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Paul Johnson Flightline UK

Exclusive Interview: F16 Pilot Tom 'Gizmo' De Moortel!

With only ONE week to go until Eastbourne International Airshow jets into town on 17-20 August, we can't wait to watch incredible aircrafts soar above Eastbourne’s seafront! Thanks to Matt Silvaire at Air Displays UK, we’ve got the inside scoop from the Belgain Air Force F-16 Display Team’s Pilot, Tom “Gizmo” De Moortel.

On 17-20 August, Gizmo will fly the stunningly designed Lockheed Martin F-16 MLU at Eastbourne International Airshow as part of his third and final season as the demo pilot.


Credit Paul Johnson Flightline UK

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon joined the Belgian Air Force in 1979 and has since gone through, what is known as the MLU or Mid-life update, which enables the F-16AM fleet to continue as the frontline fighter for the Belgian Air Force. The F-16 which accompanies “Gizmo” around the Airshow circuit is known as “Blizzard”, named for its striking black, grey and white paint scheme. A design which was conceived to compliment the smoke winders and vortices that come off the jet - Johan Wolfs and Peter Verheyen came up with the scheme.

Tom “Gizmo” De Moortel first started his career in the Belgian Air Force in 1996, obtaining his wings in 1998 and in 2005 went on to fly the F-16, following some time flying other types including the C-130 Hercules. He joined 31 squadron at Kleine Brogel Air Base in 2006 and became the Wing Aviation Safety Officer in 2013. He has over 4,600 hours flying, with roughly 1,800 of those on the F-16. He recently moved to the OCU (Operational Conversion Unit), helping to train the next generation of pilots and has been recently seen in this role while on training in Mach Loop in Wales. “Gizmo” became the F-16 solo display pilot in 2015, and began his 3-year stint as the display pilot before he hands over the reins in 2018. The team for these 3 years comes from Kleine Brogel AB.

Gizmo kindly answered some questions prior to his display at Eastbourne Airshow...

“2017 is the final year for this team before it rotates to a new display pilot and crew, do you have any special or favourite manoeuvres which you perform as part of your display?”

“Personally, I like the high AOA (Angle of Attack) manoeuvres as you “feel” the jet more than just pulling lots of G’s. The ability of the Viper to continue to manoeuvre at low speeds and having the power to climb out of it is a joy to work with as a pilot.”

“The display is made up of standard taught manoeuvres, how long does it take the pilot to learn the display sequence each year?”

“How long training takes each year is a bit dependent on plenty of factors. Sometimes you (have) bad luck with the weather in the beginning of the year or you get some minor technical issues which makes training longer. We anticipate that with starting training early each year.” 


Credit Paul Johnson Flightline UK

“Does the display change much year to year? And following that, is there anything new or different we can look forward to this year?”

“After so many pilots (have) displayed the Viper for so many years its quite impossible to invent new manoeuvres; it is just putting them in a new order, trying to create something which you can fly in different weather conditions, the idea is to demonstrate agility and power. Of course, each pilot will bring his own personal flavour to the display. Having a large degree of freedom in the sequence allows us to give it a personal touch each year.”

“You get requests for a lot of venues over the course of the year, does the pilot and team have a say in which venues/events get allocation and which do not?”

“We do get plenty of requests. Most work during the season prep goes into verifying which of those are realistic in accordance with our technical/ logistical requirements and limitations. That information is combined with requirements at Airstaff level to come up with a first draft. Reciprocity with other Air Forces is one of the major factors and one must look at that over the long term. It’s not just a one to one ratio per year, its compensating for past contributions or negotiating for future events that our Air Force wants to organise. There are of course strict directives on our participations and we must divide our allowance over the different countries a bit. One of the final inputs is, indeed, by the team. We try to keep the schedule challenging over the years."

“Thank you for your time, (finally) I wanted to ask if you had any last words or personal messages you wanted to pass on to excited Airshow audiences?”

“I'd just like to thank the UK public for the warm welcome we get each time we come over. We would appreciate though, if someone could fix us some nice weather once in a while so we can share our full display profile, rather than the flat display.”

Let’s hope Eastbourne lives up to its nickname as ‘The Sunshine Coast’!

Catch the Belgian F-16 Solo Display Team flying at Eastbourne International Airshow on 17-20 August, more information at

Written by Matt Silvaire for Air Displays UK, with special thanks to the Belgian Air Force F-16 Solo Display Team and Pilot, Tom “Gizmo” De Moortel.

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