So on the 1st and 2nd of March 2014, the Centenary of Military Aviation 2014 Air Show was held, supported by the Royal Australian Air Force, Australian Army, and Royal Australian Navy at RAAF Base Williams, Point Cook. It is situated in Victoria about a 30min drive from the city centre of Melbourne.
Point Cook is the birthplace of military aviation in Australia and held the first flight of the Bristol Boxkite on March the 1st 1914. The flight was conducted by No 1 flight, of the Australian Flying Corps, piloted by Lieutenant Eric Harrison. Which thus started the beginning of a 100 years of military aircraft to grace this land.
Also of note too, is that Point Cook is actually the oldest continually operating military airfield in the world, ha! Betcha didn't know that!
Generally with air shows I hear all the rumours and scuttlebutt going around, talking about what aircraft is going, who will be attending, so on and so on and so on! This time the rumour was that a P-8 Poseidon from VP-16 the 'War Eagles' was going to do a flyby as one was in the country after the Australian Government announced they'd be buying 8 with 4 options, the week before. Needless to say I was not surprised when a mate from Kadena AFB denied one would be going! But I'll share a quote from the official media release that I was sent, "The Centenary of Military Aviation is a national event celebrating 100 years of military aviation in Australian and encompassing a spectacular Air Show with air displays and ground displays".
So after I read that email, there was a lot of anticipation building up within me, as to how and which way, this event would play out. Would we be promised so much, and yet delivered so little? Would just a few aircraft that were pulled out of the hanger of the RAAF Museum and put on static display, and couple fly pasts and that's it? Or would it be a fantastic day to celebrate a milestone Lt Eric Harrison would've been proud of?
Well I'm glad to say the latter!
Pt Cook or RAAF Base Williams, is a pretty small airfield. The main North/South runway is around half the length of RAAF Base Richmond (7,001 ft) which is home to the RAAF Air Lift Group (ALG) 37SQN C-130-30J Hercs. Being a small place Pt Cook, the place was Full to the brim of aircraft from the past the present, and also a 1:1 scale Revell F-35A model kit, which is the future of the Air Combat Group (ACG) here, so the future as well!
There was a lot of aircraft in attendance that had been in RAAF service over the years, especially of note was the F-111C (A8-125) from No 6 SQN, which is always a crowd favourite, even if it is on the static display line! The current RAAF ALG (Air Lift Group) aircraft comprising of the C-17 Globemaster (A41-210) and C-130-30J Hercules (A97-450) which were representing the current power of strategic airlift were parked next to each other on the ramp. It was interesting to note the four variants of Hercules the A,E,H and J aircraft were at Pt Cook defiantly a rare sight. The RAAF Museum which is based at Pt Cook, and in 2013 completed a replica Boxkite in flyable condition and showcased it briefly on both the Saturday and Sunday prior to the show.
But to be honest, I'm a sucker for F/A-18 Hornets. And for the first time a 3 SQN Alpha model (A21-57) arrived, which made the first time a F/A-18 had made a landing coming to a complete stop, and taxi in to go on static line next to the Pig (F-111). Which is amazing considering a lot of them were constructed down at Avalon airfield which is a 20min drive away.
A lot of warbirds from organisations such as the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society, the Temora Aviation Museum, and also various private owners also joined the party. There was even a Antonov An-2 Colt arrive to be placed on static display on the Sunday! Which I'm still trying to figure out which SQN it served with in the RAAF! (Kidding). But it was great to see a large collection from the likes of Judy Pay and Jeff Trappet, which are well respected warbird owners in this country.
But now, on to the flying display.
The Saturday was a complete white out! Meaning it was overcast all day so a lot of photos had a white back ground, with silhouettes of aircraft in them especially in the morning which was disappointing for airshow goers. Fortunately being apart of the media pack I enjoyed the practice day which was held the day before, with glorious blue sky. You will find if you go to Victoria for an airshow all you have to say is the word 'airshow' and automatically you will have crap weather! It's bizarre to say the least. But at least the sun decided to join the party on the Sunday.
First to start the day off, we had a Sopwith Pup Replica/ F/A-18 flyby, which was interesting considering that the Hornet was at medium pace and the Pup was getting its engined being put to the max trying to keep up. We had a lot of Tiger Moth flybys, followed by locally made Winjeel's and CT-4 basic trainers. Basically the flying display program was designed to showcase the aircraft, starting from the Great War right through to today's modern age of military aviation.
There were some great formation flybys, couple that come to mind were a Spitfire, Mustang, Kittyhawk and C-47 Dakota flyby which brought back memories of all the old war movies I used to watch as a kid with my old man. Another was a Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (or CAC For short), Mk 18 Mustang with a CAC Mk 32 Sabre and a Gloucester F8 Meteor, with the latter the only flying example of that kind in the world. It was fantastic to see these pioneering aircraft of the Royal Australian Airforce being showcased to the public, and you could see the joy in the crowd, at watching these former beasts of yesteryear strut there stuff in the air.
The Southern Knights which is an Aerobatic team made up of 4 T-6 Harvards also put on a great display. Followed by the RAAF's own Aerobatic display team 'the Roulettes'. Led by CO Baker they put on a fantastic display yet again for the crowd, although he didn't follow my advice of doing a seven ship 30ft flyby! (We might have to have a few words latter mate) I don't know why he didn't, I wanted to see them mowing the grass! but there's always next time, isn't that right CO!
The modern age of Australian military aircraft that are in current service, was also strongly represented. With strong mash up of aircraft in the static and flying displays. A huge thanks has to go to the Australian Army which brought in a MRH-90 Taipan, and also, a pair of ARH Tiger's Helicopters. The latter is rarely seen at Australian air shows as they are just being introduced into service, and a big thanks has to go out to the crews who flew them down from Oakey in Queensland, the travel time was two days with a night stopover at HMAS Albatross, which is situated about 3 hours drive South of Sydney.
The Royal Australian Navy was also flying the flag! with a MRH-90 Taipan, The new Bell 429 and also the AS350 Squirrel, Helicopters on display. With 2x AS350 Squirrels conducting a dual formation flying demonstration. I'm not big on choppers but hats off to these pilots for their skill and dedication to producing a perfect flying display.
Then came the ACG! (Air Combat Group). Four Hornets from 3 and 77 SQN's flying in from RAAF Base East Sale conducted precision formation flying, followed by Air Combat Manoeuvres scenario, that wowed and amazed the crowd, with their fast paced, tight turning flare dumping flying skills that would put us mere mortals to shame! Even for a, I would say, Veteran airshow attendee, I was pretty impressed by these manoeuvres. The Hornets came in from the South West for their last Flypast and then pulling up into a vertical climb, they started releasing a hell of a lot of flares which made the sky look like a giant Christmas tree!
The E-7 Wedgetail AWEC made a flying demo appearance which is rare for airshow goers in Oz as usually these are put on static display, which was great to see. Followed by the RAAF's new KC-30A Multi Role Tanker with its Hose and Drouges extended to some thirsty Hornets lining up behind wanting to quench their thirst. This was all to display the many facets to the new strategic air power and force multipliers now in RAAF service, and show the public the change over the recent years of how the RAAF has retired, and acquired the latest technology to showcase its versatility in modern combat roles.
Then came the ALG with their great displays from the C-130-30J of 37 SQN and the one that I was waiting for (Sunday), the 36 SQN C-17A Globemaster Display. It was announced at the show on Saturday that the RAAF had achieved FOC (Full Operation Capability) for their 5th and 6th C-17's which are based at RAAF Base Amberley, the first four were declared FOC in 2011. The RAAF defines FOC as "when the entire capability can be deployed on operations. And It sure was great to see something so big display its nimbleness through the air and showcasing its tight turning flight capabilities followed by a Tactical (TAC) approach, and landing. Then after coming to a complete stop it then reversed back up the runway, to then get enough runway to take off again showcasing the C-17's incredible STOL capabilities. The RAAF Beechcraft 350 King Airs were next, with a rare four ship flying formation display from No 32 SQN. Forget the F-35! the King Airs are the Stealthiest aircraft the RAAF have got as they could blend in to any General Aviation airport around the world and no one would even notice! Because they think it's just another King Air.
The AP-3C Orion from 10 SQN then made an appearance flying in from RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia showing off how the crew can turn off one engine mid flight to cut down on fuel and still carry out its mission effectively. Then one of my Favs! the F/A-18F A44-215 from 6 SQN based at Amberley, came in and scared the Crap out of everyone coming in from behind the crowd and pulling into a vertical climb to about 1000ft and then level off to start its awesome display. The Super Hornet or as it's affectionately known as the 'Rhino' literally set off the car alarms in the car park, it was that loud! And capped off a perfect flying display by all aircraft participating for the day.
For Myself, airshows bring a unique opportunity to get to do something I love, and that is networking. It's great to meet so many people that share the same enthusiasm and love for aviation in general, as you do.and catching up with mates who you haven't seen in a while. This event was no exception! I had the privilege of meeting a lot of great people from photographers and journalists to the enlisted PAO's and CO's that performed an outstanding task in looking after us media and run the event. Air Commodore Byrne your a legend for organising the event and the great chat about Orion's. But a special thanks goes out to the Vice Chief of the Australian Defence force Air Marshall Mark Binskin, who just got back from overseas the day before and shared some great insight into the commitment one takes these days, to be in the Royal Australian Airforce. And to see the excitement that he even had for this airshow, shows that he is definitely a true Avgeek at heart!
So back to the beginning of where it began.
In February of 1914 Lt Eric Harrison probably was very nervous, wondering if things would turn out alright. Maybe he was wondering if he would even be the first one in Australia to fly the Boxkite or even if it would get of the ground! When you see the replica fly you could imagine that a lot of things could go wrong way back at the start of what was to become an Incredible legacy. I'd imagine It's not exactly the safest thing to pilot, especially in that time period. But the thing that stands out for me is the courage and determination Lt Harrison had, there would of been days he felt frustrated that things weren't going to plan, or maybe trying to face his own fears while coming to grips with the enormity at hand?
In any case that early aviation pioneer persevered and kept going against the odds, and that has been the theme that seems to be running throughout the RAAF right through to today. You keep going and you stand up for what's important to you. Something that, dawned on me on the Sunday is that a lot of men and women died while serving their country being aviators! I can guarantee you that these men and women also faced similar fears, setbacks and yet found the way to keep going until they died for what was important to them. Maybe we should think about that. Maybe we should think about the sacrifices that were made by those, so we get to enjoy Aviation events like this Centenary Airshow as an example. And that we should celebrate and thank people like Lt Eric Harrison for starting and being apart of something that has taken a 100 years in the making and in turn bring joy to many Aviation lovers like VC Binskin, and myself right through to the younger generation today.
If it wasn't for that early pioneer, and going right through to today's servicemen and women of military Aviation!