I recall my father taking me to an air show back in the sixties. My first one of many to come. I was captivated by airplanes from an early age on but never had the opportunity to see one up close. My mom had bought me a bagged Airfix Fiat G 50 model a few months before because she thought it was the “neatest” thing, never expecting it would forever change my life. Together with my dad I finished the job building and painting that kit in one evening. Still have it! Over a thousand more would follow in the years after but that first one I will never forget. Neither will I forget my first air show.
It was a chilly, rainy and gloomy morning. A prelude of yet another typical day in the Kingdom of Belgium. No matter rain or shine, dad was determined to take his youngster to see the “vliegtuigen” (flying machines) at the airbase of Beauvechain. I could sit in the front seat of our brand new family car, a maroon, four door Fiat 124. A few adjustments to the safety belt and off we went. The closer we neared the airbase, the more excited I got. I could hear the roar of jets flying over but was not able to see any because of the low cloud cover.
I pushed my nose against every inch of every window of the car and jumped back and forth just to get a glimpse of the “stuff” that was going on above us. We finally reached the gate and were directed by the MPs to a parking spot in a grassy field. Wearing shorts and my Sunday shoes, dad lifted me on his shoulders so my feet wouldn’t get wet from the grass. We followed the long line of visitors over long stretches of concrete until we arrived at the “tarmac” which unveiled rows and rows of aircraft, mostly jets of all nations.
I can still remember the faint smell of kerosene as it was yesterday. My father couldn’t stop grinning when he saw his 7 year old with his mouth and eyes wide open pulling him from one airplane to another. My dad was a very timid and patient man but that day he let himself be dragged all over God’s creation just to please the little boy that couldn’t get enough of those silver and camouflaged graceful birds that stood there in anticipation to be smelled, touched, bumped and stroked.
One of the aircraft was parked somewhat to the side of everything and it had some flashy colors applied over its green and grey NATO camouflage. It must have caught my eye because I pulled my father over and crawled onto the metal fence that formed a perimeter around the jet. I took it all in and was awestruck by this big beautiful, colorful machine that appeared surreal, pictured against a dark grey ceiling of threatening clouds. Out of nowhere came a man on a bicycle wearing white, oil spotted coveralls and shifted one of the barriers to the side to let himself in. I remember him walking to the aircraft and opening a hatch.
He stood there for awhile and closed it again. He walked around the jet as if he was inspecting it and then glanced over in my direction. Out of the blue and very bluntly he asked; “You wanna sit in it?” I gazed at my father with what must have been the desperate look of a dying boy gasping for air and I still think to this moment that my dad was as flabbergasted as his son who soon would get the experience of his young lifetime. The airplane in question was an F-84F Thunderstreak! Other than the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter and the C-119G Flying Boxcar, the F-84F will always remain one of my most favorable airplanes.