Belgian Air Force Demo Team 2012
   Text & Pictures: Serge Van Heertum  © sbap 2013

For over 60 years, lots of NATO aircraft have been using the shooting range "Pampa Range", Situated closely to Helchteren at Limburg. On a regular basis this space is used for air-to-ground shooting exercises with live ammunition, and bombardments with exercise-bombs, as real bombs aren't allowed due to the proximity of inhabited zones. In reality, the shooting range is situated in Meeuwen-Gruitrode, and not in Helchteren, but over time, it's the name of that last commune that was associated with the "Pampa Range".
A little bit of history...
It's around tye hears 1900 that a certain John Cockerill acquired a piece of terrain in the province of Limburg. This place with sterile ground was used by his enterprise to test weapons and ammunition fabricated in the Liège region. His choice was based on the fact that this vast marshland, mostly covered with heather was quite a distance away from any inhabited zone, to create a safe environment to test his weapons. In the 30's, the terrain was taken over by the Ministry of Defense to create a terrain dedicated to artillery exercises. During the second world war, the terrain falls in the hands of the German invaders, and is under control of the Luftwaffe, which will mainly use it as a bombing exercise area for the famous Stuka (a dive bomber), on wooden hulls, installed on the terrain. After the war, the terrain remained unused until 1952. During that year, the shooting range was transferred to the Belgian Air Force. The first exercises took place in 1953. Like some other military domain in Belgium, « Pampa Range » is combined with a natural reserve. Certain associations for preservation of natural environments use the shooting range of around 2200 ha to reinstate fauna and flora threatened with extinction.
Equipped with a control tower, the shooting range has its own control over the airplanes, as soon as they enter the airspace over the area. Mark that, as with any military domain and the potential danger caused by the exercises, public access is strictly prohibited. Until some weeks ago, the division of the practicing time slots was as follows:
40% Belgian F-16
40% USAF A-10 (who were stationed in Germany until end of June 2013)
20% Alpha Jet (Faé) A109 (Faé) F-16 (KLU) Mirage (Armée de l'Air)...

The Defense Bomb Squad (DOVO-SEDEE) also uses the installations, to let explode ammunition found in the four corners of Belgium and sometimes abroad. This team uses two different parcels on the range, one for the conventional explosive munitions and the other for the surface products like black powder or phosphoric items (napalm bombs...). It's however 250 tons they let explode every year...impressive!
At last, the terrain is also used by some companies, such as FN at Herstal, or the "Forges of Zeebrugge", to do projectile and ammunition tests. The 3rd of July 2013, "Pampa Range" was celebrating its 60th birthday, and it was an excellent opportunity to watch some F-16 or Agusta in action, or met some friends of nature, for who the terrain is a place where nature and its preservation are very present. This demonstrates that nature and technology aren't incompatible worlds.
SBAP would like to thanks Kleine Brogel IPR team, Els and Erwin, for the invitation and the facilities during this report.

The entrance show explicitely that you enter on a shooting range
Satellite view of the range (Google mao)
2.200 Ha surfaces, the third important range in occidental Europe
Some telemetric and googles The range control
Targets...with sensors and more conventional

DOVO-SEDEE Team use also the Pampa Range facilities

Protection clothes

Pampa Range is also a natural reserve...

A visitor Always much interest...the F-16
Some "Red Devils" passes as apetizer..."Dafy" and "Mag" highly concentrated Perfect formation, self in bad weather
"Stef" upside down...
"Reds" attack! A goodbye pass from the leader "Paul"
Show of force by the F-16's... to impress the enemies
A109 coming in for a Recce of the target Coming back
Gunner is preparing
Gunner in position Enemy localised...fire!
Netherlands AH-64D to reinforce the attack Dive attack
Escape the target Stationary flight, note the work of the gun
Hydra 70 rocket pod and AGM-114 Hellfire In position to fire
Impressive machine Back for a second attack
Pilot and armament operator AH-64D left the enemy zone to let the work at the F-16's
Recce passes Going in position for the attack
Bombing with braked Mk 82 Release the dropping zone
The second one drop and drag chute open
Escape left after the launch Always training munitions at Pampa, never real explosive
Strafing pass shooting with the 20mm gun Turn left after the strafing
Power and elegance...the F-16 High moisture on the target zone
A second pass on the target Taking back altitude and speed
A last pass to verify the results
Departure of The Seaking back to Koksijde air base Some passes for the visitors
Shortly replaced by the NH-90 A last goodbye...

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