Text: Pierre Taquet - Pictures: Coll Pierre Taquet, Coll Serge Van Heertum, Coll Louis Nève de Mervegnies & Guy Viselé
© sbap 2015

(Coll Pierre Taquet)



(Coll Pierre Taquet)

Exactly 50 years ago, on Sunday November 7th,1965, Bernard Neefs , one of the most famous test pilots of Belgium, died in the crash of the first SIAI MARCHETTI SF250 prototype he was demonstrating in an airshow in Genoa (Italy).  The tragic news took Belgium by surprise, especially considering the circumstances of his death in a light aircraft considering the number of "close calls" Bernard had encountered in his Starfighter days. On November 10th, by a bitter cold, the funeral service took place in the specially furnished Fairey main hall with a considerable assistance reflecting the prestige and charisma gained by Bernard Neefs in the 5 preceding years. The funeral convoy then rejoined the small cemetery of Bousval where he was buried, leaving a widow, one daughter and three sons. Tragically the eldest, Alexandre, also became a pilot and was to die in an air crash 27 years after his father.  

Bernard Neefs, was born in Antwerp on January 26th, 1930. He joined the Belgian Air Force in 1951 and earned his "Silver Wings" in the USAF training course that many BAF recruits followed in these "War of Korea" years (Promotion 52C graduated on May 10th, 1952).
After flying on Thunderjets and Thunderstreaks with the 2nd Wing in Florennes, he was approached by Fairey to become the test pilot, succeeding Peder Andersen in this role in 1957. He gained a lot of experience from Peter Twiss, then Chief Test Pilot of the Fairey UK mother house, who had beaten the world speed record at large - first 1000 MPH - with the Fairey Delta 2. On Dec. 2 1957, Bernard Neefs performed the first flight of the Tipsy Nipper developed by Avions Fairey, and gained considerable fame and reputation with astonishing demonstrations of this aircraft.

If Bernard Neefs is to be associated with one aircraft, this is really the F-104G Starfighter, which he was the first Belgian pilot to fly in the G version. He was nominated the Chief test pilot of the Fairey-SABCA consortium established for production of the aircraft in Belgium, which comprised 189 A/C. After S/N 9001 was constructed at Lockheed, test-flown - a.o. by Bernard Neefs - in the USA, then dismantled and shipped to Fairey for re-assembly.  On December 4th, 1961, despite very bad weather, Bernard Neefs did a stunning presentation of this aircraft to the officials and the press in Gosselies. 

Bernard Neefs is also remembered for his stellar presentations of the F-104G at the 1963 Paris Airshow, starting with the speed record between Brussels and Paris in 9' 55" 7/10 that he established on June 6th.  
On November 21st, 1963, due to a fuel supply control malfunction, he had to eject from S/N 9058, to be FX27, and later replaced by 9082. By mid 1965, the very successful F-104G production program was complete, leaving for Belgium and mostly to SABCA, only the maintenance/overhaul operations. This was a reason for Bernard Neefs to transfer from the Fairey to the SABCA payroll.  A the time he also had developed a business relationship with André Delhamende, who from 1962 onwards, had taken over from FAIREY, through the COBELAVIA company, the Tipsy Nipper activities,  virtually "wiped out" by the arriving F-104G work. Bernard Neefs was to contribute to marketing of the SIAI Marchetti  brand of A/C by flight demonstrations of the SF-205, the Nardi Riviera and the SF-250, the precursor of the famous SF-260. It was in this context that he flew SF-250 on the Saturday November 6th from Gosselies to Genoa . The circumstances of the crash are linked to a very unfortunate sequence of events:  at the end of his demo, he was asked by the tower to do a 360° before landing. This instruction was to cope with additional air traffic then encountered on the Genoa airport, in occurrence an Alitalia aircraft dispatched to compensate for a strike of the ferry boats from Genoa to Sardinia. It is in this final go-around at low speed that he was taken by surprise by a sudden sharp down gust between hangars down the hillside, and stalled flat on the ground. 

"Always leave a little space to error", said Confucius... Bernard's friends say he used to neglect this wise advice. He nearly always went to the very limits, with a panache that for sure will be long remembered.

The Hawker Hunter period  (Coll Pierre Taquet) Tipsy Nipper test pilot  (Coll Serge Van Heertum)

Always smiling  (Coll Pierre Taquet)

Bernard Neefs and Mister Arthur Talbott Fairey Managing Director
  (Coll Pierre Taquet)
Test flight on a F-84F Thunderstreak  (Coll Pierre Taquet)
The One-O-Four period December 4th, 1961 the press presentation of the Starfighter by Bernard
  (Coll Pierre Taquet) (Coll Pierre Taquet)
Mach 2 Bernard!  (Coll Serge Van Heertum 1 & 2) (Guy Viselé 3)
The c/n 9028 used for the speed record Brussels-Paris on June 6th, 1963  (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
Arrival at Paris (Guy Viselé) & a happy man after this wonderful flight (Coll Louis Nève de Mervegnies)
Other view of the c/n 9028, later FX11 in the Belgian Air Force  (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
  (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
On board the Siai Marchetti SF.250 at constructor facilities (Coll Serge Van Heertum via Stelio Frati) and the sad news in a newspaper
The funeral of Bernard Neefs at Gosselies (Coll Pierre Taquet)

The 6 pall bearers for the funeral ceremony were chosen from his closest pilot friends, from left to right: Georges Castermans, Louis Nève de Mévergnies, Serge Martin, José Marette, Michel Jacob de Beuken and Jean-Jacques Mans.


Michel Jacob de Beuken, later also test pilot for Fairey, pronounced the funeral oration 



Promotion 52C

Abts Jeam-Marie   -   Bruyninckx Guy   -   Castermans Georges   -   Dandois Roger
Delcorte Jea-Marie   -   Exelmans Joseph   -   Kock Roland   -   Lefebvre Jacques
Lippens Lucien   -   Maenhout Marcel   -   Neefs Bernard   -   Ocket Paul
Quick Victor   -   Ravelingien Noël   -   Ravijts Gilbert   -   Reeckmans Louis
Roekhaut Claude   -   Solie Lucien   -   Verbiest Jules

The ceremony (all pics Coll Pierre Taquet)

Comicstrip: Bernard Neefs, Test pilot
Comicstrip published in the youngsters magazine "Tintin" N°828 from September 3rd, 1964 (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
   The drawings are from Albert Weinberg father of the famous "Dan Cooper"
Bernard Neefs, moviestar...
To watch a movie from Bernard Neefs and the Nardi - Siai Marchetti "Riviera", 
just click on the picture above

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