Belgian déjà vu - Belgian Heli-days 2003, Bierset
Geoff Stockle/Aeromedia knows he's been here before
There was an uncanny sense of déjà vu at this year's event, held over the weekend of 31 May - 1 June. Superb sunny weather, an excellent selection of helicopters and a well-organised yet relaxed atmosphere were all in evidence once again, much as last year. Even some of the helicopters were the same - Austrian special scheme Kiowa, Hungarian Hip, Congolese Air Force Mil-26 (courtesy of Skytech), Polish Navy Mil-14 (albeit with added shark mouth markings) and Polish Air Force W3 Sokol, but also plenty of equally new and rare types of interest to the visitor. In all some ninety military and civilian helicopters from fourteen nations attended, with a mere sprinkling of fixed wing types such as based Islanders, Air Force SIAI SF260s and Dutch historic Beaver and Piper Cubs. The advertised French Army TBM700 failed to show, as did the Slovenian AB412, but that was it for 'drop-outs'.
On the rare & new list were a RAF Twin Squirrel, German Army EC135, two Norwegian AB412 Arapahos (showing just how dull and boring military aircraft can get!), French Customs AS355 Ecuriel, two Italian Air Force NH500Es, a French Navy AS365 Dauphin and SA321G Super Frelon (soon to retire) and a well-equipped NH90 mock up. Accompanying the Hungarian Mil-8, two Mil-17s were sent from the Slovakian Air Force's 3VlK, one in a striking SFOR hi-viz camo and a single Czech example from 33zVL. A definite highlight was the attendance of no less than four Mil-24 Hinds - two each from the Czech and Slovak Air Forces, one of each flying a solo routine with smoke and flares used to good effect - more's the pity that the Hungarian Hind withdrew from the attendance list some weeks prior to the event. The flying comprised a Belgian A109, Islander, Sea King and Alouette II, FAA Merlin and Lynx pair, aerobatic German Army BO105 and SAR UH1D, aforementioned Czech and Slovak Mil-24s, and French Navy Dauphin and Frelon. As in previous years, everything flew twice each day. Yet again, superb spotters day facilities were set up on the Friday and Monday as well as the two show days to ensure arrivals and departures could be witnessed. Similarly the web site was very informative and constantly kept up to date. Another excellent event and one that deserves continued success, although the next one won't be until 2005.
With thanks to Patrick Wauters and all at the Belgian Heli-Days press team