The 349th squadron, a fighter-bomber unit based in the Kleine-Brogel military base (Limburg), has acquired an almost-50-year-old F-16 that commemorates its 80th anniversary and that will fly under its colours until next summer.
The aircraft was presented on Thursday to an audience of enthusiasts, including in flight, escorting a Spitfire fighter of the Second World War, a type used for years by the 349 (F) Squadron within the British Royal Air Force (RAF), and then under the Belgian cockades after the conflict.
The plane's decorated tail fin is a reminder of this period on the right, with a drawing of Spitfire pilot Ivan Du Monceau de Bergendal, its first commander, wearing a leather helmet. On the left, it is decorated with an F-35A stealth fighter – the future mount of the squadron from 2027 – and a pilot wearing the latest generation helmet with the words "349 Sqn. Proud of the past, Ready for the future."
349 Squadron was formed on 29 June 1942 as a Belgian RAF unit in Ikeja (Nigeria) to defend Central Africa from German attacks with its first fighter planes: American Curtiss Tomahawks. It returned to the UK in June 1943 to re-equip with Supermarine Spitfires. Its Belgian pilots flew 450 missions until the end of the war, including the Normandy landings in June 1944.