[Photo-Report] Pop-up Expo ‘We Make Difference’ : Behind the scenes of the Belgian Air Force

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Pop-up Expo ‘We Make Difference’

Behind the scenes of the Air Force of today and tomorrow

© Belgian Air Force

During the summer holidays, from July 6th to August 31st, Army and Aviation enthusiasts have enjoyed their visit at the Belgian Air Force Pop-up exhibition ‘We Make Difference’, based at the Koksijde Air Base (EBFN).

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© Martin Gillet

The pop-up exhibition aimed to take its guests to discover the special world of the Belgian Air Force. Through a modern, informative and interactive exhibit, you can get to know the Air Force of today and tomorrow. Reservation was compulsory and it quickly became ‘sold out’ with a long waiting list with over 4000 people.

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Visitors arriving on-site in small groups © Martin Gillet

Due to ‘COVID times’, many events have been put on hold, postponed or simply cancelled. The Air Force Pop-up exhibition ‘We Make Difference’ was not cancelled and has been one of the highlights of the summer activities.

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© Martin Gillet

Safety measures were enforced for the safety of all, Each hour, two groups of 12-15 persons were greeted, after reservation, at the exhibition. The obligation of wearing a mask was enforced, gel was provided at the main entrances. Artefacts and aircraft were disinfected on a regular basis, by Air Force personnel and the guests themselves.

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© Martin Gillet

Executive Summary

During summer, the Belgian Air Force presented a pop-up Exhibition ‘We Make Difference’ with behind the scenes of the Air Force of today and tomorrow. The exhibition was headquartered within the Koksijde Air Base (EBFN). Over 7000 visitors enjoyed the exhibition led by a motivated, skilled and cheerful Team.

The aim of the exhibition was to showcase the Belgian Defence and its Air Force to the Grand Public as well as bringing the new challenges and jobs opportunities to a younger audience.

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© Martin Gillet

Full Debriefing “A look back at a successful operation”

An exhibition during the summer? What to expect? We reached out to Gregory Bogaerts [Air Force Major Belgian Air Component, Public Relations Division CO] who greeted us on-site and gave us a detailed tour of the exhibition.

The Exhibition was aiming at a full house,” says Major Bogaerts when announcing proudly that the pop-up exhibition ‘We Make Difference’: Behind the scenes of the Air Force of today and tomorrow reached over 7000 visitors. “It was not a done deal with the COVID impact but thanks to our Team, we were able to greet 2 batches of visitors (groups of 12-15 persons) every hour. Safety is our primary concern, after all, we are the Air Force. Upon arrival, visitors were asked to disinfect their hands, wear a mask at all times and stay in group.”

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© Martin Gillet

The Exhibition was also cleaned up on frequent rotations, sometimes – like the ladder of the F16 – with the help of the visitors. Not only civilians were greeted but also other groups like the Marine Cadets (pictured) and special events like ‘ATC Days’, ‘Tech Days’, ‘IPR days’, “Paardevissers”.

Objectives

The objectives of the exhibition are axed on two main focus: Explain to the Grand public the current missions “Many functions, ONE Team” from Pilot, technician, mission planner, air traffic controller, mission planner, force protection, aircraft technician, meteorologist, & more. Major Bogaerts reports: “It is important to explain our missions, why Belgian Defence and the Air Force are needed, which type op operations do we support, how do we help and protect the Grand Public. As a multilateral country, Belgium is also inter-operating in multi roles across different countries, under our government decisions. This is our first objective.”

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© Martin Gillet

“Then, we must align the capacity requirements for tomorrow. The 2020 capacity is not the same and is far off from the ones expected in 2030. We wanted to showcase to the millennials and younger audience all the job opportunities available. How they could relate with the latest technology (analogy to the online gamers) such as the Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Virtual Reality (VR) etc. It is important to welcome and attract all young potentials to serve in the future. Indeed, Future is now as we are awaiting the first delivery of our A400 and in the near future the first arrivals of the F-35, not to mention the MQ-9B. As you know, Belgian Defence is upgrading Florennes and Kleine-Brogel to welcome the F-35 and equip personnel with the dedicated tools. This is our second objective.

Through dedicated booths, visitors can engage and exchange directly with our finest Workforce, get an idea ‘from the source’ how their skills could be an asset for the Air Force. You must know that behind every pilot, it’s a true teamwork with over 70 jobs: remember: “Many functions, ONE Team” from Pilot, technician, mission planner, air traffic controller, mission planner, force protection, aircraft technician, meteorologist, & more.”

Example of 1:1 booth to meet & greet with Workforce and potential candidates :

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© Martin Gillet
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© Martin Gillet

(Walking through the exhibition with Major Bogaerts). Major Bogaerts guides us through the walk-through explaining the different sections of the exhibition. We stopped at the Air Cadets. Major Bogaerts says ‘currently over 80% of our pilots are directly coming from our Cadets‘. He blinks at a group of teenagers and gently challenges to embrace a discovery session with gliders. “This is how you make your dream happen and start a career“. Hence the code name of the exhibition: “Behind the scenes of the Air Force of today and tomorrow.”

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© Martin Gillet
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© Martin Gillet

Belgian Defence is recruiting: “Working by Defence is more than a Job, it’s a Mission“. All open positions are available here.

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© Martin Gillet

The Exhibition

The Exhibition consists of a ‘walk-through journey’, featuring a Sea King (retired) RS03, an F-16, showcases displaying flight gear, a pilot seat with ejection mechanism, a flight simulator, an engine, scale models of F-35 (with Belgian colours) and NH-90, walls with didactic information on the history of the Air Force, the future F-35 & A400, descriptions of missions and work positions to end up with a gift Shop.

Between two sessions, Captain Aviator Kurt Verwilligen (Media Relations – ComOpsAir IPR) told us that the set-up had been optimised for the passage of visitors. He also highlighted that the Exhibition was the result of teamwork, rewarded by a great turn out and splendid positive returns.

Example of didactic walls visitors could discover during their walk-through.

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© Martin Gillet

Examples of showcases as seen onsite :

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SeaKing (retired) RS03 ‘City of Koksijde’ that is still winning the Grand Public’s heart and mind. She served from November 8th 1976 until last flight on August 29th, 2013, totalling 11851 Flying hours with 618 scrambles. The aircraft is in neat condition, all external holes have been filled (as it is due in time to become a gatekeeper to a non disclosed location). The flight deck has been cannibalised and instruments are depicted with a large sticker. This artefact remains an important piece of memory for its service times and the 300 lives she saved.

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Across the majestuous SeaKing RS03 was a ‘kid drawing corner’, to please the younger visitors, allowing them to apply their best skills to colour the iconic aircraft in service or to enter service.

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© Martin Gillet

Lots of NH-90 drawings as indeed SAR NH-90 RN04 is very close to the exhibit hall.

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© Martin Gillet

 

The other impressive aircraft is an F-16, accessible to the Grand Public with cockpit access.

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© Martin Gillet

No better way to break the ice with the millennials and nurture a passion for ‘the need of speed’ and a career as a fighter pilot.

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Two large scale models featuring an F-35 with Belgian colours and an NH-90 were also on display.

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© Martin Gillet

To illustrate the numerous job opportunities, including skilled technicians and pilots, an engine and a flight simulator were also included in the visitor’s journey.

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Each ‘stop’ along the journey is duly commented in full by the Air Force host who provides insights, information and anecdotes in a cheerful delivery for all ages.

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Upon exiting the exhibition, a gift shop was also available to the visitors to catch up on the latest book publishings, patches, stickers and more.

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© Martin Gillet

Go the ‘Extra Mile’: Support The Belgian National Aviation Victims Assistance Fund

Each exhibition team member was proudly wearing his/her Belgian Air Force name tag. This is to support a noble cause. You can also take an active part and support the Belgian National Aviation Victim Assistance Fund: “The Belgian National Aviation Victims Assistance Fund”, better known by the abbreviation “FONAVIBEL”, is a non-profit association, founded in 1947.

The non-profit association was founded with the aim of bringing together the various aviation associations in a single organisation, in order to achieve a better distribution of the funds collected.”

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Support FONAVIBEL, get your nametag !

Chime in, Support them: Order your name tag(s) here.

Flybys Guests

Cheery on the pie, during the exhibition, many flying guests appeared during a courtesy flyby, featuring NH-90, F-16, A109, Alouette, Red Devils … etc.

Throughout the pop exhibition, quite a few flybys guests were spotted for the greatest pleasure of the visitors. Jozef Vanden Broeck (Belgian Air Component – Public Relations Division) from the Pop Exhibition Crew captured all these moments.

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Visitors lining up outside to welcome flybys guests © Martin Gillet

A109 up close at apron.

Alouette III passing by.

Always a treat to meet & greet the mighty NH-90

F-16 flyby.

 

Red Devils made also a rehearsal and several flybys for the great pleasure of the visitors, spotting with their family these ace pilots manoeuvring together in formation.

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And to conclude the Exhibition, Captain Aviator Kurt Verwilligen (Media Relations – ComOpsAir IPR), to launch on air the “March of the Belgian Air Force” (by the Royal Symphonic Band of the Belgian Guides) out loud in the hangar where the Team gathered for a group picture. among the warm ‘kudos’ from all visitors. “Ten Hut”.

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© Martin Gillet

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