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Y4-5 July 2009

The Belgian seaside: a deep blue sea, terrific yellow golden beaches, breathtaking vistas, picturesque dunes with waving tall grass, peace and quiet. You will find none of it there. So, why would anyone in his or her right mind go there? That's right: they wouldn't.

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Koksijde is a big name in the airshow business, but for a couple of years the show had been adrift. While it had at least one star item each show and managed some very reasonable line-ups, it was a mere shadow of it legendary past and suffered quite a lot, often unjustified, criticism from enthusiasts. In 2008, due to some organizational issues, the show was even transformed to an 'airday' with a limited flying and static display in the middle of a week.

In 2008, the Belgian Air Component's main event was held at Florennes, still in its guise of the now abolished Defence Days, but, with the subtitle 'International Airshow' for the first time in years and a programme to reflect this new emphasis. 2009 was the first full international airshow of the Belgian Air Component for a few years, at Koksijde. Would the fresh start of 2008 be confirmed or was the Belgian public in for a bitter disappointment?

The first signs boded well, with confirmations from the excellent Swiss F-18 Hornet, the rarely seen Swiss Super Puma and Dutch F-16 solo displays. France was also quick to confirm: the Rafale, getting off to an impressive start of its airshow career piloted by Cédric Ruet in 2009, the much under-appreciated Cognac-based Cartouche Doré presenting their graceful routine with 3 Epsilon TB30s and on Saturday, the main day of the event, the Patrouille de France. Then it went quiet for a while.

The show weekend started off dramatically with one of the static participants, a Belgian air cadet Piper Cub, crashing at Goetsenhoven on its way to Koksijde, killing both crew members.

Most of the static was laid out according to the usual of Koksijde, posing some photographers with problems to avoid having fences and audience in their images, but as is also the case most of the time in recent years, quite a bit of it also offered nice uncluttered photo opportunities of some exotic aircraft, like a Hungarian two-seat Gripen, Austrian Saab 105 or Spanish F-5M.

A new area of the static display was dedicated to the 30th anniversary of F-16 service in Belgium and a nice line-up was arranged, headed by the F-16's predecessor, a preserved F-104 Starfighter: the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, USAF and Greece all sent over aircraft to join the party.

30 years of F-16 service was also celebrated in the air, obviously with the Belgian F-16 solo display by Mitch Beulen, who made lavish use of flares during his show, just like the Dutch F-16, a heritage flight of Mitch and Peter Teichman in his Spitfire MkXI, a Hunter display by the Dutch Hawker Hunter Foundation and a Mustang, America's main multi-role aircraft of the Second World War flown by Belgian Frederic Vormezeele.

Apart from the displays mentioned above to help celebrate the F-16, there were only few civilian aircraft in the flying programme. 2 of these were classic jet routines, with a Fouga Magister from France and a British Gnat duo, based at North Weald. The last civilian item were the Ursel-based Victor Formation Team, flying a 5-ship display.

This means the emphasis was firmly on military displays. The Belgian Air Component showed off most of its assets in solo display or role demos. 2 F-16s performed a very disappointing airfield attack on Saturday, while on Sunday, the attack bit was done by a C-130 dropping a number of paratroopers.
Being home to both types, Koksijde had the Seaking and Alouette as obvious participants. 2 official Belgian displays also took part in the early hours of the programme: the A109 and Belgium's new Marchetti display team Hardship Red, named after the general flight callsign of Belgian Air Component Marchettis, with a rather sedate show. On both days, 6 Alpha Jets also flew a missing man-formation in honour of the 2 crew killed in the Friday Piper Cub accident.

Koksijde had scored big on propeller-teams. While sometimes snickered at by spotters, the Danish air force Baby Blue put on their regular precise display with their Saab Supporters, which meant Koksijde was once again one the few shows which enjoyed a Danish display in the flying programme. Very different displays came from the Royal Jordanian Falcons and the Moroccan Marche Verte, making their return to the European airshow circuit after years of absence, stunning most of the crowd flying the first part of the display with their 7 aircraft tied together with ropes.

First-time participants in a Belgian show were the Croatian Wings of Storm flying PC9s, indeed a first appearance of the team in this part of Europe, quite a coup for the Belgian air force. Having joined NATO earlier in the year, the Croatians were keen to take part with their new 6-ship routine at a show celebrating NATO's 60th anniversary. With their well-thought out show, containing more than 1 unusual maneuver, the team rightfully took home the award for best display team. The team's AN-32 support aircraft also generated quite bit of interest during arrivals and departures.

The Croatians were not the only participants not often seen in this part of Europe. Koksijde had also managed to attract the Austrian air force's Saab 105, Hungary's spectacular Gripen display and Poland's Iskry team, flying 5 rare Polish-built TS11 Iskra training aircraft, looking rather resplendent in their elegant colour schemes, but a little underpowered for formation flying. Still, the team performed admirably.
A final flying display aircraft, also a trainer in special colours, came in the shape of the RAF Hawk, flying quite a ways away from the public, which may therefore have missed its special paint scheme.

All in all, a terrific line-up to rival the best European shows in 2009. Organization-wise, there were more than a few problems with traffic management from the motorway. Visitors using the excellent public transport links from the coast did not have suffer from this though, and even got a nice reduction to boot.

The weather played ball on both days, with a mix of sun and clouds, making sure the temperature remained bearable. The clouds also helped remedy Coxyde's backlighting problem, though probably not in a way photographers would prefer. The only major annoyance is still the lack of atmosphere during the flying display. A better considered soundtrack to the proceedings would benefit the show significantly, rather than the current background music from the local radio station, leading to such oddball combinations as a Spitfire display to a children's pirate song.

Still, with a programme like 2009, Coxyde is firmly on the airshow map again, with rare and interesting participants and a revamped static layout. The airforce raised the bar for its 2010 show at Beauvechain.

Report by Chris Janssens

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Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present