My farewell to the Mirages.
This short report of a memorable day at Weelde, when the first Mirages taken out of service landed there, is in fact very special. It is the spontaneous testimony of a young spotter, who these days was a member of the spottersgroup called the Red Lion spotters, created in a period when the first Belgian spotterscorner was opened at Kleine Brogel. Read his story and experience once more what happened in the hearts of those who were present that particular day.
My story starts where the one of the Mirages (for the time being) stops.
After all I had never thought that I would participate so closely at the end of this superb machine. Because the official farewell had already taken place in September in Bierset , and I couldn't be present due to circumstances, this was for me a unique opportunity to catch a last glimpse of this still remarkable machine.
For some amongst you maybe bluntly ridiculous but for me a MUST, if it was just for respect, what this few people subsequently don't understand.
The farewell thus ... together with three other "Red Lions" I departed that Monday morning, 10 January 1994, for the reserve airfield of Weelde.
The more we approached Weelde, the more we looked upwards, the weather as you know.
Once arrived it was our intention to search for a calm spot where we could "observe" in all tranquility. To our great astonishment directional boards were placed along the road for us the spotters, what was of course a pleasant surprise.
Whose idea was this?? Our thought went unanimously at the man who did already so much, just think at the first spottersday in Belgium, the first spotterscorner in Kleine Brogel and Florennes ... or were you already forgotten him?
Therefore once more thanks "KeeBee'er".
Arrived at the location, where the spottersplace seemed rather swampy, we quickly interrupted the night's rest of a few inhabitants and asked if our car could be place on a dry spot, and this in order to avoid worse things. The Mirages might be considered as "Mud Movers", we preferably still not.
A few minutes after our arrival we were reinforced by a fifth and even a sixth "Red Lion", who later during the day would clearly indicate that he was present.
The sleeping airbase was waking up slowly, the mobile tower, the fire extinguishers, the personnel ladders and the protection hoods were delivered, enough to receive ten Mirages.
After a few moments even more people turned up, journalists from one or another newspaper, a few neighbours from the North and even VTM (Vlaamse Televisie Maatschappij or Flemish Television Company).
The latter were welcomed with slogans like "I will tell it Walter" or "Hey Super Mike".
The tension was rising while the barometric pressure continued to do just the opposite.
In the distance suddenly echoed the quite whistle of a equally quite airplane, a Fouga.
This is "our Dré" somebody called out in the dialect from the Kempen, and he could know it.
The camera's were unpacked, the lenses were mounted and the batteries were verified, damn ... . Luckily Dré made another overflight and gave me the time to supply the necessary tension to my camera.
A few minutes after the landing of the Whistling Turtle, the MT-26, we noticed another noise of a few snoring propellers what provoked a shout at the top of a few voices, "Tora Tora", a memory at 7 December 1941.
Luckily it was not that bad. It were just the Marchetti's who would transport the Mirage Drivers back to Bierset for a next Last Flight.
Finally, even if I didn't like it, two Mirages popped up above the horizon, flew over the airfield and performed a last Tactical Break. The wheels were lowered, the last turn was entered and I thought: is this now the last time that I see you like that through the sight of my camera. To my astonishment the number of revolutions of the Atar 9C suddenly increased, the wheels were retracted and the Mirage made an overshoot, something as a matter of fact all aircraft would do that day, for the joy of the spotters of course.
But the inevitable had to and would happen. Again the pilot took all necessary actions for the last Touch Down of the BR-08.
With envious eyes we looked at the landing, the deployment of the Brake-chute and the taxi followed by the cut off of the engine. The first Mirage was now ready to be towed away to the for him predestinated hangar.
While we looked at how the pilot of the first aircraft was put on a funeral wreath a journalist asked us: how do you know that all this would happen today and what does it mean for you? The well-behaved man was certainly not wiser afterwards. He was doing it for his job and we ... yes why? Was it for respect, sense of duty or just for the kick of the last time?
Everybody had certainly his reason, and mine, you know it already.
After the landing of the tenth Mirage the towing of the machines started towards the planned hangars. We all rushed to the gate of the depot where already a lot of the curious ones had positioned themselves.
The traffic on the public road was stopped and there was the first aircraft, the BR-08, who now with external help crossed the road and entered the depot on his way to his for the time being last resting place.
The other aircraft followed the same destiny.
For a moment it was quite amongst the "Red Lions" and looking at the disappearing Mirage I told them: I am here myself, I see it happen and still I can't believe it.
Bye bye Mirage!