Major Nathan 'langste' De Permentier.
In a serie of stories about the demo pilots with whom I had the pleasure to fly for their PR photoshoots today a short story about :
Major (ret) Nathan De Permentier joined the Belgian Air Force in March 1978. He received his pilots wings in July 1980 after which he joined the 3rd Tactical Wing in Bierset to fly Mirage V at the 1st Fighter-Bomber Squadron. In 1983 he was converted to F-16 in the Operational Conversion Unit at 10 WTac Kleine-Brogel and was assigned to the 31 “Tiger” Squadron.
In 1988, after being a 1st Fighter Wing (Beauvechain) prerogative for more than a decade, 10th Tactical Wing (KB) was designated to organize the F-16 demonstration flights. Nathan was elected as one of the two F-16 solo display pilots, a function that he fulfilled for 5 consecutive years. In that period more than 100 presentation flights were performed during national and international meetings and airshows.
Nathan (nickname “Langste”, because at the time he was the tallest pilot in the Air Force) tells us about his display at Kleine-Brogel Airbase,
September 1st, 1991 :
When thinking back at those 5 years (1988-1992) that I was a Belgian Air Force F-16 display pilot, the airshow on this beautiful Sunday comes up as one of my best memories. My home base was assigned to organize the official Belgian Air Force airshow that year (no, at the time we did not speak about the “Air Component” yet). There was a special reason why KB was chosen : the 2 operational squadrons, the 31 “Tigers” and the 23 “Devils”, both celebrated their 40th anniversary and the first F-16 had arrived on base exactly a decade earlier.
It proved to be an enormous success that was never equalled since in a Belgian military or civilian aerial meeting or airshow. The two main contributing factors for this success were certainly the beautiful weather and the extensive static and sensational flying participation. Not less than 5 aerobatic teams participated (see also the annexed flying program). Among which the fabulous American “Thunderbirds” that presented an aerial display with amazingly precise formation flying. Their legendary reputation and the fact that they rarely came to Europe certainly made them the main crowd pleaser of the event. And, not less important, their participation also came with lots of media attention. On the other hand, a crystal clear blue sky and sub-tropic temperatures drew a massive audience of around 100000 people to the airshow on Sunday. At a certain moment the entrance of the base had to be closed because the public area was “full”.
Generally, the F-16 solo display is planned towards the end of an airshow, as one of the highlights just prior to the main aerobatic team that concludes the event. But with 5 aerobatic teams scheduled and a large number of other solo displays to be fit in, my display was programmed just prior to 15.00 hrs local time. The meteorological circumstances were almost ideal : not a cloud in the sky, limited moisture and a good visibility resulted in a beautiful azure background. There was only a light breeze, which limits the necessary wind corrections but on the contrary results in a less spectacular low speed pass. Another attention item were the 30+°C temperatures, which limit engine and aircraft performance, with an additional disadvantage of being scheduled to fly at the warmest moment of the day. But all things considered still very nice conditions for a solo display.
Luckily, the airshow director managed to keep the flying schedule more or less on time, so that around 14.45 hrs local time I was cleared for departure and kicked the FA-66 in full afterburner for a double Immelmann take-off . Without a single cloud in the sky I was able to execute the full “high” show, and with faultlessly working smoke generators on the wingtips, in combination with a dark blue background, this certainly allowed the spectators some nice pictures and some wonderful footage. Notwithstanding the physical strain and the required concentration which are inherent to an F-16 solo display, I actually remember enjoying that short flight. This also thanks to the enormous mass of people present, a view even more spectacular from the air with additionally thousands of spectators trying to follow the airshow from outside the airbase perimeter.
As usual, my display only lasted about 10 minutes. It was uneventful and the FA-66 performed as expected. I was happy that all went well flying for my “home crowd”. The advantage of being scheduled earlier in the day is that you can enjoy the remainder of the airshow with a cold beer, all the more because the next day I didn’t have to fly the aircraft home again. The rest of the afternoon went more or less as advertised and the airshow ended without accidents or incidents. We could all look back at a fantastic event. Memories of the “good old days”.
After the display season in 1992, Nathan was assigned to the Headquarters of the Tactical Air Force in Brussels, where he became commanding officer of the Ops and Evaluation Center. In 1998, after an appointment as Squadron Commander of the 31 “Tigers”, with 15 years and more than 2500 flying hours on F-16, he changed the G-suit for a blue uniform when he was assigned to the General Staff in Brussels.
The last 7 years of his career were completed as Aircraft Commander, instructor and evaluator pilot on the NATO AWACS, on which he totaled almost 3000 hrs. The final 2 years were dual hatted with a staff function at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) in the Nuclear Ops Branch.
Nathan retired from the Air Force in 2010 with close to 6500 joyful and gratifying flying hours. He is now trying to enjoy life with the focus of his present activities no longer in the aeronautical world.