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

As the origin dates back to 1908, at the creation of the aero-club Liège-Spa, it should be noted that before 1946, the activity was started with the organization of aviation events around Malchamps, south of the current airfield. Those events had a very prestigious character, as “La Grande Quinzaine de l’Aviation” from 1909 shows, and the air raid of Liège-Spa-Liège, in 1911, part of the “Circuit Européen Paris-Liège-Spa-Liège-Utrecht-Bruxelles-Roubaix-Calais-Londres-Paris”. 68 airplanes were registered! In 1911, there was also an international competition for scientific and military kites.

All these activities will be abruptly stopped, during the first World War. The aeroclub will restart some activities in 1919, but after that, it’s dead calm until 1930, the year of a big meeting with paratroopers, French aviator Michel Detroyat, and a squadron of five Belgian military airplanes. The year 1931 also features another big meeting, unfortunately counteracted by the meteo, which ad Maryse Hitlz within an inch of catastrophe. The aeronautics feast of 1932 announces the inauguration of the airfield in its current location, the former horse racetrack of Spa. 1938 was climaxed by a fabulous meeting, with not less than 19 in-flight presentations. That marked the start of the dark  years that start by the mobilization of 1939, and the Second World War, closing all civil airports.


Belgian Air Force dropping demonstration during 1960's airshow

In October 1945, once the peace had returned, some nobility from Spa decided to restart the aerial activities under the name « Aeroclub de Spa ». The first activity was the launch of a public subscription for the construction of a monument in memory of the anglo-canadian crew of a Lancaster bomber, crashed in a swamp close to the airfield on April 23rd, 1944. This monument was inaugurated on April 26th, 1947. The first plane of the club was a Piper Cub 65hp, with immatriculation OO-SPA, as it should. The status of the airodrome changed in the mid fifties, as it was taken over by the Airway Board (Régie des Voies Aériennes), who will be the initiator of the construction of an enormous hangar, desks and a meteorology station. The aeroclub started to grow, and in 1959 it adds a Tipsy Nipper to its fleet. It’s in 1960 that the skydiving section was created, and the denomination changed to Aero-Paraclub of Spa. In July 1964, the club buys a Cessna 170, to embark 3 skydivers. The Cessna joins the existing fleet of two Aéronca, a Piper Super-Cruiser and the Tipsy. In 1965, the aeroclub is in full development. In 1966, the club buys an SV4c and a Cessna 170B. In 1966, the club will also organize something exceptional: the first major meeting on a small grass field. No less than 28 in-flight presentations of a superb quality were given, some even very prestigious, such as the landing of a C-130 of the USAF, a massive parachute jump from a C-119, the Fougas from the Red Devils, and the Red Arrows with their Gnats. These big meetings will continue in ’69, ’71, ’73 and ’76, with no less than 3 aerobatic patrols: The Red Devils, Frecce Tricolori and the Red Arrows were all present for the inauguration of the paved runway 05/23. Also in 1976, the aeroclub became a “Royal Society”, which justifies its denomination of Royal Aero-Paraclub of Spa, RAPCS in short.

The Red Devils, Red Arrows and Frecce Tricolori during the 1976 airshow at Spa (Serge Van Heertum)

In 1968 three Piper Super-Cubs were bought in the US Domains of Mayence. The responsables of the aeroclub even created a patrol on the Cubs, named « the Green Devils ». in 1969, two more planes enter service. A Rallye MS 892 and a Cessna 205, the first five-seater of the club. In 1972, the fleet consists of Pipers for the pilots, and Cessna for the skydivers.
Radionavigation became more and more advanced, and the Pipers, lacking an electrical installation, couldn’t follow the general aviation evolution and, thanks in part to standardization, a switch to almost exclusively Cessna is forced.

This is why, in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s the following Cessna’s were bought : Cessna 150, 152, 172, 207 and 206. The last ones were even present with 3 models, of which two for the parachute jumps (five jumpers per plane), and the third one for travelling and professional education. The latest events were “Fly-In’s”. Gathering classical airplanes, ancestors of the road, and side animation all had a part in the reputation of the club, and the sheer number of people.

In 2009 the club organized a major event to commemorate the 100th anniversary of aviation at Spa. A grand event, and a complete success. All goes well for this dynamic club, and often mentioned as a must for sports aviation and parachute lovers.

The Piper Cub era at Spa, this one is still based there...

Unfortunately, the winds of change passed in January 2013, when the aerodrome was threatened with complete closure. The decision to close the airfield was taken by the only Sowaer site manager, and the decision to decline the permit by minister Philippe Henry was completely false, given the fact that the airfield of Spa has been operating without license since 2006, without anyone worrying about it.

The airfield costs some 500 000 euros per year to Sowaer (under supervision of Minister André Antoine, CDH), and its viability is in danger, in absence of an investment plan compatible with the interests of Spadel, the society of “waters of Spa”, who provides 25% of the budget of Spa, being 5 million euros per year. This last one was opposed to any increase of activity at the airfield, fencing with possible pollution of their water extraction points, especially in case of a crash, but especially to protect its reputation.  About 40 jobs at the airfield, 700 for the other one: do the math. Let’s not forget that the pollution aspect in case of a crash has never been studied, nor proven by science. The closure became effective, and quickly action was taken, amongst others several petitions that have circulated in the aviation world of Belgium, but even abroad, as the airfield was often used by foreign pilots, passing through. At the beginning of April, the sun reappeared above the airfield, as the announcement of reopening its installations was made.

The water captation protected area's. The arrow indicate the airfield (Spadel)

It was the Court of First Instance at Namur which examined the problem between Skydive Spa and Sowaer. The minister was also keen to stress that his decision shouldn’t be “wrongly understood”, which gave the reason to Spadel by an internal investigation to take a decision in 2012 by the technical officials, and delegates.

Spadel, for its part, noted the decision, and wanted to remember that the society never asked for the closure of the airfield of Spa, but for the prohibition to fly over aquifers.
At the beginning of July, the SBAP decided to check out the activities at Spa, during a sunny weekend, to have a flight in a Robinson R44. The activities were indeed taken back up, and during the whole weekend, there were hundreds of parachute jumps, students from the aeroclub who did local flights, or series of touch and goes, and even “maiden flights” in airplanes or helicopters. All in all, sports aviation has picked up where it left off, and reclaimed its right to use the airfield of Spa, to much delight of the air sports lovers.

To end this article, let’s not forget that Sowaer has placed a new request for a permit on March 18th. A decision about the permit is expected for June-July. Let’s hope that all goes well, and that this mishap will be permanently an historic page of the airfield.

July 2013...
A well known airfield for sport aviation (Serge Van Heertum) Always a warm welcome their! (Serge Van Heertum)
The Royal Aero Paracub logo (Serge Van Heertum) A dynamic association (Serge Van Heertum)
Heli and Co also based at Spa  (Serge Van Heertum) The caracteristic glazing of the tower (Serge Van Heertum)
A part dedicated to the Belgian Air Force (Serge Van Heertum)
Republic RF-84F Thunderflash (Serge Van Heertum) (Laurent Cuvelier)
(Laurent Cuvelier) Dassault Mirage V (Serge Van Heertum)
The paraclub activities (Laurent Cuvelier) Cessna 206 Caravan II (Serge Van Heertum)
Ongoing for the next jump (Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
Another Caravan II as reinforcement during the week-end (Serge Van Heertum) Heavy work for the pilot during summer week-ends (Laurent Cuvelier)
The pleasure of the jump (Laurent Cuvelier) (Laurent Cuvelier)
(Laurent Cuvelier) You can choose a jump in double: Great sensations
(Serge Van Heertum)
Back after a dropping (Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
Parachutist back on ground, a cessna can take off (Laurent Cuvelier) Comfortable transportation.system.. (Serge Van Heertum)
The Aeroclub: Cessna 172 (Serge Van Heertum) Cessna 152 (Serge Van Heertum)
The begin's (Laurent Cuvelier) (Serge Van Heertum)
The Cessna 182R PH-AML leased aircraft (Serge Van Heertum) Another Cessna 152 of the club (Serge Van Heertum)
Heli & Co Robinsson R44 Raven II, the company use also a Squirrel
(Laurent Cuvelier)
Presentation of the R44 (Laurent Cuvelier)
The rotor (Laurent Cuvelier) The instrument panel (Laurent Cuvelier)
Go for the flight (Laurent Cuvelier) The highway near Spa (Laurent Cuvelier)
The dam of Robertval (Laurent Cuvelier) Beautifull landscape from the air (Laurent Cuvelier)
Malmedy (Laurent Cuvelier) Arriving to the famous Francorchamp circuit (Laurent Cuvelier)
A part of the circuit (Laurent Cuvelier) A village in the area (Laurent Cuvelier)
The city of Spa located in a valley (Laurent Cuvelier) Back to Spa airfield, landing on RNW 05 (Laurent Cuvelier)
Some visitors: Piper Cub OO-GDE, former Belgian Army L32 (Laurent Cuvelier) Robinsson R44 for a fuel stop (Serge Van Heertum)
Cessna F150M (Serge Van Heertum) Beech 77 Skiper (Serge Van Heertum)
Cessna 172P Skyhawk II (Serge Van Heertum) Aeropro Eurofox (Serge Van Heertum)

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