Les Neistat Reviews the 2016 Illawara Air Show


Well, what can I say, as to being very cautious planning my trip to this year’s 2016 Wings Over Illawara Airshow in Albion Park NSW Australia? With forcasts of being rained out again, after last year’s cancellation due to extreme rain conditions – which caused flooding of the Illawara Regional Airport and deemed necessary for safety reasons.  Well, after slight rain conditions I am glad I made the decission to attend, as the weather cleared on both days and it turned out to be a fabulous airshow, as I’m sure roughly 20,000 other attendees would agree.

Wings Over Illawara 2016 featured the largest collection of military and civil aircraft ever assembled for Wings Over Illawara,together with Australia’s best air show aerobatic pilots and aircraft. The show was held over 2 days, Saturday 30th April and Sunday 1st of May with Friday 29th April being practice day for participants and Media. Most of the warbirds have either served in Australia’s armed forces or represent types that have helped defend Australia in the service of her allies.


The military aviators of today were also well represented with the Australian Defence Force committing some 15 aircraft over the 2 days including several Navy and Army helicopter types, which were the NHIndustries(Airbus Helicopters) MRH-90 Taipan, the Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk ‘ROMEO’ and the Sikorsky S-70A-9 Blackhawk helicopters. Plus, the RAAF Roulettes, a stunning display on both days by the F/A-18A Hornet (A21-15), the C-17A Globemaster III(A41-213) and the AP-3C Orion sub hunter.

Unfortunately the highlight and one of the main star attractions of the airshow was to be the first Australian appearance of Australia’s only Focke-Wulf Fw 190, owned by Raptor Aviation since it arrived in July 2015 in Albury NSW. Unfortunate in that the fighter had a major technical issue and as a result could not attend the airshow, as did another star attraction, Judy Paye’s rare P40F Kittyhawk, which unfortunately didn’t attend the show either.


The Australian Army Display Team, known as The Red Berets, are professional paratroopers who performed an amazing syncronized display out of the back of the HARS (Historic Australian Restoration Society) DHC-4 Caribou. The warbird did its own STOL display, as this workhorse is well known for performing, too. Twenty nine Caribou were procured by the RAAF from 1964 on, and operated by 35 and 38 Squadrons at Richmond in NSW and Townsville & Amberley in QLD. The Caribou saw service during the Vietnam War, and has been utilised to aid civil communities both in Australia and overseas. The Caribou were retired from service in 2009. Its replacement is the Alenia C-27J Spartan battlefield airlifter.

A first to be seen at WOI 2016 was the formation flypast of the HARS L-1049 (C-121C) Lockheed Super Constellation accompanied by the RAAF Roulettes Pilatus PC-9/A’s,which have been the mount of this Aerobatic display team since 1990. The PC-9 is an advanced 2 seat pilot trainer powered by a 950 shp P&W Canada PT6A-62 Turboprop engine.  A former USAF C-121C (S/N:54-0157), ‘Connie’ was aquired derelect by HARS in Nov 1991 from the ‘Boneyard’ at Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona. Restoration commenced in May 1992, lasting 5 years , with ‘Connie’ arriving in Sydney on 2nd Feb 1996.


The red 1943 Boeing PT-17 Stearman two seat primary trainer was flown by Southern Biplane Adventures chief pilot Chris Clark, who put on a display  to show just how easy and nimble this WW2 trainer really was.


At WOI 2016 Matt Hall flew his Extra 300L 2-seater aerobatic aircraft to its limits. Before joining the fast and furious Red Bull Air Race, Matt had a career filled with remarkable aviation achievements. Hall was named dux of his ‘Wings’ course, dux of his F/A-18 Hornet Operational Conversion course, dux of his Fighter Combat Instructor course and was crowned ‘Fighter Pilot of the Year’. Before entering the Red Bull Air race competition, Matt achieved victory in the freestyle section of the Unlimited Competition at the Australian National Aerobatic Championships. Matt finished 2nd in last year’s Red Bull Air Race World Championships.


Paul Bennet is recognised as one of Australia’s leading air show display pilots and is no stranger to Wings Over Illawara, having appeared regularly over the years. Paul has been performing in airshows since 2005 and has also been crowned as Queensland,Victorian and Australian Unlimited Aerobatic Champion. He is one of only a few Australian pilots to hold a ground level aerobatics approval. Paul’s display team comprises of the Wolf Pitts Pro 400 HP Lycoming engine aerobatic biplane,and two Pitts Special S1S 250 HP Lycoming engine aerobatic biplane. Paul Bennet Airshows owns, maintains and operates a North American Aviation T-28 Trojan,which is a 9 Cylinder Radial engined military trainer aircraft. Other Aircraft in the fleet are the (CAC)CA-3 MK.II Wirraway, Australian built by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. This aircraft was a 2 seat general purpose built military trainer based on the the Nth American NA-16. Further to the collection is the Yakovlev YAK-52 two seat trainer aircraft powered by a Vedeneyev M-14P-9 cylinder radial engine, as well as the Grumman TBM-3 Avenger Carrier-borne torpedo bomber powered by a 1950HP Wright Cyclone R2600-20 radial engine.


Other participants at the airshow included pilot Mark Pracy in his Czechoslovakian Aero L-39C Albatross two seat military jet trainer powered by a 3,792lb thrust Ivchenko AI-25TL Turbofan jet engine, as well as the Yakovlev-built Yak-3 Soviet two seat fighter – being WWII’s smallest and lightest combat fighter. The -3U variant did not enter production until after the war. Team Steadfast’s display aircraft had a colourfull racing career with pilot and team owner Will Whiteside. In October 2011 it broke the under 3000kg World Speed Record, followed by several Time to Climb records in Feb 2012. Its power comes from a 1450 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2000 14 cylinder twin row radial piston engine.


The Russian Roolettes are another Aerobatic display team who performed at WOI 2016, comprising of the Eastern Block Yak-52s and the Chinese Nanchangs. Both these aircraft originated in the 1960s and are tandem seat, low wing trainers for military fighter pilots. The pilots in the team are a mix of ex military and civilian.


Unfortunately due to wet conditions and high winds Jeff Trappett’s (CAC) CA-27 Sabre MK.32 could not fly, but was able to taxi up and down the runway to still thrill the crowd to see this wonderful aircraft. Jeff’s Sabre is the last flying one left in Australia. The aircraft operated out of Malaysia during the Vietnam War but never saw conflict. Sabre A94-352 is no newcomer to impressing Australian air show crowds, having served in the 1960’s RAAF aerobatic teams the Black Diamonds, Red Diamonds and Black Panthers. This aircraft is powered by a 7,500 lb thrust Rolls-Royce/CAC Avon RA.7MK.26 Turbojet.


Adding to Jeff’s collection of classic aircraft is his immaculate single seat fighter (CAC) CA-18 MK.21 Mustang powered by a 1,720hp Packard- Merlin V-1650-7 piston engine. Two hundred Mustangs were built for the RAAF from 1945 on by CAC. Early RAAF Mustangs operated from Japan on occupational duties with allied forces up until 1950. 77 Squadron committed to combat operations when the Korean war started. From Japan, Mustangs flew combat missions for 10 months until being replaced by the Meteor.


Made iconic by the Battle of Britain,the Spitfire is renowned as one of Britain’s greatest fighters. Australia operated 656 Spitfires in five variants between 1942-45, primarily for the defence of northern Australia.  A58-758 was acquired by David Lowy,and donated to the Temora Aviation Museum NSW in July 2002, with it being showcased at airshows regularly. Manufactured in 1944 by Supermarine, the Spitfire HF.VIII is a single seat fighter powered by 1,720 hp Rolls Royce Merlin70, 27lt liquid cooled, 2 stage V-12 piston engine.


Another of the Temora Museum’s regular participants at airshows was the (CAC) CA-13 Boomerang. Boomerangs were used widely in operations against the Japanese. They excelled in low level work over the New Guinea jungles,undertaking tasks which included directing artillery fire and providing aerial protection for ground troops. The Boomerang is powered by a 1,200hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S3C4G Twin Wasp 14 cylinder twin row radial engine.

In the static displays were the HARS C47 B’s, Lockheed Neptunes, Consolidated Catalina, DHC Caribous, DH Vampires, CAC Sabre, GAF Mirage IIIO, F111, Grumman Tracker and the rest of the extensive collection.

I would like thank Mark and Kerry Bright,of Bright Events for hosting a truly wonderful airshow.

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