Text: Serge Van Heertum - Pictures: Serge Van Heertum & Philippe Decock - Translation: Marc Arys   © sbap 2017
 
A little bit History
 

Taking note of a gap in the aerial defence system between the airbase of Sint-Truiden and Laon-Athies, the Germans, under the aegis of the Todt organization, started the construction of an airbase for the Luftwaffe at the municipality of Jusaine, next to Florennes. At the beginning the airbase hosted the night fighter group I/NJG4 equipped with Messerschmitt Gf 110 and Junkers Ju 88. This unit was then under the command of Gruppenkommandeur Hauptmann Wilhelm Herget. The night fighter unit was followed by a day fighter group (I/JG26) endued with Focke-Wulf Fw 190, under the orders of Hauptmann Karl Boris. Important notice is the fact that, at that time, the commander of the JG26 was no one less than Oberst Josef "Pips" Priller, an ace with 101 victories to his credit.
At the beginning of September 1944, following the landing in Normandy on June 6, and due to the inescapable progression of the Allies, the Germans left the base to dedicate their defences to the "Vaterland".

 
 Messerschmitt Bf-110 passing over the civilian workers
(Coll Denis Eusicom)
Gruppenkommandeur Hauptmann Wilhelm Herget
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
 

Soon, Florennes was taken over by the American Forces and the USAF and a first Consolidated B-24v Liberator landed on September 11th, 1944. Followed by the 422nd Night Fighter Squadron equipped with the Northrop P-61 Black Widow; the 370th and the 474th Fighter Groups, both flying the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. On January 30, 1945, the base saw the arrival of the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt with the 365th Fighter Group and, on April 5, the last American unit at Florennes, the 344th Bomber Group with Martin B-26 Marauder.

 
 Allied bombardment of the base
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
A P-38J lightning of the 428th Fighter Squadron and in the foreground d the remain of a Messerschmitt Me 410 "Hornisse"
(Coll Denis Eusicom)
 

Birth of a new Belgian airbase... 70 years ago
At the end of the hostilities, the regional authorities inherited from the large domain and the questions regarding its future were numerous. Finally the decision was taken to maintain it with a "military assignment".
In May 1946 as to stop the looting, two Belgian officers, former Royal Air Force men, Major Burniat and Captain Genot, assisted by some 60 men, ensured the guard of the premises. In 1947, after this first commandment of a base without aircraft, Major Aviator Raymond Lallemant (DFC & Bar) was tasked to form an operational unit at Florennes, the 161th Wing of the Aéronautique Militaire.
By the end of October 1947, the two Squadrons, 351th and 352nd, were equipped with an Airspeed Oxford, two North American T-6 Harvard and two Spitfire Mk XIV. In 1948 the 161th Wing was renamed 2nd Wing and the 351 and 352 became the 1st (Thistle) and the 2nd (Comet) Squadron. The first DH.82A Tiger Moth landed at Florennes in September 1948 and by October 17 airworthy Spitfires were based.
On January 15, 1949, the name Aviation Militaire was dispensed with and became the Belgian Air Force.
In 1950, the 3rd Squadron (Galberry Leaf) was born and joined the Thistle and the Comet. Traditions came alive, and in 1956 the base was renamed to base Jean "Pyker" Offenberg, Belgian ace flying in the Royal Air Force who was killed during a training flight in 1942.

 
 Colonel Raymond "Cheval" Lallemant DFC and Bar (1919 – 2008)
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
Flight Lieutenant Jean "Pyker" Offenberg DFC (1916 – 1942)
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
 Supermarine Spitfire F Mk XIVe from the 2nd Squadron
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
North American AT-16-ND Havard IIIb wearring the YL code of the 3rd Squadron  (Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
 Airspeed AS.40 Oxford C.1
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
De Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth with the UR code of the 2nd Squadron
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
 

The venerable Spitfires were replaced by the Republic F-84E Thunderjet in 1951, followed by an more powerful model, the F-84G, which led the 2nd Wing into the jet era.
In 1952 the first T-33A Shooting Star were delivered to the Air Force as part of the MDAP (Mutual Defense Assistance Program). The task for the T-33A was the training of the pilots who were going to pass on F-84E & G. The first aircraft were grouped in Florennes in a new unit: the 83 Group Instrument Flight. At that time, the planes still wore the standard alu livery with the American code "TR-". This situation lasted until 1954 when the Shooting Star made a move towards the fighter school of Koksijde, which led to the dissolution of the 83 Group Instrument Flight.
The Republic F-84F Thunderstreak took over in 1955, where Florennes entered the supersonic age. Indeed on August 30, 1955, two Belgian pilots broke the sound barrier overhead Florennes airbase, Major Aviator Léon Branders and Captain Aviator Laloux.
Florennes airbase also entered the nuclear weapons era, with the 2nd Squadron being tasked with these deterrent missions types from 1962 till 1967.

 
 Republic F-84E Thunderjet of the 1st Squadron
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
Republic F-84G Thunderjet with the 3rd Squadron markings
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star of the 83 Group Instrument Flight
(TR-233 became the FT-07)

(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
Republic F-84F Thunderstreak of the 1st Squadron
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
The Capitaine Avi Willy Laloux and the Major Avi Léon Branders on that memorable day of August 30th, 1955
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
 

The American fighter plane from the Republic manufacturer was replaced by the delta winged airplane from Marcel Dassault, the Mirage V, from 1970 on. The latter was delivered in three versions: BA (Attack), BR (Reconnaissance) and BD (two-seat trainer). The arrival of the Mirage caused a general reorganization of the fighter-bomber units. On June 30, 1971, the 1st Squadron moved to the 3rd Wing at Bierset, in September the 42nd Squadron arrived at Florennes and in December the 8th Squadron also moved to Bierset.
So the 2nd Fighter-Bomber Wing, in between renamed 2nd Tactical Wing, continued to operate together with the 2nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron and the 42nd Reconnaissance Squadron.
Some years later, facing the eastern threat, when Russia deployed numerous SS-20 missiles deliberately turned towards Europe, NATO decided to install equivalent missiles with intermediate range facing the Warsaw Pact countries. Florennes airbase was chosen to provide a base for these famous "Cruise" Missiles and from March 15, 1984 on, the 485th Tactical Missile Wing (TMW) from the USAF took up residence at the Ardenne airbase with its 48 BGM-109G Gryphon missiles (fully operational on August 1, 1984).
Large scale infrastructure works were needed and at the same time, tough debates were ongoing with the USSR as to obtain joint limitations for these means. These negotiations came to fruition on December 08th, 1987, and on February 28, 1989, the mission of the 485th TMW came to an end, leaving all their new facilities.
After this much debated passage of the cruise missiles at Florennes, the Wing was completely modernized to welcome the new fighter, the F-16. The first aircraft touched down on October 14, 1989. On November 29 of the same year, the 42nd Reconnaissance Squadron left Florennes bound to the Liège base of Bierset and the 1 st Fighter-Bomber Squadron returned to Florennes on March 15th, 1989.

 
The Mirage begins at Florennes, a BD model has not received its camouflage yet
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
The F-16 line of the 2nd Tactical Wing
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 Transport system of the « cruise » missile operated by 
the 485th Tactical Missile Wing

(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
General Dynamics BGM-109G Gryphon
(Coll Denis Eusicom)
   

1989 saw also the Tactical Leadership Program (TLP) leave its German base of Jever, following various ecological arm-twisting in Germany, and move to Florennes. This international organization is in charge of the standardization of the procedures between the fighter pilots of the Allied Air Forces of Central Europe (AIRCENT) called to operate together and used Florennes airbase for its activities until June 30, 2009, when the TLP left Florennes for the Spanish airbase at Albacete, where the weather conditions are far more favorable.
The 1st Fighter Wing at Beauvechain was disbanded in 1996 and the 350th Squadron joined the 1st at Florennes, which again generated a new type of mission for the Wing, the air defense, needing to instate a 24/7 Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) alternately with Kleine Brogel. All of this added to the specific NATO requirements, within the Reaction Forces frame, where 12 F-16 ought to be deployed in a minimum amount of time.
So, from 1997 on, the Wing squadrons took part in the mission "Joint Falcon", the operations "Decisive Endeavour" and "Deliberate Guard" from the Italian airbase at Villafranca and from January 199 into the operation "Allied Force" from the airbase at Amendola, within the frame of the Deployable Air Task Force (DATF). This latter, conducted for peace-keeping overhead ex- Yougoslavia, was first flown alternately with the 10th Wing at Kleine Brogel and later on, jointly with the Koninklijke Luchtmacht (Dutch Air Force). Let us also not forget the various participations, in parallel with these operational missions, to international exercises as "Red Flag" at Nellis, Nevada, "Maple Flag" at Cold Lake, Canada and a deployment to South Africa in 2000.
Following the restructuration plan "Falcon 2000"April 2001, the Wings faced again a drastic change in their structure, reducing the number of operational F-16 squadrons from 6 to 4. This led to the disbandment of the 2nd Squadron (Comet) and the 23rd Squadron "Devil" from Kleine Brogel.
The 1st Squadron was thereafter equipped with the Modular Recce Pods, a reconnaissance tool, which in combination with the infrared cameras (IRLS) allowed very precise aerial tactical reconnaissance missions to be executed. Four aircraft took part in the operation "Baltic Air Policing" from the Lithuanian airbase at Siaulai.
In 2005, four F-16 and support personal were deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, referred to as operation "Eastern Eagle", as part of the "European Expeditionary Wing".
Afterwards the 2nd Tactical Wing was appointed as the Lead Unit as part of the Operation "Guardian Falcon" (OGF), and from September 2008, flying six F-16 from Kandahar airbase under ISAF mandate, in support of the NATO troops. About a hundred personnel, mostly part of the 2 Wing and 10 Wing performs a highly regarded mission by NATO in very harsh conditions.
Operation "Freedom Falcon" started off in 2011 and six F-16 from the Wing, deployed for an exercise to Araxos airbase (Grece), took part to the actions above Libyan territory.
The 80 UAV Squadron took also residence at Florennes airbase in 2011, as part of the 'transformation' plan of defense. This unit, created within the frame of the Army Command, passed under the aegis of the Air Component in July 2004. Before rejoining Florennes, 80 UAV Squadron was based at Elsenborn, but we will have a little historical overview of this squadron further on, but let us come back to our F-16 squadrons.

  
Activity on the TLP apron
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
Operations in Bosnia
(Olivier  "Pappy"  Van Gorp ©)
The MRP (Modular Recce Pod) system
(Coll Serge Van Heertum / SBAP)
Mission above Afghanistan
(Courtesy Belgian Air Force - Vador ©)
IAI B-Hunter in operation
(ADJ Bart Resselle / ComOpsAir IPR ©)
The AGCS type control station
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
  

Four aircraft of the Wing took part in operation "Enhanced Air Policing" from Malbork airbase (Poland) in 2015 and in 2016, the pilots of Florennes were once again present during the operation "Desert Falcon" above Irak and Sirya, departing from Jordanian territory. Also in 2016, four aircraft flew from Amari airbase (Estonia) as part of operation "Enhanced Air Policing".
At last, the Protection Forces of the base were deemed necessary as part of operation "Homeland" in the cities of Charleroi, Gosselies and Fleurus, following the terrorist attacks of March 22th, 2016.
As to conclude this survey, let us have a look at the 80 UAV Squadron. In 2004 the Army acquired Israel built B-Hunter UAV's, commonly known as drones. Following the operational evaluation during exercise CCALC from the Army Component in June 2004, the unit was reorganized and renamed 80 UAV Squadron. As mentioned above, the unit was handed over to the Air Component in July 2004.
Once operational, the 80 UAV Squadron was deployed to Solenzara (Corsica) as a general repetition before the real engagements.
On July 1st, 2005, the squadron rejoined Bosnia-Herzegovina for a four month deployment in favour of EUFOR as part of operation ALTHEA. 2006 saw the unit deploying to Congo under the aegis of the European Union for the local elections .
In 2008 the unit was assigned anti-pollution tasks overhead the Norh Sea, according to the protocol signed between the Ministry of Defense and the National Health Service. At present, the squadron continues to fly these missions for the "Carrefour d'Information Maritime" (Maritime Information Hub) from Koksijde airbase.
After having rejoined Florennes airbase, the unit carries out regular deployments to Beja Portugal) as to maintain its training capacities during the wintertime. They also started collaboration with the Public Service of Wallonia as part of the anti-pollution in the Walloon region.
2013 was earmarked with an acknowledgment for the squadron, as one of the two participating teams to the Challenge International de l'Imagerie, organized in France, won the Team's Trophy. This was the first time a foreign team did win the trophy!
Between 2008 and 2013 the unit participated also in numerous exercises of the Army Component, providing a direct support with real time imagery (Full Motion Video).
During its deployement at Brasschaat in 2015 as part of operation "Vigilant Guardian" the B-Hunter fleet flew its 5000th flight hour.

  
  

Here you have an historical survey of Florennes airbase, history which was developed into an historico-musical show to emphasize on these 70 years of Belgian military presence at Florennes.
The concept of this anniversary and show held on September 22, was a big gamble, as the show, lasting a little bit more than 2 hours, was a mix of pictures and video on giant screens, live music, re-enactors, fly-by by the UAV, F-16 in action, etc...
It was really a brilliant and original idea and an exceptional way to commemorate this anniversary. This event needed months of preparation, numerous rehearsals, a strict timing and an unlimited dedication from all the participants. All of this contributed to the great success of the event with among other, the appropriate supersonic double bang overhead Florennes, flown by two F-16.
Hats off to the organizers, who put everything forward to make this commemoration highly appreciated by all visitors.
We would like to thank heartily Colonel Didier Polomé, Base Commander and all the actors, who contributed to the success of this day, for their welcome at the base and this more than original flash-back on our military and aeronautical history.

 
 From Thunderstreak to Fighting Falcon…this is not a Mirage
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
The superb decoration of the FA-135 tail created by two members of the 2nd Tactical Wing
(Serge Van Heertum ©)

 The Colonel Avi Didier Polomé, Base Commander open the "Historical Show"
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
Opening with the sound of horns and the Falcon song
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
Giant screens to soak in the base history
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
German patrols are present in the Florennes region
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
A Kubelwagen wearing the Nachtjagdgeschwader 4 markings
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht Officers
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 Auto Union Horch Pkw 108
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
Days are counted for the Germans
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 Map study of the region
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
Luftwaffe Officers get ready to leave Florennes airbase
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)
After bombing, the American troops arrives
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
The Willys jeep appear
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
Dodge Weapon Carrier WC 52  vehicle
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
The "entre Sambre et Meuse" walkers
(Philippe Decock ©)
 The sound barrier is crossed in1955
(Philippe Decock ©)
…and in 2017 above Florennes airbase
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
The 485th Tactical Missile Wing presence with their BGM-109G Gryphon
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
F-16 era at Florennes
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
1st Squadron Centenary
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
There was also a B-Hunter pass
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
The flags of the various units are presented to the public
(Philippe Decock ©)
1st Squadron (from November 1st, 1947 to June 30th, 1971 & from March 15th, 1989 until today)
2nd Squadron (from November 1947 to April 20th, 2001)
3rd Squadron (from January 1950 to 1960)
42th Squadron (from 1971 to November 29th, 1988)
8th Squadron (from 1970 to 1971)
350th Squadron (from March 4th, 1996 until today)
80th UAV Squadron (from 2011 until today)
 
Some more passes to close this fantastic spectacle
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©)
 The musical atmosphere was ensured by the Belgian Air Force band with the Captain Matty Cilissen at the command
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
A last speech from the Base Commander
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
As conclusion: The FA-135 did a flight on Monday September 25th and has retrieved the operational grey scheme just after this unique flight
(Philippe Decock ©)

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