Liege-Bierset, Belgium

11- 13 may 2007



The 8th edition of the Belgian Helidays took part from 11 till 13 May 2007. Staged at the Belgian Air Component's base at Bierset near Liege, this now is Europe's largest military helicopter devoted event. Brought forward by some weeks due to impending elections which no doubt would have drawn a large number of voters away from the ballot boxes, the show appeared initially to suffer from the wet weather which had set in during early May. Indeed, the arrrival day started cold, rainy and quite blustery which seemed to bode ill for the arrival some of the participants. However, the weather cleared markedly during the afternoon.


The lure of Bierset's reputation built up over previous years must have prevailed, judging by the show participants that flew in during the second half of the friday afternoon prior to the show days. To the left, a Dutch air Force AH-64D Apache can be seen about to settle on one of Bierset's heli pads. It was to be the only one of it's type on show, armed with a dummy load of podded Hydra rockets.

Other combat helicopters came in the shape of the once standard Warsaw Pact Mil Mi.24. To the right can be seen an Mi.24V of the Czech Air Force's 231.vrtl from Prerov Air Base. The Czech Republic continues to rely on ex Soviet hardware as far as combat helicopters go.

The same can be said for Hungary, which Air Force operates a combat helicopter squadron equipped with Mi.24's, 2. Harci Helikopter Zászlóalj, within MH 86. "Szolnok" Helicopter Ezred at its Szolnok base. Depicted at right is an ex East German Mi.24P. To the left is an Mi.17 from sister unit 1. Szállitó Helikopter Zászlóalj.
Old and new from Ireland. The Irish Air Corps made it to Bierset despite high winds with a 60's vintage Alouette III at left and a brand new Agusta Westland AW.139 at right. Five of the latter type are on order for SAR and transport duties, making the Irish Air Corps the first military customer for the AW.139. The AW.139 displayed was the first to be delivered.

A very welcome sight was the USAFE with one of its very busy MH-53M Pave Low IV Special Forces support helicopters. operated by the 21 SOS at RAF Mildenhall. MH-53M's have been in high demand ever since operations in Afghanistan and Iraq started. The crew of this Pave Low were rather hesistant to land at their designated spot, putting their big windy machine down some way away later on for it to be towed to its parking place.

Among the French collection this year were an SA.321G Super Frelon transport helicopter and a rather smaller SA.341F Gazelle training helicopter. Especially the Frelon was a welcome sight as there are now only a few left with the type due to be replaced by the NH.90 shortly.

A Swiss Air Force AS.532 Cougar gave a spirited display. The Cougar/Super Puma is the Swiss Air Force's main transport asset. Cougars were also shown by the Royal Netherlands Air Force, as well as by the Slovenian Air Force (below). Slovenia as a country of course having been formed only some 15 years ago following seperation from the former Yugoslavia has made the transition to Western equipment.

Apart from one of the four AS.532AL Cougars serving with the Army's 15th Helicopter battalion, the Slovenian Air Force was also present with a Bell 412SP.

The type of helicopter used by the Italian Air Force for training rotary wing pilots is the Nardi Hughes 500E. This of course is a licence built Hughes 500. Based at Frosinone near Naples with 72 Stormo, this example is marked for the occasion of 400 thousand flight hours logged by the type since 1990. Two of the type made the trek against the wind across the Alps. No mean feat in such a small machine!

Britain's Royal Air Force maintains a sizeable rotary wing force, the British Army not having any large troop transport helicopters. This task is performed by the RAF with amongst others the Chinook HC.2. This example is marked for the occasion of 25 years of operations with the type, a milestone reached during 2006.

Rotary wing training in the UK, for all three services, is the responsibility of the Defence Helicopter Flying School which operates the Bell Griffin HT.1 for the advanced part of the syllabus.

Icing on the cake for the flying display was the Spanish Patrulla ASPA team with their little and nimble EC.120 training helicopters. Parent unit 78 Gruppo from Armilla near Granada now shows off this team's manoeuvres outside of Spain more and more, the Patrulla ASPA also making an appearance at Metz, France that same weekend.

All in all, the Belgian Defence again managed to put together a nice collection of helicopters from all corners of Europe, despite ongoing opeartions in many parts of the world which drains resources from the services concerned. Something for which the organising team is to be congratulated. Roll on, Belgian Helidays 2009(?)

All pictures (c) Hans Rolink