Wings Over Illawarra Airshow 2019

From breathtaking flying displays, to crawling through historic aircraft... WOI 2019!

20190504_165631.jpgAdapted from an article originally written for Australian Women Pilots' Association, with aircraft historical data taken from the HARS website.

As a first-timer at Wings Over Illawarra, and neither having previously visited the HARS Aviation Museum, the level of access visitors have to the historic aircraft immediately stood out. Making a beeline for the Catalina, Sci-Fly's Dr Zara Dennis found herself chatting to an AWPA member from NSW while waiting to clamber through the flying boat. With access to almost all areas inside of the 1945 aircraft, this particular Catalina has been restored to conform as closely as possible to the RAAF WWII “Black Cats”. The Lockheed Neptune was next to be explored, the first aircraft designed for long-range maritime patrol, the surveillance equipment and its operation was fascinating. An element of the airshow that was greatly enhanced by the knowledge and enthusiasm of the volunteers; on-hand next to, and often inside the displays, to answer questions and regale stories.

Before moving onto the impressive flight line, the De Harvilland Vampire drew Zara’s attention. Having only seen Judy Pay’s Vampire at Tyabb previously, the opportunity to climb inside this molded plywood jet was not going to be missed. First flown in 1943, the Vampire saw service during the 1950/60s, and was flown personally by the gentleman answering Zara’s questions as she sat in the left-hand seat. Outside meanwhile, engines could be heard, and walking out of the hangar to see a C-130 Hercules mid (very) steep-turn overhead, was an impressive sight.

The airborne displays included (among others and in no particular order): The RAAF PC-12 formation –  Matt Hall in his Extra 300L, and Paul Bennett’s Sky Aces in the Wolf-Pitts, both tearing holes in the sky – The Russian Roolettes with their Yaks and Nanchangs –  a pair of Learjets flying formation – an amazing noise that rippled the air coming from the Grumman Avenger – and of course the WWII Fighters; the Mustang, Hurricane, and our pomme authors’ favourite, the Mk XVI Spitfire from Temora.

Back to the tour of the HARS aircraft, the Lockheed Super Constellation “Connie” was open to explore, as was the Boeing 747, both in Qantas colours. Gifted to HARS by Qantas, 747-438 VH-OJA “City of Canberra” has flown an equivalent of just over 110 return trips to the Moon, with her final flight of just over 12 minutes from Sydney to Illawarra in 2015. Unfortunately, the flight deck of was off-limits, but to take a business class seat momentarily, and to stand under the huge Rolls-Royce engine was a privilege. Connie VH-EAG was originally a militarised version of the Super Constellation. One of only two still flying worldwide, EAG has been restored in the Qantas configuration (59-87 pax), complete with retro accessories to complete the look. The flight deck was also open to view, and the original navigation equipment brought much curiosity to a group of youngsters who were part of the group, as the guide demonstrated the use of the sextant, and explained night navigation before GNSS.

As the beautiful blue skies of the morning started to look a little ominous, the showers fortunately held off for the remainder of the day (the Sunday crowd were not so lucky), and finding a viewing spot up close to the southern end of the runway, you could feel the noise from the warbird’s engines. A great spot also to watch the Sky Aces, as the flying display began to draw to a close, with the RAAF Hawk and wall of fire providing the finale.

Wings Over Illawarra may be bit of a hike from our usual Melbourne based activities, but the opportunity to crawl around inside so many historical aircraft makes this airshow show pretty special. The flying displays are world class, with names such as Matt Hall and Paul Bennett, this goes without saying, and the small crowds when compared to Avalon mean it is quite easy to find an opportunity to say “hi” to the pilots, and chat with volunteers who never cease to tell amazing stories!