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'Aving a ball at Avalon

Australian International Airshow, Avalon, 11-17 February 2001

A21-57 F-18A 3 SqnAlistair Henderson sees how they do it 'down under'.

The bi-annual Australian International Airshow is held at Avalon airfield, near Geelong, Victoria. It is Australia's equivalent of the Farnborough airshow held in the UK. The 2001 event celebrated Australia's 100 years of federation and the RAAF's 80th birthday - a double celebration. When I found out that it was on in 2001 and that I would be in the area, I decided to sign up as a volunteer. Having been in Australia for the entire 2000 UK airshow season and what with all the cancellations in 1999 it had been some time since I'd been to a show!

As it turned out, I was working on the campsite - not quite as close to the planes as I was hoping, but I guess they were unlikely to let me drive them around, or anything! At least we got good views of the flying displays from the campsite and it was a short drive to get to the show itself. There was also the air conditioned caravan which was supplied free of charge, and the uniform which made a nice souvenir of my visit.

The airshow relies on a huge number of volunteers to make it work, and a good number of them stay on the campsite so it was a good place to be - especially when the bar started operation later in the week! There was even the odd night out in nearby Geelong just for a change of scenery!

90-0802 F-16C 35th FW `WW`The work mainly consisted of putting up fenceposts and signs and generally preparing the campsite for people arriving. Due to the heat, we didn't work much from about midday onwards on most days, but we still had plenty of time to get everything done. Afternoons were then free for wandering around the trade show and seeing goodies everyone was trying to sell. Needless to say, there weren't too many things that were in my price range! I did manage to score a flight in a Dornier regional jet airliner, but I felt like a bit of a cheat sitting there with absolutely no intention of buying one, but I guess it's all good publicity! Especially when I say how impressive the steep take off from Moorabin airport was! You don't get that on your average jumbo jet flight!

One of the show's main attractions is the Friday night show which is held after dark. You'd think that having a flying display in the dark would be a tad pointless and, having seen one, I would have to agree. The show mainly consisted of putting fireworks on the wings of certain light aircraft as they do aerobatics and even going as far as doing the same to remote control planes. This is an interesting idea but it does get a little tedious after about ten minutes or so, and I found myself hanging on for the F-111. I think everyone's heard of the 'Dump and Burn' trick that the Aussies do, but I for one had never seen it first hand. Of course, the pilot chose to keep up the suspense by doing a couple of normal passes before lighting the fires, but when it came it was spectacular!! There was a huge tongue of flame shooting out the back of the aircraft as it climbed heavenwards. He kept that lit for what seemed like an eternity and I reckon there can't have been much fuel left at the end of that little trick!

Kadena based F15CThe USAF made a sizeable effort to help the RAAF celebrate its 80th birthday. They sent a contingent of aircraft from bases in Japan, including two 8th Wing F-15Cs and two 35th FW F-16Cs. I was extremely happy to see these as they are far from common in Europe, although one of the F-16s had previously served with one of the stateside wings and so I'd seen it before! They even went to the lengths of flying a B-1 down from Brisbane (where they were on exercise) on both public days to perform three flypasts and then go back again! Other static aircraft consisted of a Kansas ANG B-1, 2nd BW B-52H, Charleston C-17, a 'ZZ' coded KC-135, two Super Hornets from Lemoore and a Longbow Apache. The F-18Fs and AH-64 were kept very busy doing demonstration flights as their manufacturers tried to impress the Australian military.

It was with some pride that I stood in the torrential rain and wind at 10pm on the Tuesday night to watch the 'pommies' arrive. The familiar whine of the VC-10 taxiing in and the shape of those Tornado tails almost made me pine for the end of Leuchars runway! The Tornados were from 12 Squadron and so had come even further than me! In the next couple of days these three were joined by a C-130K, C-130J and Nimrod - not a bad showing. The flying display that was put on by the Tornado crew was pretty impressive and was easily as good as, if not better than, the Eagle and Hornet displays. Maybe I'm biased, of course!

The RNZAF were due to make an appearance with their Skyhawks but this was cancelled after the fatal crash of one of their aircraft in New South Wales as they were practising for the show - a reminder of just how dangerous military flying can be.

My last day at the show was the Monday, and once all the campsite was cleared up I had some spare time to watch the departures. I was hoping to see some good old fly-bys as the fighter jocks made their way home. I was not to be disappointed when the B-1 left as she did a couple of fly-bys, although it turns out that it was only because they were getting their landing gear checked by the tower! The most impressive departure was, of course, the B-52. I've never been so close to a buff as she takes off and it was an awesome sight, all that smoke and noise. Unfortunately, the much hoped for fly-by didn't materialise and the crew set course for home. The RAF were next up to depart and the Tornados formed up with the VC-10 before heading for distinctly colder climes.

A7-080 MB326H 76 Sqn I think that Avalon is the biggest show in the Southern hemisphere, although it is not that big by European standards. As a military and airliner spotter I logged roughly 90 aircraft over the week - however, the vast majority were new to me since they came from this part of the world which made up for the numbers. The RAAF participation was slightly less than expected. They were still having teething troubles with the Hawks and so were unable to send more than a sole example, and the AAR demo with the Boeing 707 and Hornets didn't materialise, either. But there were three new C130Js on hand, alongside the sole RAF example. The Australian Army did a very impressive tactical demo with a number of their helicopters.

All in all it was a great week, working outside in the beautiful weather and generally having a pretty relaxing time and enjoying myself. It certainly beat the daily grind of working in the office!


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