Jos Schoofs reports on some recent Belgian Air Component squadron anniversaries
Belgium’s 11 Squadron was created during World War One in March 1918 at De Moeren and was equipped with Hanriot HD1 and Sopwith Camel fighters adorned with a white Cocotte (paper swan) in which its pilots scored a number of victories against German aircraft. During the interbellum, the unit was disbanded and re-formed several times. On the eve of World War Two, 11 Squadron was based at Bierset, near Liège, flying Belgian-built Renard 31 aircraft with which it flew numerous reconnaissance and artillery support missions until Belgium surrendered on May 28, 1940.
On July 1, 1951, 11 Squadron was re-created as a night fighter unit at Beauvechain Air Base and adopted a grey bat in a yellow triangle as its unit badge. It successively flew the Mosquito NF30, Meteor NF11 and CF-100 Mk5 Canuck until it was disbanded once more in November 1960. The unit reappeared in May 1971 at Brustem Air Base performing instrument flying training on T-33A advanced trainers. With the arrival of the Alpha Jet 1B in 1978 came a new role for the Bats: initial operational training to prepare pilots for conversion on to Mirage VB or F-16A combat jets. The squadron moved with the Belgian Air Component’s Alpha Jets to BA120 Cazaux, France, on September 15, 2005, in the framework of the Franco-Belgian flying training school dubbed AJeTS (Advanced Jet Training School). This initiative came to an end when the Alpha Jet 1B+ was due to be withdrawn from use by the Belgian Air Component in October 2018.
The origin of the Belgian Air Component’s air transport force goes back to World War Two when Belgian pilots flew Douglas C-47 Dakotas in a number of RAF Transport Command squadrons. Shortly after the war, a Belgianmanned detachment was created within the Metropolitan Communications Squadron at RAF Hendon providing among others an air service between London and Brussels. The detachment moved to Haren-Evere on August 15, 1946, to become part of the newly formed Belgian Air Force on October 15, 1946. It was renamed 169 Wing on April 1, 1947, comprising 366 Squadron flying the C-47 and 367 Squadron equipped with a wide variety of communications aircraft, such as the Anson, Dominie, Oxford and Proctor. On May 1, 1948, the 15th Wing received its current designation, as did 20 and 21 Squadrons. The Sioux Indian was adopted as the units’ badge on September 1, 1949: 20 Squadron’s in a blue circle and 21 Squadron’s in a red circle. The Belgian Air Force air transport force moved to its current location at Melsbroek Air Base in 1950.
At present, 20 Squadron operates 10 Lockheed C-130H Hercules tactical transport aircraft. Six were delivered in 1972 (serial numbers CH-01 to CH-06) and six in 1973 (CH-07 to CH-12). CH-06 crashed after a multiple bird strike at Eindhoven Air Base in the Netherlands on July 15, 1996, killing its crew of four and 30 of its 37 passengers. CH-02 was damaged beyond repair on May 5, 2006, in a fire at SABENA Technics’ Hangar 40 at Zaventem Airport during maintenance. It was replaced by the former US Air Force C-130E 64-0552 (c/n 382-4047), which became CH-13 when formally handed over to the Belgian Air Component on March 17, 2009. CH-08 was withdrawn from use on December 27, 2017, after performing 22,219 flying hours since it had entered service on February 1, 1973. The C-130H Hercules will be replaced by seven Airbus A400Ms from 2020 onwards.
Three Embraer Regional Jets (ERJ-135LRs CE-01 and CE- 02, and ERJ-145LR CE-03) are operated by 21 Squadron along with a single Dassault Falcon 900B (CD-01) and an Airbus A321-231 CS-TRJ leased from Portugalbased Hi fly. To reduce operating costs, the Belgian Air Component is considering whether to sell and leaseback its ERJs and Falcon 900B. The second ERJ-145LR, CE- 04 (c/n 145548), was withdrawn from use on June 1, 2018, after its final flight.