Geoff Stockle/Aeromedia & Paul Downes review last year's Recce Meet at Florennes, proving there's more to this Superbase than just TLP.
This, the second event in as many years, was organised by the Air Component of the Belgian Ministry of Defence (aka Belgian Air Force) 1 Squadron.
Flying F-16AMs, the unit now has the reconnaissance role added to its already multi-role capability, using THALES/SABCA Modular Recce Pods (MRPs). The aim of the week-long meet is to improve and develop tactics and inter-operability between recce units of NATO and its allies. This year also saw the 85th anniversary of 1 Squadron, giving the unit ample opportunity to splash some paint on one of its aircraft. All of the visiting units flew in a daily, each mission package lasting about an hour and a half, only the more strategic Mirage IVP doing his 'own thing'. However, as usual the weather caused a few problems, leading to the cancellation of Wednesday's flying.
As is the norm with many European exercises, enthusiasts were welcomed onto the base (on Thursday 31 July) for a 'spotters day' - such a refreshing change to what we're used to in the UK! For 20 Euros a full day's entertainment was laid on, including full ramp access, photography for runway/flying activities, a carrier bag of 'freebies', terminating in the recce meet party which went on until midnight! With superb weather and equally superb aircraft this really was an excellent event - full marks to the organising team. Conversely 'nil points' to the spotters who caused concern by ranting incoherently to anyone who stepped anywhere near to the aircraft they were shooting - even children and families were subject to this tirade of abuse - a bit pathetic really!
An attraction for many was that several types involved will not be around for too much longer - the Swiss Air Force sent three Mirage IIIRS (including the two 'specials' as seen at RIAT), the French Air Force provided two Jaguar As and a single Mirage IVP, and the Swedish Air Force contribution was three AJSF37 Viggens, albeit in the grey scheme. The remainder was made up by more 'youthful' types; four Mirage F1CRs, two Spanish EF18A+s, two AMXs (including the superb 'Red Dragon' special, first seen in 2001), two unmarked Italian Tornados, further Tornado pairs from the German Air Force and Navy and four RAF Jaguars. Surprise visitors were two Portuguese Alpha Jets with absolutely no recce capability at all - perhaps just observing or along for the party! Home team 1 Squadron painted the tail of FA-112 for the meet and 85th anniversary and also FA-47 was still resplendent with its 'Stingers' tail markings. 350 Squadron also still had FA-71 with its anniversary blue fin, the standard of artwork once again outstanding.
The mission on Thursday provided photographers with excellent taxiing opportunities as well as take-off and landing runway action to accompany the static ramp shots. All of the aircraft on their return from missions performed low overshoots for the masses - some more sprightly and with more gusto than others! I'm sure many will not forget the cracking beat-ups by RAF Jaguars, based F-16s and German Air Force Tornados. A much-appreciated flyby was provided by the Mirage IVP and home based F-16s - the big delta then gracefully breaking into the circuit for the benefit of photographers.
If all this wasn't enough, several units provided special scheme aircraft for the spotters day. ER02.033 provided a superb red and white Mirage F1CR and EC01.007 sent the 30 anniversary Jaguar - a real bonus! Not unexpectedly, AKG 51's tiger Tornado turned up. The Belgians also flew an F-16 solo along with the display scheme Alpha Jet and Magister - with these paint jobs, no less than eleven special schemes were present - that's some twenty-five percent of all the aircraft involved! To complete the picture, local Alpha Jets performed fly-throughs, Swedish and Belgian Hercs visited and Army Alouette IIs flew liaison flights. This was indeed a superb value for money day and is very highly recommended for future years!
With thanks to 1 squadron and all crews involved at Florennes.