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Le Tour de Belgique Part 1; Beauvechain April 30, 2009

The Elementary Flying School; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

On Thursday, April 30, 2009 I was a guest at the Belgian air base of Beauvechain in the centre of Belgium. Located in Walloon Brabant which is next to the counties of Flemish Brabant and Limburg, the 1st Wing is the 2nd largest employer in this county. The 1st Wing contains three units; the 5th and the 9th Squadron, equipped with the SF260 Marchetti and the 11th squadron which is equipped with the Alpha-Jet..

On October 24, 1946, up to 24 Spitfires marked with the colours of the 349th and 350th Squadron of the Royal Air Force landed at Beauvechain. The history of the 1st Fighter Wing starts here. This unit would build up a great reputation within the air defensive forces of the NATO. Back in the fifties, the wing consisted out of seven units namely; the 4th, 10th, 11th, 42nd, 349th and the 350th Squadron. Over the years these units were equipped with several types like the Spitfire, Harvard, Oxford, Mosquito, Meteor, CF100, Hunter, T-33, RF84F and F-104G "Starfighter". Of these units nowadays only the 11th squadron is still active; they operate with the Alpha-Jet. The 349th and 350th Squadron both equipped with the F-16 respectively moved to Kleine-Brogel and Florennes. The remaining units do not longer exist.

In 1955 Beauvechain was named after Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Roman which is an important event in the history of this base. This is in memoriam of the Corps colonel who died in service of the Belgian Air Force. Born in 1909 in Lessines, Charles Roman entered service in 1928 as a volunteer and became a pilot in the Belgian Air Force in 1930. After he excelled on all fronts during the Second World War, he became a Lieutenant-Colonel. On February 15, 1954, he became commander of the 1st Fighter Wing. On November 25 the same year, he died on board of his Meteor NF11 which crashed near Brain-Le-Comte. Only 349th and 350th Squadron remained after various reorganizations within the 1st Fighter Wing during the sixties. In 1979 the F-16 entered service within the Belgian Air Force and it became the primary fighter jet within the Air Force. In this period until 1986, the F-16 conversion unit OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) was established. Several reorganizations will follow. In order to shrink the Belgian F-16 fleet, the Air Force decided in 1996 to

concentrate its F-16's at only Kleine-Brogel and Florennes. The new task of Beauvechain became the training of new pilots. To realize this, the 1st Fighter Wing was renamed to 1st Wing. The Pilots Elementary Flying School moved with their Marchetti's from Goetsenhoeven to Beauvechain. Also the 9th Training Wing with their Alpha-Jets and Fouga Magisters from Brustum moved also to Beauvechain. These two components together will form the new 1st Wing and nowadays it is still composed like this. In 2005 the French Air Force and the Belgian Air Force decided to train their new pilots together. Because of this the basic training with the Marchetti will stay at Beauvechain, while the Alpha-Jets moved to Cazeaux in France to join the French/Belgian AJeTS (Advanced Jet Training School).

After a journey of one and a half hour by car we arrived at 9 AM at Beauvechain Air Base which is also called Bevekom in Dutch. After a warm welcome which is very common in Belgium and a short presentation about the base itself, we started our base tour. First we stopped at a hangar where we found a stored Fouga Magister. Two more aircraft of this type were preserved next to this hangar. After we took some pictures of these aircraft we moved on to the Marchetti platform which was my main goal of today's visit. This was the main platform on this base where the Marchetti's of the Belgian Air Force could be found. Once arrived at the platform, I saw it was quite busy with movements up here. There were almost twenty five of these little yellow airplanes on the ramp. They were aligned in four rows of five or six aircraft. It was very busy up here because aircraft arrived and departed constantly. I was able to take many decent pictures of the Marchetti's.

After our tour on the Marchetti platform, we moved on towards the maintenance hangar of the Alpha-Jet. There wasn't too much to photograph; most Alpha-Jets were decomposed because they were in maintenance. The aircraft inside this hangar were completely under construction. During our visit to this base we unfortunately didn't saw many Alpha-Jets because there are no operational Alpha-Jet flights left at Beauvechain. After 30 minutes, we went to the old F-16 shelter area of the base. There were three F-16's over there, two inside a hangar and one outside on the platform. The F-16's aren't operational anymore and they were used for training purposes of ground crews. After we took some decent pictures of these retired F-16's, we went to the maintenance hangar of the Marchetti. In the old F-16 area was nothing left to see anymore. Also in this hangar aircraft were decomposed into small parts because of their maintenance.

We would end our base tour with a small visit to the museum which is located next to the main entrance of Beauvechain. There were approximately up to fifteen aircraft preserved on a lawn or gravel surface. Most of them were ex Belgian Air Force, but there were also a pair of Mig-21's. Especially the silver-coloured Starfighter next to the building of the museum was very nice and well kept. Furthermore, this museum had a few other nice aircraft in its collection like the Gloster Meteor, Hawker Hunter, RF-84 Thunder Flash, T33 Tbird, SF260 Marchetti and an F-16A Fighting Falcon. After a base visit of more than four hours it came to an end. In the afternoon we were invited by the Belgians at their base in Brussels. Brussel-Melsbroek is the home base of the Belgian Transport fleet of the 15th Wing. I produced a very nice series of photographs during our tour on this base of a component of the Air Force which is forgotten sometimes. The Belgian Ministry of Defence announced that they will close down Bierset due to reorganizations. The entire Belgian helicopter fleet will move because of that from Bierset to Beauvechain. In the near future I will definitely come back to visit this great base again.

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