Belgium Says Goodbye To Its Loyal Workhorse
Global Aviator|February 2021
As in many other countries and air forces, the Lockheed C-130 Hercules has also been the workhorse within the Belgian Air Force for many years. This military transport aircraft has proven its value several times during numerous military missions and humanitarian deployments and was an essential part of military logistics and tactical transport within the Belgian armed forces
Kris Christiaens and Gert Trachez
The Belgian Air Force ordered twelve Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft in 1970 to replace the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar which had been in service since 1952. The first C-130 was delivered in 1972 and became part of the 15th Air Transport Wing at Melsbroek Air Base (EBMB) where they were part of the 20th Squadron. During the first years of their operation, the C-130’s wore a ‘Vietnam’ camouflage scheme which was later replaced by an overall grey colour scheme. The twelve aircraft were numbered CH-01 to CH-12. Over the years they received various updates and modifications, whereby the aircraft were provided with updated wings, a digital cockpit and a self-protection system. These updates and modifications increased their lifespan until 2020. Thanks to the four powerful Rolls Royce/ Allison engines, the C-130’s can perform Short Take Off & Landing (STOL) manoeuvres in areas with little or poorly prepared terrain which is why they were often used in challenging conditions during military exercises, humanitarian missions or non-combat evacuation operations (NEO).

The main task of the 20th Squadron and its loyal C-130 transport aircraft is tactical air transport. An important part is transportation of troops and dropping of para commandos where their intervention is required. The relationship between the para commandos and aircraft has always been very close. In recent decades, the special collaboration has been successfully demonstrated during various emergency evacuations from Central Africa.

Of second importance for the 20th Squadron is to support humanitarian missions. Thanks to this support in Africa, the 15th Wing of the Belgian Air Force built a strong worldwide reputation. The C-130s were deployed in Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mali following the Sahel droughts. Other humanitarian aid missions were carried out in Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia where the C-130s were responsible for, among other things, dropping food packages and the transport of medication and people. In 2014, a C-130 also delivered 13 tons of relief supplies to victims of the Islamic State terror group in the north of Iraq. When F-16 fighter jets of the Belgian Air Force were deployed in the MiddleEast or Afghanistan, the C-130s played an important role as they were used for the transport of material and essential components.

CH-06: Fatal bird strike

Unfortunately, the 20th squadron suffered a major setback on 15 July, 1996 when a Lockheed C-130 Hercules (CH-06) crashed at Eindhoven Air Base in The Netherlands. The accident happened during landing in almost ideal weather conditions. The cause of the accident was a collision with birds into the two left engines, which caused the plane to go out of control during landing. The aircraft hit the ground, spinning on its axis and ended up in the grass next to the runway. Even before it could stop, a fire started that destroyed a large part of the aircraft. On board were 37 passengers and four crew-members. Almost all passengers were members of the Dutch Royal Army Brass Band that had given several performances in Italy. The crash resulted in 34 fatalities and seven serious injuries.

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