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A long way for one aeroplane - but worth it!Last flight of the Starfighter?

David Mackey was at Kleine Brogel on 27 October for possibly the last sighting of Lockheed's fifties fighter outside of the USA and Italy. All photography by the author.

With it being widely reported that this was to be the last time Italian Starfighters would be seen outside of Italy, it was with some trepidation that I set off from home for the three-hour drive to Kleine Brogel in Belgium.

The Belgian Armed Forces at K-B had arranged for two F-104S-ASA Starfighters to fly in for a special ceremony that was to be attended by ex-BAF Starfighter pilots and engineers on the unveiling of a restored ex-BAF F-104, which will be mounted on a plinth in the local area.

The weather on the drive down was great, but the clouds of gloom started gathering and on arrival at the airbase it was completely cloudy. Arriving a half-hour before the gates were due to open I was greeted by the approach road being completely full of 'early birds', all eager to see the anticipated Starfighters. On the stroke of midday the gates opened and we set off for the pre-arranged car park on base.

Star Wars 999
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For use in emergency?On completing the registration form and paying the nominal fee of 5 Euros there was an ominous sign telling us that one of the two aircraft due to arrive later in the day had gone 'tech' in Italy. Already knowing that one of the two aircraft pre-positioned at Grazzanise was the specially painted red '999' example we could only wait and see which one would turn up - if any at all.....

"We made it!"Transport took us to the area set aside for the the day. A mad rush ensued for good positions near the runway. It looks like a stepladder is my next purchase as all the best positions had been snapped up by ladder users and they all decided to take up positions right on the barrier, leaving anyone without one little opportunity to get near it. Then came a bit of a shock as the guards proceeded to move everyone from where we had been from the start back down towards the taxiway, far away from the active runway. We were informed that the active runway was being swapped to the one closer to the barrier. We were then treated to two F-16s lining up on the new runway, only to taxi back to the old active runway and take-off from there!! Now, was this just a ploy to get more people around the unveiling ceremony? Anyway, we weren't allowed back to the original spot from then on.

Local F-16s had been fairly active during the long wait. We were treated to a demo by the display BAF F-16AM, which included two very fast and low passes that were awesome - full reheat, right above our heads and down LOW to boot! It certainly got the crowds talking. Unfortunately the new position we had been moved to gave little chance of watching the full display, as we were sandwiched between high trees to the front and rear! A great shame as this was for me far from the normal air show demo seen before.

As the demo came to an end and the F-16 taxied in, the familiar whine of an F-104 could be heard - the single F-104 had made it and luckily it was the 999 specially painted one - Wahoo!!

Escorted by two F-16s around the circuit, a series of fly-bys was performed before a touch and go by the F-104 produced a magnificent sound as the afterburner was lit and an almighty thump reverberated round the area. Into land next time around and then the wait for it to taxi past the gathered crowds.

The pilot bought the star of the show past the gathered enthusiasts and it was clear that he was Last of the breedenjoying all the attention, posing his mount with all lights blazing. After parking up and switching off he was Glad to be heregreeted by the gathered dignitaries and presented with a cool glass of champagne. Then much to their dismay he came over to the photographers and spent a long time chatting and signing autographs on prints people had bought along with them.

It was a shame that two F-104s didn't arrive, but the Ducati-inspired 999 aircraft more than made up for it. A sad day but one to remember.

The author wishes to thank all those involved at Kleine Brogel and the Belgian Air Force Public Affairs Department.

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