Lancer brace! FLORENNES International Air Show, 1/2 September
During the first weekend of September, a two-day international airshow at Florennes granted keen aviation enthusiasts, and local residents alike, the opportunity to visit one of the primary airfields of the Belgian Air Force. Driving through the gates on the Saturday morning, it was clearly evident that many visitors had come from far and wide. Florennes, in southern Belgium, is home to 1, 349 and 350 Squadrons of the Belgian Air Force, all flying the F-16AM Fighting Falcon. Obviously, it was not just the lure of the based F-16s that appealed, but the tantalising thought that a broad selection of past TLP (Tactical Leadership Programme) participants might also put in an appearance - apart from providing a home for the Falcons of 2 Wing, Florennes also plays regular host to the NATO TLP. The first TLP course at Florennes was conducted in March 1989, following a move from Jever in Germany. Since that time, with the odd exception, courses have usually been run four or five times a year, which has naturally ensured that close ties have been forged with a number of different squadrons from the various nations involved.
Consequently, the static display was indeed blessed with a pleasing variety of international participants, of which arguably two nations competed for 'star' billing within the enthusiast fraternity. Resplendent as ever in their standard green and tan camouflage were a pair of Turkish RF-4E Phantoms from 173 Filo, which were thoughtfully parked alongside a Luftwaffe F-4F from JG71. However, parked directly opposite to the Phantoms could be found a Greek F-16C from 346 Mira. In terms of rarity value, it's quite likely the Hellenic Falcon took the popular vote for many, although it has to be said that the bland and almost featureless colour scheme ensured that the Turks remained as popular as ever with the photographers. There were actually a pair of Greek F-16s in attendance, but regrettably, the powers that be decided that the second example would sit out the show, parked at the far end of the flightline, behind the trees. The very top of the fin could just about be seen by anyone around six foot tall or above, much to the frustration and incredulity of many. It was certainly a shame that the pair couldn't have remained together, but I suppose one example in the static was better than none at all sigh!
Aircraft from thirteen nations attended including three international display teams - the Red Arrows, Patrouille de France and Morocco's Green March with their seven CAP231s. A Royal Moroccan Air Force CN235 025 supported the Green March team. A large Italian contribution included spotty-tailed 32° Stormo AMX-T, 50° Stormo Tornado, 61° Stormo MB339CD and two 4° Stormo TF-104Gs which howled delightfully around the circuit on arrival. Meanwhile, from France, came a pair of Armée de l'Air Mirage 2000Ns from EC 03.004, along with a Jaguar A from EC 01.007 and an Aéronavale Super Etendard from 17 Flotille, proving how photographically attractive camouflage still is.
Other notable participants included a trio of Swiss Hornets, which comprised of two F/A-18Ds and a single F/A-18C, a Danish F-16AM, USAF F-15C from Lakenheath, USAF A-10A from Spangdahlem, Marineflieger Tornado, and Luftwaffe Mig-29G. As far as special colour schemes were concerned, it was also the Luftwaffe who provided the two 'stunners' on display. Tornado 44+21 was in an overall black scheme with artwork celebrating JBG31's 125,000 hours of Tornado operations, whilst another JG73 Mig-29G 29+20, which was to display later during the day, was beautifully painted in the colours of the German national flag.
Naturally, Belgian F-16s were very much in evidence around the airfield, of which three were to be found sporting special tail markings. From the resident 2 Wing there was yellow tailed FA-47 from 1 Squadron, and blue tailed FA-71 from 350 Squadron, the latter example celebrating the 60th anniversary of the squadron. Marking a visit from 10 Wing was black tailed FA-61, which was celebrating 50 years of operations by 23 Squadron. 31 Squadron's tiger-tailed aircraft was displaying in the Czech Republic during the weekend.
Generally speaking, the weather during the day was quite reasonable, with some sporadic sunshine. However, there was a time during mid-morning when things began to look decidedly unfavourable. A brisk and suddenly noticeable wind heralded the arrival of a heavy downburst, which was to send many people scurrying (author included) into the various hangars and HASs open to the public. The rain continued for about half an hour, and looking out across the airfield, the low cloud base and misty conditions did not bode well for a flying display of any description. However, just as quickly as it started, the wind dropped, the rain ceased and the clouds lifted, just in time for the flying, which proceeded as planned without any further hindrance from the elements.
Apart from a few warbirds and some helicopter demos, which included a RN Merlin HM1 and Lynx HAS3S duo, the flying was pretty much dominated by fast jets. Perhaps the most dazzling fast jet display was the multi-coloured Luftwaffe Mig-29G, by virtue of its stunning tricolour scheme, combined with a real rip-roaring routine. Completing a trio of German displays were a Tornado and F-4F, from JBG31 and JG71 respectively.
The home nation displays included a F-16AM, Alpha Jet, an attractive display by four Magisters, black anniversary Sea King and an A109HO from the Army. Pleasure flights were given by a C-130H and HS748, the latter possibly making its final Belgian airshow appearance as they are soon to be replaced by Embraer EMB145s.
A mention must go to B-17G Flying Fortress 44-8846, the 'Pink Lady', owned and operated by 'Association Fortresse Toujours Voilant' from Rouen, France which unfortunately did not fly on Saturday but still graced the flightline.
Other 'hot' performances included a French Mirage 2000C, as well as a Mirage F1C pairing, a F-16 from Denmark, a 48th FW F-15C from Lakenheath, whilst the British chipped in with a Tornado F3 and Harrier GR7 from the RAF and a Merlin and Lynx pair from the Navy.
By mid-afternoon, after a thoroughly enjoyable day, your scribe began to prepare for departure, to ensure a reasonable return ferry departure time. BIG MISTAKE! With the cameras all stowed away in the depths of the camera bag, eyes were rubbed in disbelief, as not one, but two 7th BW B-1Bs Lancers 86-0109 and 86-0101, came scorching across the airfield in formation. There was just one word that sprang to mind at that moment; awesome. After much scrabbling and fumbling, cameras were readied once more, but all to no avail, as the Lancers split into singleton flypasts. Still impressive, but the initial spectacle was not to be repeated. Another golden photographic opportunity missed, thanks to the author's usual combination of poor timing and incompetence! As my headmaster used to say all those years ago, 'must try harder'.
Overall an excellent show, the downside being that the flying display is too far away - a C-130 taking off was barely half-frame with a 400mm lens! The arrivals spot is excellent however and the Belgians always cater for spotters and photographers on arrivals day, so bonus points there. With an interesting and well laid out static park, along with an entertaining flying programme, here are some enthusiasts who would gladly make a return trip!