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A Comet that fell to earth

A ceremony took place in front of planes past and presentRichard Simon/AviaScribe describes the latest in a series of Belgian Air Force cutbacks

Click"When in October 1999, I had the honour to take command of the 2nd Fighter Squadron, I was indeed far from suspecting that it would be a day brought to engrave its epitaph". It was with these words that the speech of Lt-Col Delhez began on 20 April, he being the Commanding Officer from the 2nd Fighter Squadron 'Comet' of the 2nd Tactical Wing of the Belgian Air Force, during the disbanding ceremony of the unit at Florennes airbase. Indeed, further to the restructuring plan known as 'Falcon 2000', the number of operational Belgian Air Force squadrons on F-16 will reduce by 2002, from six to four. Although officially disbanded, the staff and the aircraft of the 2nd Squadron are now all integrated into another Belgian famous fighter unit, the 350th Fighter Squadron "Ambiorix", which now has 18 aircraft as well as 24 pilots.

ClickThe 'Comet' was adopted in March 1917, on the Yser front, by the 5th Squadron pilot Maurice Franchomme to decorate the fuselage of his Nieuport X. Quickly copied by the Belgian ace Edmond Thieffry, the 'Comet' soon became the official badge of the 10th Squadron.

After the Armistice of November 1918, the 10th Squadron was based at Bochum in the occupied Ruhr. It returned home to become the 3rd Squadron and finally, in 1926, the 1st Fighter Squadron of the 2nd Regiment of Aeronautics. Based at Schaffen, near the city of Diest, the unit was successively equipped with Avia BH-21 and Fairey Firefly before receiving, in 1937, a batch of Gloster Gladiator Mk.1s. It is with these biplanes that it participated in the fight of May 1940 - in four days the squadron lost two pilots and all its 14 aircraft. The 'Comet' had literally been annihilated in the sky by the German war machine.

ClickAfter WWII, the new Belgian military aviation established the 352nd Squadron at Florennes, under the leadership of the new 161th Wing, with the Spitfire Mk.14. In February 1948, when the young Belgian Air Force dropped all its RAF-style numeric designations, the 352nd Squadron changed into 2nd Squadron of the 2nd Wing and received the 'Comet' as its insignia.

1951 started the jet era for the 2nd Squadron with the arrival in service of the F-84E/G Thunderjet. Six years later, in 1957, it re-equipped with F-84F Thunderstreak. That it exchanged, in 1971, for the Mirage V. The small Dassault delta fighter-bomber remained in service for no less than 17 years until 1988, with the delivery of the first F-16 Fighting Falcon.

The standard is lowered for the last timeWith this aircraft, the pilots of the 2nd Squadron participated, within the framework of the operation "Joint Falcon", to control the sky of Bosnia and Slavonia, flying from Villafranca AB in Italy. In 1999, Operation "Allied Force" allowed once again the squadron's pilots to prove their high level of training, a 2nd Squadron pilot performing the first mission by a Belgian pilot during this air conflict.

ClickAs this brief glance over more than 80 years of history shows, the squadron has lived up to its motto of the red 'Comet', "Ut fulgur sulca aethera" (As the flash of lighting crosses the heavens). Unfortunately, it has now joined the increasing number of badges of disbanded units.

At the end of the parade on 20 April, while some snowflakes fell on the base of Florennes, the pennant of the 2nd Fighter Squadron was handed back to Lt-Gen Mandl, current C-in-C of the Air Force. The 'Comet' now sleeps in the store of the Royal Army Museum (Brussels), waiting for possible reactivation. Sic transit gloria mundi.

One word about unit designations in Belgium. Military people use either the English term (Squadron) or the term of their native language (Escadrille in French or Smaldeel in Flemish). Florennes is French speaking, Melsbroek and Beauvechain (in French) or Bevekom (in Flemish) are bilingual, Kleine Brogel and Coxyde (in French) or Koksijde (in Flemish) are Flemish - although the latter is also rather bilingual.

 

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