As the long winter months drag on in the UK, it's easy to forget it's prime airshow season 'down under'. Matthew Weston reports on some rare sights in the Antipodean skies.
One of the largest airshows in Australia is set in Scone, in the county of New South Wales (better known as the horse capital of Australia), around four hours drive north of Sydney.
The airshow revolves around the collection of one dynamic individual, Col Pay. At one time Col was the owner of Australias only flying Spitfire and he is currently the owner of an extensive collection of warbirds, including a Tiger Moth, a Bird Dog (which earns its keep in a similar to manner to its wartime role as a fire spotter and fire bomber controller), a Mustang, a Dragonfly as well as a few restorations and a working fleet of crop dusters and aerial fire fighters.
The 2001 show took place on a very hot 30 September with temperatures of 35°C (95°F), clear blue skies and no wind. The airfield was not too crowded, many people taking time to look at the other attractions, including markets, a gathering of antique cars and a collection steam driven farm tractors. Amberley's RAAF 80th anniversary show was to have taken place the same weekend but fell victim to the aftermath of 11 September.
The first of the warbirds to display was the L-39 Albatros, a recent addition to the warbird scene - it put on a high energy display showing its lines for the crowd. After this we were privileged to see Lynette Zuccolis beautifully restored Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation CA-19 Boomerang, currently the only one flying anywhere in the world. It will soon be joined by at least two more. The Boomerang is not well known outside Australia - it was designed and flown within five months in early 1942. It proved to be ineffective as a fighter but found its niche as a ground support fighter in New Guinea. Its sound has been described as half a DC-3 and was a joy to watch as it was put through its paces. The balance of Lynettes fleet was unable to make it, which meant that the G-59 was unable to attend, but the Boomerang was worth it all on its own.
One of the ex-New Zealand Air Force BAC Strikemasters put on a dazzling display that left peoples ears a little shell-shocked. The aircraft is owned by the International Fighter Flight Centre and is available for dog fighting and joy flights. After this we were treated to a sight that is still new to Australia, a formation take off by two P-51 Mustangs as Judy Pay and Col Pay (who are unrelated) took their respective aircraft into the air. Judy Pay's beautiful Mustang is done in 3 Squadron, RAAF markings. A dual display has not been developed, but the sight of two together, with the prospect of more in the near future, is enough to keep all V12 fans waiting. Col went on to fly his usual flawless display, which really showcases the lines of the aircraft. This display has been honed over many years and is similar to the one flown in his former Spitfire, and before that his Kittyhawk. At the conclusion of his display we were entertained by an airfield attack by the Nangchang CJ-6 team, the Russian 'Roo-Lettes'. This lively team in their colourfully marked Nangchang trainers obviously enjoy every second in the air. The markings of the aircraft vary from the original Peoples' Liberation Air Force through to old Soviet markings.
After the 'Roo-lettes' had been chased off by a marauding Judy Pay in her beautifully marked Mustang we moved on to the Southern Knights, a Harvard team that are a firm favourite wherever they grace the skies. Their display showing that no matter how old the aircraft, it is still possible to put on a wonderful show that not only looks good but sounds great.
The highlight of the show for a lot of people was the Spitfire VIII restored by Col Pay but now owned by John Lowe. This aircraft now lives at Temora in Victoria but was brought back to Scone and flown by Col, who knows the aircraft better than anyone, having rebuilt it from a wreck! The silence that swept the crowd speaks of the awe that this aircraft inspires in enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike. Its new scheme is the same as that worn by one of Australias top scoring aces, Clive Killer Caldwell when he was in Darwin.
The A-37B, flown by an ex-Canadian Air Force CF-18 pilot was awesome for so many reasons - its outright performance with all of its military equipment removed, the noise of the twin GE turbojets and the garish South Vietnamese Air Force markings! This aircraft was one of a group imported by a syndicate involving Col Pay from Vietnam a few years back. Two more are under restoration in Cols hangars.
We were presented with a unique display by Col Pay in his O-1 Bird-dog. This aircraft is also used by Col as a fire spotter. The display by this apparently docile and timid aircraft boggles the mind and shows why it is ideal for manoeuvring inside the tight valleys around Scone. The ease with which it loops and rolls, all at such low speeds, leaves people confused as to how it remains in the air at all.
The day concluded with a display by the Royal Australian Air Force's Roulettes in their Pilatus PC-9s and a departure by many of the civil aircraft and a few of the more unusual aircraft from the static display. Included in this where a pair of Boeing Stearmans, a magnificent Ryan and an unusual product from PZL in Poland. The airshow finished with the site of DC-3s heading back towards Sydney.
Overall it was a very pleasant way to spend a day. The display lasted for around four hours and was well spaced with plenty of variety and something for everyone. The commentary was pleasant but not overbearing which allowed all to enjoy what was going on without being distracted by inane chatter. Several aircraft could not make it - a Yak 3 found some metal in its oil filter which kept it away.
Plans are already afoot for the next Warbirds over Scone in 2003. Details of what to expect as well as some more photos can be found on their web site www.sconewarbirds.org.
If you want to look at most of the airshows that are on Down Under try www.aopa.com.au. If you get the chance to go, a word of warning though, make sure that you take plenty of water, sunscreen and wear a hat. You will get sunburnt, its a question of how much!