I recently was in the market to purchase a Honda ST1300 and as fortune would have it, the bike I decided to buy was located near Sydney in NSW – so what a great opportunity to fly down, attend an airshow or two plus visit a couple of museums and ride back home to Darwin, Northern Territory. I intended to cover all off in one article but have split the trip into four parts – Pt I -Temora, Williamtown and Scone… Pt II – Hunter Valley Air Show… Pt III – Wagga Heritage Centre and Nhil Aviation Heritage Centre… Part IV – S.A RAAF Edinburgh Gate Guard and Woomera Missile Park.
What makes this year special is that it is the Centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force and with most celebrations to be held in the southern States and Territories, it was an opportunity to see some of those activities associated with 31st of March 2021. The RAAF has organised a number of events and partnered up with organisations to capture the history of Royal Australian Air Force, the second oldest independent Air Force in the world.
After picking up the bike near Newcastle on Saturday, I had planned to catch some movements at RAAF Base Williamtown over the following week, hopefully many involved with Exercise Tasman Shield 2021. It would be for me, unlike many others, the first chance to see the F-35A Lightning II in the flesh – as they are yet to visit Darwin or the Top End…. maybe later in 2021.
First up however was the RAAF’s Centennial Air Force Airshow being held this weekend, hosted by the Temora Aviation Museum at Temora, NSW. The Temora Air Force Centenary Showcase 2021 is significant as this year marks the centenary of RAAF, plus the 20th anniversary of the Temora Aviation Museum itself…. it promised to be a great show and a must for those that love aviation of all eras.
A 4 a.m start in Newcastle saw me perform a 580km ‘familiarisation and check ride’ through Sydney and down the Hume Highway to Temora. Riding in from the east of Temora, and about 10 minutes out of town, I happened to glance up to see the Roulettes circling above – waiting to start their display.
The Roulettes were still performing their signature display by the time I arrived in town so I took the opportunity to grab some pics from outside the airport, before they departed.
First thing I noticed once through the entrance gate was a No. 37 Sqn C-130J, A97-446, pretty hard to miss as it was the largest aircraft in attendance, dwarfing a Roulettes Pilatus PC-21 and a BAE Hawk 127 that made up the rest of the static display aircraft from the RAAF. Scheduled for the end of the day, an F-35A Lightning from RAAF Williamtown, was to perform a display for the eager on lookers.
For me it was the first time I have seen many of the aircraft in attendance, let alone performing aerial displays. Some of the aircraft included the Vultee BT-13A Valiant, CAC CA-25 Winjeels, CAC CA-16 Mk.3 Wirraway, CAC CA-12 Boomerang, Lockheed Hudson MkIVA, Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, Consolidated PBY-6A Catalina , DHC-4 Caribou, Grumman TBM-3 Avenger, Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII/Mk XVI, Curtiss P-40N Kittyhawks, CAC CA-18 Mk21 Mustang, PAC CT/4s, and North American T-6 Texan/Harvard’s.
The bonus to attending Temora was to surprise fellow ASO members Mark J. and Mark P. who did not know I had travelled down to NSW. A few yarns and stories were swapped before we got back into recording the Sunday flying. The aircraft were lined up in front of the crowd and quite easy for the public to see. I was great to see the warbirds starting up and taxiing past the on lookers, often with pilots waving, such a refreshing change from other airshows I have attended where the viewing areas are set well away from the airside operations.
It had been a very long time since I had attended an airshow and after capturing some warbirds in action I actually decided to sit back, relax and just watch the show for the last half of the day. Both Marks had captured imagery and video the day before also, so we had it covered. Knowing that many of the aircraft would appear at the following weekend airshow in Cessnock, it allowed me to take in the sights, sounds and smell of these classics.
What a show it was and after 2020 being the year it was, it was great to see the aviation community and RAAF come together to start putting on air shows once more.
For more information about the Temora Aviation Museum please click on this link – https://aviationmuseum.com.au
By late afternoon the flying display had culminated in an impressive series of passes by the 2 OCU F-35A, A35-023, before returning to Williamtown and so we decided to head off, Mark P. back to Melbourne while Mark J and I had 415km drive/ride to reach his place. It was dark by the time we arrived and a so a few refreshments were in order as we caught up on the news…..22 Hours and 996km after I had left Newcastle, I finally hit the hay.
Returning to Newcastle a day later, I was able to catch some familiar No. 75 Squadron F/A-18 Hornets down from the Top End, who were deployed from RAAF Base Tindal for one of their last exercises and live weapons firings outside the Northern Territory.
Exercise Tasman Shield 2021 had been well under way and typical movements by RAAF Base Williamtown based aircraft like the E-7A Wedgetail, Hawk 127, F-35A and PC-21A were quite frequent. Additionally P-8A Poseidon’s from No. 11 Squadron and Nowra based Air Affairs Learjets were in the mix as well.
Exercise Tasman Shield ran from 22 February to 12 March this year, and brought together the Royal Australian Navy’s DDG (Hobart class destroyer) and various Royal Australian Air Force aircraft from RAAF Bases Amberley, Edinburgh, Tindal and Williamtown, to conduct simulated missions up and down the east coast of Australia.
With the continued drawdown of Hornet operations another visit buy an Antonov Airlines AN-124-100M Ruslan, this time UR-82027 was observed in and out of RAAF Base Williamtown. The Ruslan took on board another two decommissioned RAAF Hornets before departing for Canada.
The 11th saw a quick day ride up to Scone, home of Pay’s Air Services. Originally established in 1959 by Col Pay with a DH82 Tiger Moth, VH-PCL, Pay’s has also evolved into a famous aircraft restoration company – Vintage Fighter Restorations.
The warbird collection has grown from Col’s first purchase of a CAC CA-18 Mk21 Mustang, VH-AUB back in 1978 and has included a North American P-51D Mustang, North American T-6G Harvard, Curtiss Kittyhawk P40E, Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII, Supermarine Spitfire HF Mk. IXb to name a few. Sadly Col passed away in late 2007 but his legacy continues with the dedication of son, Ross, taking up the MD position at VFR and projects have continued to roll out of the hangar including the the 2016 restoration of Hawker Hurricane VH-JFW.
Today I was shown through the hangars by Paul, firstly through the hangar containing a number of aircraft such as an ex RAAF Winjeel, North American T-6G Harvard, VH-HAJ, plus fuselage and wing sets for an ex RAAF Macchi MB-326H to name a few. The Harvard was secured by Col back in 1984 and is an Oshkosh award winner. Originally serving with the USAAF and USAF it has changed hands a few times in the US, before becoming one of the early Pay’s warbird fleet.
But what really drew my attention was the work in progress – a Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX FN-B (MH603) in the livery of Norwegian No. 331Squadron which Paul tells me is very close to completion and expected to fly within months, more than 60 years since it last took to the skies. The aircraft has had a varied history from service in wartime Britain to post-war South Africa, private ownership in the United States, before being acquired by Pay’s in early 2009.
Two of the restoration team were carefully working on MH603 which is up on maintenance stands and we chatted briefly about old school tooling and the related work processes such as hand riveting (flash back to my fitters course going through trade training at RAAF Wagga Wagga). I was fascinating to look at electrical diagrams and was told there are a number of companies converting original drawing to PDF for preservation companies, and that an English company still manufactures period aircraft tyres with the various tread patterns applicable to sealed or rough surface (grassed) operations.
Looking at the navigation light Paul said there are companies that can supply replica globes as well…. technically almost anything can be sourced or manufactured for a price.…which is why vintage aircraft restoration is so expensive.
In the space between the hangars one of the fixed wing fire bombing aircraft, an Air Tractor AT-802AF, VH-FBZ, having a float tank drained as we walked past. This season has seemed very quiet, and such a contrast last fire season…. and then I catch a glimpse of a Mirage…. back to that later.
In the next hangar Paul shows me where the Hawker Hurricane Serial No 5481 Mk XII IIB (VH-JFW) was undergoing some maintenance.
Here we were at 11am on a Thursday looking at VH-JFW with multiple panels off, rocker covers off and the camshaft removed from the left bank of cylinders, I was surprised to hear it would be attending the Hunter Valley Air Show on the Saturday.
I watch as the guys greasing pivot points and performing flap extension and retractions, it is reassuring to know there are dedicated tradesmen out there who have the skills rarely taught these days to keep these wonderful warbirds flying, and not forgetting those that have the resources ($$$) to acquire and continue restoration projects like this across Australia. Credit to all from the many fans who attend airshows.
Tucked away behind the Hurricane are what appear to be various parts of an Me -109 – who knows what we will see out of VFR in the future.
Wandering around the hangar I see a de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk under restoration, a fresh looking 1973 Cessna A185F Skywagon, one of the early F-type models made and yet more Macchi fuselage (A7-047) and wing components. A current restoration project is Ex-RAAF Macchi A7-025 which had served 5 times with the Roulettes aerobatic team during it’s service life.
It looks like Vintage Fighter Restorations certainly have their hands full in 2021 and beyond.
Outside I see a familiar shape – Dassault Mirage III0(F) A3-44, a recent arrival at Scone from Bankstown to become a static display as part of the Scone Warbird Visitor Attraction centre along with the previously mentioned Macchi A7-047. The visitor center is due to be opened in December this year and is part of the Scone Airport upgrade.
A3-44 is in surprisingly complete condition with just a few wing fillet/joint skin panels and some pitch dampers to be fitted to look whole once more. I am sure there will be plenty of ex RAAF techo’s out there that wouldn’t mind lending a hand while spinning a few ‘warries’ about the old days.
I didn’t see any external ‘add-ons’ except for the dreaded Matra 530 Launcher currently fitted on the centreline station – hopefully two supersonic tanks and Matra 550 (plus launchers) are in a parts container waiting to be refitted as previously when 44 was on display.
I spend some time reminiscing about my time at 75 Sqn in Darwin working on the Mirage – a bugger of an aircraft to work on at times, but what a good looking fighter – definitely a worthy addition to any Australian fighter collection.
I thank Paul for escorting me around and head over to sign out at the site office, a quick thank you to Aleta and I notice one of Mark J’s Hurricane air-to-air prints on the wall – what a nice looking aircraft and so good to see one in Australian skies. As I prepare to leave Ross arrives and we have just a brief chat as I don’t want to hold him up – his leg is all bandaged up after a knee operation and looks quite painful. He points out the new apron and foundation works next door as I mention I am looking forward to returning one day to visit the new Scone Warbird Visitor Attraction but for now, it’s back to Newcastle to get ready for HVAS in a couple of days.
Put December at Scone in your 2021 calendar but for more detailed information about Vintage Fighter Restorations, current and past restoration projects, please follow this link https://www.vfr.net.au
By this time I had ridden over 1400km in less than a week – Part II to follow.