Lockheed F-104G Starfighter
Single engine supersonic fighter/fighter bomber
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, 28 F-104G's were MDAP-funded (FX-16 > FX-40 and FC-01 > FC-03), 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 as TF-104F (no complicated electronic systems as in the TF-104G that was identical with the F-104G except for the missing gun, and some less fuel), the remaining nine two-seaters being assembled by SABCA from Lockheed CKD kits. Later the initial three TF-104F's were updated to the TF-104G standards. One aircraft crashed before being taken on charge by the Belgian Air Force, being later replaced by another similarly numbered machine (FX-47). The Starfighters were slated to replace Avro Canada CF-100 Mk.5 Canucks of N°1 All-Weather Fighter Wing at Beauvechain air base, then the Republic F-84F Thunderstreaks of N°10 Fighter-Bomber Wing at Kleine Brogel air base.
Originally deliveries planning was as follows:
F-104G's FX-01 to FX-40 to N°1 Wing - F-104G's FX-41 to FX-80 to N°10 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: N°1 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. N°10 Wing started its Starfighter era on June 1964, N° 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 N°1 Wing. Most aircraft left for Kleine Brogel air base in July. The 31 Squadron was the recipient of all Starfighter earmarked for N°10 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 N°10 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 (kept 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 N°1 Wing and FX-91 and FX-92 to N°10 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 N°1 Wing, which had the oldest Starfighters then in service. 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.
N°1 Wing main mission was the air-defence. Therefore between 1957 and 1996, Beauvechain air base hosted 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. N°10 Wing One-O-Four main missions started with the FBS (fighter bomber strike only) role. To fulfil this sensitive as well as secretive commitment, Kleine Brogel air base hosted a 24 hours nuclear QRA since the early sixties. The F-104G replaced the F-84F in this role in 1965 at Kleine Brogel. However, the F-84F’s of number 2 Squadron at Florennes continued the FBS (Fighter Bomber Strike) Mission on F-84F until December 1966 (when all F-104G's of Kleine Brogel were operational FBS). 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 one of the NATO Nuclear Quick Reaction Alert Force's, this QRA was housed in a heavily protected hardened shelter complex near the Kleine Brogel eastern runway ends. Around 1972, even more sophisticated and flexible smaller nuclear weapons were introduced. The weapons were later also stored in special vaults in the aircraft shelters themselves. In 1968, 10FBW changed to the dual role FBS/FBA missions and had to train also with conventional weapons. Weapons used by the F-104G in this role were the 20mm Vulcan/Gatling gun, 3 napalms bombs or 2 Snakeye bombs or two LAU rocket launcher pods with each 19 X 2.75" FFAR rockets. The Starfighter phase-out started in late 1979, older airframes going first to Saffraanberg Technical Training School (T.T.S.). N° 349 Squadron was first to relinquish its Starfighters for General Dynamic F-16A Fighting Falcon, allowing N°1 Wing F-104G/TF-104G operations to be centralised within 350 Squadron from April 1st, 1980. At 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, N° 23 Squadron leaving the 31st alone to operate Starfighters from July 1st, 1982, until October 1983. From Kleine Brogel, withdrawn airframes went either to Koksijde air base 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 and FX-40. The last two Belgian Starfighters (FX-99 & FC-11) flew into retirement from Kleine-Brogel on 26 September 1983.