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The rain in Belgium falls mainly on the plane

Graham Haynes and Michael Balter got wet at Kleine Brogel's Spotters' Day 2004. Photography by Graham Haynes

20 July saw 10 Wing at Kleine Brogel host one of its very popular 'Spotters Days.' Not really knowing what to expect, the day before the event your scribe found himself surfing the 'net' for photo-reports from previous events at 'KB'. There appeared to be a common feature with the majority of these events and that was less-than-perfect weather conditions. A quick check of the forecast and my worst fears were realised……rain all day! It couldn't be that bad, could it?

Well….it was!!! On arrival at KB I found myself having a flashback to the D-Day 50th Anniversary Photocall at RNAS Yeovilton in 1994. Those of you that went will know exactly what I mean. Despite the inclement weather, this day turned out to be one of the most enjoyable I've experienced for a long while. The organisers must be congratulated for pulling together an impressive collection of visiting aircraft and, added to that an equally impressive number of based F-16s, this made the journey from the UK well worthwhile.

25 years of F-16 operations in BelgiumOrganised by the Air Component of the Belgian Ministry of Defence (aka Belgian Air Force) 10th Tactical Wing, for 20 Euros a full day's entertainment was laid on, including full ramp access, photography for runway/flying activities, and the proceeds were donated to 'Fonavibel' - the Belgian Aviation Benevolent Fund. This year's event commemorated 25 years of F-16 operations in the Belgian Air Force - indeed the Belgian AF were the first European operator to take delivery of the type when FB-01 was handed over on 29 January 1979. Not surprisingly, the F-16 was well represented with numerous examples from the home nation on display in addition to a selection from Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark. The two Italian 'Vipers' (Block 15B ADF) were MM7238 F-16A 23° Gruppo, 5° Stormo, and MM7244 from Cervia. Along with the 'Fighting Falcons' serving with other European members of the F-16 pool, Belgium's F-16s were modified through a Mid-Life-Update (MLU) programme during the late 1990s similiar to the F-16C/D Block 50/52 standard, which the USAFE is operating at Spangdahlem with the 52nd FW. The MLU aircraft are able to use Night Vision Goggles and have a Modular Mission Computer, Digital Terrain System and Advanced IFF Interrogator.

Pilatus PC-7Sadly the organisers had been dealt a blow during the final weeks prior to the event when the 'confirmed' Algerian MiG-29s cancelled. Also absent on the day were the Polish Su-22s and the F-15Es from the 48th FW at RAF Lakenheath. In the absence of the Algerian Fulcrums, the undoubted stars of the day were a pair of Czech Air Force MiG-21s - a single seat MiG-21MFN and a twin-stick MiG-21UM - and a pair of Spanish Air Force Northrop F-5Bs.

In addition to the impressive static line-up, a flying display programme was scheduled throughout the day. Sadly, the uncooperative weather did necessitate some rearranging of the programme and some items were indeed forced to cancel. The flying started with a simulated QRA scramble of two F-16s armed with live AMRAAM and Sidewinder missiles. On their return to KB the pair taxied along the static line-up providing excellent photo opportunities to those braving the rain! It's not often that you get close to aircraft carrying live ordnance!! Following solo displays from a Dutch Chinook and Belgian Sea King, Hercules and Fouga Magister, around a dozen of the visiting aircraft departed on a Composite Air Operations (COMAO) mission along with sixteen home-based Vipers. The finale of the day was a simulated airfield attack by four F-16s. Lots of jet noise and lots of explosions!

All-in-all, a particularly well-organised event, totally geared up for the photographers and spotters amongst us. So if you've had enough of cones, barriers, bouncy castles and fairgrounds in your airshow photos, then next year's Spotters Day at Kleine Brogel will be well worth considering.Swansong for the Maggie

Many thanks to Tom McGhee and Andy Horrex for the travel arrangements and Lt v/h Vlw Bogaerts, Chief Communicatie Comopsair IPR and his whole team.

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