THE BELGIAN HELIDAYS ARE BACK!

 

The seventh Bierset International Helicopter Airshow better known as the Belgian Helidays 2005 was organised over the weekend of June 4th & 5th. True to form, after a glorious Friday for the aircraft arrival and spotters day, Saturday and Sunday dawned grey, windy and cool, with a hint of rain threatening the air. Despite these adverse weather conditions and according to show organisers, the Helicopter Wing (Wing Heli) and the SAB s.a. Liège Airport, over 30.000 people registered to attend and about 110 helicopters and aircraft from eleven countries came to the show. A trumpeted come back after the sad cancellation of the 2004 edition due to the organizing military unit transformation from Group Light Aviation of COMOPSLAND into Wing Heli of COMOPSAIR.


 Agusta H-16

Suffering storm damage at Petrovec (Macedonia) on 15/06/2003, Agusta H-16 has since been withdrawn from use and has been decorated with this very classy special paint scheme.

From Group Light Aviation to Helicopter Wing

The Liège-Bierset airfield, which used to house the Air Force Mirage V of N°3 Wing is now a Belgian Air Component air base as well as an important regional and fast developing airport. Deserted by the Mirage in December 1993, Bierset air base became in 1994-1995 the home of the newly established Group of Light Aviation (Gpt Lt Avn - Groupement d'Aviation Légère / Groepering Licht Vliegwezen - created on June 19th, 1993) composed of the three front line Light Aviation Battalions of the Land Force (16 Bn HLn, 17 & 18 Bn HATk - formerly known as 16, 17 and 18 Esc Lt Avn) repatriating from Germany in the framework of operation Reforbel (Return of Forces to Belgium). The Belgian forces - Air, Land, Navy & Medical - having amalgamated together on January 1st, 2002, all the aviation assets of the former independent forces came under the control of the new operational commands, known as COMOPSLAND, COMOPSAIR & COMOPSNAV which report to a single unified command structure headquartered at Brussels-Evere.
 

First  result of this structural mutation as well as reflecting the new flexibility required for the post-Cold war era, the 17 & 18 Bn HATk (or Anti-Tank Helicopters Battalions) transformed their designations into 17 & 18 Bn MRH (Battalions Multi-Role Helicopter) in July 2002. Their Agusta A109BA Hirundo original sub-types (HOBn or HO and HATk or HA) and roles were redefined as: HObn (Observation), HATk (Anti-Tank), HRecce (Armed Reconnaissance), HLR (Armed support with Rocket Launchers), HMed (Air Evacuation) and HTpt (Transport).
 
 But the true restructuring process began in 2004 with the transformation of the Gpt Lt Avn into Wing Heli, effective on March 1st, 2004, and culminating with the transfer from COMOPSLAND to COMOPSAIR on July 1st, 2004. That day, the new Belgian Air Component (AirComp) gained control of all flying assets of the Belgian Defence. The main consequence of this was the integration under the control of COMOPSAIR of not only the Wing Heli but also of the Battery Observation Surveillance 80A (transformed into 80 Sqn UAV) using the B-Hunter Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and the Navy's small Heli flight and its three SA.316 Alouette IIIs. The Wing Heli adopted then the same structure as the other COMOPSAIR Wings - a small Staff, a Flight Group, a Support Group and a Maintenance Group. Consequently all the helicopters of the Wing Heli were pooled and are now "owned" by its 255 Maintenance Group which for historical reasons has retained the numerical designation inherited by the former 255 Maintenance Company & Depot of Lt Avn. As they are no more allocated to the Squadrons, the helicopters are now borrowed, as required, by the Flight Group for use by the pilots of the flying Squadrons/Flight.

 

For their part, the 17 and 18 Bn MRH were inactivated for reorganization on January 31st, 2004 and both reactivated as Squadrons MRH (Sqn MRH) on March 1st, 2004, still flying the A109BA Hirundo. The 16 Bn HLn was also inactivated on January 31st, 2004 but was only reactivated on October 1st, 2004 as 16 Sqn MRH relinquishing its Alouette II liaison helicopters for the A109BA. In the same time the Wing Heli established an independent Liaison Flight (FlLn) to operate the remaining Alouette II¹s (1). The type should be withdrawn from use by 2007. The Liaison Flight having received the old Jay emblem of the 16 Bn HLn, N° 16 Squadron MRH has created a new crest (Saint Michael killing the Dragon) which was recently approved by the authorities. Since January 1st, 2005 the Wing Heli is also responsible of the tactical part of the A109 pilots¹ operational conversion. This training process is organized by a fifth flying unit, the OCTU (Operational Conversion and Training Unit) Squadron.


 Agusta H-20

Spectacular aerobatics demonstration by Agusta H-20
The Wing Heli A109BA Hirundo

In 2004 the Wing Heli has also placed twelve (2) of its forty-four A109BA (two were lost in accidents (3)) in storage at the Zutendaal depot and at Bierset. These twelve ships are reported for sale by the MoD. However, mid-January this year the Wing Heli deployed four A109BA (4) to Bosnia in the framework of the EU-led operation Althea. First to have taken up the duty was the newly formed 16 Sqn MRH followed since late March 2005 by 18 Sqn MRH. This international commitment has also induced the change of the national A109BA Hirundo sub-types designation system into a NATO standard one.

old        -       new
HATk    =  AH(L)-TOW2A
HLR      =  AH(L)-Rockets
HMed    =  UH(L)-AE
HTpt     =  UH(L)-Tpt
HObn    =  OH(L)
HRecce  =  UH(L)-MG

AH = Attack Helicopter; UH = Utility Helicopter; OH = Observation Helicopter; (L) = Light ; MG = machine Gun; AE = Air Evac


To ease A109BA fleet management it is also reported that each active helicopter has received a fixed role and should, in the limits of the operational requirements, remain in the same sub-type configuration for the coming years. Devoid of their outboard armament pylons the AH(L)-Rockets are regularly transformed into UH(L)-Tpt and the AH(L)-TOW2A into OH(L).
The new missions of the A109BA can be divided into two main tasks:
1. Transport of small but highly effective military teams, such as those of the Special Forces, snipers, combat swimmers, mine clearance specialists, A/A Mistral sections, battlefield Control Radar servants or NBC reconnaissance squads.
2. Classical combat missions including land force armed support and battlefield recce today mostly performed over uncontrolled zones or in a challenging environment such as cities or densely populated areas. A good example of such missions is the aerospace protection against small or/and low flying aircraft organised over Brussels during the recurrent high level NATO or EC meetings in close coordination with ground radar stations, F-16AM's of the interceptor forces and NATO AWACS aircraft.

Belgian Helidays 2005

Bell Griffin

 Bell Griffin HT.1 ZJ241/L of the Defence Helicopter Flying School, No. 60(R) Squadron, is seen leaving Bierset airbase on June 6th.

Authorized by the MoD in January - very late for such a large airshow! - the Belgian Helidays 2005 presented a relative low scale selection of helicopters compared to the previous editions of the event. That said the organizing team did a tremendous job in gathering so many interesting helicopters in such a short time . For the rotary winged enthusiast, a show devoted entirely to helicopters is not a commonplace occurrence in continental Europe.

Agusta Sidewinder

 Hoax of the day, Agusta A109BA armed with an AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile.


 The home team provided several A109BA Hirundo and SA.318C Alouette II available for inspection in the static and hangar displays, as well as on the flightline, along with various other locations on the airfield. The most noteworthy being a fake, the A109BA/AH(L)-Rockets H-29 armed with a single AIM-9 Sidewinder air to air missile (A new Air Defence variant: HAD?), and the roughly repaired and decorated wreck of the H-16 (3). Also noticeable was retired BN-2 Islander B-11/OT-ALK ready to be put on a pole to be displayed as monument and an Alouette II A-47 equipped with its inflatable floating bags kit. Apart from the above mentioned Islander, fixed wing military types were mostly represented by COMOPSAIR aircraft: SF.260D, Alpha Jet, F-16AM, Fouga CM170R, C-130H Hercules,  ERJ145LR as well as a pair of Armée de l'Air EC1/12 Mirage 2000. But, the show was about helicopters after all).

Alouette Floatation gear

Alouette II A-47 equipped with its rarely seen inflatable floating bags kit

Hercules

A Belgian Air Component Lockheed C-130H Hercules warming up in preparing for its demonstration.

Main attraction for most enthusiasts was definitely the Czech Air Force Mil Mi-24V "Hind" decorated for the recently held NATO Tiger Meet 2005 at Balikesir (Turkey). Among other highlights were a Irish Air Corps SA.365F Dauphin II, a Slovene Army Bell 412HP, a Heeresflieger EC-135T1 as well as some interesting déjà vu like two French Armée de l'Air and Douanes Ecureuil, a RAF Twin Squirrel HCC.1, a OH-58B from Tulln-Langenlebarn in Austria, duly painted in Kiowa markings, a UH60A of the 357Av Det, SHAPE HQ and Lynx of the French and Dutch Navy.

Mil 24
 

Czech Air Force Mil Mi-24V 7353 deservedly won the trophy for the best colour scheme at the 2005 edition of the NATO Tiger Meet in Balikesir, Turkey. The colour scheme is inspired by the nickname “Night Prowlers”, as the squadron pilots are calling themselves. The tiger, the mighty hunter, emerges from the dark blue and black night sky, only lit by the moon (on the tail boom pylon) and the stars (on the tail boom). The helicopter is assigned to No. 231 “Tiger” Squadron of the 23rd Helicopter Base at Přerov. The Tiger squadron is the former No. 331 Squadron, which has been renamed as part of the organisational reform of the Czech Air Force on 1 January 2004. 7353 was one of the seven new helicopters acquired early 2003. The unit is expecting a number of additional, night capable Hinds.


Apache 

The much appreciated demonstration by a Koninklijke Luchtmacht Apache helicopter giving us this spectacular highlight. The combat helicopter fired a load of flares on top of a looping; it has to be seen to be believed.  

The civil flightline was dominated by a varied selection of types familiar at many airports and heliports around the world. There were examples of the Robinson R-22 and R-44, Hughes 269C, Aerospatiale EC120B Colibri, Bell 206 JetRanger and even the only Belgian civil registered SE.3130 Alouette II, the OO-ASM (ex-Swiss Air Force V-66) of Aerialmedia.
 
 The flying display consisted of a handful of items, of which some flew twice. A nice display with a Seaking followed by a duo of local A109BA and RAF Chinook HC.2 operating together as in a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP). The spectacular aerobatic performances from a RAF Chinook, a Dutch AH-64D Apache throwing flares and the unmistakable Army Air Corps Blue Eagles helicopter display team mixing four Gazelle AH.1 and a single Lynx AH.7. The show being punctuated by fly passes of a squad of N°2 Wing F-16AMs.

Chinook

Boeing-Vertol Chinook HC.2 ZA707 is lowering a supply of fuel and a crate of TOW-missiles in a secured zone that will serve as a forward arming and refuelling point (FARP) for the Agusta A.109BA of the Helicopter Wing. A FARP consists of three landing zones: the first to secure the armed missiles, the second to refuel the helicopter and the third to recharge the missile launchers.

The Belgian Helidays 2005 succeeded in once again bringing us some nice entertainment with an excellent selection of helicopters and a - typical Light Aviation - friendly atmosphere. So next year keep an eye open for the Belgian Helidays, back in their full glory.
 


Vincent Pirard /AviaScribe - June 2005

Additional information and illustrations by Daniel Brackx and Jos Schoofs

The author would like to thank the PR team of the Belgian Helidays: SLt. avi. R. Severin, P.Wauters and all his friends: Thierry, Pascal, Tony, Georgette, Steiff etc. of the "Lt Avn old good time" for their ever warm welcome.

(1) Active with Wing Heli on June 2005: A-22, A-47, A-49, A-50, A-57, A-59, A-68
(2) H-03, H-08, H-09, H-10, H-11, H-12, H-13, H-14, H-15, H-17, H-18, H-34
(3) H-16 W/O Petrovec (Macedonia) on 15/06/2003 wreck to Bierset with special deco 06/2005; H-19 W/O Bertrix (Belgium) on 23/05/2000
(4) H-04, H-07, H-39, H-44

Last updated 26/10/12 08:15   Daniel Brackx

daniel.brackx@telenet.be