Musée Royal de lArmée Brussels
Andrew Bates likes his greens.
As the European airshow season beckons, many Brits will be venturing abroad. On the way to many an airshow, there are probably many compelling reasons to visit Europes capital cities, but for any visitors who may even be remotely interested in aviation, a journey to the Parc de Cinquantenaire in Brussels, within the heart of the city, is virtually compulsory. Here can be found the Musée Royal de lArmée, housed within an imposing and magnificent structure known as the Palais de Cinquantenaire. Built around 1880, this historic building is arguably worthy of a visit in its own right, but once inside, all architectural musings are soon forgotten.
The museum title itself obviously implies that the collection is entirely devoted to the Army. In fact there is indeed an impressive collection of uniforms, weapons, and other such memorabilia on display, depicting many different eras of military history. However, the main display hall is devoted to aviation, and this provides visitors with a superb collection of airframes to peruse, the majority of which are military, though not necessarily of Belgian origin.
Naturally, the post-war history of the Force Aérienne Belge, (FAB), is well represented, with a comprehensive selection of jets, from a Meteor F8, right up to a present day F-16A. The Fighting Falcon is the first Belgian example, FA-01, and takes pride of place in the middle of the museum, parked upon a huge Belgian roundel. Other FAB jets on display include an F-84G Thunderjet, F-84F Thunderstreak, RF-84F Thunderflash, Hunter F4, F-104G Starfighter, and a Mirage 5BA.
However, despite the strong FAB influence, the jet collection is still able to demonstrate a distinctly international flavour. Classic jets abound in many different liveries, such as a USAF RF-4C Phantom, Canadian CF-100 Canuck, RAF Vampire T11, French Ouragan, Swedish J35A Draken, German Fiat G91R, Portuguese F-86F Sabre, and Czech Mig-15bis and L29 Delfin.
Equally impressive is the line up of piston power, which includes a disparate collection of historic designs, from both sides of the Atlantic. These include a Harvard, Oxford, Pembroke, and Tiger Moth, whilst the larger types, such as C-47 Skytrain, B-26 Invader, and C-119 Flying Boxcar, tend to dominate their immediate surroundings. Famous wartime airframes include a Mosquito, Battle, and Blenheim (actually a Bolingbroke), along with the ubiquitous pairing of Spitfire and Hurricane.
For those with an interest in stick, string and canvas, there is also a first rate collection of airframes from the pioneering days of aviation. Dating back to the Great War, and beyond, these frail looking craft include some rare survivors, and are all displayed on the upper balcony within the hall, setting them aside from their more modern counterparts below. Historic types such as the Camel, 1½ Strutter, RE8, and Shorthorn are displayed alongside some of their previous opponents, such as the Aviatik C.1, Halberstadt C.V, LVG C.VI, and Fokker Dr.1. The Triplane is something of a rarity for the museum, simply because it is a reproduction, rather than an original airframe like the others, although a few original parts were apparently used during its construction.
Thanks to the original design of the museum structure, the extensively glazed hall ensures plenty of light for photography, whilst the aircraft themselves are generally well positioned throughout. Amongst the neatly parked exhibits, there are a few airframes imaginatively displayed in flying mode. Of these, the most impressive sight is the ex-Sabena Caravelle airliner, which flies serenely over the jet collection. This is positioned near the entrance, so its no surprise to see first time visitors gazing skywards immediately upon entry. It simply cannot be ignored, and certainly creates a lasting impression within the first few minutes of any visit.
So, whether your on a business trip, a weekend break, or just passing Brussels on your way to a European airshow, take time if you can to stop and visit the Musée Royal de lArmée. Whatever your particular interests in aviation, you surely wont be disappointed.