Brussels Air Museum, Brussels, Belgium

A Library Planet post by Anthony Kitchener.

The Cinquantenaire in Brussels is a lavish set of buildings commissioned by King Leopold II. The construction was financed by his plunder of the Congo. Today, the buildings are dedicated to military, automotive and aircraft museums.

Belgium has a rich history of arms manufacture. Many of Napoleon’s cannons were made in Liege, and the misattributed quote of Goering’s (‘When I hear the word “culture” I reach for my Browning’) advertises their revolvers and machine-guns. Brownings are still being made in Belgium by Herstal, Europe’s biggest maker of small arms. However, I digress.

It is the Brussels Air Museum of which I am most fond. As I understand it, the museum is the work of devoted enthusiasts. It shows. The collection of aircraft is simply astonishing.

German observation and reconnaissance bi-plane designed in 1917. (Brussels Air Museum).

As you walk in, your eyes want to be everywhere. For me, as I entered the main hall, I struggled to make out a huge malevolent form. Surely this isn’t a real Soviet Hind helicopter? Yep. It is the most evil flying thing I have ever seen.

Then you duck because you realise just above your head is a complete Caravelle. A whole airliner inside. A moment later you see a Lockheed Starfighter. A Mig 23 Flogger. And more and more.

Under construction, a replica of an Alfred Renard designed Renard R-31, a high-wing aircraft equipped with a Rolls Royce 500 hp engine. (Brussels Air Museum).

I wandered dazed and fascinated. Best is the almost total lack of curation. (This is a compliment of the highest order.) How else would you get to see a DH Otter with skis from a Belgian Antarctic Expedition, next to a radar-carrying Mosquito night fighter, and a cutaway of a Junkers Jumo opposed piston diesel aircraft engine? Nowhere.

As you start to understand the layout, you see they are also restoring vintage (WWI and earlier) aeroplanes. Nothing really prepares you for how fragile these are. Almost not there.

A Fairchild C-119 – alias Flying Boxcar – which served in the 15th Wing of Melsbroek from 1952 to 1973 for the transport of troops and supplies and for humanitarian missions. (Brussels Air Museum).

The mangled remains of a Pratt and Whitney engine that has fallen from the sky in a doomed B17 are placed next to a mannequin wearing a WWII RAF officer’s uniform. Both are in front of a spectacular and obsessive map showing where every WWII aeroplane that crashed met Belgian soil. RAF, USAF, Luftwaffe, French, Belgian. The numbers incomprehensible.

Upstairs you can’t really believe it when you find half a Zeppelin engine gondola alongside Piccard’s record-breaking aluminium ball of a capsule. Then a Fieseler Storch…

The Brussels Air Museum? Go. 

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