Belgium aviation history

This is a brief introduction of the history of aviation in Belgium.

First of all we must salute the heroic courage of the pioneers. We will remind the unfortunate trials of Vincent De Groof who died in London in July 1874 whilst experimenting his concept of a machine with moving wings. This is the first known evidence of any Belgian interest for the "heavier than the air".
A military aerostation company was created in 1887. Many Belgians did practice this "sport", bringing some success to our country in the Gordon-Bennet competitions.

In October 1908, Baron Pierre de Caters is the first Belgian to fly in a "heavier-than-air with-fixed-wings-and-an-autonomous-propulsion-system". The century anniversary of this first flight will receive a due celebration in October 2008. His exploit will soon be followed by others. Many will, as he did, export the Belgian reputation to the outside world : Chevalier Jules de Lamine, Charles Van den Born, Joseph Christiaens and the most known, the very nice Jan Olieslagers, the "Antwerp Devil". Among the first ladies flyers we find our compatriot Hélène Dutrieu.
At the end of 1910 we salute the birth of our military aviation, unfortunately with the growing noise of World War 1.

As soon as 1912 our aviators installed a machine gun on a pivot at the rear of their aircraft and performed air to ground firing. Only the Americans were our predecessors, holding a machine gun on their knees, in a very uncomfortable and unrealistic manner.

In 1913 the 1st and 2nd Squadrons did participate with success at the yearly large scale military maneuvers.
Meanwhile many Belgians started building prototypes. Some even managed to take-off ! Their exploits are being carefully scrutinized for historical reconstitution.

Further to the first international conflict, aviation made considerable progress. The Belgian military aviators were not the least to develop the fighter, bomber and aerial photography elements of aviation.

Among the aces we may quote, in the fighters area , Fernand Jacquet (7 victories), Willy Coppens de Houthulst (37 victories, including 35 observation balloons), André Demeulemeester (10 victories), Edmond Thieffry (11 victories) and Jan Olieslagers (6 victories) and, in the photography area, Jules Jaumotte and Roger d'Hendecourt.

With the return of peace, Commandant Nelis, together with a few other perceptive aviators and encouraged by our King, highly interested in aviation, defined the basis of a true transport aviation. This saw the birth in 1919 of the SNETA, direct predecessor of our SABENA.

The national aeronautical industry is also of growing importance. Next to the Brothers Bollekens, first aeronautical constructors, we see the creation of firms such as SABCA (which recently celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary), Renard, Stampe and many others. They produced a lot of prototypes and did build under license the aircraft selected by our military aviation.

An important event between the two World Wars remains the first air link Belgium-Congo performed in 1925 by Edmond Thieffry and his crew. The route was created : soon the military crews Medaets, Verhaegen and Vanderlinden-Fabri, flying Breguet XIX, did start fast liaisons.

The history of AELR

The wealth and diversity of the collections presented in the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History attract surprise and admiration from our compatriots as well as from the many foreign visitors.

More particularly, the Air and Space Section has had a fast and very successful development, thanks to the long term vision of a few military and civilian airman and ground crew who created, some fourty years ago, the Association AELR.

These volunteers, former members of the Air Force and Sabena, or simply aviation fanatics, devoted their time and energy to gather and refurbish the displayed aircraft and the many other air related items.

It is basically thanks to the enthusiasm and the dynamism of these volunteers, among whom we more particularly name the retired Air Force senior pilot-officers Mike Terlinden and Hervé Donnet and Warrant-officer Jean Booten, that we are able today to present you an Air Museum which is proud of its name. All this despite very limited budgetary means.

Today the restoration activities are assumed by crews of volunteers, members of the AELR and regrouped in a restoration entity. Each crew is in charge of a specific airplane.

To deal with more complex technical problems and for infrastructure works we can fortunately benefit from the support of the Air Force and of the Community Services.

On the other hand, we also have the benefit of the support of the operational and logistic units of the Air Force whose personnel regularly and on a voluntary basis is taking care of the cleaning of the exposed aircraft.

All those who contribute to enhance the value of our cultural heritage and weave a net binding inextricably the past, the present and the future of aviation history, merit our admiration and our gratitude.

We will continue to act on the same track, making ours the motto : "Proud of the past, faith in the future..."

The AELR association

The AELR (Air-Espace-Lucht-Ruimtevaart), also located in the main hall, is an all volunteers association, devoting their time and energy to gather and refurbish the displayed aircraft and the many other air and space related objects.

The direction of the Association is presently taken care of by:

President : Philippe Doppagne
Vice-Presidents : Alain Loiseau, Willy Crenier and Mike Lewis
Treasurer General : Philippe Chapelle
Secretary General : Philippe Chapelle

You can find us:
by mail : Parc du Cinquantenaire, 3 , Jubelpark at B-1000 Brussels or
by fax : +32 (0)2 734 21 57 or
by e-Mail : go to contactform Check also for details :

For urgent matters we are listening on : +32 (0)2 737 79 85