Text: Serge Van Heertum - Pictures: Serge Van Heertum & Patrick Brouckaert - Translation: Marc Aryc   © sbap 2017
  

The Open Door of Semmerzake, within the facilities of the ATCC (Air Traffic Control Center) was the only event of the Air Force in 2017.
The aim of this event was to emphasize on the 60 years of air traffic control school and allow the public, generally living in the vicinity, to have a look at this peculiar base and observe the abilities and know-how of the Air Force in this particular domain. Besides the installations at Semmerzake, the air traffic control school, located in the neighbouring town of Gavere, also opened her doors to the public. Two exhibitions were set up. One dedicated to the 60 years of the school, which officially opened in 1957 and the other one dedicated to the 70 years of our Air Force.
The numerous visitors at Semmerzake were able to become acquainted with the control center by visiting the work intallations of the controllers and visualize the control screens. But sadly no visit was allowed into the very recognizable "ball" as the radar was operational due to the European summit of June 23.
Visitors could wander through the various booths, gathering information on the Technical School of Saffraanberg or on the career possibilities within the Navy or simply admiring the gear of the Special Forces. Muc other booths were also present like those from our various squadrons or our Red Devils, offering all kind of souvenirs and for the collectors among us, their last "patch".Also a crowd rush around the F-16 where you could take place into the cockpit, impressing mostly the youngsters, maybe future pilots...
Jointly organised with the Ursel Avia week-end, Semmerzake took advantage of the foreseen fly-past at Ursel such as the Baé Hawk T.2, the Royal Air Force Tucano and Beechcraft Super King Air, the Sail Plane UK PBY-5A Catalina and the flight demo of the Victors.
Besides these fly-by's, the Air Force dispatched almost all of its fleet examlpes, F-16AM with Alpha Jet or Falcon 900, Embraer ERJ-135, C-130H, Agusta A109BA, Airbus Helicopter NH90 - NFH and TTH, the good old Seaking Mk.48 and the Siai Marchetti SF.260M of our 'Red Devils' together with the Fouga Magister from Deurne.

 All of this in a blazing sun, which the beerpumps and refrigerators surely will remember... This event was a real success for the organizers as the public was at the rendez-vous and the family mood present. But it is important to also emphasize that this Open Door of the ATCC was probably the last.
Indeed, evolution of air traffic and modernisation of the airspace management systems urged the Air Force to integrate the military controllers within the civilian air traffic control. The controllers will be integrated in the CANAC center, located at Steenokkerzeel, timed for 2019. So little by little Semmerzake becomes vacated, but the fate of the premises is still not clear yet.
SBAP would like to thank heartily the autjorities and personnal of the base of Semmerzake for the the organisation and the ComOpsAir IPR team for their welcome in the press center and facilities granted during our stay.

 
 (Patrick Brouckaert ©)  (Courtesy ATCC ©)
 

History of the Belgian Air Traffic Control
In 1951 the Belgian Air Force decided to make serious improvements to the radar coverage of the Belgian territory. After some prospection in the area around the City of Gent, the authorities chose a terrain at Semmerzake and shortly after, they started the implementation. The first 3 truck mounted radars were set up at Semmerzake. Those 3 units came from the United Kingdom and the maximum distance this equipment could cover was estimated at around 15 kilometer. The working conditions at Semmerzake for the controllers and the technicians could be compared to a camping ground!
In November 1952 the Belgian authorities bought the castle of Gavere, so the personnel of the control center were able to spend their time in better conditions.
1954, the GCI n°1 became an independent unit and received the new denomination of Control and Reporting Center 1 (CRC 1).
At the beginning of the 1960's the old radars were replaced by new American material. The new radars (type FPS-6 & FPS-33) were more efficient and the control radius increased to 300 kilometers for an altitude up to 20.000 meters.
In 1962, the denomination of the control center changed once more, to become Control and Reporting Post (CRP).
The Semmerzake control center became of great importance in 1963, with the implementation of a system that eliminates the interference between civilian and military air traffic.
10 years later, in 1973, this system was transferred to a new and well known institution: Eurocontrol. But Semmerzake control center remains an important unit, especially for the Belgian territorial defense.
In 1975 the Traffic Coordination Cell (TCC) was automated thanks to the launch of the SEROS (Semmerzake Radar Operating System) program.
As from April 1980 the main radar was replaced two times. The first replacement was done by a General Electric GE592-3D (3D for tri-dimensional), a radar able to make distinction between civil and military aircraft. The performance of the GE radar was a detection capability up to 270 kilometer distance and for an altitude of 8000 meters. Later on, the GE radar was replaced by a MARCONI S273, which is able to detect an aircraft 450 kilometers away, at an altitude that is above 60000 meters!
Since 1993 the Belgian Air Force and Thales-Raytheon company are busy with the SEROS I program. The old bunker built in the late 1950's was abandoned for a modern building, where the air controllers could work in notably better circumstances.
In 2003 the program SEROS I was replaced by SEROS II (Semmerzake Radar Operating System II). This program gave the Belgian Air Force a master role in the Belgian air traffic control. This new system is coupled to 10 radars (civilian and military) and the computerization of all this information gives a general and automated view of the overall traffic situation, and moreover it gives insight in the flight plan of each aircraft, as well as the meteorological evolution in real-time thanks to the most modern communication systems.
This mesh of radar stations is particularly important in the European areas which concentrates one of the densest air traffic in the world and were Belgium a center point. Each month, around 90,000 civil flights across the country, this is also surrounded by four of the five most important international airports in Europe (London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam and Frankfurt). The many flights to and from these airports, coupled with traffic density, have inevitably an impact on military air traffic. The ATCC therefore plays a crucial role in this network and is certainly a center of excellence in the field of aviation safety.
The Belgian Military controller's capacity was underlined also some months ago when Belgocontrol suffered a total electrical outage. All civilian flights were controlled and diverted by the Belgian Air Force controllers without any problems and in full security. Good show for them, this is showing the complementarity between the civilian and the military control above our country.

  
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  Children waiting to take the pilot seat...May be some BAF pilot of the future
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)

 (Serge Van Heertum ©)

   (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  The smile of the Air Force
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 Comopsair IPR always present for the media
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
  Winners of the opendoor contest...
(Courtesy Bart Rosselle ©)
made a A109 or Seaking flight
(Patrick Brouckaert ©)
  The beauty and the beast...
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)
 
Some civilian visitors
(Patrick Brouckaert ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  Agusta A109BA
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)   (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  Westland Seaking Mk.48
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
Airbus Helicopter NH-90 TTH
(Patrick Brouckaert ©)
  Special forces demonstration
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  Airbus Helicopter NH-90 NFH
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
  Search and rescue demonstration
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  Mc Donnell Douglas MD-900
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  Police intervention group demonstration
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  Belgian Parachute Team
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  Some fly passes along the day
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 Lockheed-Martin F-16AM & F-16BM
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
  British Aerospace Hawk T.2 from the RAF
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  The fighting Falcon and the Alpha Jet
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  F-16AM and the Dassault Falcon 900D
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Patrick Brouckaert ©)  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  The "Red Devils" team in company of the belgian airworthy Fouga Magister   (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  Antonov AN-2 from Pairi Daisa park
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©)  The PBY-5A Catalina from Sailplane UK
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
  The Majestic Seaking
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 Embraer ERJ-135
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
  This was probably the last opendoor that could be held at ATCC Semmerzake...    (Serge Van Heertum ©)

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