Air to Air Belgian Style - the photography of Eric Coekelberghs

 A2A Euro-style


Eric Coekelberghs, a much published European aviation photographer paid Vintage Wings of Canada a visit this past summer. Having visited many airshows and events throughout Europe, Eric has seen many a great warbird operation in action. After a few days with us, he declares Vintage Wings of Canada as good an operation as it gets. Of course, we knew that... but its always good to hear it.

The thing that makes a life 'special' is the challenge to work hard and then to realise some of your personal dreams.  It could be horseracing, climbing Mount Everest, rock and roll, an art collector or anything this world has to offer that makes your life a happy one.

Ever since I saw a jet fighter flying low over my head at the age of 8, I knew that 'special' thing in my life would have wings.... that's about 33 years ago, and it hasn't changed - not for one day.
 
I could have become a pilot of course, but the other thing that got my attention at a young age was the possibility to capture and then to frame those incredible moments and to share them with friends - photography
 
So I decided to become an aviation photographer, with a special interest in air-to-air photowork. It took me almost 20 years to grow and improve to my current level. Since the introduction of the digital camera,  things have seriously sped up. I am proud to say that a lot of my recent work has been used worldwide by air forces, magazines, event organisers and pilots.
Of course it will always remain a hobby, there are only a handfull of aviation photographers in the world who can call themselves professionals, meaning that they make a living out of their aircraft photos.
 
In daily life I run a small transport company in Belgium.  Being an independent means two things: hard work and the flexibility to organise my own schedule.... hey, and that's just what I needed for this aviation passion!
 
In Belgium and the countries around it, I've made a lot of aviation friends over the years who either are organisers, own or fly an aircraft or are in the military.  Because they are familiar with my work I do get a lot of opportunities to 'live my dream' and I often find myself in a photoship or a backseat doing what I love so much....click, click, click!

Every year , I try to organise a few bigger foreign trips to meet people all over the world who have that same aviation virus in them. I've been very very fortunate to make friends wherever I went to.
 
In 2008, I decided to attend the big Quebec airshow in June, celebrating the 400th anniversay of one of the most beautiful cities in North America. Besides all the major jet teams, their static show featured some beautifull warbirds, and most of them belonged to the same organisation...Vintage Wings of Canada!

I contacted Tim Leslie and the first thing he told me was to reschedule my trip - so that I could also attend the Open House at Gatineau Airport.

It was a bit expensive to reschedule a few weeks before my departure, but it turned out to be the best investment of the year. I've met so many fantastic people during those three days in Ottawa; of course Michael Potter, but even more the truly fantastic team behind him. I have rarely witnessed such a professional and driven team effort, and it's no surprise to see that it results in the ultimate for every aviation enthousiast worldwide... genuine flying warbirds!
 
My highlights of the entire year were the two memorable air-to-air photographic flights Tim Leslie had organised for me: the training with the bright yellow Harvards of the Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team and the unforgettable 40 minutes over the Quebec region - in the last hour of sunshine of that whole weekend - with the immaculate North American Mustang and newly painted Robert Hampton Gray Memorial Corsair flying beside me.

As all of you at Vintage Wings live to keep those warbirds alive, those are for me the moments that make this life a very happy one.
 
So I take a moment to thank all of you again for the superb Canadian hospitality, and to offer my congratulations on what is for sure one of the very best warbird collections in the world.  I truly hope to return one day to Gatineau Airport!
 
Eric Coekelberghs, Belgium

Lead Photo Above: My favourite photoship, the famous T-6 Texan of Dutch pilot Hanno Wesdorp. Since we can turn the backseat backwards, the photographer gets the ultimate view through open air. In 2009 we plan to convert this aircraft to a unique T-6 'P'  (P for photoship), with two radio-guided camera pods under the wing. Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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This full-scale perfect replica of the Swedish Tummelisa is flown at airshows all over the world by Mikael Carlson. He flies this aircraft with a rotary engine in an aerobatic performance...This picture was taken over the desert in the United Arab Emirates. With the designation Ö-1,  24 of these diminutive biplanes were in air force service until the last was retired in 1935. The name Tummelisa (Pilots shortened it to "Lisa") is very fitting as it comes from the feminine equivalent of "Little Tom Thumb".  Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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A three-ship of Russian-built Yaks (Yakovlev) in the last rays of sunlight over Belgium: The green aircraft is a Yak-18 - immaculate restoration - flown by Jean Michel Legrand, the two camouflaged aircraft are Yak-52's of Romania's only aerobatic team 'Icarii Acrobati'. Photo Eric Coelkelberghs

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Although this Mustang belongs to the Swedish Historic Flight, she is stationed at the Belgian airport of Deurne, near Antwerp. A popular performer at airshows around Europe, here she is readied for flight. Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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Michael Potter coming in very close to our photoship (flown by Tim Leslie) during formation practice at one of those incredible 30 degree days in June 2008.  Although more than 60 years old these Harvard aircraft look mighty fine!  Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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Once upon a time there were 60 Catalinas flying in the Dutch Airforce; today only one remains airworthy.  Needless to say, she is very popular, because paying passengers can take a ride in a flying boat. It is one way to generate revenue to keep her flying.

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Ready for the 'splash & dash' , a genuine waterlanding. That sailboat in front of us was going to make a great photo op, so my photoship pilot Erik Kraaienhof (in daily life a 747 captain with KLM ) positioned us exactly where I wanted to be... in the right timeframe - a one second window of opportunity.  The Catalina is about to land on the 'Ijselmeer', a big freshwater lake in the Netherlands. Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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There is still one Spitfire flying in Holland, in the original colours of the Dutch Airforce...  look out with taxiing though! Unfortunately she suffered a gear collapse on landing last year and is now again under restoration to full flying status. This photo was taken during the annual 'Open Days' of the Dutch Airforce. Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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No, this B-25 it is not executing a loop or a roll, but hey it sure does look like one! Famous airshow pilot Peter Kuypers (a captain on 737s with KLM ) includes this manoeuvre - actually a very high wing over - in every display. Needless to say, the public is thrilled every time. It pays to know the pilot, as Eric can get the info he needs to position his camera for the most dramatic shot. This is the sole flying B-25 Mitchell in Holland and one of only a few in Europe. The aircraft belongs to the 'Royal Historic Flight' and enjoys great support of the Airforce as well. Photo Eric Coekelberghs

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One of the better looking Stearmans, 'Old Crow' is flying over the airfield of Schaffen, Belgium, during the annual fly-in. It is truly a magnificent aircraft and she is flown by Hans Nordsiek who is a captain on the Boeing 777 with KLM. Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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In Europe, there are still many Antonov AN-2 aircraft flying around. This giant biplane is more like a flying tractor, but passengers enjoy her very much. This one is seen landing at the world famous airshow of Sanicole in Belgium, after another pleasure flight from Holland. Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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An aerial view on Coekelbergh's homebase; the tiny airfield of the flying club of Sanicole - world famous for its airshows. It is also the birthplace of the European Airshow Council (similar to ICAS in the US and Canada). The aircraft are with the German aerobatic team "Eichhorn Adventures". They fly two Harvards and are clearly sponsored by Red Bull! who sponsor many aviation teams and individuals because of their slogan "Red Bull Gives You Wings".   Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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If you think that this is low level flying...well we were already climbing out after our low pass over the airfield of Schaffen, Belgium. Many pilots - if not all - enjoy the 'low pass'  after their flight or performance and as a photographer I make no objections. The aircraft is one of the few remaining Yak-18s in the world. Photo Eric Coekelberghs

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I called this picture 'Buck Danny' named after a famous comic strip character (A European comic book about pilots & planes of course.... Very similar to Dan Cooper or Terry and the Pirates) The pilot in real life is Frederic Vormezeele who performs another low pass over the airfield of Malle, Belgium. The Mustang is painted in the Old Crow colours (commemorating USAAF pilot Bud Anderson) and is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Photo Eric Coekelberghs

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A DC-3, C-47, Dakota?? Actually, this is the only flying DC-2 in the world!  After a careful restoration of many years, the public in Holland will get a chance to see her fly at only a handful of events a year. She is painted in the legendary colours of the Dutch 'UIVER', the aircraft that won the famous London-Sydney race back in the 1930s. Photo Eric Coekelberghs

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A rare two-seat Spitfire in the morning sun at the airport of Deurne, Belgium. She was rebuilt to give the sponsor of the museum of aviation at the airport (with many airworthy aircraft ), Karel Bos, a chance to continue to fly in these magnificent warbirds.  Photo Eric Coekelberghs

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Not your everyday photo; Mikael Carlson from Sweden is pushing his replica of the Tummelisa (See above) over the hot tarmac in the desert of the United Arab Emirates. He prefers an authentic performance and that means even the original clothing of the 1920s.  Photo Eric Coekelberghs

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Flying over the St. Lawrence, one of the world's greatest rivers, two of the world's greatest aircraft move in tight to Eric's photoship. Far below, a Great Lakes bulk carrier passes a Levis-to-Quebec ferry. All in all.. very Canadian. Photo: Eric Coekelberghs


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Mike Potter at the controls of one of the three Canadian Harvard Aerobatic team Harvards brings her alongside Eric and Tim Leslie in the Vintage Wings Harvard. Below Mike's right wing tip stands the Canada Aviation Museum along the Ottawa River. Below that at the edge of the river is the exact spot where Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow landed in their float plane in 1931.  Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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Mike Potter in the 442 Squadron Mustang IV, thunders across the St. Lawrence valley. Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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At the Vintage Wings of Canada Open House in June, brother warbird collector Bobby Hanson let Rob Erdos (backseat) and Tim Leslie fly his newly acquired Ryan PT-22 Recruit trainer. Not much of a risk considering both pilots are high time test pilots and warbird pilots, but much appreciated by the two. Rob was grinning from ear to ear when he landed calling the Recruit "a time-machine". 
Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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What better place to capture the famous Belgian designed and built SV-4 Stampe than over the city of Antwerp? It was here that Stampes were built in the 1930's. Some aviation enthusiasts do not like this blue and yellow example, as she was modified with a Lycoming engine.  Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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This beautiful three-ship illustrates what this well known organization in Holland and Belgium is all about....Yaks! They belong to the 'Yakkes Foundation', famous throughout the European airshow scene for their performances over and on the airfield. For PR-services they travel to the airshow as well with a giant red doubledecker VIP-bus, and even serve their own 'Aviator Wodka'... after flying of course! In this three ship you see the green Yak-18 flown by Jean Michel Legrand, the silver Yak-50 flown by Peter Kuypers and the notorious/famous/celebrity 'Red Yak' flown by an equally well known pilot, Jerome Vanderschaar. Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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The Boeing Stearman is a popular aircraft with many pilots, so there are still many of them flying around here. This example came from Holland to the Fly-in at Deurne airport in Belgium.
Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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The Mustang and the Corsair complete a nice 360º turn - the classic manoeuvre for air-to-air photography - offering the shooter the subject in all light angles. Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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Sliding over to the other side, Potter hangs in tight with Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team pilot Dave Hewitt in the back seat. Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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At rest, the Vintage Wings of Canada Staggerwing frames the Canadian Warplane Heritage Fairey Firefly, forced to stay over after the June open house due to a mechanical problem. Photo: Eric Coekelberghs

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