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14 September 2008

2008 has not been a good airshow year when it comes to weather, with several shows in the UK being cancelled while in Belgium global warming brought cold and wet weather to the first of the Defence Days and spoiling the start of the Sanicole airshow.

Imagine everyone's surprise then when on September 14, Melsbroek awoke in glorious sunshine for their open house, their first since 2002. Of course, to keep the balance, this occurred at a show with no real flying display.
Still, under normal circumstances, there should have been plenty of action throughout the day as Melsbroek shares its runways with Brussels National.

With regular passenger traffic, there should have been plenty of aircraft to watch for the more than 20000 visitors, but as luck would have it, the northerly wind forced traffic to land from the opposite direction than usual, and thanks to the traffic distribution plan, also on the opposite side of the airfield. This put paid to the plan of having plenty of aircraft in action to watch throughout the day. Organizers just can't catch a break this year. On the upside of this, it gave the commentator little to talk about, something which is a reason for rejoicing in Belgium.

The open house itself was organized to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the 15 transport wing of the Belgian Air Component and the 15th anniversary of the Police Air Support Unit, also based at Melsbroek.

Due to the strain on transport aircraft worldwide, only very few foreign participants joined the festivities: a Dutch C-130 Hercules in in its new grey colour scheme, a French Xingu which is now also used to train Belgian military transport pilots, a Hungarian An-26 and an Italian C-27 Spartan.
How desperate must an organizer be to invite Italians?
This left it up to the classic aircraft to attract visitors and indeed, there was a nice selection on display. Representing the wartime role of Melsbroek was the Dutch B-25 Mitchell. In 1944, Mitchells operated from Zaventem as part of allied operations against Nazi Germany. Also present was Eric Vormezeele with his classic T-6 Harvard training aircraft. Classic transport aircraft in the static park were a Dragon Raide, based at Duxford, a French DC-3 and a Swearingen Merlin, which previously belonged to 21 squadron and is now in civilian hands in Luxembourg.

Tucked away in a hangar was the Sabena Oldtimers Lysander, which underwent a painstaking restoration over the past few years and which will shortly be taking to the air again, to join the airshow circuit for the 2009 season.

Providing the meat for the static park was the Belgian Air Component itself, among others with all types that are currently in service with the 15 Wing: C-130H Hercules, Airbus A310, Falcon 20, Falcon 900, Emb135 and Emb145. Some of these had even received special markings for the 60th anniversary, though none as extensive as CH07.
Other Belgian aircraft included the 2 special tails from Florennes, a single F-16 from Kleine Brogel, an Alpha Jet celebrating 1,000,000 flying hours, an SF260 Marchetti and a Seaking. Some of these were positioned a bit too close to the fence. Backlighting for most of the day does not help either of course when it comes to photography.

The federal police, not to be outdone, also invited some foreign guests: a Dutch Bo105, a German Ec-155 and a French AS350 to join their own helicopters at Melsbroek. The Belgian police helicopters performed some role demonstrations throughout the day, including a winching and fastrope. Together with a paradrop from the C-130s and a few fly-by's and a tactical landing of those, this made up the flying display of the day.

Still, the nice sun and the relaxed atmosphere made it a worthwhile day out. Transport links were very well organized and the base personnel seemed proud to open their gates to the public.

Unfortunately, drinks and food were expensive, even more so considering the size and nature of the event. The federal police sold cheaper drinks in their own hangar, but of course one had to take a chance when ordering beers: Would they be keeping count and marking individuals for alcohol tests on the way out?

Altogether an enjoyable day out, even if it too suffered from the weather, in an unexpected way.

Report by Chris Janssens

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