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The Transport and Helicopter Fleet; Kleine-Brogel, September 12, 2014

The Belgian Air Force Days, part 2; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The Belgian transport fleet will in the next years dramatically be changed with the introduction of the new Airbus A400M Atlas. The helicopter fleet has undergone some major changes as well. The closure of Liege-Bierset was a result of major cutbacks and the introduction of the NH90 is very important for SAR duties.

The Belgian transport fleet is stationed at the airbase Melsbroek in Brussels where they are assigned to the COMOPSAIR. Melsbroek is the military section of Zaventem Airport. The Belgian transport fleet is composed of two parts, namely the heavy transport section and an extensive VIP fleet. Belgium has compared to many other countries a relatively large VIP fleet, because Brussels contains the NATO headquarters. The Belgian Air Force has the Airbus A321 in use for the transportation of VIPs on the long distances. This aircraft is currently leased to replace the Airbus A330 which was phased out in the meantime. The Belgian Air Force has besides this large aircraft also a number of smaller VIP aircraft in use. The Belgian Air Force has four Embrears for medium distances in its orbat. The aircraft are of the type Embraer ERJ135 and ERJ145; the air force operates from both types two aircraft. The ERJ145 is the extended version of the ERJ135. For the transport of persons on the short-range the air force has two Dassault Falcon 20E-5 aircraft in use. The two Falcons are one of the oldest aircraft in the service of the air force and were already in use since 1973. The two aircraft have had a major update in 2004 to stay operational in the next decades. Apart from the two Falcon 20E-5's, the Air Force has also a Dassault Falcon 900B in use. This aircraft is like the other Falcons used for passenger transport on short distances. The VIP aircraft will stay in the coming years all in operational service. There are no plans to expand or change the fleet.

In addition to the VIP fleet also the heavy transport fleet is stationed in Brussels. The Belgian Air Force has transport aircraft of the type C-130 Hercules. The Belgian Air Force has ten aircraft of this type in use. The aircraft are used exclusively for the transport tasks. The aircraft are at the end of their life, because they are more than 40 years old. The Belgian government has selected the Airbus A400M Atlas as successor to the Hercules. The Belgian Air Force will receive a total of seven Atlas aircraft. The

aircraft will be delivered to the Air Force from 2018 to 2020. The Atlas is a four-engine turboprop aircraft developed by Airbus Military. The aircraft is designed to replace the C-130 Hercules and the C-160 Transall in Europe. The aircraft made its first flight in Seville in Spain on December 11, 2009. The Belgian Air Force was one of the initiators for the development of the Atlas. The A400M is able to land on unpaved runways. The specially designed propeller blades ensure that the aircraft is silent and very economical. Besides the Belgian aircraft also the only Atlas from Luxembourg will be stationed at Brussels. It is not yet clear whether the heavy transport fleet in Brussels will continue its operations. There are plans to deploy the aircraft permanently at Beauvechain or another airfield. It is for the Belgians an option to deploy the aircraft in the framework of the EATC cooperation.

The Belgian helicopter fleet has been changed dramatically in the recent years. The helicopters were in the past stationed at Brasschaat near Antwerp where the training for helicopter pilots was conducted. The operational helicopters were stationed at Liège-Bierset near the city of Liège. Brasschaat would close in May 2006 after an operational history of 95 years. This airbase was the oldest military airfield in Belgium. The 15th Squadron moved to Bierset after the closure where the training of pilots would be continued. The former Mirage base in Liege would be the home base of the Belgian Heli Wing until 2010. Between 1992 and 1994 the Belgian Army received 46 Augusta A-109BA helicopters; 28 anti-tank helicopters and 18 reconnaissance helicopters. These helicopters were employed by the Belgian Army until 2004 when the department became part of the Air Component as the Heli Wing. This Wing was stationed at Bierset making this the largest helicopter base in Belgium. Also the Allouette II and BN-2 Islander were in addition to the A-109 stationed at this airfield. The Allouette II and the Islander are retired nowadays and the A-109 fleet of the Belgian Air Component has shrunk to 20 helicopters. The remaining helicopters are sold to other countries. During the next round of cuts it was decided that Bierset would lose its military status and that the 20 helicopters would move to Beauvechain. The helicopters were moved to Beauvechain near Leuven from September 2010.

The latest addition to the Belgian Air Force is the NH90. The Belgian Air Force received the first NH90 helicopters in 2014. This helicopter was the type which would fill up the gap of helicopter capability in the air force. The Belgian Air Force will receive a total of eight helicopters of this type, of which most have been delivered. The Belgians received four helicopters of the type NH90 TTH and four helicopters of the type NH90 NFH. The four TTH variants will complement the A-109 fleet at Beauvechain for the tasks performed by the Army. The four NFH variants will receive the SAR task at Koksijde Air Base and will replace the outdated Sea-Kings. The Sea-King is more than 40 years in use and reached the end of its lifetime. The helicopters suffer from many problems due to the age of the helicopters. The NH90 NFH is the maritime variant of the helicopter. The helicopter will mainly perform the SAR task in Belgium. The NFH helicopters have now all been delivered to the Belgian Air Force in the course of 2014. The Sea-King will remain in use within the Belgian Air Force until 2016, because the NH90s are currently undergoing the qualifications to take over the SAR task. A location for the maintenance of the NH90 is created at Beauvechain, because maintenance of the helicopters will be centrally organized on this base. The NH90 operations will be coordinated from Beauvechain. In Koksijde only the operational SAR detachment will be stationed. The future of the Allouette III in Belgium is also known. The helicopter will fly until 2020 and will then be replaced by the NH90 NFH. If additional helicopters will be bought is until now not yet known.

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