Belgian Air Component
|Air Component of the Belgian Army|
Belgian Air Component wings
|Active||1909–1915: Company of Aviators
1915–1940: Military Aviation
1940–1946: Belgian Section, RAF
1946–1949: Military Aviation
1949–2002: Belgian Air Force
2002–present: Air Component
|Commander||Major General aviator Frederik Vansina|
|Air Force Ensign|
The Belgian Air Component (Dutch: Luchtcomponent, French: Composante air) is the air arm of the Belgian Armed Forces. The Belgian Air Force was founded in 1909 and is one of the world's first air forces.
The commander is Lieutenant General Claude Van de Voorde, appointed on 23 July 2009.
- 1 History
- 2 Aircraft inventory
- 3 See also
- 4 Notes
- 5 Bibliography
- 6 External links
Foundation and early years
The Belgian Air Force was founded in 1909 as a branch of the Belgian Army, carrying the name Compagnie des Ouvriers et Aérostiers. King Albert's interest in the military use of airplanes was a main impetus for its formation. Coincidentally, in the civil aviation sector, Baron Pierre de Caters earned the first civil pilot's brevet that same year. Caters would promptly establish an aviation school. At approximately the same time, the War Ministry followed the French military's example and had pilots earn a civil pilot's brevet before their military one.
In 1910, three Belgian lieutenants earned their pilot's brevets at the school, paying their own fees. Two of the artillery lieutenants were Baudoin de Montens d'Oosterwyck, who earned Brevet No. 19 on 30 September, and Alfred Sarteel, granted No. 23 on 10 November. The third lieutenant, Georges Nelis, was the new force's first aviation candidate, gaining Brevet No. 28 on 21 December. An airplane was personally purchased for him.
In spring of 1911, the new air force established its military aviation school with five pilots, two mechanics, and a woodworker. It received its first airplane via Baron Caters, who gave an airplane to King Albert, who in turn presented it to the school.
On 12 September 1912, pilot Lieutenant Nelis and observer Sous Lieutenant Stellingwerff were the first Europeans to fire a machine gun from an airplane; while Nelis brought the aircraft low, Stellingwerff put some bullets through a sheet staked out on the ground. They were disciplined for their efforts. Nelis then accompanied Capitaine Commandant Émile Mathieu to England during November 1913 to demonstrate aerial use of the Lewis machine gun at Hendon and Aldershot; as a result, the British adopted the Lewis, although the Belgians did not. Belgium entered World War I with planes tasked solely for reconnaissance missions.
World War I
By the time of Belgium's entry into the First World War on 4 August 1914, the military aviation branch, now called the Aviation Militaire Belge, consisted of four squadrons, each consisting of four 80-horsepower Henri Farman airplanes, although Escadrilles III and IV were still forming. A truck was assigned to each squadron, along with a fifth truck serving as a mobile workshop. Each squadron had a Commander, five pilots, and six observers, with all officers seconded from parent units. As a result, most of the new aviators were from the Engineers and Artillery components of the Belgian armed forces. As the war began, a fifth squadron was created, staffed with civilian pilots called to the colors and equipped with Bleriots.
Sous Lieutenant Henri Crombez flew one of the first war patrols, in a Deperdussin racer on 4 August 1914 above Liège. Adjutant Behaeghe was the first to engage an enemy, a few days later. On 26 September, the Belgian air crew of Sous Lieutenant de Petrowski and Sergeant Benselin mortally wounded a German pilot with a rifle bullet and forced his Taube to land at Sint-Agatha-Berchem; if they had submitted a claim for this victory, its approval would have marked history's first air-to-air combat victory.
On 3 January 1915, two machine guns supplied by British were fitted to two Belgian planes, making a dual effort against the foe possible; these were Belgium's first dedicated fighter planes. In February, 13 of the Belgian airmen flew 28 offensive patrols; their first dogfight was fought on the 26th, with ten Albatroses against three Belgian Farmans. On 26 March, Sous Lieutenant Boschmans sent a German two-seater into a steep dive when he seemed to hit the pilot; the German was not seen to either crash or land. This was the Belgian aviators' first victory claim.
In April, Lieutenant Fernand Jacquet mounted a machine gun on his pusher plane and sought out the enemy. On the 17th, he scored Belgium's first confirmed aerial victory, sending an Albatros reconnaissance plane down in flames over Roeselare. Apparently at about the same time, Adjutant José Orta and Sous Lieutenant Louis de Burlet were the first to attack an enemy observation balloon when they dropped three small bombs on a gasbag over Houthulst. Luckily for them, they missed; success would probably have blown them out of the sky.
On 18 January 1916, the decision was made to form a dedicated fighter squadron. On 22 February 1916, Escadrille I became the 1ère Escadrille de Chasse. It consisted of newly supplied Nieuport 10s and one obsolete Farman two-seater. In August, the new squadron would upgrade to Nieuport 11s, and Escadrille V was turned into the 5ème Escadrille de Chasse. The new unit was the first to mount an offensive formation for the new air force; on 15 February 1917, they flew an offensive patrol of seven. By this time, the AMB had grown to 44 aircraft, including 21 fighters. At this point, individual airplanes bore personal markings affixed by their pilots, but no unit designations.
In the summer of 1917, the AMB was allotted an active role in Allied aviation operations at the beginning of the Third Battle of Ypres. In March 1918, the AMB matured into a Groupe de Chasse. At this time, the role of the Escadrilles de Chasse was finally focused on their operation strictly as fighter units. There was a sorting out of pilots into fighter or reconnaissance roles. Not all fighter pilots went into the new fighter units; as of 1 May, 22 remained with reconnaissance units to fly escort missions. The King insisted that Jacquet be given the command of the Group. The newly organized fighter wing contained the two fighter escadrilles; however, 1ère Escadrille de Chasse became 9ème Escadrille de Chasse, and 5ème Escadrille de Chasse became 10ème Escadrille de Chasse. The 11ème Escadrille de Chasse was founded on 28 May to join them. By the start of the Allies final offensive in September 1918, the AMB was incorporated in the Allied aviation effort, and could send 40-plus planes into the air at one time. In its short span of service, the Groupe fought over 700 aerial combats and was credited with 71 confirmed and 50 probable victories.
Aircraft procurement difficulties
In June 1916 the nascent air force had received newer craft from the French in both single and double-seat versions of the Nieuport 10. The Belgians would continue to upgrade their planes throughout the war, though through their dependence on French manufacturers they became the stepchildren of the Allied effort from 1916 onwards. The introduction dates of various types, compared to the date of their acquisition by the Belgians, tells the tale. The Franco-American Lafayette Escadrille had Nieuport 16s as early as May 1916; the Belgians got them at the end of the year. The Nieuport 17 came into service with the French as early as June 1916, but the Belgians received so few that in June 1917 they were still operating all their earlier Nieuports. They then contracted for newer Nieuport 23s, which were basically up-engined Nieuport 17s. Spad VIIs had entered French service on 2 September 1916; the Belgians first received them almost an entire year later, with the first one on board on 22 August 1917. In September 1917, Belgium had the Hanriot HD.1 supplied to it the year after it was introduced. Spad XIIIs also came on line that month, but would not show up in Belgian inventory until the next year. Sopwith Camels first went into service in May 1917 and the AMB received its first one on 29 November 1917.
The AMB did make one attempt to design and build its own airplane. However the Ponnier M1 was not good enough for production, and the ten or so manufactured ended up with clipped wings as powered "Penguin" rollers for training rookie pilots.
One of its flying ace pilots, Willy Coppens, became the top ranking balloon buster of World War I, as well as one of the war's top aces. Four other pilots from the tiny force also became aces with it: Andre de Meulemeester, Edmond Thieffry, Jan Olieslagers, and Fernand Jacquet. A sixth Belgian, Adolphe DuBois d'Aische, became the war's oldest ace while in French service.
Between the world wars
During the interwar period, the Belgian Air Force flew the Breguet 19. Some efforts were made to acquire aircraft from local production, such as those by Stampe et Vertongen and Renard. They also evaluated native designs like the ACAZ C.2 and LACAB GR.8, none of which entered mass production however.
World War II
At the start of World War II, the Army Air Force had three active Air Force Regiments. Planes which were used by those regiments were the Renard R-31 and R-32, the Fiat CR.42, the Hawker Hurricane, the Gloster Gladiator, the Fairey Fox, and the Fairey Battle. These were massacred by the much superior German Luftwaffe in the German invasion of May 1940.
The following (possibly incomplete) table lists the inventory of the Belgian Air Force as in May 1940
|Aircraft||Photo||Origin||Type||Year acquired||In service|
|Fairey Battle||United Kingdom||Light bomber||1938||16|
|Fairey Fox||United Kingdom||Light bomber and observation||1933–1938||154|
|Gloster Gladiator||United Kingdom||Fighter||1937||22|
|Hawker Hurricane||United Kingdom||Fighter||1939||20|
|Koolhoven FK.56||Netherlands||Advanced trainer||1940||12|
|LACAB GR.8||Belgium||Bomber prototype||1936||1|
|Potez 33||France||Light bomber and reconnaissance||1930||10|
|Renard R.38||Belgium||Fighter prototype||1940||1|
|Caproni Ca.335/SABCA S.47 /||Belgium / Italy||Light bomber prototype for local production||1940||1|
|Stampe et Vertongen SV.5 Tornado||Belgium||Training||1936||21|
|Stampe et Vertongen RSV.22||Belgium||Training||1933||10|
|Stampe et Vertongen RSV.26||Belgium||Training||1933||10|
Before the outbreak of the war Belgium also sought to equip its Aviation Militaire with foreign designs, ordering production licences in Poland and France and aircraft in the USA. However, the acquired licences could not be used until May 1940 and the aircraft produced in the USA were eventually delivered to France and to the United Kingdom. The following table summarizes Belgium's foreign orders:
|Breguet 693||France||Light bomber and assault aircraft||1940||Licence to build 32|
|Brewster B-339||United States||Fighter||1939||40 ordered, 1 delivered to Bordeaux, 6 to Martinique, rest to RAF|
|Douglas DB-7||United States||Medium bomber||1939||16 ordered, transferred to RAF after surrender|
|PZL.37 Łoś||Poland||Medium bomber||1938||Licence to build acquired, none built|
|Grumman Martlet||United States||Fighter||1940||An order for at least 10 aircraft was placed, but never delivered and they were transferred to Royal Navy after the Belgian surrender, aircraft was proposed with fixed wings for land-based operations|
|Caproni Ca.313||Italy||Light bomber and reconnaissance aircraft (designated Ca.312)||1940||24 ordered, none delivered|
After the surrender of Belgium on 28 May 1940, a very small Belgian Air Force in exile was created in Great Britain as the Belgian section of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. This small force was active within the British Royal Air Force, and its squadrons were equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Typhoon.
The Cold War
On 15 October 1946, the Belgian military aviation was turned into an autonomous force, independent of the Belgian Army.
From September 1953 to 1960, the Ecole de Pilotage Avancé (Advanced Pilots' School) operated Harvards from the Kamina military base in the Belgian Congo. Seemingly about 60 Harvards were at the base.
During the Cold War, the Belgian Air Force operated the following aircraft:
|Aero Commander 560F||United States||Twin-engined light transport||560F||1||1961 to 1973 as royal transport|
|Airspeed Consul||United Kingdom||Twin-engined light transport||4||Used from 1948 in Belgian Congo.|
|Airspeed Oxford||United Kingdom||Twin-engined light transport||20||Operated between 1947 and 1954.|
|Auster AOP6||United Kingdom||Single-engine light observation aircraft,||22||Operated between 1947 and 1955.|
|Avro Anson||United Kingdom||Twin-engined light transport||15||Operated between 1946 and 1954.|
|Avro CF-100 Canuck||Canada||Twin-jet interceptor||Mk 5||53||Operated from 1957 into the mid-1960s.|
|Boeing 727-200||United States||Three-engined jet airliner||727-29C||2||Operated from 1975.|
|Dassault Mirage 5||France Belgium||Jet fighter-bomber (BA), Training (BD) and reconnaissance (BR)||5BA
|Operated from 1970 until 1993. 3 were built in France|
|Dassault Falcon 20||France||Twin-engined light jet transport||20E||2||Operated from 1973.|
|de Havilland Tiger Moth||United Kingdom||Biplane trainer||15||Operated from 1946.|
|de Havilland Dominie||United Kingdom||Biplane transport||7||Operated from 1946.|
|de Havilland Mosquito||United Kingdom||Twin-engined piston light fighter-bomber||TT3
|Operated from 1947 as target tugs and night fighters.|
|de Havilland Canada Chipmunk||Canada||Single-engined piston trainer||2||For evaluation from 1948.|
|Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet||Germany/ France||Ground attack||Alpha Jet B||33||co designed and build by SABCA|
|Douglas C-47 Dakota||United States||Passenger/troop transport||41||Operated in various roles between 1946 and 1976.|
|Douglas DC-4||United States||Four-engined piston airliner||2||Operated from 1950 to 1969.|
|Douglas DC-6||United States||Four-engined piston airliner||4||Operated from 1954 to 1971.|
|Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar||United States||Twin-engined troop or cargo transport||C-119F
|46||Operated from 1952 to 1973.|
|Fouga Magister||France Germany||Jet trainer||CM.170R||50||Operated from 1960|
|SABCA F-16||Belgium United States||Fighter||F-16A
|Built under licence in Belgium and the Netherlands.|
|Gloster Meteor||United Kingdom||Jet fighter||F4
|Operated from 1949 some built in Belgium and the Netherlands|
|Hawker Hurricane||United Kingdom||Piston fighter||II||3||Operated from 1946|
|SABCA Hunter||Belgium United Kingdom||Jet fighter||F4
|Operated from 1956. Hawker Hunter built in Belgium under licence|
|Hawker Siddeley 748||United Kingdom||Twin-engined transport||2A||3||Operated from 1976|
|Lockheed T-33||United States||Single engine jet||T-33A
|Operated from 1952|
|SABCA F-104 Starfighter||Belgium United States||Multi-role jet||F-104G
|Operated from 1963, Belgian-built|
|Miles Magister||United Kingdom||Single-engines trainer||1||Operated from 1946 to 1948|
|Miles Martinet||United Kingdom||Single-engined target tug||11||Operated from 1947 to 1953|
|North American T-6 Texan||United States||Basic trainer||Various||173||Operated in Belgian Kongo|
|Percival Proctor||United Kingdom||Single-engined liaison||IV||6||Operated from 1947|
|Percival Pembroke||United Kingdom||Twin-engined light transport||C51||12||Operated from 1954.|
|Republic F-84 Thunderjet||United States||Single-engined fighter-bomber||F-84E
|213||Operated from 1951|
|Republic F-84F Thunderstreak||United States||Single-engined fighter-bomber||F-84F||197||Operated from 1955|
|Republic RF-84F Thunderflash||United States||Single-engined reconnaissance||RF-84F||34||Operated from 1955|
|SIAI-Marchetti SF.260||Italy||Single-engined trainer||SF.260MB||36||Operated from 1969|
|Stampe SV.4|| Belgium
|Operated from 1948|
|Supermarine Spitfire||United Kingdom||Piston-engined fighter||IX, XIV and XVI||181||Operated from 1945|
|Swearingen Merlin||United States||Twin-engined light transport||Merlin 3A||6||Operated from 1976|
|Westland Sea King||United Kingdom||Rescue helicopter||Mk 48||5||Operated from 1976|
|Aérospatiale SA 316 Alouette III||France||Light utility helicopter||SA 316B||3||Delivered in 1971, used by Belgian Navy.|
Post-Cold War reforms – COMOPSAIR
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (May 2011)|
At the beginning of the 1990s, the end of the Cold War caused the Belgian government to restructure the Belgian Armed Forces in order to cope with the changed threats. The Belgian Air Force was hit hard and saw its strength more than halved with the disbanding of the 3rd Tactical Wing in Bierset (1994); the disbanding of the 1st Fighter Wing in Beauvechain; the 9th Training Wing in Sint-Truiden Air Base; and the Elementary Flying School in Goetsenhoven (1996).
In 2002, the Belgian government decided to emulate Canada and impose a "single structure" on its armed forces in which the independent Belgian Air Force ceased to exist. The Belgian Air Component (COMOPSAIR being the HQ) consists of the 2nd Tactical Wing in Florennes Air Base and the 10th Tactical Wing in Kleine Brogel Air Base, both flying F-16s in four squadrons. Out of the 160 F-16s originally bought by Belgium, only 105 were upgraded; with further reductions to 72 aircraft in 2005; and planned to 60 by 2012. The 1st Wing (Belgium) at Beauvechain Air Base is assigned for the training of pilots, using the piston-powered Aermacchi SF.260 for elementary training, and the Alpha Jet for advanced training. Advanced combat training is done on F-16's at Kleine Brogel.
COMOPSAIR still operates the Lockheed C-130 Hercules in the 15th Air Transport Wing based at Melsbroek Air Base, planning to replace them by seven Airbus A400M transport planes. VIPs are transported with Embraer 135/145 jets, Dassault 20/900, and the Airbus A321. The Sea King SAR helicopters and the Alouette III helicopters will be active for years. They will be replaced by NH-90s (10: 4 NFH + 6 TTH).
In 2004, as part of the unified structure, the Army Aviation units of the Wing Heli were transferred to the COMOPSAIR. These contain the Agusta A109 attack helicopter, and the Alouette II training and recce helicopter.
In 2005, the Belgian Alpha Jets moved to Cazaux in France to continue the Initial Operational Training, while the Advanced Jet Training was done on French Alpha Jets at Tours. As from 2013 both Advanced Jet Training as well as Initial Operational Training are completed in Cazaux in France.
Within the framework of its commitments within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, Belgium has assigned its 72 F-16s to NATO purposes. Two squadrons with a total of 16 aircraft have been designated for use by the Rapid Reaction Forces.
In February 2008, Defense Minister Pieter De Crem announced that due to increasing problems and poor serviceability, the two A310s were to be replaced as soon as possible by two aircraft in the same class. An Airbus A330 was dry-leased to take their place till March 2014 where it was replaced by an Airbus A321.
On September 1, 2010, the Wing Heli in Bierset was disbanded and the Agusta A109 helicopters moved to Beauvechain Air Base to become 1st Wing. The SF260 squadrons became part of the Basic Flying Training School.
On May 24, 2011, it was reported that the two retired Airbus A310 aircraft have been sold to the Brussels-based company MAD Africa for the amount of 700,000 euros. The company then sold them on to the Dutch Van Vliet transport company, who in their turn will transfer the aircraft to an as yet unspecified Abu Dhabi-based operator.
In January 1991, 18 Mirage 5 aircraft of the 3rd Tactical Wing were deployed to Turkey's Diyarbakır air base. During this operation, Belgian planes carried out several flights along the Iraqi border. After this operation the obsolete Mirage 5s were phased out.
On 15 July 1996, a C-130 with serial CH-06 carrying 37 members of the Dutch Army Fanfare Band and four Belgian crew members crashed at Eindhoven after a bird strike while executing a go-around, resulting in the loss of power to two engines. 34 passengers were killed, and only 7 survived. The accident is known in the Netherlands as the Herculesramp.
From October 1996, the Belgian Air Force cooperated with the Dutch Royal Air Force in the Deployable Air Task Force in patrolling former Yugoslavian airspace. F-16s of the 2nd and 10th Tactical Wings, operating from the Italian bases of Villafranca and Amendola, were assigned to missions insuring the control of a No-Fly Zone over Yugoslavia, and providing the air support necessary for UN and NATO troops. Between March 24 and June 10, 1999, 12 Belgian F-16s carried out 679 combat sorties – the first time since the second World War that Belgian aircraft took part in active war operations in enemy territory – against Serbia during the Kosovo crisis. The last Belgian F-16 detachment left Italy in August 2001.
On 29 March 2004, four F-16s from Kleine Brogel were transferred under NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission to the Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania for three months, where they were employed in monitoring the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian skies.
In 2005, the Helicopter Wing (WHeli – HeliW) deployed 4 A-109 (including 1 Medevac) in Bosnia (Tuzla). In July, four F-16s deployed to Afghanistan to support the NATO International Security Assistance Force. At the same, the 80th UAV Squadron deployed its B-Hunter in Bosnia (Tuzla) for a four months period: 52 persons, 6 B-Hunter and 4 GCS.
In 2006, Belgian Hunter unmanned air vehicles deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of the EU EUFOR peacekeeping mission. At the same time, the Helicopter Wing (WHeli – HeliW) deployed 3 A-109 (including 1 Medevac) in Bosnia (Mostar), Operation codeword "Blue Bee".
On 1 December 2006 the Belgian Air Component deployed again under Baltic Air Policing mission four F-16 MLU aircraft to Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania, to defend the airspace of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
From August 2008, four F-16s will be deployed to Kandahar in Afghanistan in support of the Dutch land forces. In March 2011, Belgium deployed six F-16 Fighters to Araxos in Greece, in support of operation: Odyssey Dawn, to support the NATO operations over Libya. the aircraft were already at the base as part of a joint exercise and were transferred to NATO command. as of June 2011, the aircraft have flown over 1000 hours over Libya and attacked various military installations and targets.
On 12 September 2011 a wikileaks document showed a diplomatic cable from the American ambassador and the Minister of Defence Pieter De Crem that Belgium is interested in buying off-the-shelf Lockheed F-35 Lightnings by 2020.
In 2013 the Belgian Air Force supported French operations in Mali providing Medevac helicopter support with 2 A-109 helicopters and 2 C-130 Hercules in a tactical air transport role.
On 2 September 2013, four F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter-jets of the Royal Belgian Air Force landed at the Šiauliai Air Base to take charge of NATO’s Air Policing mission over the Baltic States, the Ministry of National Defence has informed.
|F-16 Fighting Falcon||United States||Multirole fighter||F-16AM
|48||6 airframes in storage. Belgium considers buying up to 40 new fighters.|
|Airbus A321||European Union||VIP/troop transport||A321-231||1||Leased from Hi Fly with civilian registration CS-TRJ.|
|Airbus A400M Atlas||European Union||Medium transport||A400M||0||7 on order, deliveries expected 2018-2020.|
|Dassault Falcon 20||France||VIP transport||Falcon 20||2||Delivered in 1973. Will be phased out in 2015 & 2016.|
|Dassault Falcon 900||France||Light transport aircraft||Falcon 900||1|
|Embraer ERJ 135||Brazil||Light transport||ERJ 135LR||2|
|Embraer ERJ 145||Brazil||Light transport||ERJ 145LR||2|
|Lockheed C-130 Hercules||United States||Medium transport||C-130H||10||12 delivered, 1 crashed in 1996; 1 lost in fire 2006. Based on Melsbroek Air Base. To be replaced by the Airbus A400M Atlas.|
|Aermacchi SF.260||Italy||Propeller-driven trainer||SF.260D
|Based on Beauvechain Air Base.|
|SABCA Alpha Jet||Belgium||Jet trainer||Alpha Jet 1B+||29||Based on Cazaux Air Base in France for joint training with French Air Force.|
|Westland Sea King||United Kingdom||Search and rescue helicopter||Mk.48 (HAS-2)||4||5 were delivered in 1976 by Westland, initially ordered by Egypt and after cancellation sold to Belgium, will be replaced by NH90 NFH from 2014, to be completely withdrawn in 2016.|
|Agusta A109||Italy||Recce helicopter
|A109BA||20||46 (28 x Anti-Tank with HOT missiles, modified to TOW missile and 18 LUH) were delivered 1992 - 1994, 2 crashed and 21 sold and 3 in storage.|
|NHI NH90||European Union||Maritime helicopter - SAR
|8 ordered in 2008, to be delivered from 2013 onwards + 2 optional TTH|
|RQ-5 Hunter||Israel||Reconnaissance UAV||MQ-5B||13||For observing borders, observation of the North Sea and intelligence gathering.|
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