Text: Serge Van Heertum -  Pictures: Coll Thierry Laurent, Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP, Guy Liesse
Translation: Marc Arys  © sbap 2016

The fortuity of encounters is sometimes quite amazing and so when talking to a professional colleague also passionate but from Militaria history, who owns a vintage collection car, the discussion went on about your favorite website... Bit by bit, Thierry Laurent told me that his dad, who passed away too soon, had been a.o. an Belgian Air Force pilot.
My curiosity was such Thierry did not hesitate to entrust me with souvenirs of his dad, including pictures, flight books and other very interesting documents. Thanks to all this we tried to piece together the aeronautical career of Fabien Laurent. Although some periods are still fuzzy, we present you the story and facts we were able to reconstitute chronologically.

Fabien Laurent was born on August 06th, 1932 in Ethe, in the vicinity of Virton. After his childhood during the troubled times of the Second World War and his basic studies, he turned towards the Air Force and enlisted in 1952.
Having completed his basic military training he was sent to Koksijde airbase to start his flight training within the DEPE (Détachement Ecole de Pilotage Elémentaire - Elementary Flight School Detachment) and had his first flight in a Stampe & Vertongen SV-4b on December 05th, 1952. Training on the SV-4b went on until March 1953, when on the 10th he had a vulgarization flight in a North American T-6 Harvard. This flight already had a certain connotation; Fabien Laurent was chosen to complete his flight training in the United States within the frame of the "Silver Wings". On March 28th, 1953 he left the country direction Lackland Air Base, Texas, to join the 3700th Military Training Wing and fulfill his American basic training, which he completed on July 21st, 1953.
Serious matters started on July 23rd, 1953 when he moved to Bartow Air Force base in Florida, rejoining the 3303rd Pilot Training Group to start his flight training. First on Piper PA.18 "Cub" from August 04th, 1953 until September 08th, 1953 and transiting onto the North American T-6G "Texan" on September 10th, 1953. Training on the T-6G continued till February 16th, 1954.
Having been qualified on both aircraft types, he was sent to Laredo Air Force base, Texas, with the 3640th Pilot Training Wing as to have some familiarization flights in the T-28 "Trojan" from March 06th till March 23rd, 1954. It seems he was not withheld to complete the training as a fighter pilot, and was redirected for an A.O.P. qualification within the Army.
Having completed his training in the United States, Fabien Laurent was back in Belgium on April 01st, 1954. After some days of rest, he went to Sint Niklaas from April 10th, 1954 till May 19th, 1954 probably to perfect his Dutch language before moving on to Wevelgem airfield where he stayed until July 26th, 1954.
Training at Wevelgem started on the De Havilland DH.82A "Tiger Moth" between May 24th and May 26th. The "Tiger Moth" training was followed by training on the Piper L-18C from May 26th to July 23th, 1954 before being able to be assigned in an operational A.O.P. squadron. Once this last training completed he was assigned to the 15th Light Aviation Squadron (OTU) located at Brasschaat on July 26th, 1954.
He completed training and flew missions on Piper L.18C from Brasschaat between August 03rd, 1954 and February 15th, 1955. Having obtained all the necessary licenses, Fabien rejoined the 16th Light Avi Squadron on Feburary 21st, 1955 based at Bützweilerhoff not far from Cologne.
Missions with the L.18C departing this airbase in Northern Rhineland-Westphalia started on February 22nd, 1955 and he made his last flight from Bützweilerhof on June 30th, 1956 before being reassigned to the 18th Light Avi Squadron created on July 03, 1956 and based at Merzbrück.
Do notice that this 18th Squadron was created on July 03rd, 1956 and one can say that Fabien Laurent was assigned here to start the fourth squadron within the 1st Army Corps. Missions on the Piper L.18C continued and Fabien flew these between July 11th, 1956 and November 28th, 1957, date of his last logged military flight.
We lack some information regarding the period from November 1957 till October 1966 but we know Fabien turned towards Sabena where he started as a steward, gaining his aircrew license on February 13th, 1958. He also obtained his private pilot license and married Claire de Wyngaert on June 16th, 1962.
Afterwards his documents and log books show us his expatriation towards Rwanda where he was a "bush pilot" within the Kigali aero club. Between October 01st, 1966 and January 09th, 1968, his Rwandan flight book has entries for flights on Cessna 150 (9XR-AK), Piper PA.24 "Comanche" (9XR-MF) and Piper PA.32 "Cherokee Six" (9XR-MP). We find again a "hollow" period without information between January 1968 and January 1969, although during this time, on May 05th, 1968, Fabien and his wife Claire became the parents of their only son Thierry.
Further on we see Fabien gained his Swiss pilot license on September 25th, 1969, then as a Sabena co-pilot on DC-3, but based At Benghazi, Lybia, with the Linair Company. Linair was set up in 1962, supporting the different Lybian petroleum industries. The head office was in Tripoli and Linair ceased all activities in 1973.
During his Lybian adventure, Fabien Laurent flew various DC-3 as read in his logbook:
In 1970 he also trained on Pilatus PC-6 and Douglas DC-6A without mentioning where or why these flights were done. He left Lybia on December 20th, 1970 for his year-end leave, but never came back in Lybia.
Indeed on February 14th, 1971, Fabien Laurent took off for his final flight, this time to join the pilot's paradise after a harsh sickness, untreatable in those years.

If by chance, one of our readers happened to have known Fabien Laurent within the Light Avi or Sabena, we would be very interested to gather complementary information regarding his career and moreover, his son Thierry would be delighted to meet the people who knew his dad.

Do not hesitate to contact us through our site and we will pass your messages on to Thierry, still admiring his father's aviation career.

 The first official Air Force picture His Belgian Air Force Flight book
 Basic training on SV-4b at DEPE Koksijde
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
Getting started with the Harvard before leaving to the US
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
The begin on SV-4b at Koksijde
The American way...
Fabien's souvenir from the US Air Force period...

For nearly 50 years, ATC was the primary training organization of the United States Air Force from its inception as an independent service in September 1947. It provided pilot and aircrew training; technical training, and enlisted and officer basic training.

At the end of the Cold War, it was merged with Air University (AU) in July 1993 as part of a major top-to-bottom reorganization of the USAF. Personnel, equipment and resources of both organizations were re-designated as Air Education and Training Command (AETC), which assumed the mission of both organizations, but retained AU as a subordinate organization within AETC.

The Training Air Command patch
Lackland Air Force Base Texas (3700th Military Training Wing)

Construction on Lackland Air Force Base began on June 15th, 1941, and it was originally part of Kelly Field. One year later, it became an independent organization (the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center). On January 8th, 1943, the War Department constituted and activated the 78th Flying Training Wing (Preflight) at San Antonio and assigned it to the AAF Central Flying Training Command. The 78th Wing provided aviation cadets the mechanics and physics of flight and required the cadets to pass courses in mathematics and the hard sciences. Then the cadets were taught to apply their knowledge practically by teaching them aeronautics, deflection shooting, and thinking in three dimensions. Once completed, the graduates were designated as aviation cadets and were sent to one of the primary flight schools for pilot training.
Cold War era

On February 3rd, 1948, the facility was named Lackland AFB after Brigadier General Frank Lackland, who was commissioned into the regular Army after serving in the National Guard, District of Columbia. It shared Basic Military Training status temporarily with Sampson Air Force Base during the Korean Conflict and Amarillo Air Force Base during the Vietnam War until Amarillo AFB's closure in 1968.
As a result of the Korean War, training populations at Lackland soared to 28 basic military training squadrons (BMTS) within the 3700th Military Training Wing. Temporary facilities, to include 129 "I dormitories", were hastily erected as a quick fix to replace tents cities housing recruits. In 1955 the number of BMTS was reduced to 16, where it remained for the next two decades.
The Vietnam War buildup necessitated a "split-phase" training from August 1965 to April 1966. This program provided for 22 days at Lackland and 8 days at a technical school, with directed duty assignees receiving the full 30 days at Lackland. When BMT returned to a single phase on April 1st, 1966, it was briefly cut back to 24 days from April to July 1966. After that, basic training stabilized at a length of six weeks. This was the same length as the program used by the Army Air Forces when Lackland opened as a basic training base 20 years before. Training requirements also expanded to include teaching English to Allied military members from foreign countries.
No other item in the 1960s compared to the incident that occurred at Lackland in February 1966 with the death of a basic trainee. An airman died of spinal meningitis and while ten other cases were confirmed, no other deaths were reported. Virtually all non-essential activities requiring gatherings of basic trainees were canceled. To control the issue further, a cadre of personnel was assigned to activate the 3330th Basic Military Training School at Amarillo Air Force Base in Amarillo, Texas, in February 1966. As a result of the continuing expansion of the USAF, Amarillo AFB continued to conduct basic training until December 1968.
During the 1960s, more permanent facilities were constructed, including four 1,000 person steel and brick Recruit Housing and Training (RH&T) dormitories built between 1966 and 1970 for basic military training by the Lackland Military Training Center. 
Lackland Air Force Base is still active today but the museum was closed in 2014. A new historical center and museum is planned to reopen in 2017. It will be calle "Airman Heritage Museum".

 Lackland entrance to the US military basic formation General view of a part of the airbase
 The Prom in June 1953... ...another picture, note a second Belgian Air Force student
This is Jules Durigneux. He became jet pilot and joined the 1st Squadron based at Florennes. Jules Durigneux lost his live in a car crash near Florennes some few weeks after his come back in Belgium. (Infos: André "Phil" Dambly)
 Fabien posing for posterity (with probably the LtAvi cap) Cadet club Lackland June 1953
 With American and Belgian friends
Discovering the famous Coke automat Military formation in Texas
 Sir...Yes Sir...note the EPE insigna on Fabien's pocket Ambiance at Lackland...
 The dormitories Taking a US Air Force bus
 Boeing TB-17G Flying Fortress Construction number 44-83512
 Was used as gunnery trainer aircraft Republic P-47N Thunderboldt c/n 44-89348 was preserved at Lackland 
untill the closing of the museum in 2014
 North American F-82 Twin Mustand c/n 46-0262 Was also preserved at Lackland until 2014 but repainted in black scheme
Bartow Air Force Base Florida (3303d Pilot Training Group)

In early 1942, local officials persuaded the United States Army Air Forces to develop a military air base at the site of the Bartow Municipal Airport, built in the 1930s. The War Department and the city of Bartow agreed to a lease and The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers improved and expanded the three runways, add a series of taxiways, dispersal parking hardstands, hangar ramp and constructed the necessary buildings to operate a training facility.
The new airfield was assigned to Third Air Force, based at MacDill Field in Tampa, Florida. Initially planned on being a III Bomber Command training station, the need for fighter pilots in 1942 was greater and it was transferred to III Fighter Command, headquartered at Drew Army Airfield, also near Tampa.
Trainees received practical experience in aerial combat maneuvering, air-to-air and air-to-ground gunnery and dive bombing techniques. With the end of the European War in May 1945, the pace of training replacement pilots slowed down during the summer months. On June 24th, 1945 a hurricane hit the Tampa area, and training was temporarily suspended, the aircraft being moved out of the area, the hurricane damaged some buildings but training was resumed in a few days. 
With the sudden Japanese surrender in early August 1945, ordered were received from III Fighter Command that training of replacement pilots was to end. Pilots already in training were allowed to complete their training, however no new trainees would arrive. By the end of August, the students were being reassigned to other bases, and the number of base support personnel were being reduced at a rapid rate.
On 25 October, Headquarters, Third Air Force sent orders to Bartow announcing that the base would be inactivated as of 31 December 1945 and be transferred to Air Technical Service Command (ATSC) in a standby status, pending disposition as excess property.
The airport was then returned to the City of Bartow. It was stipulated that the airport must continue be used as an airport for aviation purposes; and if not, that it be returned to the U.S. Government.
In 1950, the U.S. Government exercised its reversal clause for the facility and again took over control of the airport. The Department of Defense concurrently called for bids from civilian contractors to man and operate a primary pilot training school for U.S. Air Force student pilots. Renamed Bartow Air Base, the installation served as a USAF primary flight training facility for the Air Training Command (ATC) from 1951 to 1960, during which time its 3303rd Pilot Training Group operated the T-6 Texan, T-34 Mentor, T-28 Trojan & Piper P-18, training both commissioned USAF officers and USAF aviation cadets. More than 8,000 men graduated from primary flight training at Bartow AB before proceeding on to select air force bases for advanced training in aircraft such as the T-33 Shooting Star for jet pilots or the TB-25 and B-25 Mitchell for multiengine pilots.
Notable graduates of primary flight training at Bartow AB included astronauts Colonel Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr., Lieutenant Colonel Edward White II and Colonel Karol J. Bobko, as well as former Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Lieutenant General Thomas G. McInerney, and the first graduate of the USAF Academy to achieve 4-star rank, General Hansford T. Johnson.
Garner Aviation was the successful bidder on the first Air Force training contract and operated the facility until 1955 when they lost the bid to Truman Miller. Miller ran the training school until 1960, when the Air Force discontinued the contract primary pilot training concept and began phasing out T-34 and T-28 training in favor of the USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) system that was being put in place at larger air force bases that could readily accommodate the T-37 and T-38 Talon jet trainers then coming on line. 
Bartow Air Base was gradually deactivated as a USAF facility throughout 1960, with the City of Bartow incrementally gaining control of more and more of the facility. USAF operations officially ended in 1961 and the facility was totally transferred to the city once again by the GSA.

En route for Bartow with his Belgian friend The first official picture of Fabien in the US in 1953
 North American TB-25N "Mitchell" using for gunnery training Fabien and the PA.18 TA-268
The classroom... ...for theorical lessons
 Phase 1: the Piper PA.18
 Promotion friends Fabien at the command
  Back to the base
 The Piper P-18 area The PA.18 TA-221
 The pilot office with glass...instruments ;-) Proud to be the pilot in solo
Preparing the TA-154 for a flight TA-327 clear for taxi...
 Phase 2: the North American T-6 Harvard training
  Note the Air Traning Command logo on the engine cowl
 The T-6G flight line Another view of the long flight line
The TA-076 on the parking with the brothers in arm The TA-913 in front of the hangar and the Bartow control tower
 Quite bigger as the little SV-4b flew in Belgium Fabien preparing for a solo flight
Proud to fly the Texan The man and the machine
 North American T-6G  TA-519 Posing near the T-6G
 360° aerial view of Bartow Air Force Base in 1954
 The first solo is successful and the tradition fully respected Wet landing...
Laredo Air Force Base Texas (3640th Pilot Training Wing)

Opened on 23 September 1942, Laredo AAF was part of the Eastern Flying Training Command under the Army Air Forces Training Command at Fort Worth AAF, Texas. The 2d Aerial Gunnery Training Group of seven squadrons (1021st - 1027th Gunnery Training) taught aerial gunnery to new cadets primarily for B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator duty, training on the .50 and .30 caliber Browning machine guns and their firing platforms. In 1944, the 2126th Army Air Force Base Unit became the host unit at the airfield, switching training to B-29 Superfortress, and briefly to B-32 Dominator instruction. Classes in aerial gunnery were ended in September 1945 with the war ended. The field became inactive in late 1945 and the property reverted to the city of Laredo, which used it as a municipal airport until 1950. 
Cold War era
That year, the base was reactivated and renamed Laredo Air Force Base in April 1952 to provide intermediate and advanced flight training for jet pilots, including pilot trainees from 24 countries.
The initial host and training unit stationed at Laredo AFB was the 3640th Pilot Training Wing, being equipped with T-28 Trojan propeller and T-33 Shooting Star jet trainers. In the early 1960s, the Air Training Command transitioned to the Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) concept, where student pilots would take all flight training from basic through advanced at a single base. In 1964, the T-38 Talon became the primary trainer for the unit, and the T-41 Mescalero and T-37 Tweet aircraft were included in the flight training school.
In 1972, the 38th Flying Training Wing (38 FTW) replaced the 3640th PTW. However, as the Vietnam War began to scale down, the Air Force recognized that defense budgets and pilot training requirements would be reduced. As a result, several UPT bases were identified for closure, to include Laredo AFB and Webb AFB in Texas and Craig AFB in Alabama. In December 1973, the 38 FTW was transferred without personnel or equipment to Moody AFB, Georgia where it absorbed the resources and personnel of the 3350th Flying Training Wing. With the 38 FTW's departure, Laredo AFB was closed and turned over to the City of Laredo. Today the facility is known as Laredo International Airport.

 The USAF ID Card delivered by the 3640th Training Wing
T-28 conversion but not qualified on this aircraft Laredo T-28 formation flight (Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
Goodyear Blimp (N1A) was the former US Navy L-18 balloon.
Seen during a weekend escape in 1954
Back in Europe: Wevelgem, Brasschaat, Bützweilerhof and Merzbrück 
Fabien's Wings

The first Piper L-18C was delivered at Brasschaat on July 16th, 1952. This kind of aircraft was choosen to replace the British Auster  of the Air OP units. A total of 157 was delivered to Belgium (OL-L01 to OL-157) thanks to the MDAP (Mutual Defence Aid Program).
In 1957 sixteen Piper L-18C were transfered to the Danish Army (L-88 to L-103) and nine others to the Netherlands Army (L-104 to L-112). Later on six Piper L-18C were bought to the American Governement and transfered to the Belgian Congo to equip the Military Aviation of the Public Force (Aviation Militaire de la Force Publique).
On September 15th, 1953 a second Air OP squadron was created. The 16th Air OP Squadron was installed in occuped Germany at Bützweilerhof, North of Köln city. The Squadron was equipped with Auster AOP.6 and with the new Piper L-18C. The first Commander Officer of the unit was the Capitain-Commander Baudot. 
On April 01st, 1954 the two Air OP Squadrons, 15th based at Brasschaat and the 16th based at Bützweilerhof, are moved under the command of the Belgian Army and no more under the Air Force. The disignation was changed into Light Aviation Squadron (LtAvn) (Escadrille d'Aviation Légère). The LtAvi is than attached to the Artilery of the Belgian Army.
The pilot formation changed, pilots were no more instructed in the US. The basic instruction was now given by the Air Force elementary school based at Schaffen on Stampe & Vertongen SV-4Bis and was completed at Brasschaat (Army) on Piper L-18C.

  Wevelgem "Tiger Moth" training 15 AOP Squadron period at Brasschaat
Ceremony with the Army uniform
 Fabien was affected afterward to the 16th Squadron of the new Light Avi The 16th Squadron yellow Piper L-18C line at Bützweilerhof
Operations room The control tower
Bützweilerhof in 1955 Fabien on duty
The meteorological corner of the base A real modern tower
A French Air Force visitor: Nord 1101 "Ramier" n° 205 Schleicher DFS 108-66 Grunau Baby III
Posing with the L-18C L-29 at "Butz" The L20 flying around the base
Air to Air souvenir We can clearly see the 16 Squadron "Bee" on this Piper L-18
Above Urft dam in Monschau area  Above a German village
Relax before a mission at "Bütz" Glider activities in 1955
May 1955: the result of a tempest. The L64 seriously damaged Souvenir of the 16 squadron
 Working on a piper Flying equipement
Preparation of a mission Above city of Köln and the Rhine
Brother of arms around 1955 N°1 Thomard  N°2 ?  N°3 Istasse  N° 4 ?  N° 5 Laurent  N° 6 Delloye  N° 7 ?
Steward at SABENA...
His crew member certificate On board during a flight
Rwanda and Lybia 

His civil license held on January 18th, 1966

  The Rwanda Republic flight book
The Piper PA-32-260 Cherokee Six flown in Rwanda
(Coll Denis Eusicom)
The Rwanda way of life...
 The Linair period at Benghazi, flying the Douglas DC-3. Here the OO-CBY
(© Guy Liesse)
The OO-CBX. All the Linair DC-3 fleet was leased from Sabena with the crew
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
Take off in the Lybian desert
(© Guy Liesse)
The OO-SBC in flight above Lybia
(© Guy Liesse)

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