Belgische Luchtmacht / Force Aerienne Belge
By Piet Luijken, Melchior Timmers and Ron Frijlink
The first Belgian fixed wing aircraft were assigned to the "Compagnie des Ouvries et Aérostiers", a department within the Army which was formed on 31 October 1910. They received their first airplane, a Farman, on 5 May 1911 with the first flight also on this date. When Belgium got involved in the First World War, the military aviation branche consisted of 4 squadrons equipped with different types of Farman aircraft. In march 1915, the Compagnie was renamed as Militair Vliegwezen and had been expanded to 6 squadrons. Just before the outbreak of the Second World War the Militair Vliegwezen had three active Air Force Regiments flying Renards, Fiat CR42, Hurricanes, Gladiators and Fairey Foxes and Battles. During WW II, the Belgian Military Aviation was active as the "Belgische Luchtvaartsektie" within the Royal Air Force.
After the Second World War and more precisely on the 15th of October 1946, Belgium decided to turn the Belgian military aviation into an autonomous force, independent of the Army. It officially received the denomination "Air Force" on the 15th of January 1949. The Berlin blockade and the beginning of the "Cold War" marked a clear renewal of international tensions. This tense political context and the fact that Belgium joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) were points in favour of the Belgian Air Force that, in the face of the Communist threat, was provided with considerable air assets and reached its height in 1955-56, with more than 600 jet fighters in the following Wings : twelve day fighter squadrons and two night fighter squadrons, grouped within four Wings (1st Wing in Beauvechain, 7th Wing in Chièvres, 9th Wing in Bierset - future 3rd Wing -, 13th Wing in Koksijde); operated a total of 240 Gloster Meteor F.4/F.8 fighters six fighter-bomber squadrons, spread over two Wings (the 2nd and 10th Wings, respectively based in Florennes and Kleine Brogel) ; operated a total of 234 Republic F-84E/G Thunderjet fighter-bombers two transport squadrons (15th Wing in Melsbroek) and a reconnaissance squadron (based in Wahn - FRG); with a diversity of aircraft including Douglas C-47B Dakotas, Fairchild C-119F/G Flying Boxcars and Percival Pembrokes.
All the aircraft had to be replaced as technologies improved, so the Avro-Canada CF-100 Canuck was selected for the two night fighter squadrons. Also, all F-84E/G fighter-bombers were replaced by the improved F-84F's. During this period, the obsolete Meteors were replaced by the Hawker Hunter F.4/F.6 day fighter. More replacements in the sixties, as the six year old Canucks were replaced by 100 SABCA built F-104G/TF-104G Starfighters, but also the introduction of new material as the first SAR unit was commissioned at Koksijde flying the Sikorsky HSS-1 helicopters. In the seventies, more new aircraft were ordered, including the Dassault Mirage V in three versions in the fighter-bomber and reconaissance role, and the Lockheed C-130H Hercules for the heavy transport role. The Dakotas and Pembrokes were replaced by the HS748 and the Fairchild MerlinIII and the helicopter squadron did get a boost with the introduction of the Westland Seaking Mk48 helicopters. In 1979 the General Dynamics F-16A/B was selected as the new fighter to replace the Starfighter and 116 aircraft were ordered (96 A and 20 B). A follow-on order for 44 extra Falcons was ordered in 1983 (40A and 4B) to replace the Mirages as well.
In the beginning of the nineties, the Belgian government decided a series of restructuring measures for the Armed Forces were in order to cope with the changed threats. The BAF had to be transformed into a meaner and leaner air force, so in 1994 the 3rd Tactical Wing in Bierset was disbanded, followed in 1996 with the disbandment of the 1st Fighter Wing in Beauvechain, the 9th Training Wing in St Trond, and the Elementary Flying School in Goetsenhoven . The next restructuring was the change to the "single structure" that took place on the 2nd of January 2002. The independant Belgium Air Force had ended, giving way to the new structure consisting of Components and therefore the new name was the Belgium Air Component (COMOPSAIR).
Today, all Fighting Falcons are spread over two bases: the 2nd Tactical Wing in Florennes and the 10th Tactical Wing in Kleine Brogel. Out of the 160 F-16 aircraft the Belgiums had ordered in total, only 90 were updated with the MLU program. Sixteen of the remaining MLU F-16's are sold to Jordan ( twelve AMs and four BMs with first deliveries in september 2008 ) while some others were preserved at various military locations. Most of the oldest F-16's were stored at Weelde or destroyed at Rocourt. Further reductions are planned; in 2005 only 72 aircraft will be active with a further reduction planned in 2015 when only 58 Fighting Falcons are equipping the four squadrons in two Wings. The Hercules still soldiers on awaiting the arrival of the 7 Airbus A400M transport aircraft ordered, while the VIPs are now transported with the Embraer 135/145 jets, the Airbus A330-300 and the Dassault Falcon 20/900. The Westland Seaking helicopters and the Alouette III helicopters are still active in their respective SAR and support roles and are now placed under command of the COMOPSAIR. As both helicopters are rather old and very maintenace intensive, they will be replaced by 8 NH90 multi purpose helicopters, first one expected in April 2012. In 2004, also the former Army units were transferred to the COMOPSAIR, with the Agusta A109BA attack helicopter and the Alouette II training and scout helicopter placed in the Heli Wing. The 32 remaining A109BA helicopters can be used in a diversity of roles: observation, anti-tank, tactical support, armed reconnaissance, medevac or transport helicopter although at the moment each helicopter has a fixed role to simplify maintenance.
After the Air Academics (Phase I), initial flight training of pilots (Phase II) is performed by the 1th Wing at Beauvechain with a mix of Marchetti SF260M/D propellor trainer aircraft. During this training, the pilots will be monitored and depending on their qualities they will be selected for further training on the Fighters, Transports or Helicopters. For the students who are selected for the Fighter training, Phase III training will be given at the Alpha Jet E's of EAC00.314 at BA 705 of Tours-Saint Symphorien while Phase IV, the Initial Operations Training is given with the modernised Alpha Jet 1B+'s at the Belgium-French Alpha Jet School (AJetS) based at BA 120 Cazaux. Further training on the F-16 is with the OCU at Kleine Brogel. Pilots selected for the Transports are trained for phase III at the Xingus of EAT00.319 at the BA 702 Avord. Phase IV is trained at the OTS at Melsbroek. Pilots selected for the Helicopters are trained for phase III at the Gazelles of the EAALAT of Dax(F). Phase IV will be with the OCTU at Beayvechain flying the A109BA.
After five years of operating the A330-300 from HiFly with the 21sq at Melsbroek, this lease was terminated due to uneffective use. Early 2014 a new tender was issued to replace the A330 and HiFly was selected once again for a new lease term however this time with an Airbus A321. Officially entered service in May 2014, this will be the new long haul transporter for the Belgian Air Force. From August 2013 the NH90 started its carreer in active dutie with the first one being an NFH version for the 40sq at Koksijde. Two months later the first TTH version was delivered to the 1 wing however due to crew training both helicopters where deployed to Marseille. Late January 2014 the first NH90, second NH90-TTH arrived at Bevekom. In total, 4 NFHs are based at Koksijde and 4 TTHs are based at Bevekom from 2015 as the two optional orders where not taken. The implementation of the NFH will bring the end on the Sea King era from 2018* with every new NH90 arrival replacing an S-61. (*: During Q3 2015 it became clear it will take untill 2018 for the NH90-NFH to be fully ready so the Sea Kings will soldier on a little longer and one additional Sea King HAR3A has been delivered on 24 November 2015 as additional spare parts provider at Koksijde). On their F-16 replacement project the Belgian MoD has launched a tender in 2014, unveiling their plan in 2015 and have their first new fighters arrive around 2022-2024. Contenders invited are Dassault - Rafale B/C, Airbus Military - Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing - F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin - F-35A and Saab - Gripen NG.
(Sources:www.mil.be and www.baha.be)
The Dienst Luchtsteun Federale Politie / Service D'appui Aérien Police Fédérale was installed as a operational part of the Federal Police after its reorganisation in the nineties. It was a continuation of the airborne part of the Rijkswacht/Gendarmerie, however without the control and support of the Ministry of Defence. Therefore it moved from the army base Brasschaat to Melsbroek/Brussels International Airport, also to operate fixed wing aircraft. In the beginning it operated the SA316C Alouette II (5) and the SA330 Puma (3), followed swiftly in 1993 with the delivery of a BN-2T Islander and in 1994 with the delivery of a Cessna 180Q and two Cessna 182Rs. The fixed wing aircraft were acquired as they flew faster and more economical than the helicopters and could also fly at night and in adverse weather. The fixed wing aircraft are used for traffic and environmental control, while the helicopters are used also for special forces operations. The twin engined helicopters can also operate above the cities. As the Puma's were at an respectable age, an overhaul was needed in 1993. The first Puma was returned to the factory, while the second Puma crashed in Lyon, France during its delivery flight. In 1994, a newly delivered Cessna 182R was written off after it was blown upside-down by a passing Dutch Hercules. The last Puma was retired at the 2nd of May, 1998 and replaced by three twin-engined MD900 Explorers. These No Tail Rotor (NOTAR) helicopters are fully IFR equipped and have specialised law enforcement equipment like a powerful searchlight. After an accident at Beauvechain on the 10th of Oktober, 2000 also the Islander was retired. In 1999, two MD520N helicopters were acquired to replace the Alouettes, the option for a third was changed into a single MD902 in 2010, this became G16 known as Black Thunder. The three Cessna 182’s, one Q and two Rs remain active so far however they aren’t used that often. After a crash in 2003, one Ce182Q and one Ce182R survived and have been auctioned for sale in 2014 (for unknown reason both Cessna's are still active in 2015). From January 2013 an upgrade program started to reconfigure the three MD900s to MD902 standard and in March 2015 G12 was upgraded as last one.