Slipping the Bonds
by George Paterson
F-84F – 31sq. -FU84 -PatHeeren
The Belgian Air Force's 31. Squadron was established on 1. October 1951 at Beauvechain air base, a few miles South of Leuven. Along with 23. and 27.sq., these three squadrons formed the 10th Tactical Wing. 31.sq. was equipped with Spitfire 14's at first, but these were soon replaced by F-84G Thunderjets and T-33 Shooting Stars.
In February 1955 the squadron was permanently assigned to Kleine Brogel air base, and in 1956 it was re-equipped with F-84F Thunderstreaks, which it flew for 9 years, amassing 37000 flying hours in that time.
The squadron's badge is a tiger, and it has participated in the annual NATO Tiger Meet since 1962. It re-equipped with the F-104G in 1964, and moved on to F-16's in 1983. More details of the Tiger Squadron's history can be found at http://www.31tigersqn.be/squadron/history/
The Initial Image
This model of FU-84, coded 8S-C, is by Pat Heeren. It's the only photo I have of the model, and I don't know the kit he used.
The image is only 650x358 pixels, and the definition is rather soft. Therefore, quite a lot of work will be needed to get a reasonable in-flight picture. There is considerable colour shift in the image, so that will need to be remedied to get the familiar green and grey topside camo.
Treatment of the Image
The colour shift turned out to be easy; a few clicks away from red and yellow were all that was required.
The improvement in definition was slow work, but by now I'm familiar enough with the structural details of the Streak, and the Belgian style of finish, so it was not difficult.
The Tiger badge on the fuselage, just aft of the canopy, was not readable on the image. I made a search for a clearer version, and found two slightly different ones. I chose the one that most resembled the faint one on the model, transformed its shape to allow for the perspective and curvature of the fuselage, and then pasted it onto the model image.
Next, I searched for a suitable background. That proved to be more difficult than I anticipated, because I ended up with three more or less acceptable backings; I finally chose a cloud formation against a light blue sky.
Most of my earlier pictures of Belgian Thunderstreaks came from much more recent build reviews, with image sizes two or three time bigger linearly than this one – that is, four to nine times bigger in area; but you can get good results with images like this one by Pat Heeren. It just takes a bit more patience.
What I like about these Belgian aircraft is the combination of a low-visibility camouflage along with large areas of very colourful decoration. It's the conflict of trying to conceal your aircraft from your enemies, but also being quickly identifiable to your own guys, especially other members of your own Unit.
On this aircraft, and on many other Belgian Thunderstreaks, the balance is tilted toward recognition rather than concealment. Twenty years later, opinion had swung to the opposite extreme.