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30 Years Gilze-Rijen Aviation Society; Gilze-Rijen, September 7, 2016

The 30th Anniversary of the GRAS; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

In 30 years, the Gilze-Rijen Aviation Society has become one of the largest enthusiast associations of spotters in the Netherlands. The community is also the only association which is able to manage and organize a spotter day like this. For all volunteers, of course, a lot of time was invested in the organization of this day.

On Wednesday, September 7, the spotter day took place which was organized by the Gilze-Rijen Aviation Society (GRAS) in collaboration with the Defense Helicopter Command (DHC). The spotter day was organized within the framework of the 30th anniversary of the GRAS. In 1986, the Gilze-Rijen Aviation Society was officially founded by a group of people who lived around the airbase. In the beginning, this group was nothing more than a group of friends than a complete association. From March 1988, the group began to publish a newsletter. This newspaper was a success under the people from the area, because from April 1988 the first volume of the magazine "Runway 28" was published. The name of this sheet was easy to explain, because the Runway 28 is the main runway at Gilze-Rijen. This location is now one of the most famous spots in the Netherlands for photography. The magazine was a success and was growing rapidly, the group started an association. Unfortunately, in the early 90s the publishing of the magazine stopped. However, this would not last long, because in 1994 the work was continued by a new group of enthusiastic people. This relaunch has led to the association which is nowadays known as the GRAS. The magazine Take-Off has become a familiar sight among the members of the association. The organization of spotters around this anniversary was arranged by a number of involved volunteers of the GRAS. The Royal Netherlands Air Force would facilitate Gilze-Rijen during this day for the spotter day.

After a preparation period of over 3 months, the first participants would come to Gilze-Rijen on Tuesday, September 6. These first participants were two helicopters of the French Army (ALAT); the helicopters which arrived were a SA341 Gazelle and SA330 Puma. Both helicopters were from the northern French airbase Etain-Rouvres where the helicopters fly at the 3RHC. Both helicopters arrived at the end of the afternoon. The collecting of all the spotters began in the morning on Wednesday, September 7.

The airbase was using the runway 10 at the side of Molenschot during this day. The road underneath the landing is a narrow road and it was therefore not surprising that it was immediately very full during the morning hours. In the afternoon, more than 250 plane spotters would be present on the airbase to photograph the participating aircraft. The group was positioned in the middle of the runway in front of the control tower of Gilze-Rijen. It took not long before the first action took place, because the helicopters of the DHC were very active. The first helicopters which appeared before the lens were two CH-47D/F Chinooks of the no 298 Squadron. Both helicopters made a hot refuel across the runway and they appeared together in front of the group of spotters. Both Chinooks were soon followed by a pair of AH-64D Apache helicopters.

The aircraft which would participate during this day were a surprise for the spotters, because there was no flight plan communicated before. The program was totally unknown and the old fashioned way of spotting was reintroduced to the group of spotters. The first participant which would report was a German EF2000 Eurofighter from the German Laage Air Base in the north of the country. The Eurofighter made two low approaches. This rule of maximum two approaches was valid for all participants due to the produced sound in the environment of the airbase. Soon the spotters were surprised by the arrival of two German EC135 helicopters from B├╝ckeburg. Both helicopters flew along the public before they were parked on the 300 platform. After this landing a French C-135 Stratotanker made a low approach followed by a touch and go. Also, a Belgian Alpha-Jet made several approaches. The next visitor was a special formation. There were as many as three Danish T-17 Supporters which came in. These three aircraft first made a touch and go before they would land. These aircraft would remain overnight at Gilze-Rijen. The Belgian ERJ-135 made a few starts before the aircraft went back to Brussels. The French Xingu which followed would make some very spectacular passes. The plane flew at a very low altitude with it gear in retracted position over the runway. This created the opportunity for some really nice Panningshots. Shortly after the departure of the Xingu two French TB-30 Epsilons arrived. The Belgian Marchetti made a low approach over the runway at high speed.

After two fly-bys of a German Tornado, there were also two French Alpha-Jets which both made a full stop. It was very busy in the airspace of Gilze-Rijen, because soon also three F-16s from Volkel made a low approach. These aircraft all made a spectacular fly-by along the public. In the meanwhile, the French Gazelle and the Puma were making a local flight through the Netherlands. These helicopters arrived shortly after the F-16s went back to Volkel. Both helicopters flew in a formation over the runway. Both helicopters went into a hover over the grass in front of the spectators to give a little show. This show was one of the absolute highlights of the day. Shortly after the landing of the French helicopters also the two German EC135s would leave. These helicopters also performed a little show in front of the spotters. A nice surprise was the touch and go of a NATO C-17 which was planned to fly to Eindhoven. The C-17 was a pleasant surprise for the audience. The last visitors of the day which would arrive were two F-16s from Kleine-Brogel including the Tiger F-16. Both aircraft had live weaponry under the wings, as it were the QRA aircraft. Both F-16s made in a tight formation an overshoot where they banked to the right in front of the audience. This was for all the present spotters the photo moment of the day. Finally, the French helicopters left home and the spotter day was over after this departure. Only the aircraft of the Gilze-Rijen historical flight turned home before the spectators left the airbase. The GRAS had organized a fantastic and a very memorable afternoon. Congratulations with the 30th anniversary.

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