Mambour & Vincent Pirard / AviaScribe look at the withdrawal
of the Merlins and HS 748s of the Belgian Air Force in February 2002.
On 20 February, the 15th Transport Wing of the Belgian Armed Forces Air
Component (the Belgian Air Force's new name, since 2 January) simultaneously
withdrew its five remaining Fairchild-Swearingen Merlin IIIAs and three
HS 748-288 Series 2As. At the end of a brief farewell ceremony and under
a dull sky, a single Merlin and one HS 748 symbolically flew over the
hangars of their Melsbroek home base - the military part of Zaventem's
airport, also known as Brussels-National - before their last landing.
Since last summer, four Brazilian-built regional transport aircraft have
gradually replaced the two former aircraft types; they are two Embraer
ERJ-135LRs with a capacity of 37 places (CE-01 and CE-02) and two ERJ-145LRs
(CE-03 and CE-04) able to accommodate up to 50 passengers. Ordered in
October 2000 for about 90 million Euros, these new aircraft were delivered
between June 2001 and January 2002*.
through the ages
and HS 748s were introduced into service a quarter of a century ago, respectively
in March and June 1976, to replace twelve Percival Pembrokes and a handful
of DC-3/C-47s and DC-4s. On strength with 21 'Red Sioux' Squadron, they
logged a total of over 62,000 flying hours divided almost equally between
The BAF HS 748s, which were equipped with a large fuselage cargo door
and had a maximum range of about 3,000 km, fulfilled various transport
missions mainly in Europe and in the Mediterranean area in support of
all the Belgian armed forces services, moving men as well as freight.
In passenger configuration they could accommodate up to 40 people. With
the end of the Cold war, their use as tactical transport aircraft also
ended and the BAF HS 748s swapped their original camouflage for an almost
civil livery during the 90s - white with a blue sheet line.
Merlins, built by the American aircraft manufacturer Swearingen (later
Fairchild), had a range of about 4,000 km and embarked a maximum of eight
people, crew included. They were mainly dedicated to liaison duties, aircrew
transport and navigation training. Two of them, CF-05 and CF-06, were
equipped to check and calibrate navigational aids and also to perform
photographic mapping missions thanks to specially designed fuselage belly
windows. A dramatic episode shadowed the career of these peaceful twin-engine
aircraft - on 16 April 1980, CF-03 crashed at Lille-Lesquin, in France,
after a touch and go on one engine, causing the death of its two pilots.
The HS 748s
(as sometimes (but more rarely) the Merlins) used to transport members
of the royal family and the government, diplomats and representatives
of the NATO General-Secretary, despite their relatively low speed and
poor level of sound comfort that did not make them popular with the VIP
The immediate fate of the eight aircraft is known. They will be transferred
to the storage centre of Weelde (where two of them were moved on 1 August
2000 - Merlin CF-01 and HS 748 CS-03) and put up for sale, with the exception
of the single VIP HS 748 (CS-01), which the Belgian State intends to offer
to Benin. This African country is in a full democratisation process and
Belgium has for some years now been developing an ambitious co-operation
and development programme, including important military aspects. Five
Beninese pilots and twelve mechanics have just finished a conversion on
the type at Melsbroek - and waiting for the final political decision to
transfer, the last Belgian qualified crews still dream to fly their beloved
ship to Africa.
*CE-01 (s/n 449) dd 02 June 2001; CE-02 (s/n 480) dd 18 August 2001; CE-03
(s/n 526) dd 11 December 2001 and CE-04 (s/n 548) dd 19 January 2002.
The dates mentioned are those of the delivery at the Embraer plant of
Sao Josť dos Campos (Brazil), see http://www.aerohobby.net/03_145.htm