[Pics] Belgian Air Force celebrates the 80th Anniversary of the 349th Squadron

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The Belgian Air Force celebrates the 80th Anniversary of the 349th Squadron

Authors: Benoit Denet & Martin Gillet

© Benoît Denet

On November 3rd, at Kleine-Brogel (KB, EBBL)AFB, the F-16 “FA-116” was unveiled with a stunning decoration to celebrate the 80th anniversary of this famous Belgian squadron.

 

© Benoît Denet
© Benoît Denet

After a training flight accompanied by 6 other F-16s, the FA-116 came along for a few passes in formation with a Spitfire MkXVI over the squadron area.

© Benoît Denet

© Benoît Denet
© Benoît Denet

The current squadron consists of 19 people supporting the 13 pilots. The squadron shares the KB base with the 31 Sqn “Tiger” and the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) which trains Belgian pilots on F-16s.

The 349 Sqn was born in November 1942, one year after the 350 Sqn. These two squadrons, mainly made up of Belgian personnel, were still under the command of the Royal Air Force at that time.

In December, the 18 Belgian pilots with their Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks left the European continent for Africa and more precisely to Ikeja in Nigeria. After the victory in North Africa in May 1943, the squadron was repatriated to England.

The pilots flew Spitfires MKVb for their war missions over Europe. Later on, Spitfire MKIX were used to equip the squadron.

In 1944, during D-Day, the 349th squadron went to fight against the planes of the Third Reich. A total of 94 hours of flight time were flown on 6 June.

A few months later, during the Battle of the Bulge and the German offensive, the squadron was again on the front in the Malmédy region and was confronted with Me 262 jets.

The squadron will then follow the progression of the allied troops in Holland, Belgium and finally in Germany until May 1940. Together with its sister squadron, the 350th, all the personnel moved to Fassberg in Germany as part of the 135th Wing.

In 1946, the two Belgian squadrons returned home. They were now under Belgian command and based at Beauvechain. The pilots will have the opportunity to fly on Spitfire MK XVI and then XIV with a Griffon engine. In 1949, the 349th was the first Belgian squadron to fly on jet aircraft: the METEOR T7. From then on, within the First Fighter Wing, the pilots devoted themselves to fighter missions.

In 1957, after having flown different versions of the METEOR, the pilots were given the command of the Hawker Hunter 4. The role of all-weather fighter was acquired in 1958 with the arrival of the imposing two-seater Avro Canuck MK-5.

In June 1964, the 349th was fully operational with the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter. The squadron’s pilots never let go of the controls of this elegant and very fast aircraft until the arrival of the F-16 in 1979. In 1981, 349e was officially the first squadron certified on the General Dynamics F-16 within NATO.

After the Cold War, 349e personnel participated in external missions in the former Yugoslavia in 1996 and then over Kosovo in 1998. With the arrival of the “improved” F-16 MLU (for Mid-Life Update) the role of the squadron is now multi-tasking with close air support, bombing and of course fighter.

The very long period of operations over Afghanistan will start in 2005 for six months, followed by a long period between 2008 and 2014 from the Kandahar base.

In 2011, six Belgian F-16s operating from Greece will strike Libya during Operation Unified Protector.

Following the coalition created by the USA in 2014, F-16s are deployed in Jordan to fight the Islamic State over Iraq and Syria.

These missions, which alternate with Dutch F-16s, will end in 2021 with a final deployment.

Currently, the squadron personnel are operating from Lithuania for air policing missions from Amari in Estonia.

As you can see, this Belgian squadron with a rich past is facing the current challenges with the Russian threat on the NATO Eastern front. It is also looking to the future with the departure of personnel in 2023 for conversion to the Lockheed Martin F-35A which will equip Belgium from this year. In 2028, the last F-16s will say goodbye to the Belgian sky after almost half a century. Long live the 349th and the ‘Chasse’!

 

 

 

 

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