Bye bye "Mitch"...Welcome "Grat"...

Text & Pictures : Serge Van Heertum © sbap 2011


Three years, this is the maximum period for a F-16 display pilot in the Belgian Air Force…2011 was the third year display of our national « Mitch » and his well known “Vortex” aircraft. It is time now for him to pass the hand to another pilot who will be the next Air Force representative in the airshow circuit.
Display pilot is a particular job performed in parallel with the operational missions. Effectively, “Mitch” was also detached for a period in Araxos and participate actively to the “Freedom Falcon – Unified Protector” operation. During his last year as demonstration pilot, “Mitch” got also four prestigious prices (Zelweg, Waddington…) underlining the high quality and professionalism of his demonstrations.
But it is time now to present the 15th F-16 demonstration pilot that will be the Belgian Air Force ambassador during the next airshow season. Renaud “Grat” Thys is coming from the 350 Squadron of Florennes. He held his wings in 2004 and after his operational conversion on F-16 was integrated into the 350 Squadron in 2006. “Grat”was participating in many exercises (TLP, CCD…) but also in real operations in Afghanistan or in Lybia. Currently “Grat” totalises 1800 flight hours (1200 on F-16). We will come back to this real sympatic pilot later in our pages for a longer presentation.

This handover was underlined by a convivial ceremony at Kleine Brogel airbase on Friday November 4th  , with “Mitch” family and friends, Kleine Brogel and Florennes base commanders, 349 Squadron pilots and last but not least a part of former F-16 displays pilots. All those former demonstration pilots have presented the Belgian Air Force F-16 capacities during 30 years with maestria and the well known Air Force professionalism…and this will continue with the 16th member of this community…”Grat”.

During the afternoon, “Mitch” did a last demo flight and after the display, “Grat” did a join up for some passes with “Mitch” After the landing and the congratulations, the other demonstration teams (Red Devils & A-109) did a fly by above “Vortex” and a last salute was performed by a 15th Wing C-130H that during three years were also involved in “Mitch” international displacements. A last photo session and some interviews for the press, time was coming to have a drink in a real friendly fair…

SBAP would like to thanks Comopsair IPR and Kleine Brogel airbase authorities for the invitation, also thanks to “Mitch” and his all team for the thee past years of well appreciated displays and wishing all the best to “Grat” for the coming years…

In one word…Bye bye “Mitch”…Welcome “Grat”…and always safe landing to all of you!

Friend of the 349 Squadron Former display pilots :
Rudy "Chouke" Schoukens and Jean-Marie "Toutou" Toussaint
Here we go for the last display... Turn left full AB
"Vortex" in action Powerfull F-16
Climbing in the smokes Knife edge pass
The beautifull effect of the flares "Vortex" belly
Low pass in the grey sky of Kleine Brogel "Mitch" and "Vortex"...the man and the machine!
The elegant curves of the display Some more flares... final of the presentation
And finaly... ...a last high speed pass for the guest
"Grat" joining up... ...for some passes
It is now "Grat" smokes for the coming season "Mitch"'s yours now "Grat" !
A last touch and go and a last view on "Vortex"
FA69, "Grat" is landing "Mitch" on landing
A salute to the guest and the famous "Maze" sign of the 349 Squadron
Back to the parking
The last demo is over The new one always smilling
"Mitch" fan club The past and the future...
"Mitch"...just for you... The Red Devils
A-109 display team 15th Wing C-130H salute
"Mitch", Colonel Michel Colles (Florennes baseco), "Grat"
and Kolonel Frederik Vansina (Kleine Brogel baseco)
The imago of the Belgian Air Force pilots...Friendness
Some more interview Maxime Van Hauter, chief of the technical team
"Vortex" technical team
"Neskens", "?", "Ed", "X-Tof", "Pipo", "David", "?"
"Wim", "Sandro", "?"
Some of the 15 F-16's display pilots (from left to right):
Mark Athony, Michel "Mitch" Beulen, Erwin De Decker, Rudy Theys, Rudy "Chouke" Schoukens, Jean-Marie "Toutou" Toussaint, Nathan De Permentier
and Renaud "Grat" Thys
Thanks "Mitch", thanks "Grat" for supporting SBAP...All the best and always safe landing!
The KBSPOTTING.BE group maded a special banner for "Mitch"...
(Tim Van den Boer)
The handover ceremony was the occasion to give this banner to "Mitch" as reconnaissance of the three past years. This group has made more than 2 million pictures of "Mitch" solo display during the three years...! (Bart Roselle)

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