Over and out!
After three years on the display circuit, Belgian F-16 pilot Commandant Aviator Michel ‘Mitch’ Beulen is moving on to pastures new. Mick Britton caught up with him at his final display at Duxford in October.
Commandant Aviator Michel ‘Mitch’ Beulen. Mick BrittonMitch serves with the Belgian Air Component’s 349(F) Squadron based at Kleine Brogel air base. One of the most experienced Belgian jet pilots with more than 2,250 flying hours, of which more than 2,000 are on the F-16, he flew his final public display at Duxford’s Autumn Airshow on October 16. It was “something special”, he said, assisted by ideal Indian Summer weather and featured an extensive use of flares.
MB: I see from your website that you’ve had quite a busy three years. You must have racked up some flying hours?
Mitch: No, not particularly. The display lasts only seven minutes on average so even with practices and ferry flights the display duty entails only around 60 flying hours per year.
MB: You’ve done many shows right across Europe during that time. What were your highlights?
Mitch: Every show is different. The highlights for me are the ones with appreciative audiences such as Fairford, Zeltweg (Austria) and Barcelona. However, I also like coming here to Duxford because I like seeing historic aircraft, especially Spitfires and Mustangs.
MB: What inspired you to become a pilot?
Mitch: I always wanted to fly since I was a small boy. When I was old enough I joined the Air Cadets and learned to fly gliders, which I was able to fly solo before I was old enough to ride a motorbike. Then I joined the Air Force in 1996 and went through flying training; first on the SF260 and then the Alpha Jet before progressing onto the F-16.
MB: So what are you going to do now?
Mitch: I’ll go back to the squadron and get back into the routine, which could still involve operating in Afghanistan. Then I may look for an exchange posting with another NATO F-16 operator.
MB: Do you have anywhere in mind?
Mitch: Somewhere nice and warm for the kids, like maybe Portugal!
MB: Any news of your successor?
Mitch: Yes - it’s ‘Gratz’ (callsign) of 350 Squadron from Florennes.
The beautiful weather with clear blue sky enabled Mitch to fly for a full eleven and a half minutes, the smoke winders on the wingtips emphasising the manoeuvres to good effect. This was a display by a pilot at the top of his game; the culmination of three years experience and certainly one the best F-16 displays witnessed by the author (who has seen many since the type first entered service in the early 1980s).
To read more of Mitch’s exploits and see some stunning pictures visit the display team’s website www.F16demo.be.
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