Checking out at Beauvechain
Belgian Forces Open Day 31 August/1 September (review for Sat 31st)
Andrew Bates checks his ticksheet, or ticks his checksheet - whatever!
After previously attending Beauvechain for a superb airshow back in September 1999, the likelihood of a return visit had always been a distinct possibility as far as your scribe was concerned - thus, expectations were high upon arrival for the 2002 show. As a consequence of this previous experience, I had formed a mental checklist of my three main pre-requisites (bad idea, I know); item one, a good selection of airframes in a well spaced static park - check. Item two, a thoughtfully planned and well-executed flying programme - check. Item three, glorious blue skies and wall to wall sunshine - er, perhaps not!! In complete contrast to the '99 show, the weather proved to be far from co-operative. Initial signs were good, with a little sunshine early in the morning, but this was relatively short-lived, with the grey clouds taking over later in the morning, closely followed by a prolonged spell of heavy rain from which shelter in one of the display hangars was the only option.
Thankfully, an early walk round part of the static at least ensured some shots of dry aeroplanes. First to attract attention was the German Navy Tornado 46+20 from MFG 2, which really stood out from the three RAF examples parked nearby, thanks to some colourful nose and tail markings. There was no indication of any particular anniversary attributable to this special scheme, but the extra effort from the personnel in the Eggebek paint shop was greatly appreciated. Continuing this theme, no Belgian show would be complete without a specially marked F-16, so it was no surprise to see three examples suitably embellished with colourful tail markings. From this trio, F-16A FA-47 from 1 Squadron would have been familiar to many enthusiasts, as it was sporting the same tail markings it wore for the 2001 show at Florennes. The remaining pair comprised of 349 Squadron F-16AM FA-106 celebrating the unit's 60th anniversary, and 31 Squadron F-16AM FA-122 with another variation of their customary tiger marks, though unusually, the latter example was tightly jammed behind barriers in a separate part of the static.
As would be expected, with Beauvechain being home to the training aircraft of 1 Wing, there were many examples of AlphaJet and SF260 to be found around the airfield, along with one of the venerable Magisters. It was a pleasant change to see conventionally marked example MT-26, as opposed to the usual airshow attendees in either the red 'Diables Rouges' or blue/white/silver anniversary schemes. Also, in amongst all the Belgian military hardware, other relatively rare static participation was to be found in the shape of Gendarmerie Cessna 182R Skylane G-03 and Luchtkadetten Piper L-21B Super Cub LB-05. Neither very glamorous when compared to the F-16 or C-130, but both nevertheless still fulfilling an important rôle.
At the other end of the spectrum, the static was nicely stocked with a good selection of frontline jets. These included a German F-4F Phantom and Mig-29G, a pair of Italian 37º Stormo Starfighters, a pair of Portuguese AlphaJets, Dutch F-16BM, Spanish EF-18A Hornet, a pair of RAF 6 Squadron Jaguars, a 52nd FW A-10A, and no less than four Lakenheath Eagles (two F-15Cs & two F-15Es).
Although numerically inferior to the number of jets in attendance, there was also an interesting selection of helicopters to be found within the static park. Most noteworthy were a Slovakian AF Mi-17, Italian 15º Stormo HH-3F Pelican, Dutch 301 Squadron AH-64D Apache, and a US Army UH-60A Blackhawk from A/5-158th Avn.
Once the rain arrived, it was time to beat a hasty retreat to one of the display hangars. Within the confines of one of the maintenance hangars there was much to fascinate the multitude of bedraggled people as they packed themselves inside to drip-dry. There were quite a number of resident AlphaJets and SF260s in various stages of service and repair, some of which appeared to be quite extensive. In fact, some of the stripped down airframes gave a whole new meaning to the term 'deep maintenance!'
Despite the rain, there was little disruption to the flying programme, just the nuisance of watching aircraft display against a grey backdrop. Amongst the jets turning and burning, the highlight had to be the Spanish AF EF-18A Hornet from Ala 12, which gave an absolutely rip-roaring display of power and agility. Almost as impressive was the German Mig-29G and Belgian F-16AM, both assaulting the eardrums in equally dramatic fashion - marvellous! Other airshow acts grabbing the attentions of the audience comprised of the French Mirage F1 duo from EC 03.033, French Navy Super Etendard from 11F, German F-4F Phantom and Tornado, Italian AF G222 from the RSV, and a Slovakian Mi-24V. As would be expected, the crowds were especially keen to show their appreciation for the aerial artistry of the two national aerobatic display teams in attendance, Patrouille de France and Patrouille Suisse, with their AlphaJets and F-5E Tigers. As ever, both teams presented a flawless performance to delight their audience.
Despite the weather putting a temporary damper on proceedings, this was still a show worthy of attendance, either from serious enthusiasts or casual visitors alike. Hopefully, should the opportunity arise again for another visit to a Beauvechain show, fingers crossed, I am able to tick all three boxes on my imaginary check sheet.