Australia's International Airshow, Avalon 11-16 February
Richard Siudak reports from the biennial season-opener down-under
In almost perfect weather with clear sunny skies, Australia's premier airshow event took place at Avalon airport, just outside of Geelong, Victoria, bringing together a great variety of aircraft and aviation related material. Organisers of this now biennial event were once again pleased with trade day attendances that were slightly up on 2001 figures while public attendance was slightly down on previous years - this was put down to security and world tensions as the Iraq conflict loomed. The increase in security was most notable with searches conducted on all visitors and bags as they entered the event; more security and state police were in attendance (up to 1,200 individuals) to provide instant response in the event it was necessary. Fortunately there were no incidents but a security punter managed to shoot himself in the foot in the early hours of one morning while doing something with his weapon!
Following on from previous shows over the past decade, this year's event had a central theme element celebrating the Centenary of Flight dating back to 1903 and the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. In a real coup for the Airshow organisers, they were able to get three rare aircraft from the famous Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome collection and Fred Murrin's Fokker Dr I replica to show the crowds what flying was really like in the early 1900s. A 1910 Hanriot replica, complete with a 50hp 1939 Franklin engine and a 1911 Curtis D Pusher replica with an original 1911 80hp Hall-Scott engine obtained from the Smithsonian Institute clearly showed the meaning of powered flight in somewhat flimsy aircraft of the time. At their home base in upper New York State, the airfield is surrounded by tree and circuits are not possible - however, with the wide open spaces at Avalon, these aircraft were expertly demonstrated with circuits, touch (or more appropriately bump) and goes. Moving to the World War One era, their other aircraft, a replica Sopwith Camel complete with a 160hp Gnome Rotary was complimented by Fred Murrin's superb Fokker Dr I replica with a 120hp LeRhone rotary. To hear the sound of a single rotary engine in flight is rare, however, with two, the crowds were privileged to hear and see these motors in action as the aircraft simulated dogfight manoeuvres. For those of us lucky to secure a close up position, the smell of the engines running on REAL castor oil was quite something.
Complimenting these unique aircraft were other reproductions including the RAAF Museum's Sopwith Pup after recent re-skinning, a Bleriot XI, and scale versions of a Wright Flyer B, SE5a, Nieuport II and a Curtis Jenny (JN-4D Hummel). With some Tiger Moths adding mystique to the era and a couple of barrage balloons, the crowds were treated to a rare glimpse of history, especially when one of the barrage balloons was exploded. A scale version of the original Wright Flyer B built in Busselton, Western Australia was brought over and was taxied around the public enclosure to great effect.
Moving to the next phase of our aviation heritage, the warbird and ex-military types on display, both static and flying was most impressive. World War Two and shortly thereafter were represented by a Spitfire, three Mustangs, several Harvards and a specifically highly modified Harvard made to represent a Zero which was used in the making of the film Tora Tora Tora. A Hawker Fury, TBM Avenger, T-28 Trojan and several Austers, Birddogs, Chipmunks, CAC Winjeels and CT-4As were also on show.
The jet era was also well represented with the Temora Aviation Museum providing several flying aircraft including a Canberra TT18 VH-ZRQ (ex-RAF WJ683/G-BURM) painted up in RAAF 2 Squadron markings as 'A84-234', a Cessna A-37B Dragonfly VH-XVA (ex-South Viet Nam AF 68-10779), Vampire T35A VH-VAM (ex-RAAF A79-617) and Meteor F8 VH-MBX (ex-RAF VZ467) painted up as RAAF 77 Squadron 'A77-851'. Adding to these fine examples were two more flying exhibits in Richard McDonald's MiG-15UTI VH-DIE and Geoff Moesker's recently restored ex-Singapore Air Force Hunter FR74S (s/n 503) VH-FRH. While for me, the sight of a Hunter in the air was a first for over thirty years, the looping of the Canberra was something I had never witnessed in the years I visited airshows in the UK in the late sixties. Many more warbirds were on show; see listing at end of this report for what was on display (too many to mention in here except to say that the range and variety was most impressive).
The overseas military contribution was once again well represented by the United States, however, with the attention surrounding Iraq, several aircraft were cancelled including B-2, B-52, F-117, C-5 and C-17 types. The B-1B that flew direct from Dyess, Texas via Hawaii had his flying display routine cancelled en-route as the Pentagon thought it unwise to demonstrate the potential of this aircraft with threats of anti-war protests at the show which did not eventuate. The displays by the regular F-16C from Misawa, Japan and the F-15C Eagle from Kadena, Okinawa were well received while the F/A-18F Super Hornet put on a very clinical routine with a full simulated weapons load to show off the capability of this type. The Republic of Singapore Air Force sent two of their Oakey, Queensland based Super Pumas, the French had one of their New Caledonia based CN-235 while the Royal New Zealand Air Force sent their heavy metal in Boeing 727, Orion and C-130H Hercules in a new camouflage scheme. The Kiwis did themselves proud with the handling demonstration of the Boeing 727, the low level (200 feet) high speed run into a steep climb would have made some fighter pilots envious to say the least - well done Kiwi people!
The RAAF display was a tad disappointing with the local Hornets grounded because the RAAF display pilot was with 75 Squadron en route for operations in Qatar. The Roulettes performed admirably in their Pilatus PC-9/As, but I for one would much prefer to see the Hawk Mk127 in a team display. 76 Squadron did bring six of their Hawks in for the show including the single demonstrated example that had only just been painted up in full 'panther' markings. A sole venerable DHC-4A Caribou flew each day while Hercules, 707s and Orions were not flown. All three variants of the F-111 were on display and the dump and burn routine still catches the eye and is a real crowd pleaser. The Australian Army put up a good display with Blackhawk, Kiowa and Iroquois but their Chinooks were absent as they were destined for Gulf duty in Qatar. The Australian Navy had both Sea King (in a new low-viz livery) and Sea Hawk but no Squirrels, even though four of them were on a navigation exercise at Point Cook only 20 kilometres away.
On the civil airliner scene, the mighty Airbus Beluga dominated the skyline while Qantas brought in one of their A330s on one of the public days, Bombardier had a Dash-8 400, Global Express and Challenger on display, while Lear Jet 45s, Beechcraft and Cessna types were also on show. The Dash-8 was the only aircraft to do a demonstration flight for media, this lasted an hour and the noise reduction technology in use in this type was ably demonstrated. Seating in this large commuter was most comfortable, even for my larger than life frame! The second RAAF King Air 350 on delivery N5043X was re-routed to arrive at the show before heading for Perth and initial C of A conversion etc. Although registered as civil, the HARS C-121C Constellation VH-EAG was once again a star of the event and amazed the crowds on the Friday night show as it spewed flames from its engines with special effects from some strategically placed oil reserves.
With over six hundred aircraft on the field, enthusiasts were well catered for. Gliders, ultralights, kits, restored and modern aircraft were all there and the organisers can be well pleased with their attendance. While the show is guaranteed to be held up to 2007, plans are being worked to secure it to 2013, but for next time, hopefully, world events may not have as much impact.