|BRASSCHAAT airbase Time-line|
Brasschaat, the oldest airbase in Belgium (some even say in Europe) has closed its doors.
In order not to forget the importance of this base to the history of Belgian military flying, as some high placed individuals would have liked, follow us on a nostalgic trip to the very beginnings of military aviation in Belgium.
Brasschaat first came in contact with "flying" when the "Werkers- en Luchtschipperscompany/Ouvriers et Aérostiers" was created in the framework of the Genie and equipped with "lighter than air" machines.
A gas-balloon is pulled down by sheer manpower at Brasschaat.
Jean-Pierre Lauwers Collection.
Belgian Minister of War General Helebaut seeing the development of a new arm equipped with "heavier than air" machines in France shows a keen interest in the advances made by the Belgian aeronautical pioneers. Two of these industrialists were quick to propose there services to the Minister. They were, Baron de Caters (Belgian pilot licence N° 1) founder of the first flying school at Sint Job-in-'t-Goor and representative in Belgium of the German Aviator aircraft and Knight Jules de Laminne (licence N°9) and creator of the airfield of Kiewit and Belgian representative of the French Farman aircraft. General Elebaut, is invited to fly in a Farman piloted by Jules de Laminne at Kiewit after which he got a contract to train the first Belgian military pilots. Baron de Caters not accepting this defeat pushes somewhat too hard and rather undiplomatically to promote his school and aircraft and is ruled out in the end.
The Commander of the Werkers and Luchtschipperscompany/Cie Ouvriers et Aérostiers, Captain Le Clément de Saint-Marcq was ordered to take negotiate the training as pilot of the first volunteers of the Genie. By decision of the Minister dated 31 October 1910, Lieutenant Georges Nélis is officially appointed as first student pilot.
An aeronautical commission created to examine the installation of a Belgian military aeronautical unit recommends acquiring a Henri Farman and proposes the plains at Brasschaat-Polygoon to become the first Belgian military airfield. Construction work at the airfield of 4.000 x 500 m started at the end of 1910.
On the 1st of May 1911 Brasschaat-Poligoon airfield and its School Militaire Luchtvaart, Ecole d'Aviation Militaire is officially opened. At that time the Werkers and Luchtschipperscompany/Cie Ouvriers et Aérostiers owned two aircraft, a Farman "Extra Course" and an Aviator N°2 with 50hp Argus engine donated by Pierre de Caters to HRH King Albert (who immediately passed on the machine to the army).
Picture taken at Brasschaat-Polygone around 1912 showing an early Farman.
Jean-Pierre Lauwers Collection.
On 12 September 1912 Brasschaat witnesses a European premiere as pilot Lieutenant Nélis and Lieutenant Stellingwerf acting as gunner accomplish the first air-to-ground gunnery mission.
On 16 April 1913 the "Heavier" and "Lighter" than air are separated, the "heavier" becoming the "Luchtschipperscompanie/Compagnie des Aviateurs". Its commander Captain-Commandant Mathieu can now align 4 squadrons and a total of twenty mostly Farman (Jero) aircraft.
Lt. Nélis in Farman HF.20 n° 11 at Brasschaat.
Up to the start of the First World War some 45 military pilots are trained. On 14 August 1914 all squadrons disappear from Brasschaat and the airfield is no longer in permanent use;
During the Interbellum Brasschaat is mainly used as deployment field during artillery shooting period when young officers can train their skills as observers.
Maps of Braschaat distributed in the twenties
Aerial view of Brasschaat on 15 June 1939.
In the aftermath of the Second World War and in the framework of the reorganisation of the Belgian Army an artillery observation squadron based on the British model and called AIR OP (Air Observation Post) was created. On the 1st of July 1947 Major Van der Stock is tasked by Lieutenant-Colonel Burniaux to go to Brasschaat to set up the 369th Squadron AOP as part of the Belgian Militair Vliegwezen/Aviation Militaire. This mission was successfully accomplished with the official establishment of the unit on 31 July 1947.
On 1 February 1948 the unit acquires a new designation becoming the 15 Squadron AOP and receiving some time later iit's first aircraft; De Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth T-24. On 27 April the first dedicated Auster AOP.6 arrives at Brasschaat for the squadron which by now has 70 men personnel.
The first Auster AOP.6's are lined up in front of the temporarely Bessonneaux hangar at Brasschaat.
On September 1st 1949 the unit receives the flag and connected traditions of N° 6 "Bee" Squadron from the Minister of Defence during a ceremony organised at Florennes airbase. N° 6 Squadron was created at Houtem in February 1916 as an Observation Squadron and thus has a direct link to the 15th AOP.
On August first a first cooperation with the then Rijkswacht/Gendarmerie is organise which laid the foundations of a very intense partnership for the years to come. During the Saint Barbara "Artillery-parade" over Etterbeek/Brussels on 4 December 1950 the squadron suffers its first casualty when Cpt. Verbruggen is killed in his Auster A-10 after a mid air-collision with Auster A-19.
On 16 July 1952, 15th Squadron AOP receives its first Piper L-18 Super Cubs at Brasschaat. Some 157 of these light aircraft were delivered in the framework of the Military Defense Assistance Program (MDAP) to allow the creation of 4 observation units. Delivered at Wevelgem in canary yellow but this colour scheme not being directly appropriate for the future task over the battlefield the 255 Ordonnance Company soon developed a green/brown camouflage dress for these nimble machines. Mention also has to be made of the presence of one De Havilland DHC-1 Chipmuck (C-1), two of which were obtained for evaluation purposes to find a new basic trainer. (the fly-off was eventually won by the SV-4B). This aircraft was in principle reserved for the squadron commander Major Deschamps.
The first Piper L.18C Super Cubs have arrived at Brasschaat, still wearing their "canary -yellow" colour scheme.
This year was of utmost importance because on April 1st, 15 Squadron AOP was officially transferred to the newly created Light Aviation of the Belgian Army. Up to now the structure still formed part of the Belgian Air Force but due to the very nature of the mission of the squadron(s) it is only logical that this command structure change was implied.
Last Flight of the Auster AOP.6 at Brasschaat
N° 15 Squadron Lt Av, is renamed and becomes 15 Opleidingsescadrille/Escadrille instruction Lt Avn. (15 training Squadron Lt. Avn)
Lieutenants Feys, Tournay, Vandervorst and Vanbever ate dispatched to Dax (F.) to follow the helicopter training in view of the forthcoming delivery of the first Alouette II helicopters from France.
On 16 October 1959 the first three Alouette II light helicopters are delivered to the 16° Squadron Light Avn. N° 15 Squadron of Brasschaat had to wait until 1961 to receive its first helicopters.
A-1, the first Belgian Alouette II helicopter is demonstrated at Etterbeek (Brussels) on 16 October 1958
On 7 October 1960 the first three of twelve Dornier DO27 single engine aircraft are delivered to Brasschaat by Lt. De Permentier, Arnhem and Jeangette.
Dornier DO27 D-1 fresh from te factory.
A new control tower is officially inaugurated.
In April 1964 the squadron name changes again becoming this time: 15° Schoolescadrille Lt Avn Vliegwezen/Escadrille d'Instruction Lt Avn.
The Rijkswacht/Gendarmerie acquires six Alouette II helicopters which are operated from Brasschaat by the 15° Schoolescadrille Lt Avn Vliegwezen/Escadrille d'Instruction Lt Avn.
After almost eighteen years of faithful service the Piper Super Cub is withdrawn from service on 31 March 1970.
The unit is once again renamed on March the 1st 1973, becoming the School van het Lichte Vliegwezen /Ecole de l'Aviation Légère (Sch Lt Avn). On 3 July 1973 the Rijkswacht/Gendramerie presents its first SA-330 Puma which will be operated by Light Aviation personnel.
Colonel Willy De Permentier, the very man who delivered the first DO-27 also has the honour to make the ultimate flight on this machine from Brasschaat on March 27th 1977. The Dornier flew 30.000 hours with the Light Aviation without any fatal accident.
Vertical aerial picture of Brasschaat airfield.
On January 9th 1979, twenty-five years after it transferred from the Air Force to the Army, the Light Aviation becomes an independent arm. During a ceremony organised at Brussels on 17 May the Commander of the School Lt Avn receives the new standard from King Bouwewijn. At the conclusion a unique fly by shows no less than 42 Alouette II's three Puma's and 6 Britten Normans in the skies over Brussels. Two days later the silver jubilee is the main theme for a very interesting airshow at Brasschaat.
In December 1991, the Sch Lt Avn receives a new task when a Britten Norman is suitably converted with a Side Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) and other detection equipment to hunt for sea pollution in the North Sea on behalf of the Mathematisch Model van de Noordzee (BMM)/Unité de Gestion du Modèle Mathématique de la Mer du Nord (UGMM).
On January 13th 1992 the first Agusta A109BA is officially received by General Berhin, Chief of Staff of the Belgian Army. On 19 June the Council of Ministers decides the creation of a separate Luchtsteundetachement van de Rijswacht/Détachement Aérien de la Gendarmerie. A direct consequence is that all Rijkswacht/Gendarmerie aircraft leave Brasschaat the following year to be based at Melsbroek airbase near Brussels.
Agusta H-20 demonstrates its agility at Bierset
As a direct consequence of the Herstructuringsplan/Plan de Restructuration of Defence Minister André Flahaut the Sch Lt Avn is transferred again to the Air Force, by now called Air Component.
In the spring of 2004 the Gpg Lt Avn is completely transferred to the Air Component. On 22 December 2004 the Britten Norman Islander is retired after 28 years of faithful service and no less than 64.300flying hours.
Recent public satellite picture of Brasschaat airbase.
Early 2005, the Minister of Defence decides that the elementary helicopter training is to move to Dax in France instantly killing an eventual plan of transferring this training to Beauvechain and effectively meaning the end of the Sch Lt Avn at Brasschaat.
With an aeronautical link spanning 119 years, Brasschaat airbase finally closes its doors at the end of May 2006. All remaining Alouette II helicopters having been regrouped at Bierset and temporarily also Koksijde airbases.
Brasschaat will be remembered as a very green and friendly base so typical of the special atmosphere of camaraderie and unity of the Light Aviation community.
Au Revoir "Bee"
Text based on the speech of Lt. Kol Luc Van Den Neste last CO of Brasschaat airbase given at the closure ceremony on 12/05/2006.
All pictures Daniel Brackx except otherwise stated
© Daniel Brackx (May 2006)
Last updated 10/06/12 09:45 Daniel Brackx