Belgian Air Force Lockheed T/F-104G Starfighter

 

Belgium's selection of the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter was quite predictable following other Nato countries and particularly neighbour Netherlands adoption of the type. A total of 112 Starfighters were procured by the Belgian Air Force, this being split between 100 F-104G (serial FX-01 to FX-100) and 12 TF-104G trainers (serial FC-01 to FC-12). Of these, 40 F-104G's were MDAP-funded, the remainder being paid for by the Belgian goverment.
With the exception of the very first ones, shipped as CKD kits to Belgium, all Belgian F-104G were built and assembled at SABCA Gosselies plant, alongside 88 others airframes for the Bundesluftwaffe or Federal German Air Force use.
The initial three TF-104G were built at Lockheed Palmdale plant, the remaining nine two-seaters being assembled by SABCA from Lockheed CKD kits.
One aircraft crashed before being taken on charge by the Belgian Air Force, being later replaced by another similarly numbered machine. This was the aircraft serialled FX-47.


The "first one" being test flown from Sabca's Gosselies facility. This was the only machine to wear a non "digitalised" serial-number (FX-1 compared to FX-01)


The Starfighters were slated to replace Avro Canada CF-100 Mk.5 Canucks of N1 All-Weather Fighter Wing at Beauvechain air base, then the Republic F-84F Thunderstreaks of N10 Fighter-Bomber Wing at Kleine Brogel air base.

Originally deliveries planning was as follows:

  • F-104G's FX-01 to FX-40 and TF-104G's FC-01 to FC-03 to N1 Wing;
  • F-104G's FX-41 to FX-80 for N10 Wing;
  • F-104G's FX-81 to FX-100 held in storage as attrition replacement batch.

Organisation wise, things were somewhat different for each Wing:

  • N1 Wing started receiving its Starfighters in April 1963, these reequipping 350 Squadron, 349 Squadron followed suit in October of that year. The aicraft remained assigned to squadrons until April 25th, 1966, when the Wing pooling was instated. The control and daily management of the aircraft was the responsability of the Wing Maintenance Group. A small operational conversion flight , the Flight TF-104G, was established in January 1965 with the three assigned TF-104G. At that time, the TF-104G received as identification serial a US-like buzz number (FG + followed by the last three of their construction numbers; FG-104 to FG-106).

F-104G FX-04

Pilot "Jim" Van Roy in FX-04 at Beauvechain in the "metallic" days.

  • N10 Wing started its Starfighter era on June 1964, the 31 Squadron reequipping first. For the sake of convenience, initial operations were carried out from Beauvechain air base, where assistance for the type conversion could be given by N1 Wing. Most aircraft left for Kleine Brogel air base in July. The 31 Squadron was the recipient of all Starfighter earmarked for N10 Wing; 23 Squadron kept operating F-84F Thunderstreak, sending its pilots to 31 for conversion. Effective on January 1st 1965, the aircraft were pooled in the Wing, the remaining F-84F going to the N10 Wing F-84F Base Flight before being quickly phased out.
     

Original deliveries planning was broadly adhered to, however, due to the non-delivery of FX-01 (keep as instruction airframe) and to early crashes, two aircraft from the attrition batch were delivered to each wing as early as in 1965; these being FX-82 and FX-83 to N1 Wing and FX-91 and FX-92 to N10 Wing. All the others were kept in storage, and issued to units as older airframes went back to SABCA Gosselies for overhaul. In fact, most went to N1 Wing, which had the oldest Starfighters then in service.


Three F-104G c/s in formation

Interesting study of the three colour schemes worn by the Belgian Air Force Starfighters.


Now about the Belgian F-104s conversion units. Between 1962 and 1965, the Belgian pilots F-104 conversion courses were organised in common with their Dutch and German colleagues at the Bundesluftwaffe Waffenschule 10 at Nrvenich air base and later at Jever air base. The first national F-104 conversion unit was the Flight TF-104G of the N1 Wing established on June 15th, 1965.
Late 1967, early 1968, saw the delivery of the nine remaining TF-104G (FC-04 to FC-12) of the Belgian order allowing the creation of a Operational Conversion Flight (OCF) under N10 Wing at Kleine Brogel air base. By then, the OCF was responsible for the Starfighter pilot aircraft conversion course as for the fighter-bomber conversion course. For its part, the Beauvechain based Flight TF-104G was responsible for the air-defence conversion course.

TF-104G FC-06 at Kleine Brogel

Lockheed TF-104G Starfighter twin-seater FC-06 being refuelled at Kleine Brogel airbase on 15 June 1982


During their operational live the F-104G were swapped between the two Wings in order to balance airframe fatigue between medium to high altitude fighter missions and low altitude fighter-bomber missions.

The N1 Wing main mission was the air-defence. Therefore Beauvechain air base hosted, between 1957 and 1996, a NATO 24 hours alert section. The F-104 became operational in the role in August 1964. The 24 hours alert section, with two aircraft (one ready at 15 minutes, one ready at 30 minutes), became the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) section. In 1967 this section was enlarged to four ships - two pairs of aircraft. In 1970, they were hosted in a dedicated hangar and renamed Interceptor Alert Force (IAF). Later in the 70's, they were transferred to a special hardened shelter complex, close to one of the Beauvechain runway ends. The F-104G were replaced in the role by four F-16A Fighting Falcon in September 1980.

The N10 Wing One-O-Four main missions were: ground attack, tactical support and the (nuclear) Strike. To fulfil this last sensitive as secretive commitment, Kleine Brogel air base hosted, till the early sixties, a 24 hours nuclear QRA. The F-104G replaced the F-84F in this role in 1965. The tactical nuclear weapons were US nuclear B-61 free-fall bomb, controlled and maintained in special storages facilities by the 52nd Special Ammunition Group homed at Meeuwen. The B-61 is said to be of great tactical flexibility, since the yield as well as the time and type of detonation can be chosen in flight. The weapon can be used by aircraft flying at altitudes as low as 15 meters. The bombs were 3.61 meters long and had a diameter of 0.34 meters. The US forces retained custody of all US nuclear weapons and would have released US nuclear weapons to the Belgian Air Force only in accordance with NATO defence plans, SACEUR directives, and US national control procedures. As the Interceptor Alert Force, this Nuclear NATO QRA was housed in a heavily protected hardened shelter complex near the Kleine Brogel eastern runway ends.

F-104G FX-94 at Bierset

FX-94 in front of a hardened shelter at Beirset airbase on 27 May 1983

The Starfighter phase-out started in late 1979, older airframes going first to Saffraanberg Technical Training School (T.T.S.). The 349 Squadron was first to relinquish its Starfighters for General Dynamic F-16A Fighting Falcon, allowing N1 Wing F-104G/TF-104G operations to be centralised within 350 Squadron from April 1st, 1980. In the same time the Flight TF-104G was disbanded and replaced by the F-16 Conversion Flight. This lasted until April 14, 1981, when all  remaining 350 Squadron Starfighters were flown to Koksijde air base storage park, where they joined others already stored.
At Kleine Brogel air base things were fairly similar, 23 Squadron leaving 31 alone to operate Starfighters from July 1st, 1982, until October 1983. From Kleine Brogel, withdrawn airframes went either to Koksijde air base deposit center or to Turkish Air Force. In the latter case, these were MDAP funded machines i.e. amongst the first fourty single-seaters: FX-17, FX-19, FX-20, FX-22, FX-23, FX-24, FX-26, FX-27, FX-28, FX-29, FX-30, FX-31, FX-32, FX-33, FX-34, FX-38, FX-40, .

The last two Belgian Starfighters (FX-99 & FC-11) flew into retirement from Kleine-Brogel on 26 September 1983.

 

Force Arienne Belge (FAB) - Belgische Luchtmacht (BLu)
 

F-104G & TF-104G Starfighter Units

1er Wing de Chasse Tous-Temps (1 W Ch TT) - 1ste Jacht Wing Alle Weer (1 JW AW)
base: Beauvechain - Bevekom

349ste Smd "Goedendag"     Air Defence                                       from October 1963 till February 1980
350e Esc  "Ambiorix"          Air Defence                                       from April 1963 till April 1981
Flight TF-104G                 Conversion & Air Defence training        from June 1965 till March 1980

10de Jacht Bommenwerpers Wing (10 JBW)
base: Kleine Brogel

23ste Smd  "Duivel"   Fighter-Bomber/(Nuclear) Strike                   from  January 1965 till October 1982
31ste Smd  "Tijger"    Fighter-Bomber/(Nuclear) Strike                   from June 1964 till October 1983
OCF                         Conversion & Fighter-Bomber training         from January 1968 till July 1983

 

 

V.P. & P.L. AviaScribe  (December 2006)

Last updated 23/04/07 11:55   Daniel Brackx

daniel.brackx@telenet.be