Five Days of Airshow Madness in Belgium Part One: Arrivals

After two years of cancelled events and pandemic lockdown WE ARE BACK!! We’ve been trying and planning to attend several events leading up to the 42nd International Sanicole Airshow’ (ISA21), 9th ISA21 Sunset Airshow and ‘Extraordinary Tiger Meet’ (XTM) held in Belgium. To no avail, sadly, as restrictions and vaccinations were a big ongoing issue at the time. There were strong rumours that these events would be cancelled too…

Despite that we pressed on with planning a five day trip, hoping all would stay green-lit. And, well, most aspects did! Just the ‘Combined Air Operations’ (COMAO) aspect of the XTM got scrubbed and some restrictions for the attending public were laid down.
The XTM did however see most invited NATO Tiger squadron crews come over to Kleine-Brogel Airbase in the north-western part of Belgium anyway. It made us go-ahead shooting content outside the fence for two days leading up to the Sunset Airshow…

The year 2019 would have seen the Belgian edition of the NATO Tiger Meet; an annual two week military exercise of fighter pilots and crews from NATO squadrons that have the tiger of other big cat as their symbol.
Those cats are usually represented on their aircraft here and there as tail-badges or other minor visual accents. For a Tiger Meet, however, tradition dictates for all attending squadrons to paint-up one of their aircraft in a full or partly full special livery. The rest of their aircraft usually get some more accents for the occasion. Something that involves a prize too.

A Tiger Meet involves dissimilar air combat training (DACT) with many different aircraft and crews speaking a plethora of (Aviation) English accents but also using a variety of different disciplines.
Something that is very valuable for everyone contending, from pilots to ground crews, to learn about and gain perspective in.

2020 saw the scheduled edition in Beja, Portugal in springtime. Due to the pandemic they had the plan to catch up with an “Extraordinary Tiger Meet” or: XTM.

This would also mark the 60th anniversary of the NATO Tiger Association (NTA). Still, the call was made to scrub most of this due to current epidemiological situation. Originally, the celebrations consisted of three elements: a weekly Close Air Support (CAS)-oriented squadron exercise with special forces, a symposium of NTA members and ISA air shows.

They tried to at least host a COMAO, a condensed iteration of flight ops lasting only a day or two. But this got called off just as well, though the Italian Air Force Eurofighters, Czech and Hungarian Gripen attendees definitely did some local training missions along with the hosting 31 squadron (no news on the how and what and why about that).

Speaking about the 31 Belgian Tiger squadron, the main reason why most attendees came over anyway was because of the 70th anniversary of the squadron.
All of the formalities were still on though, like the formal dinner, NTA Symposium and Tiger Olympics.

A hot topic during the symposium was the implementation of fifth generation planes to squadrons of the association that awaits in the context of integrating 4th and 5th gen platforms on the battlefield and in preparation of future NTM editions.

To cover this, the arrivals and what we thought would also entail training flights, Jeen (partner in crime and big Tiger Meet enthusiast) Dennis de Vries, Manager of Birdman99 and I thought to extend out stay over the long weekend with another day prior.
We had other options in mind like going to Eindhoven Airbase just north of where we stayed because of exercise Falcon Leap.
Several military cargo aircraft operated from there to conduct para droppings at several locations in the Netherlands.
Shooting at the nearby ‘GLV-V’ low flying area for helicopters was something I really wanted because of the recently acquired RNLAF Chinooks.

Also Volkel Airbase crossed our minds because of the 313 Tiger squadron based there might see some of these tiger livery accents (they eventually didn’t even attend except for a PR stand during the spottersdays…).

Our intel told us it would be more fruitful to go ahead and spend two days at the fence of Kleine Brogel airbase. With westerly winds the dirt road at the approach of RNY23 proved for a great location before eventually moving on to the 9th International Sanicole Sunset Airshow on Friday the 10th of September.

Many of the XTM contending and support aircraft came in as well as the first ‘ISA’ arrivals. Also some local F-16’s went up twice for local training missions.

After driving up to our rental cabin the day before Thursday we had a good night’s rest we got up bright and early to make breakfast, pack up and head out. We weren’t the only ones! The dirt road was already pretty packed with fellow aviation enthusiasts, spotters and the like. Luckily we could park at a good spot and met up with a lot of familiar faces. Boy, that was ever so great! It has been so long to catch up and talk shop (in person)…

I also felt kind of rusty in shooting aircraft like this, going for safe, missing certain angles and missing the edge of that hyper focus made me scratch the back of my head a bit. It was a wakeup call in that sense. I was here, amidst of it all, but that took some time to really made me realise that. Perhaps good that we took the extra day because of that, ey?

The weather was good until the afternoon that Thursday, where thunder clouds started to form around us. Nothing hit us where we were though, but the sunlight was often shrouded and those awesome towering cumulus clouds never formed a good backdrop much. But hey, at least we didn’t get soaked right?

Well… That changed on Friday. A repeat of a sunny morning with showers forming during the afternoon, this time one did hit us. Sadly during the display of ‘Vador’ in his “Dark Falcon”, the Belgian Air Force F-16 Display. Also being a bit rusty I underestimated how fast the rain came in so I had to take shelter in the car, missing the high speed pass I only saw through the window (SHROUWDED IN A MASSIVE VAPOR CLOUD AAAAHH…!!).
Well, lesson learned. All rain to come I’d be prepared!
After that shower things dried up again, some more arrivals came in and eventually we decided it was time to pack up and head towards Sanicole for the Sunset Airshow.

“Five Days of Airshow Madness in Belgium Part Two: 9th ISA Sunset Airshow” SOON TO COME!!

NATO Tiger Association
6 Eskadra Lotnicza
31 Tiger Squadron
51 Tigers Schleswig
Bavarian Tigers Neuburg
Hellanic Air Force 335 Squadron
Sanicole Airshow
Kleine-Brogel Airbase
My own experience, René Vink CEO & Founder Birdman99, Aviation
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