Text: Serge Van Heertum - Pictures: Serge Van Heertum, @ross_impress - Translation: Marc Arys
ęsbap 2021
Friday March 5th, 2021, a special day at Kleine Brogel airbase for one of the pilots of the 31st "Tigers" squadron. Indeed, for Commander Aviator Steven De Vries, better known under the nickname "Vrieske", it was the day of passing 5000 hours of flight time on the F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft. 5000 hours is quite simply hallucinating when we know that he is the first non-American to achieve this milestone. Apart from our compatriot, only 5 American pilots have reached this figure, so "Vrieske" joins this very closed club.
"Vrieske" joined the Air Force in 1990 and was integrated into Prom 90B, which already had a premonitional motto: "Why Not ?".
After completing his training and his F-16 conversion at Beauvechain, he was assigned to Kleine Brogel's 23rd "Devil" squadron. He remained there until 2001, when this squadron was disbanded and then moved under the "stripes of the tigers" of the 31st. It should be noted that "Vrieske" completed almost all of his hours in an operational squadron and took part in almost all of the detachments assigned to the Belgian Air Force, from the conflict in ex-Yugoslavia to the Middle East.
During this day, we had the opportunity to ask a few questions to this very simple and above all very humble man, a true professional who is passionate about his job and about flying.
When we asked him for a memorable recall of his F-16 career, he took us back to the beginning, during his first flight as a pair leader with a young pilot as a wingman. It was a stressful flight for him considering the responsibilities, but the mission was a total success and his pure happiness was the accomplishment of this difficult mission even if it seems trivial for a neophyte. If we ask him his greatest pride, it is simply his role as Weapon Instructor (FWIT) for 20 years and to have been able to pass on his knowledge in this field to his brothers in arms, as well as to the youngest pilots.
Finally, "Vrieske" will leave the operational world after 5,000 hours seated on his Aces II ejection seat, i.e. 208 days of 24 hours. As his future after such a record is of interest to us, he simply answered that he is to move to the OCU (Operational Conversion Unit), thus continuing to pass on his knowledge to the younger pilots and, icing on the cake, adding a few more flight hours on the Fighting Falcon to his already full flight logbook.
After this interview, it was time for "Vrieske" to get on his aircraft of the day, FA-126, waiting only for him under a generous spring sun.
The mission of the day consisted of a training flight at low and medium altitude as leader of a formation of 4 F-16's in the airspace of the Belgian Ardennes.
This mission was already remarkable because of the 5000 flying hours of "Vrieske", but also because of the fact that the training was carried out by 4 pilots who together totaled an impressive 16.000 flying hours on the Fighting Falcon!
To achieve this, the training was composed of 2 pilots of the 2nd Tactical Wing of Florennes, being "Harpic" and "Steph" and 2 pilots of the 10th Tactical Wing of Kleine Brogel, "Vrieske" of course, and "Mario".
Once the mission accomplished, return to the base in two box formations immortalized by the chase plane of the photographer on duty.
Then the three friends landed and "Vrieske" made a final high-speed pass to greet his family, his colleagues and the press present for this unique moment in a pilot's career.
The return to the apron was done with the traditional water curtain by the airbase fire brigade.
After being greeted at his plane by the Base Commander and the NSO (Senior Flying Officer), they replaced his "Swirl F-16" with the 5000 hours patch and handed him a salutary drink to quench his thirst ;-)
It was then the time for the various speeches underlining the brilliant career of "Vrieske", the pilot, the man, who despite such a record of achievements managed to remain humble. For him this 5000 hours flight was just a normal flight, one more in his flight book.
Good flight with the OCU "Vrieske" and always safe landing.

The Prom 90B patch: Why Not?

Prom 90B: Sqn Ldr "Manu" Geerts DFC
Graduated on 31-03-1993

J.L. De Beir - J. Capelle - B. Deelkens - M. Volders - D. Christijn de Ribaucourt
A. Demarest

A. Roose - O. Crappe - P. Vanfleteren - S. De Vries

(Archives SBAP)
23 Squadron "Devil", the first one 5000 Flight Hours on F-16 31 Squadron "Tiger", the current  one
Entrance of the base, welcomed by the Falcon A festive day on the airbase
We know where we are... roarrrrrrrrrrrr We are at a fully operational squadron, don't forget it !
The mount waiting for the driver Kleine Brogel operations are still going on
FA-126, waiting only for him under a generous spring sun Reflections
The "Star" of the day giving some interviews The 3 other pilots involved in this special flight
"Vrieske", "Harpic", "Steph" & "Mario"...  16.000 Fighting Falcon flight hours together. Simply amazing!
OCU training flights still being flown FA-132 taxiing
Followed by the FA-97 You can find everything in the woods...
Preparing for the start up
Engine run up Nav lights are on
The shadow man, the crew chief The FA-126 for the 5000 hrs archievement
Top gun in the sun
Ready, taxi clearance and salute to the crew chief On the way to the record
Superb environment to photograph the beautiful bird Forest walk for "Vrieske"
Half tiger FA-95 The colleague will join up soon
In the eyes of the Fighting Falcon
Another colleague with the FA-119 3000 hours on the clock for him
349 Sqn "Mace" fuel tank 31 Sqn "Tigers" fuel tank
Nice flight and go for the 16.000 hrs
Taxi in the sun with the new control tower in the background FA-95 driver
"Vrieske" take off A little salute
On the way to reach the 5000 Hrs
Hey guy's FA-119 at take off
FA-114 at take off FA-95 at take off
Meanwhile life goes on on the base FA-110 entering the repair hangar
Not easy to park in reverse with an F-16 ;-) The powerhouse of the F-16
Other missions are accomplished on this sunny day FB-15 OCU mission, doing some touch and go
A last one... ...and landing
End of mission for the FA-69 too
Fire brigade is preparing for "Vrieske" welcome back Two Rosenbauer Panther are needed to make the water curtain
FA-123 back to the flight line after maintenance FB-17 on the way to the maintenance hangar
Aerial view of the record flight
(Courtesy Bart Rosselle via Instagram)
"Vrieske above Zolder racing circuit
(Courtesy Bart Rosselle via Instagram)
Box formation pass at Kleine Brogel airbase
The second pass gear down with the photographer plane
FB-20 on landing Hi Bart, always the finger on the trigger!
Tactical break for the 16000 hrs formation Break
A touch and go for the FA-126 FA-119 landing
FA-114 also back to base FA-95 mission accomplished
A last high speed pass for "Vrieske"
Landing Speed brakes open
5000 hrs reached, congrats ! A little bit nostalgic for the 23 Sqn "Vrieske"?
On the way back to the parking
5000 hours seated on his Martin-Baker... ...or 208 days of 24 hours!
Passing the water curtain
End of mission and shut down procedure Water and sun
Shut down All the squadron is waiting him
First put things in their place The engine exhaust is still hot
Congrats "Vrieske", you got it!
Some details of the FA-126 Europe is not forgotten, the tires are Michelin ;-)
After the shower The canopy
The new patch: 5000 hours ! Welcome in this very close club "Vrieske"
Speech and thirst Near the record banner
Some present to mark this unique flight for him The 5000 hours commemorative plate

Another present from Lockheed-Martin 
and a little emotional speech to thank the family, friends and colleagues
And to conclude the day, some more interviews
Good flight with the OCU "Vrieske" and always safe landing.

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