A Comet that fell to earth
Simon/AviaScribe describes the latest in a series
of Belgian Air Force cutbacks
in October 1999, I had the honour to take command of the 2nd Fighter
Squadron, I was indeed far from suspecting that it would be a day
brought to engrave its epitaph". It was with these words that
the speech of Lt-Col Delhez began on 20 April, he being the Commanding
Officer from the 2nd Fighter Squadron 'Comet' of the 2nd Tactical
Wing of the Belgian Air Force, during the disbanding ceremony of the
unit at Florennes airbase. Indeed, further to the restructuring plan
known as 'Falcon 2000', the number of operational Belgian Air Force
squadrons on F-16 will reduce by 2002, from six to four. Although
officially disbanded, the staff and the aircraft of the 2nd Squadron
are now all integrated into another Belgian famous fighter unit, the
350th Fighter Squadron "Ambiorix", which now has 18 aircraft
as well as 24 pilots.
'Comet' was adopted in March 1917, on the Yser front, by the 5th Squadron
pilot Maurice Franchomme to decorate the fuselage of his Nieuport
X. Quickly copied by the Belgian ace Edmond Thieffry, the 'Comet'
soon became the official badge of the 10th Squadron.
After the Armistice of November 1918, the 10th Squadron was based at Bochum in the
occupied Ruhr. It returned home to become the 3rd Squadron and finally, in 1926, the 1st
Fighter Squadron of the 2nd Regiment of Aeronautics. Based at Schaffen, near the city of
Diest, the unit was successively equipped with Avia BH-21 and Fairey Firefly before
receiving, in 1937, a batch of Gloster Gladiator Mk.1s. It is with these biplanes that it
participated in the fight of May 1940 - in four days the squadron lost two pilots and all
its 14 aircraft. The 'Comet' had literally been annihilated in the sky by the German war
WWII, the new Belgian military aviation established the 352nd Squadron
at Florennes, under the leadership of the new 161th Wing, with the
Spitfire Mk.14. In February 1948, when the young Belgian Air Force
dropped all its RAF-style numeric designations, the 352nd Squadron
changed into 2nd Squadron of the 2nd Wing and received the 'Comet'
as its insignia.
1951 started the jet era for the 2nd Squadron with the arrival in service of the F-84E/G
Thunderjet. Six years later, in 1957, it re-equipped with F-84F
Thunderstreak. That it exchanged, in 1971, for the Mirage V.
The small Dassault delta fighter-bomber remained in service for no less than 17 years
until 1988, with the delivery of the first F-16 Fighting Falcon.
With this aircraft, the pilots of the 2nd Squadron participated,
within the framework of the operation "Joint Falcon", to control the sky of
Bosnia and Slavonia, flying from Villafranca AB in Italy. In 1999, Operation "Allied
Force" allowed once again the squadron's pilots to prove their high level of
training, a 2nd Squadron pilot performing the first mission by a Belgian pilot during this
this brief glance over more than 80 years of history shows, the squadron
has lived up to its motto of the red 'Comet', "Ut fulgur sulca
aethera" (As the flash of lighting crosses the heavens). Unfortunately,
it has now joined the increasing number of badges of disbanded units.
At the end of the parade on 20 April, while some snowflakes fell on the base of Florennes,
the pennant of the 2nd Fighter Squadron was handed back to Lt-Gen Mandl, current C-in-C of
the Air Force. The 'Comet' now sleeps in the store of the Royal Army Museum (Brussels),
waiting for possible reactivation. Sic transit gloria mundi.
about unit designations in Belgium. Military people use either the English
term (Squadron) or the term of their native language (Escadrille in French or
Smaldeel in Flemish). Florennes is French speaking, Melsbroek and Beauvechain (in French)
or Bevekom (in Flemish) are bilingual, Kleine Brogel and Coxyde (in French) or Koksijde
(in Flemish) are Flemish - although the latter is also rather bilingual.