Air shows have been part of the human life since the early 20th century.
That’s largely due to bored ex WW1 pilots that had the skills and the time at their disposal to showcase their abilities to audiences that largely had never seen a flying machine.
More recently an air show has morphed into a dual purpose event. Perhaps the most famous of these is Farnborough in the UK. Not only are there plenty of examples of aircraft flying, there’s workshops and static displays, examples of the latest planes for sale or developments in cabins or safety.
Australia hosts a number of air shows and since air force bases are locked down for security reasons, regional airports have taken over.
Wings Over Illawarra (WOI) hosts perhaps the largest event seen in NSW every year. The event is based at the Illawarra regional airport located between Wollongong and the picturesque seaside town of Kiama.
As always, the event is at the mercy of Mother Nature and has been cancelled in the past due to high winds or heavy rain. However 2017 and 2018 were a return to form.
Sunny skies, little to no breeze, a great range of aircraft, and solid military support make for a great weekend.
WWII planes make up the backbone of WOI, with this year’s show featuring a Mk VIII Spitfire, a TBN-3E Avenger (which was given that name as it was due to be officially unveiled on December 7, 1941), a Russian Yak-3U, the Australian CA-3 MkII Wirraway, and for the first time, a Hawker Hurricane Mk XII.
There was also an Australian-built CA Mk21 Mustang, the Trojan and Texan trainer aircraft, a Harvard trainer, and a grounded for 2018 FW-190.
The latter was grounded this year after a high pressure fuel pump failure that resulted in a desperate search for a replacement. Thankfully for owner pilot Chris Mayr, one was found in the US, however the plane itself won’t fly for a minimum of a month after the show dates.
Our own Royal Australian Air Force is naturally a great fit for Wings Over Illawarra.
Last year had the venerable Caribou transport aircraft showcase its remarkable short take off and landing (STOL) ability, with 2018 seeing its replacement, the C27J Spartan. This looks like a smaller and two engine version of the C-130J Hercules that arrived in style on the Sunday.
The massive C-17A Globemaster performed flybys, as did the Hawk 127 fighter trainer aircraft. The MH-60R Seahawk helicopter demonstrated its agility and was complemented by static display helos from the Army and Navy.
Sunday also saw the new P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft showcased for the first time. Built using the Boeing 737 civil passenger jet as a base, the Poseidon has a beefed up airframe, hard points for weapons, and a weapons bay installation.
The Poseidon will replace the long serving AP-3C Orions from this year.
But it’s a hark back to the early air shows, with stunt flyers and formation displays that delighted the crowds most.
The RAAF display team the Roulettes, had the younger audience members in awe, eliciting oohs, aahs, wows, and a few expletives from the older audience members as the Pilatus Porter aircraft crossed paths with barely a few feet between them.
The Russian Roolettes fly Chinese built Nanchang CJ-6 and Russian built Yak-52 trainers, trailing smoke as they fly in stunt and formation displays.
Ex-RAAF and current Red Bull Air Race pilot Matt Hall was in attendance, throwing his purpose built MXS-R around like a puppy would a toy. Powered by a 380 horsepower Lycoming engine, the 7.32 metre wingspan machine is capable of dealing with G-forces of up to 14G.
The Paul Bennet Airshows team was back, with Paul himself flying the highest performing aerobatic biplane in the world at angles that had the huge crowd gasping in awe and disbelief. His bright yellow Wolf Pitts Pro has a 400 horsepower engine, a roll rate of a full 360 degrees per second, and could be flown a metre above the ground to over 2500 feet in mere seconds — all the while trailing display smoke.
Mixed in with all of this were static displays courtesy of the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Museum. HARS calls Illawarra airport home and has in its display a PBY Catalina affectionately known as Felix, a Mirage, a F1-11, and a work in progress rebuild of Smithy’s Southern Cross.
There were three DC-3s on display with one in the Trans Australian Airlines colour scheme and, perhaps the best known pairing, the Super Constellation or “Connie” which is due to fly again in 2019, and the former QANTAS 747 that was delivered just a couple of years ago.
But it’s the RAAF FA-18 Hornets that close out the show with a flying display that exemplifies why it’s still our front line fighter, and concluding with the “Wall of Fire” — a flypast that coincides with a pyrotechnics blast.
Wings Over Illawarra is perhaps the pre-eminent NSW based air show and continues to grow, despite the Australian Government’s reticence to assist with funding — that’s separate to the Australian Defence Force’s involvement.