mirage V BA. Its missions changed to a fighter-bomber Squadron.
In 1971, the Squadron temporarily moved to Bierset, until the transition to the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon in 1989, when they moved back to Florennes.
Soon after equipping this squadron with the F-16, the fall of the Iron Curtain resulted in the withdrawal of the Mirage V aircraft from service. Since this was the only aircraft in the Belgian inventory who had a dedicated reconnaissance version, this role had to be taken over by the F-16 since the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn't want to give up this very important asset.
Upon taking over this role, 1st Squadron is thus the only Belgian Smaldeel which has the technical capabilities to perform three tactical roles both by day and by night. Its pilots are trained in air-defense roles, bomber capabilities and, since 2000, tactical reconnaissance.
For the tactical reconnaissance role, the MLU (Mid Life Update) F-16s are equipped with MRPs (Modular Reconnaissance Pods). The F-16s are constantly being updated, the latest systems being the LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night is a combined navigation and targeting pod) system in 2004, the SNIPER (The Lockheed Martin Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod or AN/AAQ-33 provides positive target identification, autonomous tracking, coordinate generation, and precise weapons guidance from extended standoff ranges) system in 2008 and the JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) in 2009.
The 1st Squadron has been employed in many foreign conflicts, such as “Deliberate Guard” and “Joint Guardian” in Kosovo, “Baltic Air Policing”, “Eastern Eagle” and “Guardian Falcon” in Afghanistan and more recently “United Protector” over Libya.
It also regularly participates in NATO exercises such as Red Flag and Maple Flag.
It's motto was and remains Nemo Me Impune Lacessit (No one wounds me with impunity).
The organizers can look back at a well succeeded edition of the Florennes 2012 airshow. The weather didn't completely play ball, which resulted in the cancellation of the Sunday aerial displays, but decent weather on Saturday more than made up for it.
The display program was varied with fast jet displays, seven aerobatic display teams and a couple of warbirds.
The static part also consisted out of a variety of aircraft, ranging from helicopters to warbirds to tiger jets and transport aircraft, such as a Polish and Czech CASA 295, a Croatian Antonov An-32, NATO A-3 AWACS and Dutch KDC-10 tanker.
There was also a great dedicated area in which WWII re-enactors were present, so the crowds could get a feel of what it was like during the War.
Only minor downsides of the event were the large traffic jams on Saturday morning and Saturday evening, which made getting into and out of the airbase very difficult, and the fact that the display line was considerably far from the crowd line which made taking pictures a bit challenging. This was more than made up however by the impeccably organized spotterdays on Friday and Monday.
Well done and a big thumbs up to all involved, we had a blast!