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KLEINE BROGEL Spotters Day, 24 October

Andrew Bates braved the October ferry to bring this report: Timed to coincide with an Italian squadron exchange visit from 4° Stormo, Kleine Brogel’s resident 10 Wing hosted another of their popular ‘Spotters Day’ events in late October, much to the delight of many enthusiasts. Despite the previous unsettled weather, the event was well attended, and visitors were rewarded with a dry, but cloudy day. The sun did make the odd fleeting appearance through the thick clouds, but when compared to recent weather, there was certainly no room for complaint!

In many respects the event was similar to the Coltishall Anniversary photocall held earlier this year, with some of the visiting aircraft already parked in the static area, whilst others arrived as the day progressed. Thanks to the Italian participation, Starfighter fanatics were well served, with five 4° Stormo machines being present for the squadron exchange, of which all were two-seat TF104G-M models. As an added bonus for lovers of Lockheed’s ‘missile with a man in it’, there were also a number of retired Belgian F104Gs to be found in varying states of preservation around the airfield.

However, as people were ferried to the main static area by coach, first and foremost their attentions were undoubtedly focused by the all-too-rare sight of a pair of USN F14B Tomcats; 161435/AA-103 and 162918/AA-100. Visiting from their carrier, the USS George Washington, and operating with VF-103, the famed ‘Jolly Rogers’, both aircraft were sporting mission markings on the nose, whilst 161435 was also painted in far more flamboyant markings than the other example, this presumably being the mount of the Commanding Officer. Needless to say, this pairing remained extremely popular throughout the day. To quote a favourite phrase; "my camera was on fire!"

Meanwhile, parked between the Starfighters and Tomcats, was another comparatively rare beast; Armée de l’Air Mirage IVP 62/CI from ERS 01.091. Further French participation included the pairing of Jaguar A145/7-HG and A159/7-HL from EC 01.007, along with a pair of Aéronavale Super Etendards, 14 and 37 from Landivisiau. The French contingent was boosted further during the day by the arrival of two Mirage 2000-5s from EC 01.002; 54/2-EA and 69/2-EG.

Other visitors to arrive on the day included a pair of GAF F-4F Phantoms from JG72 (37+31 and 38+64), closely followed by fellow compatriot Tornado IDS 44+62 from JBG33, whilst a pair of Spanish Mirage F1CEs from Ala.14; C.14-40/14-40 and C.14-17/14-11 attracted a veritable throng of photographers, thereby competing with the Tomcats in terms of popularity. As far as the host nation was concerned, the sole static participant was SF260MB ST-24, looking very attractive in the new high-viz yellow colour scheme, complete with a shark's mouth under the nose.

As the various visiting aircraft arrived to take their place in the static, there was other activity to keep everyone entertained during the morning. A number of resident 10 Wing F16s were launched on local missions, which also saw one of the Italian Starfighters taking to the skies for a familiarisation sortie. Also during this time, the airfield was subjected to a mock attack by GAF Tornados from JBG31, resulting in some pretty impressive fast passes at low level. However, as lunchtime approached, the Starfighter and F16s returned, and after the last engine had shut down, a period of relative peace and tranquillity descended upon the airfield. After all the morning’s activities, enthusiasts could have been forgiven for assuming that the event was drawing to a close, but they needn’t have worried, for this was just the calm before the storm!

With lunch just about digested, the distinctive sound of an F16 engine starting up could once again be heard from across the airfield. This noise soon assumed a greater prominence, as it quickly became apparent that further examples were following suit. Whilst this was happening, everyone’s anticipation was further heightened by the appearance of open canopies and cockpit ladders on a number of the visiting aircraft in the static park. A short while later, as the first waves of Belgian F16s began to taxi out to the runway, many of the static participants were preparing to join the fray, and subsequently, the first airborne jet heralded the start of a period of intense activity, which pretty much lasted the rest of the afternoon.

At times it was difficult to know which way to look; with F16s roaring overhead, Jaguars rolling down the taxiway, Phantoms starting engines, more F16s turning onto the runway, and the crew of the Mirage IVP demonstrating the mountaineering skills required to access the cockpit! Then the Mirage 2000 pair were rolling, followed by the Phantoms, whilst all the Starfighters started to spool up. As if all these movements were not enough, there were also a number of singleton flypasts from various aircraft in the vicinity, which included such diverse types as a NATO 707 crew trainer, RAF E3D Sentry and Canberra PR9, Dutch AH-64A Apache, and Belgian Army A109HA.

In the meantime, the departures continued, as the Starfighters, Mirage IVP, and Super Etendards headed for the runway to join the general mêlée of jets awaiting take-off clearance. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the Tomcats remained firmly rooted to the ground. However, despite this, you couldn’t help feeling that things couldn’t really get any better, but then they did. Operating from nearby Florennes, two successive pairs of Portuguese F16As from 201 Esq. made a fast pass across the airfield, with one pair (15110 & 15113) returning a short while later to land for display in the static park, which was now looking a little sparse, for obvious reasons.

After what seemed like hours of frenetic operations, the afternoon’s activities began to wind down, as the Belgian jets began returning to base. It was evident that the majority of visiting aircraft, that had since departed, had subsequently returned to their home bases, and apart from a pair of passing 52nd FW A10As, there were no more visitors for the day. However, it was left to the returning Italian Starfighters to bring the event to a close in fine style, performing a number of low, high-speed passes. Emitting that characteristic ‘howl’ that only seems possible with a combination of J79 engine and F104 airframe, the last few flypasts must have brought the memories flooding back for the local population, taking them back to the seventies when the F104G was a common sight in Belgian skies.

On that high note, everyone who attended would have surely returned home with more than a hint of satisfaction after such a finale. All the organising staff from 10 Wing at Kleine Brogel should be applauded for organising such a fine spectacle, so whoever you are, please take a bow, as your efforts were greatly appreciated by many enthusiasts.

 

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