1 SQN (1908-2017)

2017

The Fight is Not Over !

  • With 100 years of continuous engagement all over the world, our squadron can be proud of its heritage and legacy. We have never been more operational and still, all the pilots and the support personnel of the “Thistle Squadron” are ready to continue the job that started so many years ago. We are eager to continue that tradition of excellence inherited by our former Stingers during the World Wars, the Cold War, and the recent conflicts, for we hope, at least, the next 100 years ! 

  • A la Première… Cré Nom de Dieu!
2014

Fighting DAESH

  • The world enters a tragic era with the invasion of Syria and Iraq by the terrorist group “Islamic State”. A coalition is created by the USA in 2014 and Belgium is one of the first countries to deploy to Jordan. After only one week of pre-notice, the first detachment starts the air operations over Iraq, and then later over Syria. Many CAS and deliberate targeting missions are performed in support of the land forces. Operation “Desert Falcon” is still ongoing. 

  • F-16 taking off for a mission over Iraq during Operation “Desert Falcon”
2013

Back to Baltic Shores

  • The crisis in Ukraine accelerates the deployment pace of our F-16s in the eastern countries. Within the frame of enhanced air policing mission, they perform A-scrambles to shadow and intercept Russian planes violating the Baltic countries’ airspace. They stay four months in Lithuania, then Poland in 2015, to finally end up in Estonia in 2016. They will be deployed again in Estonia in late 2017. 

  • Intercept of a COOT A over the Baltic Sea
2011

Operation Freedom Falcon

  • 2011: the “Arab Spring” spreads all over North Africa. In Libya, rebellion against dictator Khadafi degenerated into a civil war. Six F-16s are deployed on Araxos air base (Greece) to support operation “Unified Protector”. The pace of operation is very high and within seven months, 2,568 flights hours will be performed in 614 deliberate targeting and SCAR sorties. 

2005

Stingers over Afghanistan

  • 2005: our F-16s are deployed for six months to Kabul Air Base for the NATO operation “Eastern Eagle”. In September 2008, we are deployed to Kandahar Air Base (KAF) to perform Close Air Support (CAS) and Reconnaissance (NTISR) in support of ISAF. Some of our Stingers will spend almost one year in total supporting that operation until 2014. 16,500 flight hours and 5,466 sorties will be performed by Belgian F-16s during Operation Guardian Falcon. 

  • F-16 over Afghanistan during Operation “Guardian Falcon”
2004

Baltic QRA

  • In the early 2000’s, our F-16s are converted to the Mid-Life Update (MLU) standard. In 2004, the squadron is deployed in support of the Baltic countries, freshly integrated to NATO.

    The Belgian F-16s will be the very first NATO aircraft to support Lithuania in the frame of Baltic QRA. The 1st Squadron performs its second tour in 2006. 

  • Stingers performing air policing over the Baltics
1997

Over Former Yugoslavia

  • 1997: Yugoslavia is split into several republics. The situation is very tense and ends up into an armed conflict between Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. A joint Belgian/Dutch task force takes part to the “Deliberate Guard” Ops from Villafranca and then from Amendola air base, Italy, from 1997 to 1999.

    Our pilots shoot Maverick missiles and drop the first Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) ever dropped by a Belgian aircraft.

    Our squadron then takes part to the Air Surveillance Flights over Kosovo from 1998 till 2001. 

  • F-16 during “Deliberate Guard” Operation
1992

More Blackbirds

  • 1992: our squadron celebrates its 75th years. A F-16 is painted in a beautiful black and yellow scheme.

    Five years later, for our 80th anniversary, another F-16 is painted in black with gold. That’s about when our squadron pilots are nicknamed the “Stingers”.

    While exercises and training continue, the 1st Squadron’s pilots do not know yet they are about to fly war missions again, for the first time since 1940. 

  • Blackbird 2 for the 75 years of the Squadron
    Blackbird 3 for the 80 years of the Squadron
1990

The Fighting Falcons

  • In 1990, our squadron is fully operational on the F-16 “OCU”. But the Cold War (and the AMF concept) is over.

    Our squadron is now integrated in the Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) and the Rapid Reaction Force (RRF).

    In 1994, the disbanding of the 42nd Recce Squadron leaves the tactical air reconnaissance role to our squadron. 

  • F-16 intercepting a German Mig-29
1987

The Last Years of the Delta

  • 1987: our squadron celebrates its 70th anniversary. Our BA-33 is painted in an impressive black and yellow paint scheme. It is quickly nicknamed the “Blackbird”. That aircraft will take part to many international representations.

    But the Delta years are at their dawn. The 1st Squadron moves back to Florennes in 1989 to start its conversion on the new F-16 Fighting Falcon. Some of our pilots will take part to the 1991 Iraqi Campaign from Dyarbakir (Turkey) with the 8th Squadron. 

  • The first “Blackbird”: Mirage BA-33 with the 70 years special paint
1975

Resuming Exercises and AMF Duties

  • 1970-80’s: equipped with a large panel of air-to-ground munitions, our Mirages take part to many exercises and exchanges in the Netherlands, Denmark, UK, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Turkey. Our pilots are used to perform exceptionally well in the international environment, while the duties towards NATO (AMF exercises and TacEval) are still executed with the highest standards. 

  • AMF Dyarbakir (Turkey), 1983
1971

The Mirage 5 and Bierset Air Base

  • In 1971, our squadron leaves Florennes to move towards Bierset, in order to start its conversion on the Mirage 5BA. The squadron is declared operational on the Delta fighter bomber in March 1972. Our very last Thunderstreaks are ferried to Coxyde in May. The “Delta Era” begins ! 

  • Mirage 5 in formation low approach
1960

Cold War and AMF

  • Our squadron shows off very goods results in exercises such as the air tactical meets and TacEval. We are the only BAF squadron to be integrated in the AMF, a Quick Reaction Force created by Allied Command in Europe, and ready to be deployed on short notice. The number of exercises increases again, our squadron being deployed in Greece, Turkey, and even in Libya. 

  • F-84F during exercise “Deep Express Balikesir”, 1970

Thunderstreaks over Europe

  • The sixties: the First Squadron is kept busy by many deployments and exercises in Europe. Solenzara (Corsica) is used as a permanent base to practice shooting. Exchanges are performed with Canadian, Norwegian, Danish, Italian, Turkish, French, and British squadrons. Tactical evaluations are performed every year (and then every 2-3 years) to remain at the highest standards ordered by NATO. 

  • (Very) close formation
1955

First Squadron Goes Supersonic

  • The MDAP allows us to be equipped with a new aircraft: the F-84F Thunderstreak, which is a transonic tactical bomber. The squadron is now considered as fighter-bomber. On the 30th of August 1955, two former pilots from our squadron break the sound barrier over Florennes with two F-84Fs from the 3rd Squadron. Our squadron is operational in November 1955. 

  • F-84F

New NATO Rules

  • With the Cold War tensions increasing, the First Squadron participates in many NATO exercises and shooting ranges in Coxyde, Belgium, and on the Island of Salt, Germany. A squadron demo team is even created and will perform during all the year 1955 with the Thunderjet. 

  • Long line astern
1951

First Jets Coming In

  • 1951: the US Congress adopts the Mutual Defense Assistance Program (MDAP), and Belgium receives its first jets: F-84E and F-84G Thunderjets. Conversion on the aircraft is relatively fast, and many hours are flown by our pilots – more than 2,500 monthly for the 2nd Wing, a top record for NATO in April 1953.

  • F-84E
    F-84G
1946

Building the Air Force

  • 1946: the post-war aviation is rebuilt as a new entity, the “Belgian Air Force”, finally independent from the Army. The 2nd Fighter Wing, initially named 161st Wing, is created on the former German base of Florennes. The Wing owns three Squadrons. The First Squadron is officially created again in October 1947, and equipped with Spitfires Mk XIV. Many of our pilots are RAF veterans.

  • Spitfire Mk XIV
1940

Keep On the Fight With the RAF

  • The war is not over for our pilots. Two of them take part in the Battle of Britain as from August 1940. Seven others will join the RAF later during the war, after evading from the Nazi-occupied Belgium. They will be the backbone of the 349 and 350 Squadrons, only composed of Belgian crews. They will be credited of eight confirmed victories and nine probable, plus numerous ground targets. 

  • Spitfire from the RAF

Our Darkest Hours

  • 10th of May 1940: despite the evident threat of the Luftwaffe, our Hurricanes are perfectly aligned on the Schaffen airfield, by order of Group Commander Hendrickx. At 4:30 am, three waves of German HE-111 and DO-17 attack the airfield. Most of our aircraft are destroyed by the German bombers. Only three aircraft can take off, still managing to intercept and destroy a DO-17. They then have to land at Beauvechain where they will be destroyed on the next day by another attack. 

  • Hurricanes aligned on the flight line, Schaffen

Phoney War

  • 1939: the mission of our squadron is to defend the national airspace. Procedures are unrealistic, even dangerous for our aircrews. The 2nd of March 1940, Lt Xavier Henrard is deadly wounded during the interception of a German Dornier 17 over Bastogne. Procedures are adapted but many incidents still occur, mainly due to the bad condition of our airfields. In the early days of May 1940, our military aviation is all but ready to face the upcoming war. 

  • The Phoney war caused many incidents, sometimes fatal to our aircrews
1939

The Late 1930’s Concerns

  • In 1935, the concept of DAT (Défense Aérienne du Territoire) is adopted by the headquarters. However, that concept is fragile and hard to implement. In addition, our fleet of Fireflys is completely obsolete by 1938. Our government then decides to buy modern fighters to secure our sky. Our squadron will be equipped with Hawker Hurricanes in 1939. 

  • Hawker Hurricane, Schaffen, 1939
1920

The Blurred Days

  • The late 20’s are years of numerous restructurations where the squadron changes twice of numbering. It is equipped with Avia BH.21. The Belgian headquarters have neither long term vision, nor standardization plans for our aviation. In 1930, they initiate the acquisition of a single type of fighter for our entire “aéronautique militaire”. The Fairey Firefly will win the competition and becomes our fighter for the next eight years. 

  • Fairey Firefly
1919

After the War

  • The war is over! Our aviation is restructured in a peacetime format, and many of our experienced pilots leave the armed forces to return to their civilian duties.

    Our squadron, based at Schaffen, and equipped with Fokker D VII, performs escort missions over occupied Germany. In 1923, the 9th Squadron becomes the 2nd Squadron / 1st Regiment / 2nd Group of the Military Aviation. As from that year, they are equipped with the Nieuport NiD.29.

  • Nieuport NiD.29 of the 2/1/2

Our Aces

  • As WW I rages, our pilots fight for over three years, winning over 69 air victories. Four of those pilots became aces: Willy Coppens, André De Meulemeester, Fernand Jacquet, and Jean Olieslagers. In March 1918, the squadron is renumbered 9th Squadron, and put under the “Groupe de Chasse” (Wing) Jacquet. 

  • Willy Coppens attacking his favorite target: observation balloons
1917

The Thistle is Born

  • The 1st Squadron, located at de Moeren, next to Veurne, is equipped with Hanriot Dupont HD-1 and Sopwith Camel. Our pilots decide to adopt one squadron insignia: André De Meulemeester chooses for the Scottish Thistle, visible for the first time in October 1917. 

  • De Meulemeester in front of a HD-1 showing off the Thistle, De Moeren, 1917
1915

The First Belgian Air Victory

  • 17 April 1915: Fernand Jacquet and his observer Henry Vindevoghel are performing a reconnaissance flight in the surroundings of Diksmude while they spot and intercept an Aviatik C. Jacquet approaches as close as thirty meters from the German aircraft and the observer shoots it down with his Lewis MG over Beerst. It is the first confirmed Belgian air victory, and also the first one of our squadron. 

  • Fernand Jacquet, Farman MF11
1914

WW I Outbreaks

  • 3 August 1914: the German empire invades Belgium. Our “Compagnie des Aviateurs” has 22 aircraft available at that time. Many reconnaissance flights are performed in support of our land forces, and our aircraft are relocated to several locations, following the evolution of the front line. In January 1915, they are eventually based in Kerkepanne and Houtem, in the vicinity of Coxyde and Ypres.

  • Farman’s in the early stages of WW I
1913

The “Compagnie des Aviateurs”

  • In 1910, General Hellebout orders Farman Aeroplanes, in order to create an Aerial Observation Company within the Corps of Engineers. It will expand till the 16th of April 1913, when it will be renamed “Compagnie des Aviateurs”, composed of four observation squadrons. 

  • Farman HF16, Brasschaat, 1912
1908

Belgium reaches the sky

  • In November 1908, Baron de Caters is the first Belgian to take off in an airplane. He performs a historical 200 meters flight in Brecht, in the vicinity of Antwerp. He paves the way to many pioneers who will build up the Belgian aviation in the early 1910’s. 

  • Baron de Caters in his Voisin biplane