10:00 am – 12:30 pm; and
12:30 pm – 2:30 pm (Hawk jet trainers only).
The Diamond Shield exercise which is part of the Diamond Shield Series of exercises, run by the RAAF Air Warfare Centre trains Fighter Combat Instructors, Airspace Battle Managers, Fighter Intelligence Instructors and Fighter Combat Controllers commenced on Monday 13 March and will run until 31 March.
RAAF aircraft including F/A-18A, F/A-18F, E-7A Wedgetail, AP-3C Orion, C-130J Hercules, AAA Learjets and United States F-16 Fighter jets will be involved in the exercise.
Times can change at short notice and all aircraft adhere to the RAAF Base Williamtown noise abatement procedures and fly neighbourly policy.
Air Force appreciates the support it receives from the Newcastle/Port Stephens community during Exercise Diamond Shield.
What: Air Force’s Air Warfare Instructors will conduct flying operations to prepare for participation in Exercise Diamond Shield, to finalise their training with the most challenging test of their careers.
Where: RAAF Base Williamtown, NSW.
When: Monday, 13 March to Friday, 31 March. Flights will occur between the following times:
Mondays to Thursdays: 10:00am-12:30pm; 2:30-5:30pm;
3:00-4:30pm (Hawk jet trainers only); and
7:30-11:00pm (Hawk jet trainers only).
Fridays: 10:00am-12:30pm; and
12:30-2:30pm (Hawk jet trainers only).
Exercise Diamond Shield will commence on Monday and run until Friday, 31 March.
Diamond Shield is part of the Diamond series of exercises, run by the RAAF Air Warfare Centre. Its purpose is to train Fighter Combat Instructors, Airspace Battle Managers, Fighter Intelligence Instructors and Fighter Combat Controllers.
Aircraft – including F/A-18A Hornet, F/A-18F Super Hornet, E-7A Wedgetail, AP-3C Orion, C-130J Hercules, Learjet and United States F-16 fighter jets – will take off twice Monday to Thursday. The first wave will leave at 10:00 am returning at approximately 12:30 pm. The second wave will leave at 2:30 pm and return at approximately 5:30 pm. Friday flights are commencing 10:00am and returning approximately 12:30pm.
Hawk Lead-In jet trainer aircraft will operate separately to Exercise Diamond Shield taking off Monday to Thursday from 3:00pm and returning approximately 4:30pm. A second wave will take off at 7:30pm and return at approximately 11:00pm. Friday take off is planned for 12:30pm and landing 2:30pm.
All aircraft adhere to the RAAF Base Williamtown noise abatement procedures and fly neighbourly policy.
Air Force appreciates the support it receives from the Newcastle/Port Stephens community during Exercise Diamond Shield.
On the Friday afternoon, just before the Hunter Valley Airshow at Maitland a few weeks ago, I was given the incredible opportunity to catch two of the star attractions, Graham Hosking’s amazing F4U-5N Corsair and Judy Pay’s beautiful CAC Mustang, in the air thanks to Paul Bennet Airshows. Sadly, the Corsair suffered a landing accident the following morning before the show, so was unable to take part in the weekend’s flying displays, but the crowds were still treated to the beautiful sight and sound of the Mustang being put through its paces.
The experience was brief but amazing and I hope you enjoy the results below.
My sincerest thanks to Paul Bennet, Tim Dugan, Peter Clements and Bernie Heuser for this incredible opportunity.
As mentioned in my earlier article on my visit to the 51st FW at Osan, South Korea, in September of 2016 (see HERE), the local F-16 unit, the 36th FS, were preparing to deploy for an exercise at the time, so there weren’t too many of their aircraft to be seen during my stay. This was more than made up for though by the presence of the 157th Expeditionary FS from the South Carolina Air National Guard’s (ANG) 169th FW as part of the current Theater Security Package (TSP) hosted by the 51st FW at Osan at the time.A Theater Security Package is an operation that sees State-side fighter, tanker, transport or other units of the UASF and ANG periodically rotated through regions of particular significance for between four to six months at a time, in an effort to provide their personnel with in-theater knowledge and experience through training with local forces (both US and Foreign) as well as bolstering the assets assigned to a particular area and presenting a demonstration of the US’s commitment to the support of those regions without the need to invest in the infrastructure that would be required for permanent units.Whilst the USAF has only relatively recently begun sending units to Europe as part of this program, there have been many such deployments in the Pacific (and particularly South Korea) since 2004. These rotations also benefit the host units in that it allows them to train and maintain their ability to accept and support additional forces as this is another key requirement for the 51st FW in particular during times of increased tensions.The 157th FS is the flying element of the 169th FW and traces its beginnings back to 1942 when it initially flew P-40 Warhawks in air defence of the mainland US before being deployed to Europe in 1943 where they flew long range bomber escort missions with P-47 Thunderbolts then P-51 Mustangs until the end of WWII. Following the War, in 1946, the former 350th FS was re-established as the 157th FS, Flying F-51 & RF-51 Mustangs, as part of the South Carolina ANG.In 1950 the unit swapped their RF-51s for RF-80 Shooting Star jets before deploying to Europe for a short time as part of the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (TRW) in 1952 before returning to the US and re-equipping yet again with the H version of the venerable F-51. Following the end of the Korean War in 1953, the unit began receiving F-86As and F-80s to replace their Mustangs.In September of 1957 the 157th was expanded to become the 169th Fighter Interceptor Group (FIG) and, shortly afterwards, received the F-86L Sabre Dog. In 1960 they converted to the Mach 2 F-104A Starfighter; one of only three ANG units to do so, in recognition of their high performance over the years. It was during this time that the unit’s first Commander, Brigadier General Barnie B. McEntire, Jr. was killed when he flew his crippled F-104 into a nearby river In order to avoid populated areas near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In recognition of his sacrifice, the unit’s base, originally called Congaree Air Base, was renamed to McEntire Air National Guard Base, which it bears to this day.In the following years the 157th operated the F-102A and A-7D before receiving their first F-16As in 1983 and has deployed to several different areas in time of conflict. Receiving their first Block 52 models of the F-16C/D in 1995, while the unit’s mission is that of multi-role, they specialize in the Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) role (also known as Wild Weasel, from the development of this mission in Vietnam) as their aircraft are equipped with the Harm Targeting System (HTS) and are able to carry the AGM-88 High-speed Anti Radar Missile (HARM). One of the aircraft present during my visit carried tail art marking 50 years of this mission (as a whole) in 2015.Arriving from their home base at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, near Columbia in South Carolina, in July; the 157th FS immediately began flying sorties alongside their hosts from the 51st FW. The Swamp Foxes’ operations are integrated with those of the 51st to carry out joint missions covering all of the various profiles that they might be called to employ during a time of conflict in the area, such as air-to-air, close air support or SEAD (a specialty of this particular unit) etc. as well as gaining theater specific knowledge.The learning is not all one-sided though. Indeed, far from it, as Air National Guard pilots and crews are themselves often very highly experienced and have served many years in the active USAF (including combat tours) before moving to the Guard and may have even served previous tours in Korea during that time too, so they will have a lot of their own experience and knowledge to pass on to the active units as well.
It’s not just all about training though as, like all forces on the Korean peninsula, the 169th must also remain prepared to mount active missions with minimal notice in case of increased tensions with North Korea which puts an added “edge” onto the day to day operations of the air and ground crews.
An interesting aspect of seeing these particular machines, from a spotter’s point of view, was the chance to finally see the new “Have Glass V” colour scheme in the flesh as several of the unit’s aircraft were wearing it, with some appearing a uniform grey overall, while others seemed to sport a slightly more weathered appearance which gave a noticeable metallic look to the finish.
While the weather wasn’t the greatest during my visit, it does highlight the ability and professionalism of everyone involved that these units are prepared to conduct whatever may be required of them in any conditions. My sincere thanks to the men and women of the 51st & 169th Fighter Wings for allowing me the privilege of visiting Osan and being able to witness their daily operations.
In September of 2016 I had the privilege of visiting the US Air Force’s 51st Fighter Wing (FW) at Osan in South Korea. Situated only about an hour’s drive south of Seoul, one of the most modern and technologically advanced capital cities in the world, USAF base Osan is a key element of America’s military presence on the Korean peninsula as well as that of the Republic Of Korea Air Force (ROKAF).
The base is home to the USAF’s 7th Air Force (7th AF) which provides the overall command and support structure for all the USAF combat units in South Korea, which include the 51st FW, also at Osan, flying F-16s and A-10s, and the 8th FW at Kunsan, which flies two squadrons of F-16s (see my previous article on the 8th FW at Kunsan here) which all come under the USAF’s PACific Air Forces (PACAF) Command. And while there are no Korean flying units based at Osan, it is also the location of the ROKAF’s Operations Command.
Built in 1952 to provide a base for jet aircraft operations during the Korean War, Osan air base has remained a key element of the UASF’s presence in the Republic Of Korea ever since, with the 51st FW (then known as the 51st Air Base Wing) beginning their current residence in 1971. Osan also serves as the main entry and exit point for almost all US military forces and equipment in South Korea which sees a stream of transport and liaison aircraft and helicopters, US and Korean, coming and going quite frequently.
Tracing its history back to the formation of the 51st Pursuit Group (later changed to Fighter Group) in the United States in January 1941, the unit served in India and China during WWII. After a short de-activation following WWII, it was reformed at Naha on Okinawa, Japan, in 1948 and became heavily involved in the Korean war, operating F-80s and F-86s during the conflict and deployed to several locations in the region as the tide of war waxed and waned. Moving first to Itazuke, also in Japan, Kimpo airport in Korea, back to Itazuke then Tsuiki, Japan, all within the last months of 1950 to January 1951 before returning to Korea, this time at Suwon, in 1951, were it remained until returning to Naha in 1954.
The checkered markings worn on the tails of the 51st’s aircraft today are a tribute to the unit’s Korean service as they reflect the same markings worn on their F-86s during the War, earning them the nick-name of “the Checker Tails”, and the horse emblem comes from the unit’s name, The Mustangs.
Currently equipped with the F-16C/D. flown by the 36th Fighter Squadron (FS) (known as the Fiends) and A-10C flown by the 25th FS (called the Assam Draggins), the 51st FW’s operational mission is to provide close air support, strike, forward air control (FAC), counter air, interdiction and combat search and rescue (CSAR, also a highlight of the Air Power displays held at Osan. See Air Power 2016 here) in the defense of the Republic Of Korea. In order to ensure this capability, the wing is a self-contained unit, made up of a myriad of groups such as Mission Support, Operations, Maintenance, Medical, Logistics, Security etc. which are essential in ensuring that the flying units can generate their missions successfully. An additional role for the Wing is to maintain the ability to accept follow-on forces and support them to execute their own missions should the need arise.
As with their colleagues from the 8th FW at Kunsan, the 51st has to finely balance the need for training to maintain a high level of proficiency with the requirement to be ready to mount operational missions at the shortest possible notice due to the constant threat posed by North Korea. This also shapes the types of training missions that the squadrons fly as, whilst most units will practice for a wide range of different scenarios or theatres of operations, the 51st is constantly rehearsing the specific mission profiles that it would employ in actual combat, in their own area.
An additional challenge is maintaining this level of readiness against a constant turnover of personnel and experience. For many of the personnel, again like Kunsan, a posting to Osan is classed as an unaccompanied tour as they cannot take their families with them but, because of this, they usually only serve a fixed period of one year at the base (although there are a number who are stationed longer (with families) to ensure continuity). This means that there is a constant rotation of new people coming in and experienced people rotating out, which places a high demand on training the new arrivals to get the experience, qualifications and in-theatre knowledge that they need, as quickly as possible which is achieved by regular drills and exercises involving the whole base.
Living close to the major metropolis of Seoul and the large, close-knit community of on-base personnel with the 7th AF Headquarters and other co-located units and their support networks helps individuals maintain a good social life outside of work and, for those who like to travel, serving in Korea is a great opportunity to see an exotic and interesting part of the world, but serving away from friends and family also has its challenges for the men and women at Osan.
During my visit the 36th FS was in the midst of deploying to a Red Flag exercise, so there weren’t too many of their F-16s to be seen unfortunately. Luckily for me though (as a fan of colours and markings), one jet which was still around was the 7th AF Commander’s aircraft with its associated tail markings which, as you might expect for the “Boss’ jet, is kept in pristine condition.
I was even lucky enough to be able to capture this machine being prepared for a sortie from its own shelter which, like the aircraft itself, seemed to be just a little cleaner and brighter than some of the others. 😉
The aircraft are mostly all kept in individual shelters and the dispersal area is quite complicated and interconnected which means that, when moving around the taxiways, you need to keep your wits about you as jets might appear from almost anywhere. You can hear them but you don’t really know where they’re coming from.
I’m sure that it is a very well planned and controlled process but, as an outsider, it was very impressive and, as a photographer trying to capture as much as possible, a little frustrating too as first there would be nothing then, suddenly, there would be aircraft coming from different directions all at the same time.
The lack of 36th FS machines was made up for by the presence of the 169th FW from the South Carolina Air National Guard (ANG) as part of a Theater Security Package (TSP) (please see my previous article on the TSP at Kunsan for more information on this).
While being shown around the ROKAF portion of the base, I noticed that there are frequent reminders of just how much the South Koreans value and commemorate the contributions of all the nations who came to their aid during the Korean War, with several monuments and flags as tributes and a reminder of what the ROKAF continues to serve for in the defence of their country.
From the spotter’s point of view, there are also a few rare and historic machines on static display around the base which were interesting to see too.
Just to top things off, while not under the umbrella of the 51st FW, Osan also hosts a permanent detachment of U-2s from the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron (RS), 9th RW, home based at Beale in California, and the chance to see one of these secretive icons of aviation heading out on yet another mission while I was at Osan was incredible.
It was an honor and a privilege to be allowed to capture just some of the day-to-day operations of the 51st FW and to witness the professionalism of the airmen and women which make Osan such a key and formidable element of the USAF’s efforts in South Korea. My deepest thanks to everyone involved for allowing me the opportunity.
A-10s overhead popping flares while a pair of US Army Blackhawks rescue a downed pilot, the chance to see a normally reclusive U-2 in the air, the skillful formation and solo displays by the Republic Of Korea Air Force’s (ROKAF’s) Black Eagles in their indigenous T-50s, examples of the ROKAF’s frontline hardware in the static and, for good measure, a B-1B Lancer on show as well! There’s only one place that enthusiasts are going to see a display like this and that’s at the Air Power Day display held at the home of the USAF’s 51st Fighter Wing (FW) at Osan in South Korea.
A popular annual event on the Korean air show calendar in the past, it has been four long years since Osan last hosted an Air Power Day show due to cost-saving considerations within the US Department of Defense during that time. Thankfully though, the 51st FW was once again able to bring their display back for the Korean public over the weekend of the 24th & 25th of September 2016.
The 51st FW held a media day on the Friday before the show where some of the flying displays conducted their final practices and the wing’s commanding officer, Col Hansen, fielded questions about the coming weekend from local media. Conscious of being guests in South Korea and the disruptions that any large military installation can cause for any community, no matter the location, the Air Power show is a way of allowing the public to come and see what it is that the US and Korean forces do in defence of their country as well as to say thank you to the community for their support and understanding over the years. While enthusiasts may focus on the obvious hardware on show in the air and on the ground, there were equally important displays on the ground from the different support units with vehicles, weapons handling displays and so-on as well as musical performances and cultural displays throughout both days and various food stalls offering the best of both Korean and American delicacies for the huge crowds to enjoy.
The gates opened at 9am each day and there was already a long queue waiting to get in each time yet, even on the weekend and while the base was geared up for an airshow, a U-2 headed out on an operational sortie while we waited in line. After clearing the security checks, the first goal for us photographers was to get to the B-1 and the other static displays quickly to get those elusive, crowd-free shots. For the plane buffs, the highlight of the show was the chance to see an example of the mighty Rockwell B-1B Lancer on static display for the weekend. Only the second time that one of these impressive machines has been on public display in Korea (the first being at Seoul in 2005), it was the first chance for many (myself included) to get an up-close look at a Bone, as they are sometimes called.
B-1s had been featuring in international news coverage in the days and weeks before the show as examples from the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed to Anderson Air Force Base at Guam in the Pacific from their home base at Ellsworth in South Dakota USA, had made flights to the Korean peninsula in a show of force during increased tensions with North Korea. While there had been no mention of a B-1 being a part of the planned activities for the weekend in the media releases before the show, I had seen on our local news just a few days before I was due to depart for Korea that, during one of these flights, one machine had actually landed at Osan. While I regret the political tensions which made their presence necessary, I seriously hoped that it might still be there by the time I arrived, and I was in luck, it was!
Other attractions in the static lineup included a CN-235, F-15K, F-4E, KF-16C, FA-50, KF-5E, T-50, KT-1, CH-47D and HH-60P from the ROKAF;
An OH-58D, UH-60L and AH-64D from Korean-based US Army units;
A USAF HH-60G from the 18th WG at Kadena, C-130H from Yokota and a USMC UC-12W from Iwakuni.
Naturally, there were also examples of an A-10C & F-16C from the 51st FW at Osan and a U-2S from the 5th RS, 9th RW which have a permanent detachment there, along with two F-16s from the 157th Expeditionary FS from the South Carolina ANG’s 169th FW which is currently deployed to Osan as part of a Theater Security Package in the region.
Just days before the show, the small, tight-knit U-2 community had lost one of their own when Lt Col Ira Eadie sustained fatal injuries in an accident involving one of the rare, two-seat trainer versions of this iconic, high flying reconnaissance aircraft near the unit’s home base at Beal in California. The machine on display during the weekend had large artwork applied to both sides of the nose, in chalk, in tribute to the Lt Col.
One of the F-16s on display from the South Carolina ANG (known as the Swamp Foxes) also sported artwork on its tail to mark 50 years of the Wild Weasel radar suppression mission (in 2015) in which this unit specialises.
The activities began with the National anthems of Korea and the United States, followed by a parachute jump from a Chinook by ROKAF Special Forces trailing coloured smoke, streamers and the flags of both countries.
The first flying display was from a mighty C-17 Globemaster III from Hickam in Hawaii. It’s always amazing to see just what this massive airlifter is capable of in skilled hands.
From one end of the size spectrum to the other, after the C-17 came a Korean Aircraft Industries (KAI) KT-1 turboprop trainer followed by an example of the KAI TA-50 Golden Eagle; a very impressive, locally produced advanced trainer.
Next was an F-16 from the USAF’s Pacific Air Forces display team from the 35th FW at Misawa in Japan, the same team which only recently performed at the Defence Force T150 airshow at Townsville, here in Australia. They sure do cover a huge area.
After lunch came what may arguably be considered the highlight of any show at Osan, the Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) demonstration. The CSAR mission has been recognized as one of great importance in time of conflict as it has been demonstrated, since the second world war, that aircrews will have a higher morale and greater effectiveness when they know that every effort possible will be made to secure their rescue if they are brought down behind enemy lines. The current mission, using specialized and highly trained forces in coordinated operations, was first developed during the Korean War and further refined during Vietnam, particularly the use of maneuverable and heavily armed aircraft for helicopter escort and fire suppression. In Vietnam, this was most ably performed by the A-1 Skyraider. The call-sign used by the Skyraider pilots on these missions, Sandy, became synonymous with the mission and the aircraft themselves were often referred to as Sandys.
Today, the Sandy role is most capably performed by the Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, a slow, maneuverable and very heavily armed and armored machine, much like the iconic Skyraider before it, and Osan is home to the only A-10 unit in the Asia-Pacific region, the 25th FS, the “Assam Draggins”, making this show a great opportunity to see these impressive machines in “action”.
After the aircraft take off and depart the area, the display begins with the narrator providing a brief history and background of the CSAR mission as well as the playing of the various radio calls between the aircraft, helicopters and “downed pilot” in the lead –up to the actual rescue. The first aircraft on scene are there to clear any major enemy forces or air defence risks. In previous years, this has been performed by Osan-based F-16s from the 36th FS but this year the task was performed by other A-10s, simulating strafing and bombing runs on the target area in front of the crowd. Once the area has been “cleared”, the strike aircraft maintain a constant cover overhead while the rescue helicopters and their escorting A-10s are called in.
In Korea, the rescue mission would most usually be performed by the ROKAF’s own dedicated CSAR units equipped with specially equipped Blackhawks (one of which was on static display) but for this demonstration, the role was performed by a pair of US Army Blackhawks from B Company, 2-2 Assault Batallion based at Seoul Air Base. It’s an impressive sight to watch the two rescue helicopters approaching in the distance with the two escorting A-10s circling above them while listening to the radio calls between them all, until they reach the target area when a very rapid and hectic process begins where the escorting A-10s will suppress any enemy forces nearby whilst circling above the helicopters which simultaneously make a rapid entrance to the landing area. One maintains a covering position to provide suppressive fire if needed whilst the other rapidly slows and lands to collect the downed aircrew. Once the pilot is safely aboard, both helicopters push their noses down and rapidly accelerate out of the area at speed, all the while the A-10s circle overhead and make simulated strikes on “enemy forces” before escorting the helicopters out of the area.
While it takes a while for the display to “get going”, with the background and radio calls starting long before any aircraft are visible, the whole effect of the anticipation, the initial strikes by the advance aircraft then the final mayhem of a very rapid and hectic operation to retrieve the downed aircrew in the shortest possible time under assumed enemy fire; A-10s coming and going, punching out flares to evade enemy ground to air defences, helicopters rapidly entering and exiting the area, then the equally rapid departure of all the participants; it really is a very dynamic and impressive display and must surely portray the impact of an actual mission quite accurately within the confines of airshow and safety considerations (and no one actually shooting anything at anyone, thankfully 😉 ).
Rounding out the day’s flying displays was a performance by Korea’s national aerobatic team, the ROKAF’s Black Eagles. This team is the pride of Korea in their T-50B versions of the Golden Eagle advanced trainer, built specifically for the team by KAI and painted in their distinctive black, yellow and white colours. Like other, more widely known fast-jet display teams such as the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels, the entire show is a well-staged performance, from the crews marching to their machines, the co-ordinated start-up and taxy sequences, right up until engine shut-down, the highly enthusiastic crowds are treated to a very polished performance of flying skill and you will often hear the entire crowd ooh-ing and ah-ing and applauding the team’s performances as one. For a more in-depth look at this great team, its history and their T-50 aircraft, please have a look at my previous article here.
The rest of Saturday’s show was filled with musical performances by rock bands comprised of USAF personnel who play in their spare time, and the chance for the families and crowds to sample the many food stalls and vendors as well as get a look at (and sometimes sit in) the various aircraft on static display. For the enthusiasts, the time was spent searching out some of the memorabilia that the different units had available for sale and waiting for the crowds to disperse so as to get some more of those elusive people-free shots. 😉 There was also the opportunity catch a few more images of the mighty B-1B as the sun set behind it and, at the very end, we were treated to the return of a U-2 from an operational sortie.
Although following a similar schedule, Sunday’s show was plagued by terrible visibility in the morning, a frequent issue in Korea, to the extent that some displays had to be cancelled or, at least, postponed, and even the huge C-17 disappeared into the murk. It’s a strange phenomena where it’s possible to watch an F-16 zoom-climb to 10,000 feet or so but when it’s down at display height, you can’t see it crossing the airfield boundary. An added bonus on Sunday was a display by the U-2 which had the commemorative nose-art applied, consisting of a take-off, a couple of passes and landing, before it was placed on static display like the day before. Thankfully the visibility cleared up a bit for the CSAR demo and Black Eagles display in the afternoon.
Whilst not huge in the international sense of airshows, and its main focus is one of local community relations, Osan must surely rate as one of the most interesting shows around for enthusiasts with the opportunity to see such interesting and exotic types displayed in one place. Whether it’s the ROKAF types or visiting US assets in the static, the opportunity to see A-10s in the CSAR demo or the always impressive routines from the Black Eagles, there’s something for everyone, and it’s great to see this show return after a four year hiatus. Here’s hoping it will once again become a regular and major feature of the Korean airshow calendar in years to come.
My thanks to the men and women of the 51st FW and all the other units and organisations involved for giving up their time and making this such a great show.
An aquatic setting at a former RAAF seaplane base on Lake Macquarie with a beautiful backdrop and modern and historic aircraft displaying overhead; what’s not to enjoy?
The Rathmines Catalina Festival is held to promote the history of the former RAAF flying boat base on Lake Maquarie, just south of Newcastle, Australia, as well as provide a great day out with rides, food stalls, displays and entertainment for the whole family, and 2016 was the 10th anniversary of this very popular event.
The funds raised from these events go to the Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Association which uses the money for various projects, including the restoration of a PBY Catalina for static display and the aim of constructing a hangar to house and protect it as well as a museum to commemorate the history of the base and the personnel and aircraft which served there.
The day’s flying activities began with Tim Dugan displaying Paul Bennet’s historic CAC Wirraway followed by a Gyrocopter handling display by Jeff Blunt.
Next up was Glenn Graham with a very crisp routine in Aerohunter Warbird Adventure Flights’ Yak-52.
Continuing the radial engine theme, Paul Bennet put his large yet maneuverable T-28C Trojan through its paces, a treat for the ears as well as the eyes.
The Tecnam formation team from the Royal Newcastle Aeroclub at Rutherford made several passes before the arrival of the day’s first “heavy metal”, an AP-3C Orion from the RAAF’s 11 Squadron, a unit which was based at Rathmines during WWII, wearing special tail markings to commemorate the Orion’s service since 1968.
There was a distinct change of pace and performance as Paul Bennet put on a great show of aerobatic skill in his high performance Wolf Pitts Pro. The twist and turns, low level passes and seemingly physics-defying gyrations of Paul and his mount had the crowds gasping and cheering in amazement.
The prop-jobs didn’t have it all their own way, thanks to Mark Pracy contributing some speed and noise to the show with his graceful display in Jetride Australia’s L-39 Albatros.
At last it was time for what many would consider to be the star of the show, the famous “Black Cat”, the PBY Catalina from the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) at Albion Park, just south of Wolongong. This iconic machine made several majestic passes along the lake, including some with the wingtip floats lowered in landing configuration. While many hoped that they might see the large flying boat make a touch-and-go on the water, it was, unfortunately, not to be, but the chance to see this unique aircraft flying at Rathmines perfectly summed up what the day was all about; an opportunity to remember and commemorate the servicemen and women and their history at the former RAAF seaplane base.
The formal flying program was rounded out by a display of Paul Bennet’s Grumman Avenger flown by Ben Lappin. The Avenger was a large torpedo bomber, originally designed to be operated from aircraft carriers, which was operated by the US Navy and Marines as well as the Royal New Zealand Air Force during WWII. While not operated by Australia, or at Rathmines, it could be said that the Avenger still shared a connection with its use in the maritime role.
Once the formal display was done, some of the modern-day, privately owned seaplanes which had dropped in for the day’s festivities, made their way home.
Congratulations to the organisers for putting on yet another great show in such a beautiful setting and thank you to the owners and pilots for their skilled performances and support of this worthy cause.
Other than its rarer, more famous and combat proven “little brother”, the Boomerang, there is probably no more stereotypical Aussie warbird than the CAC Wirraway (an Aboriginal word meaning “Challenge” or “Challenger”).
An Australian development of the pre-WWII North American NA-16 design, which was itself developed into the widely used T-6 / Texan / Harvard / SNJ family of trainers, the Wirraway was initially purchased as a general purpose aircraft with the decision to build the type being just as much about allowing the creation and development of a then-new Australian aircraft manufacturing industry as to fulfill any specific requirements for the RAAF.
Fitted with two forward firing machine-guns in front of the pilot and another on a flexible mount for the observer and the ability to carry bombs under the wings and fuselage, the outbreak of WWII just as the first Wirraways began rolling off the production lines saw the new aircraft pressed into service in a wide variety of roles including dive bombing, ground attack, Army co-operation, observation , maritime patrol and convoy escort and even as a front-line fighter in times of extreme emergency, as well as its more widely known use as a training aircraft for the flood of new pilots required during the war. The type remained in service after the war as trainers and general duties aircraft until finally being retired in 1959.
Despite the large number produced (755 by 1946), its widespread use (including post-war) and the significant part that it played in Australian aviation history, the Wirraway is still surprisingly rare in the modern Australian warbird scene with only nine aircraft currently on the register (compared, for example, to its American cousin, the T-6 / SNJ /Harvard family which boasts 29 examples of a type which neither served or flew operationally in any significant numbers here in Australia).
One of these rare machines, registered VH-WWY, is in the care and custody of the Paul Bennet Airshows team based at Rutherford in NSW, who take great pride in being able to display this significant piece of Australia’s history to as many people as possible at local airshows and events around the country (and even overseas. See our article on their expedition to take their Wirraway and other aircraft to New Guinea, HERE )
Although it is painted as A20-176 as it served with 4 Sqn in New Guinea during WWII, the airframe is actually based on A20-81. Little seems to be recorded of its service history, other than that it served with 5 Flying Training School (FTS) where it suffered a forced landing in May of 1943 (pilot OK), and was sold for scrap in 1957.
Purchased by Pearce Dunn in 1975 for his Warbirds Aviation Museum at Mildura, the airframe subsequently passed through several hands and levels of restoration before finally being placed on the civil register as VH-WWY in 1995 and flown by the Cabulture Warplane Museum until being purchased by Paul in 2013.
Not content to just display this historic machine at airshows, the team at Paul Bennet Airshows also offer the general public the incredible opportunity to actually fly in it on adventure flights from their home base at Rutherford / Maitland in the Hunter Valley. They also conduct type and / or tailwheel endorsements on it for those pilots who may want to add this Aussie icon to their log books.
I have long hoped for an opportunity to capture this fine looking piece of aviation history in the air and I was allowed the amazing opportunity during the trips home from airshows at Mudgee and Illawarra earlier this year (see the articles covering those shows and the Wirrway’s display, flown by Glenn Collins HERE (Mudgee) and HERE (Illawarra) ).
Both trips were made in glorious, late-afternoon light and allowed me the opportunity to capture the aircraft against a mixture of typically rugged Australian bushland over the Blue Mountains, and over-water as we headed up the coastal corridor from Illawarra back to Maitland.
My sincere thanks to Paul Bennet, Glenn Collins, Chris Tibbets, Pete Stewart and everyone at Paul Bennet Airshows for this fantastic opportunity.
Having only seen VH-WHF for the first time at the Mudgee Wings Wheels and Wine show just the week before (see that article here) I was immediately taken by the beautiful colours worn by this machine which represents an aircraft flown by the US Air Force’s All Weather Flying Center in the late 1940s, with the attractive red and yellow trim being applied to many of the wide variety of types used by this unit. And It had looked absolutely stunning when displayed by Tim Dugan against the clear, blue sky at Mudgee.
The North American T-6 Texan (or Harvard in British / Commonwealth service) is the ubiquitous WWII training aircraft with more than 15,000 built and used by over 60 countries with some examples remaining in active use until as recently as the mid-1990s. With more than 350 still flying in civilian hands, the T-6 is one of the world’s most popular and affordable warbirds which has been seen by just about anyone who has attended an airshow.
Originally built as an AT-6 during WWII, the airframe was converted into the T-6G version in 1949 before serving with the fledgling United States Air Force (USAF). Sometime later the aircraft served in the Brazilian air force before being transferred to the Paraguayan air force in the mid-1970s, where it was retired from military service and put on the local civilian register in the early 1980s. It was then purchased and returned to the United States in 1991 where it flew for a few years with the registration N3172M before it was brought to Western Australia and given its Australian rego of VH-WHF in the mid-to-late ‘90s. Purchased by its current owners in 2012, the aircraft is now based out of Armidale where it forms part of Fleet Warbirds’ growing lineup.
Apart from spectacular displays at airshows, the team at Fleet Warbirds offer people the opportunity to experience a wide variety of scenic and adventure flights in their classic Boeing Stearman, the T-6 or even the power and speed of a jet in an L-39 and, thanks to a collaboration with Paul Bennet Airshows, the range of possibilities has grown to include some of their impressive fleet as well. And, for the pilots out there who may wonder what it like to fly some of these aviation classics, they offer the opportunity for type conversions onto the Stearman and T-6 too.
Unfortunately, due to a combination of weather and extreme smoke haze over Sydney on the day, there was only a very narrow window of only a couple of minutes where the sun was really out properly before the smoke haze and clouds closed in and ruined the light for the remainder of the trip down the coast to Illawarra, but the chance to see those beautiful colours against the sea, even briefly, was amazing.My sincere thanks to Lachie Onslow and Tim Dugan from Fleet Warbirds and the Paul Bennet Airshows team for this wonderful opportunity.
The Texan made a spectacular sight in its bright silver, red and yellow colours, trailing a ribbon of white smoke against the crisp, clear blue autumn sky accompanied by the characteristic rasp of its radial engine and prop.
Back in April the Mudgee Aeroclub held the Wings, Wheels and Wine air and car show at, you guessed it, Mudgee to showcase aviation and local clubs for a great day out for local families and enthusiasts from around the area.
Mudgee is a picturesque country town in the western foothills of the Blue Mountains, just a few hour’s drive from Sydney, known for its wine production and mining and is typical of the rural and regional areas to which the team at Paul Bennet Airshows has done great work in bringing back the country airshow in recent years (see one of our earlier articles, Gunnedah and Craft Airshows from 2015).
The show opened in glorious weather with what is becoming something of a trademark for a Paul Bennet show, a flag drop, where a parachutist jumps with a large Australian flag and is circled by Paul in his Pitts, trailing smoke as they descend, followed by a short solo display.
Unfortunately the winds were a little high for the next display, which was to have been a radio controlled aircraft flown by Jeff Sparkes so, after a short break, Paul Bennet, Glenn Collins and Glenn Graham took to the air for their Sky Aces formation routine in their Pitts Specials. The guys are always a crowd favorite with their close formation aerobatics and dynamic maneuvers.
Next up was Tim Dugan in Fleet Warbird’s immaculate T-6 Texan in its beautiful silver, red and yellow colour scheme. I have to admit that this was a personal favorite for me as really like the scheme applied to this machine, which represents an aircraft flown by the US Air Force’s All Weather Flying Center in the late 1940s, and it looked fantastic as Tim displayed it expertly against a deep blue country sky.
For a change of pace, Mark Pracy then took to the air in Fleet Adventures’ L-39. Interestingly, this is the same aircraft that Mark took to the US to compete in the famous Reno Air Races, in 2011, 2012 & 2013 and at which he won rookie of the year in 2011. It too made a wonderful sight in its all-over white with blue tail against the clear sky.
Paul Bennet’s next appearance was in his massive Grumman Avenger; about as far removed from his diminutive and agile Pitts Specials that you can get in a single engined prop aircraft. The large Avenger is nevertheless still an impressive performer and great to watch displayed in Paul’s hands.
There were short breaks in the displays throughout the day as regional airline, Fly Pelican, conducted its regular RPT flights in and out of the airport with their Jetstream 32s, but they also conducted some sightseeing and experience flights, specifically for patrons at the show, for the remarkable price of just $20 per person. This was a wonderful idea which gave many families the chance to experience a tour of their local area from the air and may have also given some their first chance to fly at all.
Commentary and announcements were provided throughout the day by well-known airshow commentator, Peter Anderson who can always be relied upon to provide interesting, informative and funny stories about the aircraft, pilots or Australian aviation history to entertain the casual visitor and enthusiast alike.After lunch, Jeff Blunt gave a demonstration of the unique capabilities of his gyrocopter before Glenn Graham took the PBA Yak-52 aloft to give a very crisp demonstration of this popular and surprisingly nimble warbird’s abilities. They were followed by Brian Scoffel in his homebuilt Spitfire Mk.26B, a scale tribute to the iconic fighter of WWII fame.
At last, it was time for Paul Bennet ‘s solo routine in his incredible Wolf Pitts Pro. One of only two in the world, Paul seems to be able to make this 400hp, ultimate expression of the classic Pitts biplane design do things that an Aeroplane shouldn’t be able to do! With tumbles and summersaults, hanging off the prop and climbing away in a knife-edge attitude, it’s a dynamic and impressive crowd favorite.
Commercial Helicopters showed off their firefighting capabilities with a water-bombing demonstration. A vital skill and a necessity for rural communities surrounded by bushland near the Blue Mountains. The team was also busy throughout the day as they offered joyflights around the local area, and their white Jetranger could be seen coming and going every few minutes throughout the show.Not all the attractions were in the air though as, while not flying during the show (unfortunately) some interesting visitors on display were a pair of white DHC Beavers (yes, they were very “nice Beavers” ) thanks to Matthew Macarthur-Onslow from Walcha and Andrew and Mick Kennedy from Gunnedah.
Not forgetting the ”Wheels and Wine” aspect of the show either, there was an impressive array of classic, vintage and performance vehicles on show, spread across a couple of acres thanks to the efforts of the Cudgegong Cruisers Car Club. It was impressive to see just how many lovingly restored and cared for old cars, trucks and farm machinery could be brought together for a show in a rural area. There are some real gems tucked away in the country. And, of course, there were the many stalls and displays of local producers and special interest groups for the crowds to peruse as well.
PBA’s CAC Wirraway was ably displayed by Glenn Collins, giving everyone a great show in this classic, Australian built warbird, before Joel Haski showed his aerobatic skills in his Xtra-300, sponsored by Wings4Kidz. Wings4Kidz is a non-profit organization that provides free flights for seriously ill children and their families in rural areas to travel to major cities and hospitals to receive treatment and care, to try and help reduce the already significant stress and difficulties that such illnesses can have on families in more remote regions. A very important service for communities like Mudgee and the surrounding areas.
The day’s final displays were from Paul Bennet in his colourful T-28 Trojan, another impressive machine with a wonderfully characteristic sound which has earned it the nickname “the Harley Davidson of the skies”, and Rob Kuru in his T-6 Texan.
All too soon it seemed, it was time for many of the visiting participants to head back to their various airports to beat the fading light before dusk fell. In the air, the show had provided visitors with a wide variety of what aviation has to offer, from gyrocopters to jets, warbirds and aerobatics, there was something for all interests and, as is often the case with these smaller, regional shows, the country setting and sense of community gave it a more relaxed and family feel than can sometimes be the case with larger shows in more metropolitan areas (simply due to their different nature and requirements).
Mudgee is a typical example of the smaller, rural shows which are the heart of the Australian airshow scene and provide many in this large country of ours their only real exposure to the range of aviation experiences that are out there and it is a tribute to all those groups and individuals who offer their time and work so hard to bring these shows to the country.
My sincere thanks to the Paul Bennet Airshows team, Mudgee Aeroclub and everyone else involved for their time and efforts in making this such a great little show.