Wings over Illawarra 2016 – A Parade of Allies!

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The Historic Aircraft Restoration Society operates its museum, dominated by the B747-400 VH-OJA, at Illawarra regional Airport, Albion Park, New South Wales. In cooperation with the museum, Bright Events have managed Wings over Illawarra air show for some years. After attempts for the last two years, WoI was finally visited by favourable weather in 2016. Last year, the air show was cancelled due to heavy rains and the amount of sitting water on the runway. The year before that, high winds were responsible for the cancellation. This tried the patience of the organisers and participants and took a tremendous amount of work to bring to us a successful 2016 event.

On the Friday (29th April) it was Setup and Practice Day, poor weather was forecast and the day remained mostly overcast.

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The static display aircraft of HARS were ranged along the tarmac opposite their restoration hangar. Most of their larger types were on display – two Caribou, two C-47s, Catalina, Neptune, & Canberra. Progress was noted, including new paintwork on their Dakota VH-EAE; a repainted Neptune A89-281 in the mid grey and white maritime scheme; Canberra A84-502, seen previously in the early silver paint scheme, now in a more ‘finished’ state with decals applied. Static display Sabre A94-901 is complete with decals and Mirage IIIO A3-42 in original paint (which will not fly), is a new arrival from Essendon, Melbourne.

The ex-USAF F-111A (RAAF F-111C) A8-109 had its cockpit accessible. It is the final operational aircraft worldwide, to shut down its engines (as witnessed by the author) in December 2010 at RAAF Base Amberley, QLD, following its part in the retirement day for F-111’s – “Pig’s Tales”. We spent considerable time with HARS volunteer Phillip McDonald, an ex-RAAF WSO (Weapons Systems operator/Navigator), having a personalised tour of -109. Phil allowed us time in the cockpit, demonstrating systems pertaining to his muster such as the radar scope, the AN/APQ-110 Terrain Following Radar (TFR) and the swing wing which make the F-111 type almost a special category in itself. Interestingly, he explained, in the very-low-flight envelope (100-ft), handling was usually achieved by manual inputs as this was at- or beyond- the capabilities of the TFR. Phil spent 3 years on F-111, coming from Dakota (on the final course for Navigators on this type), Neptune and Canberra.

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There was new tail art on airworthy Caribou A4-210 (VH-VBA) – the Orange-red Wallaby denoting “Wallaby Airlines”, which referred to the early Caribou deliveries which were made direct from the factory to the Royal Australian Air Force, in-country to Vietnam. Operated by Royal Australian Air Force Transport Flight, Vietnam (RAAFTFV), the unit was to be redesignated 35 Squadron on 1 June 1966. “Wallaby’ was the unit’s callsign and with that name, it is no wonder a shorter moniker was chosen!

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The DC-4 (formerly VH-PAF) is now complete with outer wing panels fitted, yet still requires significant work to replace internal systems before flight. Exciting news has it that HARS will soon have a Convairliner in Trans-Australia Airlines scheme. The HARS PBY-6A Catalina was not flown during the show due to a blown carburettor.

Moving on to the air show proper, we had an indifferent forecast for weather, ultimately we had a fine afternoon on Saturday and a fine Sunday. Unfortunately, the most anticipated aircraft of the weekend, was unavailable to appear after a mechanical issue developed prior to its arrival at Albion Park. This is the Focke-Wulf Fw-190A8, Wk.Nr. 173056, a genuine combat veteran and the first of its type to fly in Australia. While this was disappointing, safety must always come first!

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Paul Bennet demonstrated a very clever aerobatic routine featuring three aircraft – Wolf Pitts Pro and two Pitts S-1S specials known as the “Sky Aces”. In 2009, Paul Bennet was named Australian Unlimited Aerobatics Champion. His low flying in several vintage aircraft was something special to behold – we are privileged to have this talent available for air shows in Australia. His T-28B was held low along the runway on takeoff, then followed some wild flying! The T-28B was registered August ‘08 to the National Museum of Naval Aviation before changing owner. Don’t be fooled by the paint scheme –it still wears its Navy Bureau number!

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Saturday, Glenn Collins was flying Paul Bennet’s Wirraway –WWY, A20-81 (which is painted as A20-176). During WWII, this trainer was operated by 5 Service Flying Training School, and force landed near Wodonga, Vic in May 1942, due to pilot running out of fuel. Early Wirraways were sent to Malaya to assist RAAF pilots converting onto Buffalos and were later used for army co-operation. It is believed this was a role for which -81 was also used. In 2005 -WWY was restored at Sandora Aviation, Caboolture, QLD.

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The Grumman (General Motors) TBM-3E was restored for Steve Searle at Coolangatta on the Gold Coast in 2005 and was also flown by Paul. Combat history – it served aboard USS Bunker Hill in the Pacific Theatre, hence the “Broad arrow” recognition marking on the tail. In flight, the port undercarriage does hang slightly proud of the underwing – Paul says this is only due to a small hydraulic leak and is maintained but to fix properly would require total restitution of the entire system.

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Matt Hall Aerobatics features Matt Hall who is a former RAAF fighter combat (Top Gun) Instructor with combat experience, having competed in international unlimited aerobatics and well known overseas for his Red Bull Air Race World championship racing achievements. Matt Hall flew Mustang -MFT. Mustang VH-MFT was taking media and volunteers for a “jolly’, or joyride, prior to and during the air show. Matt also flew stunning aerobtic displays in his Extra EA300L.

The Russian Roolettes formation display team, consisting of 6 ex-Russian YAK-51 and Nanchang CJ-6A trainers, the latter uprated for performance aerobatics – conducted a polished display. Based at Mittagong airfield in the NSW Southern Highlands, this team was constituted in a hurry when the RAAF Roulettes were suddenly unavailable for an earlier air show. As a six-ship they made an impressive entrance with a head-on “Bomb Burst”.

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After undergoing last minute adjustments, the HARS Connie took off just before dark for a Saturday sunset flight with lots of smoke and flame! Perhaps the most appreciated display came from the Cessna A-37B Dragonfly of CombatDragon.com.au, flown by Gary Criddell, which also performed a dusk display into a superb setting sun.

One of the undoubted highlights and a first for Australia, was the escort of Roulettes PC-9/A trainers from RAAF Base East Sale, in formation with CONNIE, the HARS Lockheed C-121C Super Constellation.

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Local flavour was provided by the 1943 PT-17 Stearman N57916/ILW “Lilly Warra” flown by Chris Clark. With an interesting history of training with the USAAC during WWII, this Stearman was part of the “Zulu squadrons”, tasked with training the black fighter pilot intakes who later became the famous, distinguished “Tuskegee airmen”. During the war, RAAF pilots in Italy, operated off bases with units of the Tuskegees. Years later, at a reunion a former pilot remarked that the RAAF guys were “okay – they didn’t mind a man of colour”.

Somewhat of a repeat of the previous day, on Sunday the blue sky however, combined with a cooler, breezier day (gusting at times to 25-30 knots) ensured this day had a feeling of “renewal”, this was surely THE day – WoI had recovered from those disappointments!

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Matt Denning flew the Commonwealth Boomerang fighter. An interesting story – the Boomerangs were designed to field 20mm Hispano cannon but none were in production in 1942 in Australia when this “stop-gap” fighter was conceived In Melbourne, Victoria. From British aircraft wrecks in North Africa, Hispanos were souvenired by an Aussie serviceman – somehow he smuggled them back to Australia when he was repatriated. Tipped-off, authorities seized the cannon and the design was reverse engineered here for Boomerang. A perfect example of Aussie can-do!

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YAK-3U VH-YOV “Steadfast”, (See PHOTORECON, October 1, 2012) a 2005-build Reno racer fitted with Pratt & Whitney R-2000 (same as for Caribou). Built for Will Whiteside in Romania in original jigs, Steadfast was raced at Reno and set a record at the time for 0-10000ft in 2mins 3 secs, then reportedly passing through the care of Sanders Aircraft and brought up to 1750hp (from its Original 1450hp), the YAK achieved 460MPH fitted with a Curtiss-Wright Direct detonation injection system and is considered the fastest single-engine, piston aircraft under 3 tonnes. It has Sanders aircraft-built smoke generators (reportedly modified from B-25 heaters) sourced from the late Guido Zuccoli’s QLD-based Sea Fury. Jim Crockett flew it on the Sunday. Purchased by an Archerfield, QLD-based syndicate in 2012, it was assembled in Perth. Interestingly, the original design was compared by a French member of the Normandie-Niemen unit against the Spitfire and P-51 and rated in his opinion, a better fighter aircraft.

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Other aircraft flown over the weekend included the colourful North American AT-6G Texan of “Fleet Warbirds”, the JetRide Australia Aero L39 flown by Mark Pracy, and Steve Death in the Temora Aviation Museum’s Spitfire Mark VIII which joined their Boomerang in the air this weekend. Due to water on the runway and high winds, Jeff Trappett rather wisely elected to confine his Sabre display in –SBR / A94-352 to a fast taxi (given he avoided disaster at the show two years previously).

The air show organisers were very good to provide the media with access to cover significant items such as Mustang departure, and airside access. HARS volunteers were also obliging and offered journalists every assistance to find better and more unique photo angles. The writer would like to thank Bright Events and the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society for their support over this enjoyable weekend.

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