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K-B, the place to be!

Leonard van den Broek, Four Aces Aviation Photography reports on the Operational Integration Exercise and Spottersday 2007, held at Kleine Brogel Air Base, Belgium on 17 July. Pictures by Lucien Blok, Leonard van den Broek and Paul Mali, Four Aces Aviation Photography and Gary Watson

On the Tuesday following RIAT at Fairford, Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium was the stage for another major aviation event, the one-day Operational Integration Exercise and spottersday. From its inception in 1997, this eighth spottersday featured a static display line-up that would have been the envy of any European airshow.

Heavy metal
Falcon fever

The Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), part of the 10th Tactical Wing, Belgian Air Force, celebrated its twentieth anniversary in July 2007. One of the events staged to commemorate this was a large COMAO (COMbined Air Operations) type exercise, held at Kleine Brogel. The actual 'Operational Integration Exercise' (OIE '07) took place on Tuesday 17 July, coinciding with the spottersday. On Monday most of the participating aircraft arrived, with academic lectures on the history and role of the OCU being held in the afternoon. On Wednesday most of the aircraft departed again.

Not-so-heavy metal
 
Ride of a lifetime!
Philip Henden writes...
After assembling at the gate and being checked over by the base security (who must have thought it was a stepladder convention given the amount of enthusiasts that arrived there with them) it was a modest 20 Euros and another 5 Euros for a programme. Printed on the front in big red letters was "Win a flight in an Embraer ERJ 145" - you had to have the lucky numbers that were printed on the front of the programme before you could even think of getting near the Embraer, let alone fly in it.

Mid-morning at least twenty lucky numbers were announced over the PA system and, true to form my number didn't come up. After watching the Embraer depart with two based F-16s in hot pursuit I thought "Lucky …" - well, words to that effect! Later on in the day when I was getting progressively deaf with the sound of fighters departing and arriving I thought I'd have a look at the various merchandise stalls on offer - sitting near one of these were two air force officers, who seemed to be overrun with paperwork in their open-air office. One of the officers said something in French, to which I replied "I'm English". He replied back in excellent English "Do you have your passport? If so, would you like a flight ticket to go on the Embraer as there are seats available for a press flight and we need to fill them." Feeling somewhat bemused, I naturally said "Yes!" After filling out the necessary paperwork I was beckoned on board, although not before the press entourage had boarded first. After what seemed a long taxi out we eventually took off with the N748 motorway and the near by town of Peer just below us. Ten minutes into the flight our wingmen arrived, one perched on each wing and flying very close. Wow! What a sight, and what a chance of a lifetime! I must have had a smile that was every bit as wide as the F-16's intake. Seeing these on the ground is one thing, and watching them climb skyward is another, but to be in the air with them really gives you an appreciation of the F-16's aerodynamic shape and its fine lines, especially the way the pilot was turning, flying above us and sometimes below. After a wave and a salute they broke formation, pulling up into a steep climb - I have to say it was one of those 'shiver down the spine' moments and something that has made me realise why I have followed the interest of aviation for some forty years now.

According to the Belgian Air Force, some 5,000 spotters attended the event, a thirty-five percent increase compared to the 2005 spottersday, far exceeding the number expected by the organisation. Until early afternoon, people were facing very long queues at the booths where one had to buy an entrance ticket - as a result, many missed out on the early take-offs and recoveries, but fortunately the majority of the aircraft movements took place in the afternoon. Of the sixty-plus aircraft present (Belgian F-16s not included), some forty took off to take part in the actual OI-exercise. And what take-offs they were…! Many pilots must have been aware of the large audience and were eager to 'show off a bit'. Besides some nice formation fly-bys, several aircraft banked left and showed their top-sides shortly after take off, resulting in some excellent photo-opportunities!

Identical to the previous edition of the spottersday in 2005, the southern parallel taxiway was in use as the static park. Here most of the participating jets were parked, with an impressive-looking flightline as a result! Without a doubt, one of the highlights were the Greek F-4E (AUP) Phantoms of 338 MPK. The Hellenic Air Force was well represented, as besides the F-4s were two F-16Cs of 330 Mira and two A-7 Corsairs (an A-7E and a TA-7C) of 336 MV. But of course, there was much more. The French Air Force sent a two-seat Rafale B and a single-seat Rafale C, whereas the French Navy sent four single-seat Rafale M aircraft. This made an up-close comparison possible of three of the Rafale versions currently operational. It's a matter of taste, which one you think looks best…

Other highlights were four Italian Air Force F-16s from 23 Gruppo and two Turkish Air Force F-16s from 192 Filo, the latter wearing attractive tiger stripes on the external fuel tanks. The Czech Air Force was present with a large delegation of three L159s and three JAS39 Gripens. This spottersday was also one of the last opportunities to see the last operational Belgian CM170 Magister flying - when taxiing back, the display pilot Colonel Paul Rorive waved his turtle mascot as a last goodbye. On 24 September 2007, the aircraft was finally retired from the Belgian Armed Forces inventory.

The visitors' platform was where most of the 'rotary participants' were parked; Belgian Army A109s together with RAF Pumas, a Spanish C295 and a Piper Cub of the Belgian Air Cadets. Other helicopters present were Belgian Air Force Sea King and Alouette II and a Belgian Navy Alouette III.

The good weather conditions, combined with the excellent photo-opportunities provided by the organisation, resulted in another successful spottersday at 'K-B'. The organising committee succeeded in getting a large number of very interesting aircraft to arrive - the fact that an exercise is involved and not an airshow, surely makes the difference. A next spottersday at Kleine Brogel is scheduled for 2009, to coincide with the 2009 Tiger Meet. After the successful 2007 edition, another increase in attendance numbers can surely be expected!

 

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