Belgian Helidays 2003

Liege-Bierset, 30 May 


The annual Belgian Helimeet at Bierset near the city of Liege was held from 30 May to 1 June 2003. Modestly advertised at Europe's largest gathering of military helicopters it might very well be the world's largest in its kind. This correspondent for one would not know where else to look for a similarly sized and biased event. The show starts on the Friday with the base opened to enthousiasts and photographers. The weekend days are than reserved for the actual flying displays. It is not the first time that CAVOK reports from Bierset, also see the 2002 event. This year however, the arrival day was visited which resulted in slightly more dynamic shots than in 2002. 

Especially on the Friday prior to the actual show days, Bierset is very photographer-friendly allowing shots to be taken of helicopters touching down at their allocated static show and flightline spots. Highlights this year included the French Navy with their classic SA.321G Super Frelon and the much newer AS.565 Panther. Highly unusual were the pair of Italian Air Force NH.500.

The weather? At least on the Friday sunny from horizon to horizon. 


All pictures (c) Hans Rolink.


Mainstay of the Belgian Army's helicopter fleet is the Italian designed and built Agusta A.109. The type is used for various purposes, among which is MEDEVAC. For this mission the helicopter can be fitted with bulged sliding doors in order to make stretchers fit the cabin. The doors are an easy in-the-field conversion meaning that A.109's  like H13 may be seen with or without the bulged doors.


A more belligirant role for the A.109 in Belgian Army service is that of anti tank warfare. H35 is seen here with it's TOW launchers empty while being hover-taxied from the former Mirage 5 shelters to the grass flightline. Note the HeliTOW sight on the cabin roof.

The classical battlefield support helicopter must be the Bell UH-1H. The German Army still operates this type until the TTH.90 enters service later during this decade. Another German military operator however is the Luftwaffe, this example belonging to LTG 61 at Penzing-Landsberg.


A descendant from the UH-1, this Bell 412 Arapaho is one of 24 flown by the Royal Norwegian Air Force. It has been sprayed in a very drab low-visibility green-tan paint with toned down Norwegian roundels.

Other Norwegian Bell 412's (not Agusta AB.412's!) may be seen in UN white paint schemes.

While the Norwegians use the American built Bell 412, the similar Italian built Agusta AB.412 is in use in some other European countries. ZJ242/E of the RAF's Defence Helicopter Flying School is caught here approaching it's landing spot. British AB.412's are known as Griffin HT.1's and replaced the elderly Wessex HC.2 in the advanced helicopter training role some years ago.

Another user of the AB.412 is the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Three are being flown by 303 sq from Leeuwarden Air Base on Search and Rescue duties around the nothern Dutch coast. One of these is R-02 seen here just after it's arrival.

Highlight for many during this year's Helimeet, the Italian Air Force's Nardi-Hughes NH.500E.  MM81304/72-41 belongs to 72 Stormo based at Frosinine. Apart from having a training role, 72 Stormo also supports Special Ops and Combat SAR operations, hence it's KFOR (Kosovo Force) markings.


One of the newer light helicopters on the market is the Eurocopter EC.135. Intended to replace the SE.3130 Alouette II, the German Army bought fourteen of this type for the Helicopter Flying School at Bückeburg. 82+60 is seen here when it arrives in company with one of the school's Bo.105.

A visitor from Austria. The Austrian Air Force has a large number of helicopters on charge of various type. One of those is the Bell OH-58B Kiowa. These helicopters are used for training pilots but also find use in border patrols. For combat missions the OH-58B can be fitted with a 7.62 mm minigun, the mounting for which can be seen just below the rear cabin window of 3C-OJ.

French Army's AS.555UN 5608/ABL nudging toward it's alotted parking spot. The nimble AS.555 is an excellent training machine, however judging by it's code ABL should belong to Regiment d' Helicopteres de Combat at Compiegne.  

The French Navy operates a militarized version of the AS.365 Dauphin for various combat support duties. This AS.565MA Panther serialled 318 belongs to Flotille 35F from Saint Mandrier near Toulon. 

One of the nations in Eastern Europe striving for NATO membership is Slovakia. Being a member of the Partnership for Peace programme, Slovakia has deployed troops and helicopters to the Balkans. Mi.17 0844  has been part of the NATO-led SFOR (Stabilization Force) for Bosnia-Hercegovina. The paint scheme on 0844 differed from it's companion 0826 visible in the background in having some white added.

Straining against the powerful rotor downwash from the Dutch Air Force AS.532U-2 Cougar Mk.II  this Belgian soldier tries to avoid being blown away. S-457 is one of seventeen flown by the RNlAF's 300 sq which is due to move from it's current home at Soesterberg to Gilze-Rijen within the next few years. 

France's Aerospatiale, formerly Sud Aviation and now part of Eurocopter has been Europe's most succesful helicopter builder. More of it's products can be seen elsewhere on this page. SA.321G Super Frelon is one of it's elderly designs dating back to the early sixties. Super Frelon serialled 160 taxies in after landing. Flotille 32F from Lanveoc-Poulmic brought this three-engined helicopter to the Helimeet.

The Polish Navy brought Mil Mi.14PL to Belgium from it's home base at Darlowo. 1010 is one of thirteen currently in Polish Navy service for anti submarine warfare duties. Note the peculiar location for the torpedo, suspended from the rear fuselage, mounted almost vertically.

The most advanced and most powerful helicopter in European production today must be the European Helicopter Industries EH.101. Known to the British as the Merlin, both the RAF and the Royal Navy fly the type. The naval Anti Submarine Warfare variant is known as Merlin HMP.1 with ZH854/CU-580 from 824 sq depicted here. The RAF flies the Merlin HC.3 on transport duties. In Italy the Merlin is known simply as EH.101. Export customers include Canada (as the CH-149 Cormorant) shortly to be followed by Denmark and Portugal.