Belgian F-16 Display Goodbye

Wednesday 21st February 2024

Like a great many of the old classical "greats" of the European display circuit, the Belgian Air Force F-16 Solo Display is no more. In the 50th year of the life of the F-16, it was confirmed, on a rainy Monday evening in February, that the Belgian Air Force would not be renewing its outstanding fast jet demonstration team for 2024. Much like the passing of an elderly relative, just because you had a feeling it was coming makes it no less of a kick in the guts to hear the news, particularly in circumstances where a fitting "goodbye" was not really able to be delivered.

Tom Jones pays tribute to one of Europe's premier F-16 displays.

The Belgian Air Force, or "Component" as it is sometimes referred, was among the first four international export customers of the type, and took delivery of the first of their jets in 1979. For almost all of its service life, around 1980 onwards, the Belgian military has mounted an F-16 solo demonstration.

From the early 1990s, the BAF F-16 display fast became a stalwart on the European display circuit, regularly in competition with its Dutch counterpart, with different pilots changing the #1 and #2 rankings of the two demos.

It would be hard to find an aviation enthusiast in Europe who hasn’t had the chance to see the excellent Belgian Air Force display. The BAF sent their demo far and wide to Europe, operating for crowds large and small, from village events over grass strips, to the largest airshows on the continent, and everything in between. It would be impossible to say how many smiles the energetic demo brought, how many young minds it inspired into the aviation industry, and how many late-night summer conversations amongst friends and colleagues over a beer it provoked.

The Belgian solo demonstration pilots were regularly some of the most authoritative in Europe, and among their number were:

Maj. Erwin de Decker1988 – 1990
Cpt. Nathan de Permentier1988 – 1992
"Bwana"1993 – 1997
"Rudy Theys"1994 – 1996
"Ket"1998 – 2000
"Choucke" 2000 – 2002
"John"2003 – 2005
"Mickey"2006 – 2008
"Mitch"2009 – 2011
"Grat"2012 – 2014
"Vador"2015 – 2017
"Choucke"2018 – 2021
"Vrieske"2022 – 2024

In addition to the excellent demonstration itself, from the late 1990s onward, the Belgians regularly painted up a "demo jet" in a striking colour scheme - some better than others, but all of them undoubtedly unique.

What will the future hold? Will we see a Belgian (or other European) F-35 demonstration? Perhaps, but will it have the character, the reliability, and the sheer presence that the Belgian F-16 solo has had for almost forty years? One can only hope. But for now, the Belgian F-16 display hangs up its spurs without a direct replacement, so for the short term at least, we must bear with the painful silence it leaves in the European calendar.

In the simplest of terms, the Belgian F-16 Solo Display was none other than a titan on the European Air Display Circuit; after four decades of safe and flawless display flying, it leaves shoes that it is difficult to imagine ever being filled, and we’re sure the entire airshow community can join in our congratulations and thanks, to all those past and present in the Belgian military services who worked so tirelessly and so consistently to safely and effectively deliver one of Europe’s best and most reliable airshow performers to an audience of millions. From all of our hearts, we say "au revoir and tot ziens!"

With thanks to Paul Downes and Geoff Stockle for help preparing this piece.