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The Air Component, formerly the Belgian Air Force, is the air arm of the Belgian Armed Forces. The current commander is Major-General Claude Van de Voorde, appointed on 23 July 2009.

Early years

The Belgian Air Force was founded in 1909 as a branch of the Belgian Army. It originally carried the name of Compagnie des Ouvries et Aérostiers. At the start of the First World War, the military aviation branch consisted of four squadrons equipped with Farman aircraft. In March 1915 it was expanded to six squadrons. During the war the Belgian squadrons were equipped with Nieuport 10, Nieuport 11, Nieuport 17, Hanriot HD.1, SPAD S.VII, SPAD S.XIII and Sopwith Camel. One of its' pilots, Willy Coppens, even became the top ranking "balloon buster" of German observation balloons of World War I.

During the interbellum, the Belgian Air Force flew with Breguet 19.

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 Origin Type Year acquired In service
Fairey Battle Light bomber 1938 16
Fairey Fox Light bomber & observation 1933-1938 154
Fiat CR.42 Fighter 1940 27
Fokker F.VII Transport 1935 9
Gloster Gladiator Fighter 1937 22
Hawker Hurricane Fighter 1939 20
Koolhoven FK.56 Advanced Trainer 1940 12
LACAB GR.8 Bomber prototype 1936 1
Morane-Saulnier MS.230 Observation 1932 23
Potez 33 Light bomber & reconnaissance 1930 10
Renard R.31 Observation 1935 33
Renard R.38 Fighter prototype 1940 1
SABCA S-47 / Caproni Ca.335 / Light bomber prototype 1940 1
Savoia-Marchetti SM.73 Transport 1940 8
Savoia-Marchetti SM.83 Transport 1940 3
Stampe-et-Vertongen SV-5 Training 1936 21
Stampe-et-Vertongen SV-22 Training 1933 10
Stampe-et-Vertongen SV-26 Training 1933 10

Before the outbreak of the war Belgium also sought to equip its Aviation Militaire with foreign designs, ordering production licences in Polandmarker and Francemarker and aircraft in the USAmarker. However, the acquired licences could not be used until May 1940 and the aircraft produced in the USA were eventually delivered to Francemarker and to the United Kingdommarker. The following table summarizes Belgiums foreign orders:

Aircraft Origin Type Year acquired Number
Breguet 693 Light bomber and assault aircraft 1940 licence to build 32
Brewster B-339 Fighter 1939 40 ordered, 1 delivered to Bordeauxmarker, 6 to Martiniquemarker, rest to RAF
Douglas DB-7 Medium bomber 1939 16 ordered
PZL.37 Łoś Medium bomber 1938 licence to build unknown number

After the surrender of Belgium on 28 May 1940, a very small Belgian Air Force in exile was created in Great Britain. This small force was active within the British Royal Air Force, and its squadrons were equipped with versions of the much better aircraft, the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Typhoon.

During the Cold War

On 15 October 1946, the Belgian military aviation was turned into an autonomous force, independent of the Belgian Army.

During the Cold War, at various times the Belgian Air Force operated the following aircraft:

Aircraft Origin Description Variants Operated Notes
Aero Commander 560F Twin-engined light transport 560F 1 1961 to 1973 as royal transport
Airspeed Consul Twin-engined light transport 4 Used from 1948 in Belgian Congo.
Airspeed Oxford Twin-engined light transport 20 Operated between 1947 and 1954.
Auster AOP6 Single-engine light observation aircraft, 22 Operated between 1947 and 1955.
Avro Anson Twin-engined light transport 15 Operated between 1946 and 1954.
Avro-Canada CF-100 Canuck Twin-jet interceptor Mk 5 53 Operated from 1957 into the mid 1960s.
Boeing 727-200 Three-engined jet airliner 727-29C 2 Operated from 1975.
Dassault Mirage 5 Jet fighter-bomber and reconnaissance 5BA
Operated from 1970. 3 were built in France
Dassault Falcon Twin-engined light jet transport 20E 2 Operated from 1973.
de Havilland Tiger Moth Biplane trainer 15 Operated from 1946.
de Havilland Dominie Biplane transport 7 Operated from 1946.
de Havilland Mosquito Twin-engined piston light fighter-bomber TT3
Operated from 1947 as target tugs and night fighters.
de Havilland Canada Chipmunk Single-engined piston trainer 2 For evaluation from 1948.
Alpha Jet Ground attack Alpha Jet B 33
Douglas C-47 Dakota Passenger/troop transport 41 Operated in various roles between 1946 and 1976.
Douglas DC-4 Four-engined piston airliner 2 Operated from 1950 to 1969.
Douglas DC-6 Four-engined piston airliner 4 Operated from 1954 to 1960.
Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar Twin-engined troop or cargo transport C-119F
46 Operated from 1952 to 1973.
Fouga Magister Jet trainer CM.170R 50 Operated from 1960
SABCA F-16 Fighter F-16A
Built under licence in Belgium and Netherland.
Gloster Meteor Jet fighter F4
Operated from 1949 some built in Belgium and Netherlands
Hawker Hurricane Piston fighter II 3 Operated from 1946
SABCA Hunter Jet fighter F4
Operated from 1956 all built in Belgium under licence
Hawker Siddeley 748 Twin-engined transport 2A 3 Operated from 1976
Lockheed T-33 Single engine jet T-33A
Operated from 1952
SABCA F-104 Starfighter Multi-role jet F-104G
Operated from 1963, Belgian-built
Miles Magister Single-engines trainer 1 Operated from 1946 to 1948
Miles Martinet Single-engined target tug 11 Operated from 1947 to 1953
North American Harvard Basic trainer Various 173 Operated in Belgian Kongo
Percival Proctor Single-engined liaison IV 6 Operated from 1947
Percival Pembroke Twin-engined light transport C51 12 Operated from 1954.
Republic F-84 Thunderjet Single-engined fighter-bomber F-84E
213 Operated from 1951
Republic F-84F Thunderstreak Single-engined fighter-bomber F-84F 197 Operated from 1955
Republic RF-84F Thunderflash Single-engined reconnaissance RF-84F 34 Operated from 1955
SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 Single-engined trainer SF.260MB 36 Operated from 1969
Stampe SV.4
Biplane trainer SV-4B
Operated from 1948
Supermarine Spitfire Piston-engined fighter IX and XVI 181 Operated from 1945
Swearingen Merlin Twin-engined light transport Merlin 3A 6 Operated from 1976
Westland Sea King Rescue helicopter Mk 48 5 Operated from 1976

Post-Cold War reforms - COMOPSAIR

In the beginning of the nineties, the end of the Cold War caused the Belgian government to restructure the Belgian Armed Forces in order to cope with the changed threats. This meant cutbacks and crimping of the Armed Forces. 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 Beauvechainmarker; the 9th Training Wing in Sint-Truidenmarker; and the Elementary Flying School in Goetsenhoven (1996).

In 2002, the Belgian government decided to emulate Canadamarker and impose a "single structure" on its armed forces in which the independent Belgian Air Force ceased to exist. The former Air Force became the Belgium Air Component (COMOPSAIR) of the Armed Forces. COMOPSAIR nowadays consists of 2nd Tactical Wing in Florennesmarker and 10th Tactical Wing in Kleine Brogelmarker, both flying F-16's in 4 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 2015. The 1st Wing at Beauvechain is assigned with the training of pilots for which the Marchetti propellor-driven trainer aircraft is used for elementary training, and the Alpha Jet for advanced training. Advanced fighter training occurs in the F-16 at Kleine Brogel.
COMOPSAIR still uses the Lockheed C-130 Hercules in the 15th Air Transport Wing based at Melsbroek, Belgium, which in time is planned to be replaced by seven Airbus A400M transport planes. VIPs are transported with Embraer 135/145 jets, the Dassault 20/900 and the Airbus A310. The Sea King helicopters and the Alouette III SAR helicopters will be active for years. They will be replaced by NH-90's (10: 4 NFH + 6 TTH).

In 2004, as part of the new unified structure, the Army Aviation units were transferred to the COMOPSAIR. These contain the Agusta A109 attack helicopter, and the Alouette II training and recce helicopter.

Within the framework of its commitments within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATOmarker. Belgium has allotted 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, minister of defence Pieter De Crem announced that due to increasing problems and poor servicability, the 2 A310's are to be replaced as soon as possible by two aircraft in the same class.

Recent Operations

In January 1991, 18 Mirage 5 aircraft of the 3rd Tactical Wing were deployed to Turkey'smarker Diyarbakırmarker air base. During this operation, Belgian planes carried out several flights along the Iraqi border. After this operation the obsolete Mirage 5's were phased out.

On 15 July 1996 a C-130 with serial CH-06 carrying 37 members of the Dutch Army Fanfare Band and 4 crew crashed at Eindhovenmarker after a birdstrike while executing a go-around resulting in the loss of power to three engines. 34 Netherlands military were killed as a result of the crash and onboard fire, only 7 survived.

From October 1996 on, the Belgian Air Force cooperated with the Dutch Royal Air Force in the Deployable Air Task Force in patrolling former Yuguslavian 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 Serbiamarker during the Kosovomarker crisis. The last Belgian F-16 detachment left Italymarker in August 2001.

On 29 March 2004, four F-16s from Kleine Brogel were transferred under NATO'smarker Baltic Air Policing mission to the Sioulai air base in Lithuaniamarker for three months, where they were employed in monitoring the Lithuanianmarker, Latvianmarker, and Estonianmarker skies.

In July 2005, four F-16s deployed to Afghanistanmarker to support the NATOmarker International Security Assistance Force.[170668]

On 9 September 2005, an F-16 crashed near Vlielandmarker, The Netherlandsmarker. The pilot was killed.

In 2006, Belgian Hunter unmanned air vehicles deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congomarker as part of the EU EUFOR peacekeeping mission.

On 5 May 2006, a Belgian C-130 "Hercules" undergoing updating at the Sabena Technics was destroyed when the hangar that it was in burned to the ground. The C-130 and three commercial planes were destroyed beyond recovery. The Belgian Air Force announced its intention to acquire a second hand C-130 to replace the one lost in the fire. A month later, the Air Component acquired a C-130E from the American operator Evergreen (serial N130EV, to become CH14).

On 1 December 2006 the Belgian Air Force deployed again under Baltic Air Policing mission four F-16 MLU aircraft to Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania, where they are used to protect the airspace of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

As from August 2008, four F-16's will be deployed to Kandahar in Afghanistan in support of the Dutch land forces.

On 27 June 2008 an Agusta A109 helicopter crashed in Halleux. The pilot, co-pilot, a doctor and a nurse where injured.

On 27 July 2009 an F-16 fighter jet flying a practice mission over Germany accidentally dropped a harmless, unarmed practise bomb into the woods near the small town of Lastrupmarker. No one was injured.


The first Airbus A400M, surrounded by EADS employees, during the aircraft's world presentation (roll-out), celebrated in Seville on 26 June 2008.
Helicopter Westland Sea King Mk48 RS01 from Belgium Air Force at Tours (France) air meeting.
(RQ-5) unmanned aircraft
Aircraft Origin Type Versions In serviceAviation Week and Space Technology 2009, 26 JAN 2009 240. Web.11 Aug 2009. />. Notes
Fighter Aircraft
Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon Multirole Fighter F-16A
MLU versionslicense-built and developed by SABCA
Aermacchi SF.260 Propeller-driven Trainer SF.260D
SABCA Alpha Jet Jet Trainer Alpha Jet 1B+ 29 Based in France for joint training with French Air Force
Aérospatiale SA 318 Alouette II Light Utility Helicopter SA 318C 13 retired from service on September 15, 2009.
Aérospatiale SA 316 Alouette III Light Utility Helicopter SA 316B 3 Mainly used by Belgian Navy
Agusta A109 Light Recce/Attack Helicopter A109
NHI NH90 Transport Helicopter NFH
10 to be delivered by 2011
Westland Sea King Search and rescue helicopter Mk.48 4 One has been retired, the remaining 4 will stay in service till the NH90 arrives in 2011
Airbus A330 VIP / Troop Transport Aircraft A330-322 1 replaced the Airbus A310 as of october 23, 2009, the aircraft has been dry-leased from portuguese operator Hi Fly and will retain its civilian registration (CS-TMT).
Airbus A400M Medium Transport Aircraft A400M 0 Intention to order 7, with deliveries from 2018
Dassault Falcon 20 Light Transport Aircraft Falcon 20E-5 2
Dassault Falcon 900 Light Transport Aircraft Falcon 900B 1
Embraer ERJ 135 Light Transport Aircraft ERJ 135LR 2
Embraer ERJ 145 Light Transport Aircraft ERJ 145LR 2
Lockheed C-130 Hercules Medium Transport Aircraft C-130H 11
RQ-5 Hunter (B-Hunter) Reconnaissance UAV MQ-5B 6 aircraft and two ground control stations

See also



  1. Aircraft Used by the Belgian Armed forces
  2. Pacco 2003, p. 71.
  3. Belgium deploys F-16s to police Baltic airspace
  4. Belgium to deploy 4 F-16s to Afghanistan
  5. Belgian Air Force bombs Germany
  6. Belgian military aviation OrBat


  • Pacco, John. Belgisch Leger/Armee Belge: Het Militair Vliegwezen/l'Aeronautique Militaire 1930-1940. Aartselaar, Belgium, 2003. ISBN 90-801136-6-2.

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