Belgian interest for the aviation started early. Many private constructors began to create aeroplanes from the beginning of the century. A Belgian military air branch was created in 1910. King Albert I himself was fond of new techniques and his government was always found prepared to support initiatives helping the development of the aviation.
The fast and surprising progresses of the aerial weapon in the Ist WW pushed some pioneers to launch a national air company. One year after the end of the war, the SNETA (Société Nationale pour l'Etude des Transports Aériens) came to life. The beginning was really "heroic", the first aircraft being mainly ex-war-machines, souvenirs of the conflict such as the De Havilland DH-9 which served on the London, Amsterdam or Paris routes, taking off from Haren airfield, close to Brussels.
But Belgian territory was not limited to Europe... At that time it also included the colony on African soil: Belgian Congo. The connections with the colony were mainly maritime and it took many weeks to travel from Antwerpen to Goma and Leopoldville! The plane was, without doubt, the future for the liaison Europe/Africa. In 1920, using a few seaplanes (such as the tri-seat Levy-Lepen), the LARA (Ligne Aérienne du Roi Albert) could assure internal liaisons in the colony, covering the important distance between Leopoldville and Stanleyville by flying along the Congo river.
Development of the national airline
A tri-engined Fokker F VIIb/3m of Sabena photographed at Haren in the early 30's.
All those attempts (SNETA & LARA) were concretized when, on
23 May 1923, SABENA (Société Aérienne Belge d'Exploitation de la
Navigation Aérienne) was born. The capital of the company was in the
hands of both private interests and the state. The new airline
expanded quickly, each year new links being created:
Sabena ordered nine Junkers Ju 52/3mge in 1936. OO-AGV as shown here at Haren, was the second Ju 52 delivered to Sabena.
The end of the growing
Sabena DC-3-227B OO-AUH seen at Shoreham in May 1940. Later that same month it entered service with N° 24 Squadron RAF.
They mainly flew supply missions from England to the mainland, some of the
aircraft being destroyed by the German Flak or fighters, civilian crewmen being killed
or captured. A mission to Merville on 23 May turned into disaster, when three Sabena planes (two Savoia and one DC-3) were lost. Many crewmen
decided then to "desert" and operate for the Belgian military schools evacuated in French Marocco. Those crews continued to fly after Belgian
armistice (28 May 40) but had to stop all activities after the fall of France (18 June 1940).
Aircraft which were operational were therefore devided between the
victors, the Italians receiving the Savoias, the Germans at least a DC-3. This American plane survived the war as the personal plane of General
CHRISTIANSEN (who, for the anecdote, was in 1918 a well-known pilot in the German airbase of Zeebrugge, on the Belgian coast).
A Sabena Douglas DC-7C being prepared at Melsbroek.
During WWII development of the aircraft continued and saw the first
steps into the "jet age". Sabena started operation on the Atlantic with DC-4 followed by
DC-6, links with Belgian Congo were improved... Commuters planes (Convair 440, Dove, Heron Bristol 170,...) were bought by the
Belgian Company which expanded its European network and inside of Congo. Haren airfield became to
small and a new
Belgian airport was built and developed at Zaventem. During the Korean war some Sabena
airlners took part in the air-bridge from Europe to
Asia carrying troops and cargo loads under contract for the USAF.
Sabena A340-300 as it nears Runway 25R at Zaventem Airport for takeoff.
Last updated 06/11/11 15:51 Daniel Brackx