Tactical Weapons Meet, Florennes Air Base

Thursday 15th June 2017

Hosted by 1 Squadron, Belgian Air Force, as part of their centenary celebrations, the Tactical Weapons Meet brought together aircraft from six European nations for two weeks of air combat exercises. On Thursday 15th June, Florennes Air Base opened their doors for a Spotters Day allowing around 700 visitors the chance to photograph participating aircraft and special guests.

Peter Reoch reports from Florennes Air Base for UK Airshow Review. All photography from the author.

The Belgian Air Force are held in high regard for their hospitality and openness to aviation enthusiasts, and the spotters day held at Florennes during June continued this trend with great access to an array of interesting airframes, many of which were present for the exercise but also some which were just dropping in for the spotters day.

As would be expected with 1 Squadron (known as the 'Stingers') hosting the exercise, their F-16AM Fighting Falcons were incredibly active throughout the whole exercise, flying with all of the visiting participants. Of those visitors, it was the pair of F-4E Phantoms, from the 117 Combat Wing, Hellenic Air Force, which attracted most attention for obvious reasons, and it was great to see both airframes flying twice daily during the exercise. Italy/Spain each contributed a trio of Typhoons (or Tifóns as they are known in Spanish service), the Polish Air Force a trio of MiG-29 Fulcrums and the Royal Air Force deployed a pair of Hawk T1 jets from 100 Squadron to act as aggressors during the exercise.

Throughout the spotters day, a number of 'special guests' dropped in to Florennes to entertain visitors, and it was clear that they received a comprehensive briefing from the Belgian hosts on what the assembled spotters desired; with missed approaches and low passes the flavour of the afternoon! One of the most flamboyant performers of the afternoon, upstaging the home team somewhat, was the Mirage 2000-5 from EC 1/2 based at Luxeuil, wearing commemorative colours which honours Captain Georges Guynemer who flew with the squadron during WWI. The special schemed jet performed a number of dramatic 'wing waggle' passes allowing the assembled photographers to capture topside and underside images of the jet. Other visiting aircraft from the Belgian Air Force included a pair of Marchetti SF.260, Alpha Jet (wearing splinter camouflage), and Agusta A109BA which made quite a dramatic exit from the event!

During the periods of inactivity (which were few and far between), food was provided and a number of Squadrons had souvenir sales points within the spotters area. Included in the admission cost was a photobook produced by 1 Squadron to mark their centenary, which is of high quality and has some great historic images from throughout the units history, a nice touch. One complaint with the event would be that the spotters area designated was a little too small for the numbers accommodated within, and that a further 50m down the runway and taxiway would have alleviated some of the overcrowding in key spots. However, despite the cramped area and the insistence of some visitors to place stepladders at the front of the enclosure, there was a good atmosphere throughout the day. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable day with plenty of photographic opportunities. Hopefully the Tactical Weapons Meet, and the associated spotters day, will be repeated in the not too distant future.