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The 2nd Wing One Year After the TLP; Florennes, May 18, 2010

Force Arien de Belgique Part 3; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The third visit to different air bases in Belgium which was on the program was a visit to Florennes on Tuesday, May 18, 2010. Only the 2nd Wing of the Belgian Air Force still operates from Florennes, exactly one year after the last TLP at this base. The 2nd wing flies the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Florennes was founded at the beginning of the Second World War in 1942 when the German Luftwaffe needed a base in this region for night fighters. The Germans stationed different types of aircraft at Florennes, such as the Messerschmitt 110, Focke Wulf 190 and Junkers 88. The base was liberated in 1944 by the U.S. First Division (Big Red One). The USAAF (U.S. Army Air Force) started to use Florennes for bombing raids over Germany in 1945. The B-26 Marauder of the USAAF 344th Group was deployed at Florennes at that time. The Belgian Air Force founded the 2nd Wing at Florennes in 1947. The wing consisted of the no 1 Squadron and the no 2 Squadron. Both units were equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire. These planes were replaced by the F-84E Thunderjet in 1951 and by the F-84F Thunderstreak in 1955. These aircraft flew until 1970 when they were replaced by the Mirage V. A third squadron was founded in 1954, namely the no 42 Squadron. This unit became a reconnaissance unit. The 2nd Wing was renamed to 2nd Tactical Wing in 1970 with the arrival of the Mirage V. The Wing contained the no 2 Squadron and the no 42 Squadron at that time. The no 42 Squadron moved to Bierset in 1988 and it was replaced by the no 350 Squadron. This unit returned to Florennes after 18 years, which was its original base. The base was also being modernized in that year and there were several major changes in the infrastructure. All this has to do with the arrival of the F-16 and the use of the Gryphon cruise missile of the no 485 Tactical Missiles Wing of the USAF.

Nowadays the 2nd Wing consists of the no 1 Squadron and the no 350 Squadron. The no 2 Squadron was disbanded due to cuts in funds and the no 350 Squadron was transferred from Beauvechain to Florennes. The F-16's left Beauvechain and therefore this base became the most important training base in Belgium. The no 1 Squadron has the role of offensive conventional operations and aerial reconnaissance. Additionally, the no 350 Squadron has the Air Defensive task. Both units are part of the

NATO Response Force (NRF). The badge of the 2nd Wing was officially designated to the unit on October 12, 1962 after an idea of the first Corps Adjutant: Adjutant Robette. This person was a hunter in the Ardennes in the past. The boar and the horn are a typical symbol for the highlands between the Sambre near Charleroi and the Maas near Dinant. The call of the hunt master - "Taïaut - Taïaut" in French jargon - has become the slogan of the pilots of the 2nd Wing. The term originated in the jargon of the pilots during the Second World War in the Battle of Britain. When a pilot saw his opponent for a upcoming dogfight, he announced on the radio the word "Tally Ho".

I arrived at 9 AM at the main gate of Florennes Airbase. The weather was quite foggy, but the weather forecast was good and they expected that the fog would resolve during the morning. We had to wait a long time before our guide showed up. Our guide was a young cadet who was in training for the control tower at Florennes. After our guide had given an introduction about the basics of the tour we could start the tour in a hangar where we found a F-16. This F-16 had no canopy and there was a counterweight on its nose. This weight ensures that the F-16 does not flip over when the ejection seat and the radar in the nose of the plane are removed for maintenance. After this brief visit we were also able to photograph the F-16 on the platform. There was an F-16 on a small platform in front of the large maintenance hangar. The expected F-16 flight movements were bad for today unfortunately. After a short ride by bus we arrived at the old TLP platform. This platform is now in use by the Belgians and they operate from this platform with their F-16’s. There were twenty F-16’s on the flightline and they were displayed in two rows. Unfortunately we were not allowed to access that platform.

We went by bus to the runway for some action shots of the incoming and departing F-16’s. Unfortunately, eight of the twelve morning flights were canceled because of an ash cloud above the North Sea. The ash comes from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. It seemed that a total of two F-16’s had departed in the early morning. We had to wait for more than thirty minutes before the first F-16’s reported for landing at Florennes. We were positioned halfway the runway with the idea to catch a few action shots when the F-16’s would come loose off the ground during take-off. This brought me a few spectacular action shots of the F-16 which took off with full afterburner. After lunch we drove back to the same spot next to the runway as during the morning flight. There were currently two F-16's ready for departure at the old TLP platform. The two F-16's passed us while they taxied to the runway. The light was on the right side of this F-16 and therefore I managed to produce a few nice pictures of these machines. A few minutes later, the two F-16s took off with full afterburner and they came loose off the runway right in front of us. This gave me some very spectacular pictures. Three planes which left earlier during our lunch returned to Florennes thirty minutes after the two F-16's had departed. They made a few touch and go’s before they came in for the full stop landing.

Our visit was over when the three F-16’s were back. We were driven back to the main gate and we stopped a few times on our way back to catch the gate guards on photo. After the visit I went to the landing area outside the base to see more returning F-16’s. Also a Belgian C-130 Hercules entered the circuit when I arrived at this area. After the arrival of all these aircraft we drove back to the Netherlands and we made a stopover at Brussels-Melsbroek. There was a Falcon 900 of the Spanish Air Force on the platform; this was a very nice visitor and I was able to catch it very well on photo. I returned home after a nice day full of action of the Belgian Air Force. The visit to Florennes was nothing special but it was nice to see the base one year after the TLP.

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