Trips / Belgium

trip
Belgium
5 September 2021
EHHV; Hilversum EBDT; Diest EBTN; Goetsenhoven EBNM; Namur EBZH; Hasselt EBLE; Leopoldsburg

From Hilversum to Diest, Schaffen

We haven't flown much in our home country this year. In March, there was a fire in a hangar at Hilversum airport. The Cessna 172 that we occasionally use for small flights in the Netherlands could barely be rescued from the hangar. There was some damage, mainly a dirty greasy soot, and the plane was out of service for almost half a year. The plane's papers had been lost in the fire, and the certificate of airworthiness etc had to be reissued after the necessary inspections and repairs.

For a short time now, the plane has been available again, and we made a day trip to Belgium. We chose a few fields that are normally only accessible on weekends and where we had not been before. Actually, the plan was to make the trip the previous weekend, but then the weather was not good. The Belgian Grand Prix was declared a race after only three laps behind the safety car in heavy rain that day.

We had submitted and received the required PPRs for all airfields. The first airfield we flew to was Diest, Schaffen. After taking off from runway 07 at Hilversum, we set course to the south.

South of Utrecht we passed the explosion sluice of the former New Dutch Waterline in the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal.

Departure runway 07 Hilversum airfield
Departure runway 07 Hilversum airfield
Heemstederbrug or Plofsluis
Heemstederbrug or Plofsluis

Explosion sluice in the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal

The plofsluis (explosion sluice) or turning lock at Jutphaas is part of the former New Dutch Waterline. The lock is located on the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. The plofsluis served to quickly dam the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal in case of threat of war to prevent the water from the surrounding areas to flow away via the canal in case of inundation.

In 1934, construction of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal began, which involved widening and partially replacing the Merwede Canal. For this gap in the waterline a solution was sought that on the one hand would not obstruct the shipping traffic, and on the other hand could quickly close the canal. Therefore it was decided to build a dam sluice, just after the junction with the Lek Canal.

The plofsluis is, in essence, a special baffle lock. Above the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal is a series of five concrete compartments with a relatively weak bottom. The bins could store approximately 40,000 tons of sand, gravel or rubble. In the event of a threat of war, the bottom was blown up, causing the contents to plunge into the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. This closed the canal and inundation water could not flow away.

The lock was not yet completed when World War II broke out in the Netherlands, but it was completed in 1942 with the help of the German occupiers. The Amsterdam-Rhine Canal was completed in 1952. Gradually it became clear that the narrowing of the canal at the plofsluis was an obstacle for modern inland vessels. Because of the costs involved in demolishing the structure, the canal was dug around the lock in 1981.

Plofsluis in 1976
Plofsluis in 1976
Plofsluis in 1981
Plofsluis in 1981

Along the way we passed the Koningshoeven Abbey, monastery of the Trappists and the Brewery of La Trappe beer which we visited in 2017.

In Belgium we flew through restricted area EBR16, which is an area off limits to military aircraft. Inside the restricted area lies SCK CEN, the Belgian nuclear research centre located in Mol.

Koningshoeven Abbey
Koningshoeven Abbey
Belgian Nuclear Research Centre SCK CEN
Belgian Nuclear Research Centre SCK CEN

De Koningshoeven Brewery

De Koningshoeven Brewery is a Trappist brewery founded in 1884 within the walls of Koningshoeven Abbey in Berkel-Enschot. French Trappist monks found refuge in Berkel-Enschot, consisting of some moorland with farmhouses and a sheep barn. The farmhouses were named the Koningshoeven (meaning the king's farmhouses in Dutch), after the former owner King Willem II. The Trappists needed a source of income to support themselves and fulfil their charity duties. That is why they decided to brew beer. To this very day, ale is brewed according to the rules of the Trappist within the walls of this abbey.

La Trappe Brewery, 2017
La Trappe Brewery, 2017
Rene at Koningshoeven, 2017
René at Koningshoeven, 2017

Some time later, we arrived at the Schaffen military airfield. On the airfield is a monument to fallen Belgian soldiers who were shot down by mistake by the British in Germany.

Gliders at Diest airfield
Gliders at Diest airfield
Registering the flight in the log of the airfield
Registering the flight in the log of the airfield

British accidentally shoot down a plane

On June 26, 1963 after twelve o'clock, an aircraft was accidentally shot down by the British Army from the Sennelager military training area near Detmold, killing 38 Belgian soldiers.

The soldiers of the 13th Company of the 1st Para had departed from Diest with four Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar aircraft to participate in the Lance One exercise. Because the weather was bad the exercise was canceled, and the planes were diverted to the RAF Gütersloh air base.

One of the planes was hit by a mortar shell fired by the British army, practicing at the Sennelager military training area. The British confirmed that Gütersloh RAF air traffic control was responsible for the accident, leading the planes over the training area. An additional cause was that the artillery section of the British army decided to fire three remaining mortar shells while the order had been given to stop firing from 12 noon (Someone at the aero club told us that the story goes that the mortars were still fired to avoid the red tape for the mortars that were not fired and then had to be returned).

Some of the victims were buried in the cemetery next to Schaffen airfield. A large concrete cross was also erected to commemorate the fallen.

Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar
Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar
Monument at Diest airfield
Monument at Diest airfield

After a coffee in the clubhouse of the flying club, and a visit to the monument, we continued our way to Goetsenhoven.

From Diest to Goetsenhoven

The Cessna Caravan of the parachutists was going to refuel when we taxied to runway 06. The quality of the taxiway was not good, and we had to maneuver carefully. At the beginning of the runway, we had to wait a while for a glider that had just landed to be taken back to the start position. After an ultralight plane took off, we too began the take-off.

It was only a short distance to Goetsenhoven. The airport is in the Beauvechain military CTR, but normally the CTR is closed on weekends. After a short flight, we approached Goetsenhoven airport. Runway 06 was in use with a right hand circuit. We flew past the gliders at the beginning of runway 06, and after landing, we turned left onto runway 35 to continue taxiing to the north apron. There we paid the landing fee and had a coke before moving on.

Take-off runway 06 Diest airfield
Take-off runway 06 Diest airfield
Goetsenhoven airport
Goetsenhoven airport
View from short final runway 06 Goetsenhoven
View from short final runway 06 Goetsenhoven
Veleda at Goetsenhoven airport
Veleda at Goetsenhoven airport

Goetsenhoven airfield

Goetsenhoven Airfield was one of the first airfields of Belgian military aviation. It was built in 1922 as a grass airfield by the Belgian Air Force. On 10 May 1940, Goetsenhoven was attacked by the Luftwaffe as part of the initial German attack on Belgium, killing several personnel, and was sized by the Wehrmacht within a day or two of the invasion.

During the occupation of Belgium, the airfield was used by the Luftwaffe as a reserve airfield, not stationing any units at the field. In late October 1944, the airfield was attacked by USAAF Ninth Air Force B-26 Marauder medium bombers and P-47 Thunderbolts. Allied ground forces moved into the Tienen area around 20 October and the first American combat engineer units arrived at the airfield shortly afterward. At the end of the war Goetsenhoven was returned to Belgian control by the Americans.

After the war Goetsenhoven was totally rebuilt, with the metal runway being removed and the airfield returned to its prewar configuration as a grass airfield. In 1969 two all-weather asphalt runways were laid down on the site, replacing the grass runway. In 1996 the flight training of the Belgian Air Force was centralized at Beauvechain Air Base, and the formal military presence came to an end at Goetsenhoven.

The whole area is within the controlled airspace of Beauvechain Air Base. Civilian flying is subject to strict limitations. Basically operations are limited to weekends.

From Goetsenhoven to Namur

After Goetsenhoven, we continued on our way to Namur. We taxied to the beginning of runway 06, where space was made by the waiting pilots of the gliders so we could maneuver to a position from which we could take off. After take-off we left the circuit in a south-south-west direction.

On the way, we passed Heylissem abbey, founded in the early 12th century. The strategic position of Heylissem abbey, located on the border with the State of the Duchy of Brabant, gave it a fortress role.

The abbey and the surrounding area were the scene of battles on several occasions. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the bloody wars regularly forced the monks to flee the premises, and then return to repair the damage. The abbey was occupied by the Prince of Orange and his troops in 1635 during the Eighty Years' War.

After the French revolution, the abbey was deconsecrated and became a château. In 1962, Brabant Provincial Council bought back the château, its outhouses and the park, which it opened to the general public.

Not long after, we approached Namur-Suarlée airport where we landed on runway 06R.

The Namur-Suarlée airfield was opened on 26 October 1944 by the United States Army Air Forces IX Engineering Command to support the numerous command and control organizations in Namur. American military units remained in Namur until November 1945 and the airfield was turned over to Belgian authorities.

Coincidentally, the Sonaca 200, introduced in 2019, is being assembled at Namur Airport, and Maurits is now an instructor on that type of aircraft as well.

Heylissem Abbey
Heylissem Abbey
Approaching Namur airport
Approaching Namur airport
Rene at Namur airport
René at Namur airport
Veleda at Namur airport
Veleda at Namur airport

Sonaca 200

The Sonaca 200 is a two-seater, single-engine aircraft designed by Sonaca Aircraft for pilot training and leisure flights. In 2019, it was the first time in decades that a Belgian aeroplane had been introduced. An initial demonstrator was assembled in April 2015 at The Airplane Factory (now named Sling Aircraft) at Tedderfield Airpark, south of Johannesburg. Maurits, René and Laurence visited Tedderfield Airpark in 2010, and nowadays Maurits is an instructor on a.o. the Sonaca 200 at Locarno airport.

At Tedderfield Airpark in 2010
At Tedderfield Airpark in 2010
Sonaca 200 at Locarno airport
Sonaca 200 at Locarno airport

From Namur to Hasselt

We had planned to eat something in the restaurant at Namur airport, but after waiting for some time and seeing how busy the limited staff was on the crowded terrace we decided to eat something at the next airport. We walked back to the plane, and headed for Hasselt.

On the way we past the city of Sint Truiden that we visited in 2010. Sint Truiden's historical centre includes the Stadhuis (town hall), with a 17th-century tower classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1999. The oldest parts of the building date from the 13th century. The 15th-century Lievenvrouwenkerk (Church of Our Lady) stands just beside the town hall.

During World War II, Sint Truidens airfield was the base of a famous Luftwaffe Night Fighter squadron operating Junkers Ju88 and Heinkel He219 aircraft from here in 1944. The highest scoring German night fighter pilot was referred to as The spook of St. Trond by British Bomber crews that flew over Germany on night raids.

Departure from Namur airport
Departure from Namur airport
St. Truiden
St. Truiden

Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer

Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer was a German Luftwaffe night fighter pilot and is the highest scoring night fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare. All of his 121 victories were claimed during World War II at night, mostly against British four-engine bombers. He was nicknamed The Spook of St. Trond, from the location of his unit's base at Sint Truiden in occupied Belgium.

To stop these nightly bombings the Germans developed the ability to attack bombers in the dark. These air units came to be called night hunters. Schnaufer was flying a Messerschmitt Bf 110. It was a heavily armed twin-engined fighter. During the war the night hunting technique evolved both tactically and technically.

Schnaufer became the leading night fighter pilot on 9 November 1944. On 9th of April 1945 Schnaufer flew his last mission of the war. After the war Schnaufer took over the family wine business. In July 1950, Schnaufer was on a wine buying visit to France, where he died in the aftermath of a road accident.

After we flew across the field at 1700 feet, someone called out over the radio that we should have flown at 2200 feet before descending to circuit altitude. We landed on runway 09. Upon inquiry on the ground, the operator indicated that it was not him who had called that out. Strange. Maybe someone with flightradar24.com on their computer. In any case, the preferred procedure is to approach the field from the south at an altitude of 1700 feet.

Final runway 09 Hasselt airfield
Final runway 09 Hasselt airfield
At Hasselt, Kiewit airfield
At Hasselt, Kiewit airfield

Kiewit airfield

Kiewit airfield north of Hasselt is the oldest existing airport in Belgium (1909) and one of the oldest in the world. The first plane to land there was of Belgian manufacture. In its early days, well-known aircraft manufacturers such as Henri Farman and Louis Blériot came here to test their planes. In October 1910, the first Belgian air show took place here. In 1912, Léon de Brouckère started an aviation school and an aircraft factory here but when World War I began two years later, he moved to the Netherlands. In 1914, aircraft manufacturer Jero also used Kiewit as a test airfield.

From the 1920s the airfield lost importance due to the opening of other, better located airfields in the country. During the Second World War the airfield was still used by the Germans but after that the airfield was closed.

In 1969 a number of pilots founded the non-profit organization Aero Kiewit and the airfield was reopened. Although the airfield is entirely on the territory of Hasselt, the grounds are property of the municipality of Zonhoven. This is still a consequence of the medieval border disputes between the two municipalities. The municipality of Zonhoven has given the land on a long lease to the non-profit organization Aero Kiewit. The current leasehold agreement runs until 2045.

History Kiewit airfield
History Kiewit airfield

From Hasselt to Leopoldsburg

We ate something at Aero Kiewit on the terrace, and meanwhile we filed a flight plan for the flight from Leopoldsburg, which would be the last stop in Belgium, to Hilversum. The Netherlands still makes it mandatory to submit a flight plan for such trivial flights. Between, say, Belgium and Germany or Germany and Austria, this has long been unnecessary.

After some time we headed out for our final stop to Leopoldsburg.

Departure from Hasselt airfield
Departure from Hasselt airfield
Right base runway 08 Leopoldsburg aerodrome
Right base runway 08 Leopoldsburg aerodrome

As we approached Leopoldsburg, we made a right-hand circuit to land on runway 08. After leaving the runway, we went along the runway back to the beginning where the parking was. There was plenty of activity in preparation for the airshow that would take place the following weekend.

The Leopoldsburg-Beverlo airfield is part of the Beverlo military camp. It is located on the border of Beverlo and Hechtel in the control area of Kleine-Brogel Air Base. Every year in September, the international Sanicole air show is organized at this airfield, the only civil aviation show in Belgium. We visited the airfield the week before, and preparations for the airshow were in full swing.

Leopoldsburg aerodrome
Leopoldsburg aerodrome
Veleda at Leopoldsburg aerodrome
Veleda at Leopoldsburg aerodrome

Sanicole Airshow

During the weekend of September 10-12, 2021, the International Sanicole Airshow took place. A wide range of military and civilian aircraft were on display for three days at Leopoldsburg Airport. Among others, the Belgian F-16, Agusta A109 demo and Airbus A400M participated in the show. Other highlights were the demo teams Patrouille de Suisse (Switzerland) and the Red Arrows (United Kingdom). From Hungary, the Saab Gripen demo participated.

Sanicole Airshow, Beverlo airfield
Sanicole Airshow, Beverlo airfield

From Leopoldsburg to Hilversum

After a brief stop at Leopoldsburg, we flew back to Hilversum. We asked Brussels Information to activate our flight plan, which they did. We passed the Balen airfield, Keiheuvel where Maurits had participated in a gliding competition the weekend before.

South of Tilburg we passed the Safaripark Beekse Bergen. It is the biggest and most popular zoo/safari park in the Netherlands. More than 1500 animals live here in a relatively large area. One of its main attractions is the many ways in which you can view the creatures. Most visitors drive around the park in large safari vans, but visitors with their own cars can also drive past the lions, giraffes and rhinos very slowly.

Balen, Keiheuvel airfield
Balen, Keiheuvel airfield
Safaripark Beekse Bergen
Safaripark Beekse Bergen

The last subject highlighted in this trip report is Fort Honswijk. It is a fortress from the Dutch Waterline, and Veleda and René once had an extensive personal tour there.

Not long after, we approached Hilversum airport, where we landed on runway 36. After cleaning the windows and leading edges of the plane and filling out the journal, we returned home.

Fort Honswijk
Fort Honswijk
Rene and Veleda at Hilversum airfield
René and Veleda at Hilversum airfield

Fort Honswijk and Fort Everdingen

On both sides of the River Lek there are two big fortresses: Fort Everdingen on the south bank, and Fort Honswijk on the north bank. The fortresses were built in the 19th century as part of the New Dutch Waterline. The defense works were to close off the entrance to Holland over water against an enemy coming from the east.

Map with Fort Honswijk and Fort Everdingen

Pictures Fort Honswijk and Fort Everdingen

More information about the Dutch New Waterline and Fort Honswijk here

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