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- Monday September 4th 1978: Joining the armed forces in Saffraanberg

 


August-September 1978

 

On August 16th 1978, two months after passing the selection exams, I receive a mail from the Command of the Air Force Technical School. It’s evident that I'm very nervous when I open the letter… 

The few lines, it contains, quickly relieve me… 

pdfThe Letter.pdf

I made it !
I have to present myself on September 4th at the gate of the Technical School to join the armed forces. I’m accepted at the School as candidate to become technical NCO, to follow an A2 complementary training in aircraft mechanics… even more, I’m selected to join the Air Force ! 

All those fighter aircraft, I saw flying by, I will soon be able to approach them…

- Monday September 4th 1978 :  My parents are driving me to the school this morning…. as I do not have a driving license yet. The school is not far away from the nice city of St Truiden, on  the national road that goes from the city to Liège, it’s located in a place called : Saffraanberg

The first thing I note on our arrival is a very nice Spitfire IX on a pylon, close to the entrance.

 

Spitfire MK912 in Saffraanberg

 

 

This aircraft, a mark LFIX (Low Level Fighter), was build in Castle Bromwich - Birmingham in 1944, it carries the serial number MK912.
In June 1944, it is transferred to the 312 (Czechoslovak) RAF Squadron. The first missions are the protection of the Normandy beaches following the D-day.

In June 1946, it is sold to the Royal Netherland Air Force and is shipped to Java island where it takes part in July 1947 to the recovery of the Netherlands Indies.
The aircraft will fly under these registrations : H-119, H-59 and finally B1 (Fokker)
End of 1948, the MK912 is shipped back to Rotterdam and is stored in a hangar.
  
In April 1952, fifteen dutch Spitfire's IX (B1 - B15), included the MK912 (B1) are sold to the Royal Belgian Air Force. The MK912 is assigned to the Basic Flight School (EPA - Ecole de Pilotage Elémentaire) of Goetsenhoven. It will fly under the registration SM-29 till 1953.
In June 1953, it is affected to the Koksijde Fighter School. The same year, it is badly damaged and is stored in Brustem, located just a step from Saffraanberg 
It’s scrapped in 1955 and placed on a pylon at the entrance of the Technical School on August 27. It will keep that place for almost thirty years.

In June 1988, the MN-P is removed from his pole and is transferred to the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces (Brussels) who exchange it for a Bristol Fighter F2B belonging to Guy Black, founding member of the Historic Aircraft Collection.

In 1997 it’s bought by the “Historical Flying Limited” - Audley End - Essex (GB) ; it is fully restored and made airworthy again.

In May 2003, it’s sold again to the Canadian Ed Russel from the Russel Group Aviation.

In 2011 it’s bought by Peter Monk. The MK912 is now based at the Biggin Hill Heritage hangar Ltd - Biggin Hill - Kent. (GB)

On the 1st Aug 2015, the aircraft suffers a major loss of power during take-off, the pilot Dan Griffith makes a emergency landing, but the MK912 is badly damaged.
It should be currently under refurbishment.

(See "Links" for more information)

 

Spitfire MK912 at Biggin Hill (GB)

 

 

  •  Photo Saff2013-01 & Saff2013-02 : Spitfire IX MK912, property of Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar Ltd in 2013.

 


  

First contact

 

 

On the first day joining the armed forces, there're lots of people around : parents and trainees are directed to the hangar located next to the “parade ground”, to finalize the registration.
I’m given the first details of my registration :

  • Soldier Bonfond Serge
  • Service number A/40512
  • 2nd Squadron
  • Class A2C-78-12F (Complementary A2-year 1978-12th French speaking class)
  • Bloc 41, Room 6. (My barracks)

 

After a short visit of the camp, the parents are invited to leave the trainees, from which several are merely 15 years old. It’s possible to enrol as from that age to follow a three years training in the A2 cycle in Electronics & Communications - Electro Mechanics - Electricity & Instruments - Amament.

  

An NCO  immediately takes care of us and teaches us the basics of marching…
He also brings us to our barracks, where we can leave our things and make first contact with the other members of our classes.
When I arrive in room 6 of barrack 41 the chief of room Sgt Languillier J. welcomes me, and shows me my bed and my locker, and presents me to my room mates.
And this is the way I meet some people with whom I'm going to spend a lot of time during this school year. Actually, we're going to live together 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week.
Inevitably, there will be some frictions ans disagreements between some of us, but at the end, all of us will become true friends.
Initially, the Class A2C-78-12F is composed of the following persons :   (Alphabetically)

 

1. BONFOND Serge Air Force
2. CHOLOT Christian Light Aviation 
3. DAUCHOT Maurice Air Force
4. GEHENOT Thierry Land Force - Light Aviation
5. LAMOCK Guy Air Force
6. PETIT Roland Land Force - Light Aviation


 
Our friend Thierry Gehenot will only stay with us for a few months. He's graduated from a non-technical school and has no knowledge in Electro Mechanics. He will have a hard time to follow the courses and will have to quit after the Christmas examination. 

We are informed very soon, that any failure in the Christmas examination will result in exclusion. The excluded trainees will be redirected to other types of enrolments. 

The members of the Air Force and Land Forces will follow the same basic courses. After that first training year, the “mud movers” are directed to a type conversion, meaning Alouette II or Britten-Norman Islander. 

For the members of the Air Force, each and everyone of them will attend a conversion course on a fighter airplane, transport aircraft or on training planes. The functions are attributed following the demand, but several options exist, the best trainees at the end of the final examinations session in June, have the opportunity the make their choice first.

In our case, it will be completely different…
 


 

The course starts 

 
During the first week, we receive the first part of our uniform and the program of our courses. 

There are two major styles of uniforms: the “Battle Dress” or BD,  and the “Service Dress”. 

The Battle Dress is worn during the week’s courses, it’s composed by pants, a shirt, a short jacket and a beret. The BD is worn with casual shoes, or battle boots : the “Combat Shoes”. 

The Service Dress is our parade uniform, it’s mandatory to wear it when we go on leave. It’s composed by pants, a long jacket, a kepi and same shirt and tie as with the BD. In this case, the casual shoes are mandatory. 

Later, we will go to the well known tailor at the time (Marvan) one by one to individually fit our Service Dresses. 

Both uniforms carry distinctive elements like ranks and badges. For the first part, we start as soldiers, means no stripe at the moment.

The insignia of the school is a badge based on the insignia of the Royal Air Force (Belgian) Technical training School. The shoulder pads carry a white stripe that indicates, that we are CSOC (*) : that means candidates to become non commissioned officers. (NCO Candidate)

(*) Candidat Sous Officier de Carrière.

 

Badge Ecole Technique02

 

Going back home for the week end wearing the uniform will be embarrassing in the beginning, but the “Quality Control” performed by the "Adjudant-Chef of corps" at the gates will insure a perfect presentation of the uniform.
In the case something’s wrong, the leave is cancelled an you go back to your barrack !
During the numerous journeys by bus and by train to go home, I will never receive a single remark or joke ; in the contrary, people will look at me with some admiration…. That’s probably the "prestige of the uniform"…!

 

Our courses are organised in 40 time periods (one hour) a week. These 40 time periods are split over the following courses :

  • 25 hours:  Mechanics
  • 5 hours:    Electricity
  • 7 hours:    Military Instruction
  • 3 hours:    Sports

The Mechanics course is sub-divided in :

  • Aerodynamics:         Studies of aircraft flight mechanics and helicopters
  • Fluids Mechanics :   Studies of subsonic, sonic and supersonic air flows.
  • Engines:                  Theoretical studies on piston engines and turbo jet engines
  • Applied Mechanics:  Studies on all other than engine accessories used on aircraft and helicopters (pumps, actuators, clutches etc.)
  • Practice:                  Removing and replacing parts, engine and other aircraft parts set ups

The Electricity course is sub-divided in :

  • Basic knowledge in AC and DC electricity
  • Basics in Electromagnetism
  • Theoretical studies of the functioning of a battery, a generator, an alternator, and the electro engines in AC and DC

The Military Instruction is sub-divided in :

  • Military rules and regulations: studies of the different rules and regulations.
  • Weaponry : Theoretical and practical studies on the functioning of the different weapons used (rifles, handguns, grenades…)
  • Tactics :     Survival training:  means camouflage, NBC protection (nuclear-bacteriological-chemical warfare), the different types of moving on terrain…..
  • Drill :          Platoon marching, parade a platoon, command a platoon.

The sport activities are mandatory, any failure in the physical condition examination results in an exclusion.

The examinations include the following exercises: 100 m sprint, tossing weight, high jump, balancing on a beam, jump, tractions, and running 1000 m.
The candidates will have to succeed in these tests before the December examinations.
The weekly 3 hours of sports will be used to increase the candidate’s physical performance to enable them succeed in the tests.

 

We’ll be NCO candidates until commissioned to the rank of Sergeant. To get there, we’ll have to succeed in the first phase examinations in June 1979 at the Technical School and then the second phase examinations, which will in fact be our trial period in a squadron.
White stripes sewed on the shoulder pads of our uniforms differentiates us from the Sergeant already commissioned.

 

Note :
Some technical courses are given in a common classroom with the A2-76-1F graduating class.
The A2-76-1F class was composed of 32 students when it started in 1976.  Today, only four of them are remaining :

 

1. BAUDE Daniel Air Force
2. BORMANN Helmut Air Force
3. GUIOT Daniel Land Force - Light Aviation                   
4. WATRELOT Jean Air Force

 

 


 

Two weeks passed

 

 Friday 15th of september 1978.

 

Two weeks passed since we joined the Technical School.
Two weeks without going back home ; actually, we spent our first week-end to the infirmary where a mass vaccination was scheduled.
 

On September 15, the Technical School opens its doors to the public again for the school’s fair. The parents and friend are invited to come and see the changes, we have undergone after only two weeks in a military school. 

When talking about a military school, everybody thinks rigor, respect and discipline. These are the principles, we had most difficulties to cope with at the beginning of our training, but they quickly become part of our daily live. 

How could you imagine working on an aircraft without a minimum of discipline, and how to live your live without a minimum of rigor and respect…. These few principles, so difficult to respect in the beginning, will become our greatest allies in our professional live.

 

September 15 – The fair of the school  

 

  • Picture Saff78-09-04 : The Cpn Kaczmar, CO of the 2nd Squadron (Flagship)
  Left Center Right
Row 1 1SM Ceulemans Capt Kaczmar ---
Row 2 Cpl Dupont José --- Cpl Buffet Michel.

Here I am with André LEVEQUE, a student of the A2C-78-10F class (Electronics).
The uniform is the Battle Dress. Note the white stripes on the shoulder pads identifying the CSOC (NCO Candidates - Candidat Sous-Officier de Carrière).




 

From September until December 1978

 

Mid-December, we begin the first review of the year. It’s mandatory to pass the examination, as our candidature to become NCO would be cancelled if we do not pass the tests.
There are no failures in Saffraanberg !
 
The number of candidates is reduced by 50% after this first selection. In our class only one candidate will have to leave despite his efforts… 
For the 5 others, it’s a flawless process. We are all sure to go on until the end of year review ; we are commissioned to the rank of Corporal.
 

The pictures below were taken after the examinations around December 22, the last day before the Christmas break. A first part of the school books are taken away from the class rooms, we relax with friends of the neighbour rooms, the guys from the A2C-78-10F class. 

The A2C-78-10F is our equivalent, but they're specialised in aircraft electronics. They are in the neighbour room in bloc 41, 2 of them sharing our room. (Alain Taelman and Pascal Meunier).
 

The class A2C-78-12F

A few friends from the 10F (A2C-78-10F)

  • On the first above picture, from left to right
    • Sdt BOGAERT Rudy
    • Sdt MEUNIER Pascal
    • Sdt ADAM Gérard
    • Sdt GILSON Jean-Luc
    • Sdt TAELMAN Alain

 


 

From January until May 1979

 

On January 1979 ; after 2 weeks of holidays, we're back to the courses again. We notice right away that we are less numerous… half the initial people have left after the first examination.
In our class,Thierry Gehenot had to leave ; the remaining five go on. 

There are 5 months of effort left to reach the end of our training. The rate of courses is quite high and we need to study every day to be able to keep up.
Two hours of study in our class rooms are mandatory from 6.30 p.m. until 8.30 p.m ; an NCO  monitor the study, silence is mandatory !
After that, we go back to the barracks, then relaxation and washing, lights are shut at 10 p.m.

  • At 6 a.m., a new day starts…

Until now, the waking up was done by our instructor : the Sergeant Y.Jordan.
 
At 6 a.m. sharp, he woke us up everyday bluntly, switching the lights on and shouting : “Attention !”.
 

A short inspection of the room is quickly performed while the students are standing at attention at their beds. 

Now that we all are commissioned to the rank of corporal, the discipline is eased a bit and we are only woken up by the sound of the horn…

We have 20 minutes for bathing, we need to be ready for our chores at 7 a.m.
A chore was assigned to us in the beginning of the year. For me it's the cleaning of a long corridor in the bloc 13 until December. In January I will have to clean our room.

Our day is scheduled as follows: 

  • From 07.00 am until 07.30 am: chores
  • From 07.30 am until 08.00 am: breakfast
  • From 08.00 am until 12.00 am: 4 x 50 minutes courses with a 10 min break
  • From 12.00 am until 12.30      : lunch
  • From 12.30       until 01.00 pm: free time
  • From 01.00 pm until 05.00 pm: 4 x 50 minutes courses with a 10 min break
  • From 05.00 pm until 05.30 pm : free time
  • From 05.30 pm until 06.30 pm : diner
  • From 06.30 pm until 08.30 pm : mandatory study

And so on…

The days and weeks follow each other very quickly ; all courses are very interesting as they are related to our future job as technicians.
The practical courses allow us to have an idea what working on aircraft is. We have a chance to discover tools (in inches), the procedures and the terminology (in English) ; by working on the aircraft and engines, we have at our disposal.
The RF-84F Thunderflash and Wright J65 engines, which certainly are not the newest, but nevertheless allow us to familiarize with aeronautical technology.
Our friends from the Light Aviation Force meet the Dornier Do27J-1.

  • Picture Saff7905-01 & Saff7905-02 : One of the RF-84F (FR-31) at our disposal for our practical courses.
  • Picture Saff7905-03 : The FR-31 when it was operational with the 42 Sqn. On this picture, it flies over Liège, above Sart-Tilman. (The nose points towards Grivegnée while the the stabilizer points to the Sacré-Coeur in Cointe)
  • Picture Saff7905-05 : The FR-32 (42 Sqn) at Bierset in 1970. (The FR-32 is actually preserved at the 1Wing Historical Center - 1WHC


May is now coming quickly, and with it the time for the end of year one examinations and for us the end of our training at the Technical School. 

After 2 weeks of examinations, we're almost out of the woods. We quickly receive our results, which are very satisfactory.

We all 5 receive our certificates as aircraft technicians, three of us with “distinction” and two with “satisfaction”.

 
Below, the charts 1979, showing the results of all the entire group graduating on 1978-1979 (French and Dutch speaking).
The results of our class (A2-78-12F) are on page 14 of the document.

pdfPALMARES 1979.pdf


We are now commissioned to the rank of Sergeant.
We also receive very quickly our assignments ; in our case we have no alternatives possible. The three Air Force members  (Bonfond-Dauchot-Lamock) are expected to move to Beauvechain in September to follow the conversion course on F-16 engines. 

The two members of the Light Aviation Force are expected to be trained as multirole technicians (engine and airframe) on Alouette II and Britten Norman Islander. 

 

We therefore destined to become engine technicians...

In the Air Force, there are five different types of aircraft technicians : Airframe - Engine – Electricital – Avionics – Weapon.
The training, we received as complementary A2, allows us to become Engine or Airframe specialist. In our case, we will become Engine specialists. 

Now it’s party time, we make a few pictures of the group ; our room leader, Jan Languillier (A2-77-5F) entertains the evening with Patrick Carpentier (A2-78-10F). Gérard Adam and Christain Cholot (12F) joins them.

 

 


 

From June until September 1979

 

Now that the examinations are done, we have to spend one more month before the school holidays. The holidays start early August ; until then, we will train every day the different types of moving as a platoon during a military parade with our instructor 1Sgt  Jordan.

We will have the honour to parade on the Place des Palais on July 21st 1979 in a detachment of Air Force Technical School. We will parade in front of the H.M. the King Baudouin, the Royal Family, and the Government. 

The parade itself is preceded by a general grouping and a revue of the troops by H.M. the King

Our dresses are always perfect, but in this case, we need to be irreproachable. We wear the Battle-Dress and the “beret”. Everything that could, was polished the day before. Our belts have received another layer of blue colour, every buckle was polished with “Duraglit”, and our combat shoes shine like mirrors. 

For the parade, three horseshoe nails are fit on the heals. Without these nails, it's very difficult to hear ourselves marching, which makes it difficult to keep the pace ; the marching noise beeing partially covered by the different music bands accompanying the different detachments. 

We rectify our dresses for the last time before we move on, under the lead of our music band and our platoon leader. The smaller are in front and the tall in the back, this way everyone is able to see in front of him and adjust his own alignment when necessary. 

Arriving on the Place des Palais, the pressure rises, we adjust our alignment a last time, a glance in front, one to the sides to make sure everyone is at the right place.
  

In front of the Royal tribune, the platoon leader shouts the order: “Head to the right… Right ! ”.
 
All, except the front right man, who needs to keep the platoon in the right direction, turn their head towards H.M. the King. Everyone in the platoon, while having the head to the right, keeps an eye on his right neighbour and his front man to keep the alignment of the platoon. Despite having his head turned towards the king, nobody really sees him…! 

A few seconds later, “Head forward…forward ! ” resounds ; everybody looks forward, the official tribune soon disappears…a few roads to go, and it’s already over…. it will all have only lasted a few minutes…but it will be an experience, we’ll never forget.

 

A few days later, we prepare for leaving for holidays, leaving bloc 41, and the D1 division of the Technical Training School. 

The D1 division is responsible for the initial training of the future technical NCOs. As future technicians, we studied the basics of aeronautical technology and received our military education there. 

The final training is the conversion on a type of aircraft for the members of the Air Force or on helicopters or light aircraft for the candidates of the Light Aviation. This last training is performed by the D2 division of the Technical School. 

As far as we are concerned, the three members of the Air Force (Bonfond-Dauchot-Lamock), are foreseen to receive a “F-16 Engine” training in Beauvechain.
 
The 1Wing received its first F-16 (FB01) on January 26, 1979. A training center was installed on base to be able to convert the technical personal for this new type of aircraft as soon as possible.
It’s at the F-16 MTU (Maintenance Training Unit) that we will receive our final training as aircraft technicians. 
 

At our return from holidays, on September 29, 1979, we nevertheless join the D2 section, to receive a training on technical documentation.
During these two weeks, we will receive the final date for moving to the 1st All Weather Fighter Wing. The move is foreseen on September 19, 1979. 

Now, here're three young Sergeants who joined the Air Force only one year ago, ready to move to an operational unit to receive their conversion course on one of the most advanced fighter aircraft of that time.

We are very excited…

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