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Richmond riches

Graham Mison reports from the RAAF's main event of the year

The Australian Defence Force Air Show for 2006 was held at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Richmond, the home of the forces' Air Lift Group (ALG), over the weekend of 21-22 October, this year's show marking the 85th anniversary of the RAAF and the 90th for Richmond base itself. The showcase for the flying assets of the three arms of the ADF is rotated from base to base and was last held at RAAF Amberley in 2004. Some ten years have passed since the last major air show at Richmond - a long time between drinks for aviation fans!

Mid-week weather predictions for the weekend didn't look promising with showers and windy conditions on the board, however come Friday morning the sun was shining, bringing many to watch the arrivals and display practice. The road between Windsor and Richmond, which parallels the single runway, was lined with cars for almost its entire length and locals and enthusiasts were enjoying the free show. Around mid-afternoon the predicted weather moved in with a few showers falling. It wasn't looking good for the Saturday.

Aussie antics

To reinforce the dread, on Saturday morning I drove through a shower just a few kilometres from the base. Parking was in the Hawkesbury Racecourse grounds, most people were expected to arrive by rail at nearby Clarendon with City Rail heavily involved in the organisation and handling all ticket sales. An extra $5 for parking was applied over the admission charge of $20, still excellent value for a show of this type.

Star attraction in the pre-show build up was the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, four of which had been ordered for the RAAF, the first aircraft due in December. USAF PACAF C-17s have been regular visitors to Richmond for some years but this would be the first chance for many to look one over up-close. The USAF also promised a couple of F-15s and a KC-135, however none made the show. The Singaporeans took a couple of their 126 Squadron Super Pumas out of their training schedule in Queensland for a static display, but everything else would be Aussie.

Gates opened at 08:00, just after one of 33 Squadron's 'Seven-ohs' (707) departed for Canberra to pickup VIPs, and we walked the six-hundred-odd metres to the runway crossing and then across into the display area. The crossing remained open until just after 11:00, when it was cleared for the four-hour flying display to begin. If you arrived after that you had a long wait to board an overcrowded bus.

Kicking off with the brilliance of Pip Borrman at the controls of the Castrol Aviation Edge 540 we saw the Red Berets parachute team, the RAAF Museum's Tiger Moth and Mustang display but the Temora Museum's Spitfire VIII had the cowlings off and would remain on the ground for the day, suffering fuel problems.

Next, one of the most awesome sights at any airshow, the F-111. The Hornet may have the agility, but our favourite 'swines' have the earth-shaking decibels and the ultimate party-trick in the 'Dump and Burn', an act that will be missed when retirement comes sometime around 2012. To many of us at the eastern end of the crowdline the humour in the sight of A8-271 lighting its torch as it over flew the 'Hogs Breath' café near Clarendon Station was not lostů

Royal Australian Navy involvement was limited to a SH-60 Seahawk display and the dancing Squirrel pair from VC 723 - this seemed to be a toned-down performance from those put on at their home base at Nowra. Still, it always makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when two helos maneuver in close company. An example of each graced the static area.

Army Aviation provided a couple of Blackhawks for troop insertion and pickup but the promised Tiger was a no show. Another pair of Blackhawks, a Kiowa and a UH-1H were statically displayed.

Halestorm - in memory of the last dogfight
27 March 1953 - Sgt George Hale, a Tasmanian from RAAF 77 Squadron and his wingman, Sgt Irlam, were on a road-recce mission in the Sariwon area. Hale was at the controls of his personally allocated aircraft Meteor F8 A77-851 'Halestorm'.
Hale spotted a pair of USAF RF-80s pursued by a pair of MiG-15s at around 5,000 ft - after dropping his ventral tank and firing off underwing rockets he latched onto one of the MiGs and was gaining on it when a second pair attacked the Australians. Irlam, after taking hits, was ordered to escape into cloud. Hale was able to position himself behind one of the new attackers - at fifty yards he put a burst of 20mm cannon into the Soviet jet, which immediately began trailing thick smoke and losing altitude. A third pair of MiGs then attacked Hale and, as he broke into them, a fourth pair joined the fight from above. The young Tasmanian was able to put a good burst into one of these and saw pieces of airframe flying off and smoke begin to pour from his target. Lining up for another burst he discovered he was out of ammo and had to let his adversary escape. Hale was credited with a score of one probable and one damaged.
That night the silhouettes of two MiG-15s were painted next to 'Halestorm's nose art - however, under orders of the CO, these were removed several days later. So ended the last dogfight of the Korean War for 77 Squadron and the RAAF, and as Australian pilots have not encountered enemy aircraft in the air since it goes into history as the last to date for the ADF.

Other highlights included the Temora Museum's Meteor and Canberra, both being ex-UK machines. Don't worry about their being looked after down here, the Meteor has even had zero-houred engines installed during its rebuild. 'Halestorm' was a fine sight and this was the first time for over forty years that a 'Meatbox' had graced Richmond's runway. After arriving in Australia via ship in 2001 VZ467/G-METE was transferred to a hangar at Bankstown airport as newly-registered VH-MBX (for 'Meatbox' of course) and re-assembled. The letters YQ-N were applied to its RAF camouflage before its first flight under southern skies - YQ-N was chosen in recognition of Sqn Ldr Tony Gaze DFC with two Bars, the first Australian to fly operations on Meteors when he joined 616 Squadron RAF in 1945. After being flown to its new home at Temora in western New South Wales the aircraft was rebuilt, complete with zero-houred engines and transported to Albury to be repainted in the markings of A77-851 as a memorial to RAAF Meteor pilots in the Korean War. The real '851, after arriving back in Australia in 1953, was converted to a U21 Meteor drone. The nose section survives today and is on exhibit at the South Australian Aviation Museum.

A 76 Squadron Hawk 127 put on a fine aerobatic display and we saw a five-ship show by the PC-9 mounted 'Roulettes'. Being the home of the ALG, C-130s figured heavily in the show - both models in service, the H and the J, showed their handling qualities and were available for a walk-through on the ground. With the imminent introduction of the C-17, 36 Squadron will be passing on its H models to 37 Squadron, which will integrate them with its Js.

The crowded spectator barriers became even more so when the four-ship F-18 display team lined up for departure following the C-17 take-off. The Hornets returned in close diamond formation and gave an excellent display before breaking into a starburst and following that up with an airfield attack sequence. The C-17 display by The Spirit of 'Go for Broke' showcased the low-speed handling of the upcoming latest addition to the RAAF's inventory, in particular its short field ability.

A solo F-18 handling display with 77 Squadron's Sqn Ldr Paul Simmonds at the controls finished with an arrested landing, capping off a show held under threatening skies. Half an hour later we had a short shower that quickened departure for many to the trains or the car park.

Sunday dawned overcast as well but we were heartened by early sunny breaks that continued through the day. A larger crowd enjoyed a similar flying show to the Saturday, but this time the Spitfire was able to show us its graceful lines in the air, although the blue sky had disappeared by then. One downside was that many of the visiting types that gave handling displays departed after their routine without landing.

With threatening weather over the weekend it was quite fortunate that the show got away without being dumped on, although with Sydney and most of New South Wales in the grip of the worst drought on record there were many hoping for the heavens to open!

 

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