Text: Alexandre Classen - Pictures: Serge Van Heertum  © sbap 2013

"Kéké" applying the 50 years logo (Serge Van Heertum)

Amazing view of EBFS tower (Serge Van heertum)

Historic overview of a success story (Serge Van Heertum)

Among the many achievements by the Belgian Land Force Command in Germany to enhance the lives of its personnel, and to improve their social lives, there is one that has defied time.

The FBA Aeroclub.

The idea for the base came from our friend Jean Bonnevie: “allow the military personnel and the families of our tenth province to learn how to fly at an affordable price”.. and perhaps to awaken the pilot’s calling in some of their children. Jean Bonnevie managed to convince General CRAHAY, CCFBA, and former Korean War volunteer, like himself.

Lightweight Aviation of the Land Forces was there, with its three airfields and its personnel, but apart from that, they had to start from scratch. Airplanes, clubhouses, trainers with a civil license, and especially finances, all had to be found and implemented. They had to assemble a management committee accepted by the CCFBA. This committee consisted of the following:

•         President: Colonel Leyder from 3rd Lancers

•         Secretary-treasurer, head of the engine department: Lt. Avi Jean Bonnevie of the 16th Squadron

•         An Air Force Officer, chief of the sailplane department

•         A legal advisor: Mr. Judge COLLE of the War Council at Campagne,

•         The technical advisor, Capt. BAEKEN of the 255th Ordinance Company Lt. Avn.

The Aeroclub of the FBA was registered as an NPO in the Belgian State Gazette. 

They also had to obtain authorization from the Belgian and German Aviation Administration, as well as the approval from Light Aviation Command. This last was arranged after the arrival of Colonel Avi. BUEKENHOUT.

To be able to keep the flight hour prices as low as possible, they had to find funds: what better way than opening a bar! For this they also needed funds and facilities. The Chief of Staff 1(BE)Corps gave us a 50.000 Belgian Francs advance, repayable in a year, while the Defense Sports Section promised 200.000 Belgian Francs… on which we had to wait a long time!

After the agreement of the Engineering Command, two old barracks of the abandoned camp of Fühlingersee moved to Bützweilerhof to be modernized there. Stella Artois provided a fridge, a sink and a tap at our disposal. The traditional resourcefulness and the commitment from the volunteers of Lt. Avn. Did wonders.

All well and good, but an aeroclub without airplanes isn’t really serious ! With some pressure of the Commander of the 1(BE)Corps, the last 20.000 Francs served to purchase, at scrap prices, 4 obsolete Piper Cubs from Lt. Avn. The first of those four veterans was restored by David and Paret of the 255 Ordinance Company. to be able to fly, the aeroclub fell under the jurisdiction of the Aviation Administration for all matters concerning the registration and technical inspection of the aircraft, as well for the licenses of the trainers and the pilots.

Seen the obvious lack of funds, the first restored Piper was sold to the Royal Motor Union for Aviation in Ličge for the sum of 240.000 francs. After an adaptation for glider towing, the second OO-FBA, without engine, hood or propeller, was sold to the aeroclub of Frechen for 350.000 francs.

All this caused a delay for the start of the flight schooling, but was essential to keep the club alive. The profits from the bar did the rest.

While the loyal mechanics of the 255th, under the leadership of André Bosmans, were busy restoring the two last Cubs, the trainers studied aerodynamics, meteorology and aviation regulations to be able to pass the exams for civil trainer, while other volunteers were busy finishing the facilities.

Finally, the first Piper Cub could be baptized as OO-HSC and put into service, followed by the second a few months later, which was registered as OO-HBB. The Butzweilerhof section started to turn at full capacity.

Concerning the registrations, OO means Belgian, H means stationed abroad, and the last two were our choice. SC – Suzanne CRAHAY, and BB – Béatrice BONNEVIE.

At the beginning of 1970, a second section was opened at Werl, under the direction of the late Charles VAN HUMBEECK, assisted by Piet DE RYBEL and Paul AELAERTS. A prefabricated building was bought at the Dresdner Bank, and was installed next to the airfield. The luxurious interior was offered by Stella, thanks to the diplomatic talents of Jean Bonnevie. The new commercial director of the brewery presented his apologies in name of the direction, for the lack of interest the last six years. Then he showed the card which said: “Lieutenant Bonnevie seems wacky”. That’s actually true… There were still 20.000 francs, but no airplanes!

In the meantime, the aeroclub had the possibility to acquire several Piper Cubs (ex-MDAP) from the Lt. Avn., to reinforce the fleet. The same was done with the remaining parts stocked at the 255th.

After Werl, it was Merzbrück’s turn. As the funds were low, they had to settle for a decommissioned bus as clubhouse.

For obvious simplification reasons, all administration remained centralized at Butzweilerhof, under the watchful eye of our friend Jean Bonnevie. He gave up his career evolution to dedicate himself completely to the management and development of “his child”, and that was no small task, with three sections, bars, restaurants, and twelve airplanes.

Telling all adventures of the FBA Aeroclub would lead us too far away from the article itself.

Let us conclude by saying that the club was born of a dream of Jean Bonnevie, and grew thanks to the dedication of the volunteers of the three Lt. Avn. Squadrons. Its indisputable success allowed many members to realize their dream of flying. For some, it was also the beginning of a beautiful aviation career… Included, among others, our own astronaut, General Viscount Aviator Frank DE WINNE, Lieutenant General Aviator Michel Mandl, Air Force Chief of Staff, and numerous captains from Sabena.

The end of the Belgian presence in West Germany didn’t mean the end of the FBA Aeroclub.

Returned to Belgium to the military base of Bierset, it took the name of the Land Force Aeroclub, and since the restructuring of the army into components, it was named the Belgian Defense Aeroclub.

November 26th, 2011, following the closure of the military base of Ličge Bierset, the BDA flew off to their new « home base », Florennes Airbase, EBFS. 

In 2013, 50 years after its official creation, it receives the « Royal » title, and is hence named « Royal Belgian Defense Aeroclub ». 

On September 21st 2013, its royal title was celebrated. Numerous guests were present, as well as a dozen civilian aircraft that had the privilege to land on runway 26R of Florennes.
The SBAP team would like to thank Gilbert Mulenders (president), Alex Classen (Secretary) and all RBDA members for their warm welcome during the pictorial report.

Diamond D-40 from Luçon (Serge Van Heertum) Cessna 172N from "le zoute aeroclub" (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) Cessna 207A from "Aviation Sans Frontičre" (Serge Van Heertum)
Zenair CH.601 Zodiac from Theux (Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) AA5B Tiger (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) Piper PA-18 Super Cub from Overboelare (Serge Van Heertum)
Piper L-18C (Serge Van Heertum) Piper L-18C (Serge Van Heertum)
Brugger MB-2 Colibri (Serge Van Heertum) Piper PA-28 (Serge Van Heertum)
"Kéké" the marshaller (Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
Warning flag... (Serge Van Heertum) ...remove before flight (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) Teddy Cub was from the party (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) Historic exhibition (Serge Van Heertum)
Alex Classen (Secretary), Gilbert Mullenders (President) and Mr Bosmans one of the begin technician (Serge Van Heertum)
"Mich" Mandl (Serge Van Heertum) Time for a drink (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)
(Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum)

A part of the fleet... (Serge Van Heertum)
Some of the members had also their anniversary.. (Serge Van Heertum) The "Bravo Yankee" aficionados! (Serge Van Heertum)
Royal Belgian Defence Aeroclub 2013...Happy 50 years and congratulation for the "Royal" Title (Serge Van Heertum)

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