[Pics & Interview] Belgian Air Force C-130 Hercules Farewell featuring CH-04 honourably discharged after last flight on 23 July 2020

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C-130 Hercules Farewell featuring CH-04 (msn number 09329-20) honourably discharged after last flight on July 23rd 2020.

Text and pictures by Martin Gillet & Benoît Denet, except courtesy pictures provided by the 20 Squadron Static Display Team – 15th Wing. Used with permission.

© Martin Gillet

All good things must come to an end“. The C-130 Hercules aircraft are being phased out as the next equipment, namely the Airbus A400M, is on its way. This is alas a reality striking us.

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© Credit, Source: Courtesy 15th Wing – 20 Squadron Static Display

We reached out to 20 Squadron Static Display Team to get the full story.

What is the 20 Squadron?

“The 20 Squadron (also referred to as Sqn), together with 21 Sqn, are the only operational flying Sqn’s in the 15 Wing. 20 Sqn consisting only of C-130’s and soon A400M with a distinctive Blue Indian emblem. 21 Sqn at this moment Airbus & Embraer until the end of this year and starting now and in the future the Falcon 7X.

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© Credit, Source : Courtesy 15th Wing – 20 Squadron Static Display
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© Credit, Source: Courtesy 15th Wing – 20 Squadron Static Display
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© Credit, Source: Courtesy 15th Wing – 20 Squadron Static Display

20 Sqn counts about 60 People, from whom about 10 are non-flying, in total we are around 85 people flying on C-130.

All flying personnel has its ground task also, but the support for flight operations comes out of the OMS Sqn, this is a mainly admin Sqn supported by flying personnel. 

In total the whole flying group is about 190 People.

To be able to be part of the Sqn you have to live it, not fight it. 

The atmosphere in the Sqn is very special, we are used to be isolated with just one crew and an aircraft. Only when we deploy for a big exercise or operation we use a forward operating base, closer to our operating area with maintenance and other support. So nobody is surprised to meet some colleagues only twice a month or less. We rather count in overnights away from home than in Flying hours, an average is 80 nights all over the world. Might not seem a lot to some but the work environment goes from 40 °C in the Sahel to -30 °C in Norway, and this can occur in the same month ….. or not. Planning in the Sqn is not easy…

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© Credit, Source: Courtesy 15th Wing – 20 Squadron Static Display
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© Credit, Source: Courtesy 15th Wing – 20 Squadron Static Display

Aircraft Commanders (also referred to as AC) are formed to be able to manage their own operational capability for the mission, the aircraft and the crew. In his team of 5, he can make use of all the knowledge to be self-sustaining. Co-Pilot to help out on flying skills/procedures; Flight Engineer for all technical issues and aircraft performance; Loadmasters for all cargo/passengers related issues. When this team is insufficient, he can call in the back up from the Homebase support. Luckily due to the increased communication possibilities, those tasks can more and more be supported by the Homebase. 

This is a necessary thing because with the A400M all support will most of the time be digitalised, onboard technicians will no longer be available,…

At this moment all C-130s supposed to go in 6-yearly (large overhaul check) D-check are being retired. Also, the lifespan of the engines is getting to their limits, and spare parts are getting less available so aircraft going in retirement give their engines and parts to the ones remaining. At this moment there is still nothing official regarding the airframes destiny.”

After decades of dedicated service, Hercules C-130 registered CH-04 has been honourably discharged on July 23rd after a final flight and low passes across the country.

“Hercules C-130 registered CH-04 performed her last flight rather surprisingly fast due to previous reasons stated, and the ones remaining will also phase out with an ultimate date, but not a fixed date. It’s never fun to see aircraft being grounded but keeping them in artificial life neither.”

CH-04 is totalling 23203:36 flying hours and 17176 landings.

She took part in multiple missions, from training assignments, para drops, humanitarian missions supporting the Belgian population and more.  So many anecdotes and stories in these decades of service.

Just like in the ‘good old days’ when Telex was in use, we received the information on the fly thanks to the dedicated Facebook page of 20 Squadron Static Display Team that among the fleet, on July 23rd, Hercules C-130 registered CH-04 would make her final flight with some ‘low passes’ for the grand public. It was rather short notice, just like things happening in real life. Many aviation enthusiasts, spotters and photographers gathered across Belgium once the information was issued.

The last flight

Due to short notice announcement, 20 Squadron Static Display Team made the ‘best out of it’ and planned a ‘Last Flight Farewell tour’.

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© Credit, Source : Courtesy 15th Wing – 20 Squadron Static Display (*)

“All was planned on short notice and due to a lot of bird activities, Florennes and Beauvechain did not allow VFR approaches, Kleine Brogel refused us due to local flying intensity, Oostende and Liege doe not allow training due to holidays season.

The flight plan was : Brussels Melsbroek EBMB (Take off RWY19), Nivelles, Charleroi (low approach), Oudenaarde, De Haan , Coastline to Koksijde (2 low approaches for the current exhibition), Ursel (low approach), Antwerp (low app).

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© Benoît Denet
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© Martin Gillet
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© Benoît Denet
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© Martin Gillet
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© Martin Gillet
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© Martin Gillet
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© Martin Gillet

Over the Belgian Coastline.

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© Credit, Source: Screen Capture courtesy ADS Exchange

Over Antwerpen.

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© Credit, Source: Screen Capture courtesy ADS Exchange
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© Benoît Denet

And back to Brussels Melsbroek EBMB (one pass for the Squadron, second pass Squadron and tower on request of the tower – which was much appreciated by us- for final landing on RWY19.”

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© Credit, Source: Screen Capture courtesy ADS Exchange
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© Martin Gillet
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© Benoît Denet
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© Benoît Denet
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© Martin Gillet
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© Benoît Denet
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© Martin Gillet
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© Martin Gillet
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© Credit, Source: Courtesy 15th Wing – 20 Squadron Static Display
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© Credit, Source : Courtesy 15th Wing – 20 Squadron Static Display
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© Credit, Source: Courtesy 15th Wing – 20 Squadron Static Display

Fact & Figures: CH-04 off block 1227L, Take-off 1233L Landing 1405L In Block 1410L. 23203:36 flying hours and 17176 landings. The future on the CH-04 Airframe remains unknown as we speak.

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© Credit, Source : Courtesy 15th Wing – 20 Squadron Static Display

‘Last flight’ marking was set on the airframe once CH-04 landed, in order to set in stone this moment while taking pictures.

We reached out to the crew that operated this last flight in order to get more insights in this last trip that made it to History.

(Aviation24.be: Av24; 20 Squadron Static display Team Crew ‘Benz‘)

(Av24) Could you introduce yourself in a nutshell?

(Benz) “My name is “Benz”(**). That’s my nickname. I’m 31 years old. I joined the Air Force in 2006 as an auxiliary pilot. I have been flying the C-130 for more than 6 years. I’m now pilot in command since just a few weeks.”

(Av24) Can you describe a typical C-130 crew?

(Benz) “A typical crew is composed of 2 pilots (aircraft commander and co-pilot), 1 flight engineer and 2 loadmasters.”

(Av24) How would you describe the C-130? Any anecdotes on your many missions?

(Benz) : “A real workhorse. A bit old now but still ready the accomplish our missions. It’s hard to think of an anecdote. There are so many I guess !!”

(Av24) What would be your best memory with the C-130? With the CH-04?

(Benz) “My best memory would be my first flight as the pilot in command which was not with the CH-04 unfortunately.”

(Av24) On July 23rd, CH-04 flew for the last time. How did you get assigned to this last flight? Did you choose this assignment? How was the flight? How was the ambience onboard? How did you feel while making the last flight into History?

(Benz) “We learned very late that this would be her last flight. So we arranged a kind of farewell flight at the very last minute. We all remained professional and flew like every other flight. The emotion was there though when we realised this was the last time we shut down the engines on that aircraft.”

 

20 Squadron Static Display Team & Tactical Airlift is now down to a fleet of 7 C-130s, until next retirement.

For our readers keen on memorabilia, a CH-04 dedicated patch will be brought to you by the squadron around September 2020 (subject to delays due to COVID).

The conversation continues on their Facebook pages: 20 Squadron Static Display Team & 20th Squadron Tactical Airlift.

A big thank you to all parties involved at the 20 Squadron Static Display Team for their availability, their pro-activeness and willingness to share as much as they could with the grand public.

(*) Description

AC = Aircraft Commander. He/she is the one leading the crew and the aircraft.
CP = Copilot. There to help the AC with the radio, checklists,…
AC/IE = Aircraft Commander / Instructor or Evaluator. An extra pilot in case of an evaluation or training of a young pilot.
FE = Flight Engineer. Takes care of the fuel management, electrical systems,… onboard the aircraft.
FE/IE = Flight Engineer / Instructor or Evaluator. An extra FE in case of an evaluation or training of a young engineer.
LM = Loadmaster. They are responsible of the cargo (loading, unloading) and the passengers.
LM/IE = Loadmaster / Instructor or Evaluator. An extra LM in case of an evaluation or training of a young loadmaster.

(**) For obvious security reasons and out of respect for active military personnel, names are left blank intentionally.

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