Australian International Airshow 2013 - Avalon / Australia

The AUSTRALIAN INTERNATIONAL AIRSHOW and AEROSPACE & DEFENCE EXHIBITION (AIAS) is always a highlight on the Australian and international airshow calendar, not only for aviation professionals but also for the many enthusiasts and members of the general public who attend this important biannual event. Held at Avalon, Victoria, the 2013 AIAS provides an avenue to showcase and conduct business relating to the very latest in civilian and military aviation technologies. This event also generates considerable revenue for local and state business, including regional tourism and the hospitality sectors. In keeping with all previous shows, trade days were restricted to aviation industry and trade professionals, these days ran from the morning of Tuesday 26 March through to the afternoon of the Friday 29 March at which point the general public were admitted to witness the spectacular “night alight” show.

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Victoria’s unpredictable weather did little to discourage approximately 168,000 visitors who attended the event over the 6 days. This year’s action during the flying displays was particularly well timed and choreographed with a constant flow of aerial action, which included demonstrations, and performances that kept the large audience in attendance totally captivated. The 2013 AIAS also provided an appropriate celebration of this year’s theme of the “Power of Flight”, featuring modern and vintage, military and civilian aircraft from around the globe. 
A key performer and without doubt the highlight of this years show was a flying demonstration of what is considered by many as one of the world’s most deadly combat aircraft, the Lockheed-Martin F-22A RAPTOR. While the 2011 show featured two RAPTOR`s in attendance, both aircraft were on static display only. This year however the show included a stunning flying display by Major Henry "Schadow" Schantz of the USAF F-22 Demonstration Team based at Langley Virginia. As one would expect, the F-22 was truly remarkable with ‘Schadow’ performing everything from flat spins to hi-g stalls that seemed to defy the laws of physics. The advantages of RAPTOR`s fly by wire controls and abundance of power from its two thrust-vectoring engines was very apparent in providing the aircraft with an unprecedented level of maneuverability, including the ability to almost turn within its own length, a truly impressive demonstration of a modern, fifth generation warplane. The many who were lucky enough to witness the RAPTOR`s display should feel especially privileged indeed as the U.S. Government have announced that all F-22 demonstrations for 2013 have now been canceled due to budget cuts. As such, the 2013 AIAS was the one and only F-22 demonstration for this year.

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The spectacular BREITLING WINGWALKERS provided a colorful and daring display atop of their bright orange and white Boeing STEARMAN bi-planes. Operated by the firm AeroSuperBatics, the UK based team is the world’s only formation wing walking team and has performed at over 2,500 shows representing several large corporations.  The BREITLING WINGWALKERS are a more modern take on a fad dating back to the barnstorming days of the 1920’s and 1930’s when there was no shortage of ex- military aircraft and daredevils who were more than willing to push the envelope for fast thrills and some fast cash. The Breitling team thrilled the Avalon audience with a spectacular display of precession and daring as they performed their choreographed moves strapped to a frame mounted on the top wing of their STEARMAN bi-planes.  Unfortunately, one of the STEARMAN developed a mechanical problem on the Thursday, which resulted in solo performances for the remainder of the show.
One of the RAAF’s latest acquisitions was on display, the Airbus Industries KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). Based on the A330-200 Airbus airframe, the KC-30A has replaced the Boeing B 707 tankers previously in RAAF service. The KC-30A utilizes both the hose/drogue and Aerial Refueling Boom System (ARBS) methods of aerial refueling, an operator located in the cockpit utilizes 2D and 3D screens to control the air-to-air refueling systems. The KC-30A is capable of refueling the RAAF’s current fleet of F/A-18 “Classic” and F-18F SUPER HORNET (RHINO in Australian service), Boeing E-7A WEDGETAILl and C-17A GLOBEMASTER III aircraft as well as the proposed fleet of Lockheed/Martin F-35 LIGHTENING II and Boeing P-8 POSEIDON Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA).  The KC-30A is also capable of carrying up to 270 passengers and 34,000 kg of cargo. No. 33 Squadron based at RAAF Amberley Queensland operate five KC-30A aircraft currently in RAAF service.

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Another highlight of the AIAS was the appearance of the RAAF’s Boeing F -18F SUPER HORNET.  Four F-18F’s of No. 6 Squadron from Amberley Queensland provided a display of close formation flying and simulated ground attack missions with explosions and pyrotechnics simulating bomb explosions and canon fire during each pass. This demonstration provided all with a very sobering reminder of how quickly speed and violence that can be applied through the application of modern air power. The SUPER HORNET is powered by two General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofan engines each producing 9,800 kg of thrust providing a maximum speed of 1,960 km/h (Mach 1.6) to an altitude in excess of 15,240m. Combat range is 1,750 km. The RAAF presently operate a fleet of 24 Boeing F-18F SUPER HORNET however, the Australian Government is presently considering acquisition of another 24 of the type as a means of mitigating risk identified within the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project.
Two specially configured Boeing F/A-18A (HUG) “Classic” HORNET were also present at the AIAS, these aircraft being specially fitted with inert weapons for an MRTT photo flight made available to ‘selected’ members of the media.

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The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) maintains a considerable stable of aircraft historically significant to Australia’s aviation heritage. One of the latest acquisitions by HARS is two ex RAAF DHC-4 CARIBOU light tactical transport aircraft. The HARS CARIBOU aircraft at the 2013 AIAS provided an amazing display of short field take off and landings that gave this reliable, if not loud and slow, workhorse the outstanding reputation it deserves. The RAAF received its first CARIBOU in 1964 as a replacement for the venerable Douglas C-47 DAKOTA. Equipping Nos. 35 and 38 Squadrons. The DHC-4 CARIBOU saw extensive service during the Vietnam War and later in Papua New Guinea, East Timor and the Solomon Islands and was routinely utilized for humanitarian relief operations. The CARIBOU will be replaced by the C-27J SPARTAN in RAAF service with the first of 12 C-27 airframes now undergoing final completion. The reformation of No 35 Squadron (or Wallaby airlines as it was affectionately known during the Vietnam War) at RAAF Richmond NSW especially to operate the new type highlights the importance of the role carried out by the CARIBOU as a light tactical transport.
Some older heavy metal (actually older than the DeHavilland Canada DHC-4 CARIBOU!) was present courtesy of the USAF. A Boeing B-52H STRATOFORTRESS belonging to the 2nd Bomb Wing, based at Barksdale AFB Louisiana was also part of the static display. The Boeing B-52 STRATOFORTRESS (or BUFF, an acronym for Big Ugly Fat Fellow) is a long range, subsonic strategic bomber that was introduced into USAF service in 1955. It is powered by eight! Pratt & Whitney TF33-P-3/103 turbofans. Her maiden flight was on the 15th of April 1952. Incredibly, the USAF intends to keep the BUFF flying until 2045, a total of 90 years after its introduction into service, indeed a remarkable feat and testimony to an excellent design. Just imagine if the RAAF would still have the Sopwith CAMEL biplane in active service?

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Without a doubt one of the best displays of aerobatic/stunt flying seen at Avalon was performed by the stunt/aerobatic duo of ‘Tinsticks of Dynamite’. This dynamic, high-energy team consisting of Melissa Pemberton and Skip Stewart thrilled the audience with a stunning display of precession and agility. Both Melissa and Skip performed a thrilling series of very low knife -edge passes made all the more dramatic by trailing smoke and pyrotechnic explosions set off on every pass. Melissa later performed a high altitude stunt act with her husband Rex Pemberton. Wearing his winged suit, Rex alighted from a Mahindra Air van to begin his decent/glide while Melissa, flying an Edge 540, circled around him during his decent before opening his parachute and both utilizing smoke for visual effect and so the audience could keep track of the performance Truly, a spectacular demonstration of coordination, teamwork and not to mention a great deal of mutual trust!

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While several RAAF BAe HAWK Mk.127 lead-in fighter trainers were present one HAWK Mk.127 in particular, sporting the markings of both No. 76 and 79 Squadrons sported a particularly attractive hi-viz gloss camouflage scheme, which drew quite a lot of attention from the audience. The HAWK Mk.127 is utilized by the RAAF in the Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) role to train and prepare aircrew for transition to fast jets such as the Boeing F-18F SUPER HORNET.  The HAWK Mk.127 is a subsonic, two-seat, low-wing aircraft of all metal construction and is powered by a single Turbomeca Adour Mk-871 turbofan engine providing a top speed of 1,207 km/h to an altitude of 15,250m. Armament consists of a single 30mm Aden Canon, MK 82 500 lb. bombs and AIM-9M SIDEWINDER missiles.
The night show on Friday evening included a display of the HARS Lockheed L-1049 SUPER CONSTELLATION reminding many of air travel from a bygone era while a simulated night mission flown by an RAAF Lockheed Martin C -130J HERCULES II was a little more spectacular.  The C-130J’s mission included a simulated engagement by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) at which point the C-130 countermeasures were activated in the form of 240 flares being dispensed within 10 seconds providing a stunning visual effect in the night sky. Of course the SAM was promptly defeated and the Hercules lived on to fight another day. OTTO, the helicopter provided entertainment for the young and not so young at heart with a low-level choreographed performance all set to music which included antics such as playing with his yo-yo and racing around and picking up barrels.  In reality, OTTO is an Schweizer 300C helicopter flown by Roger Buis. Roger has been flying since 1980 amassing over 18,000 total flight hours. Rodger’s wife Pauline provided the narration for his performance while OTTO’s performance during the night show was a spectacular aerial ballet and insight into his more nocturnal activities.

Verdict: Unfortunately, this year’s show saw for the first time no participation from the Australian Army. The lack of army participation at Avalon clearly reflected current cost cutting measures presently being undertaken by governments worldwide. However, some very good news announced at this years show was that Avalon’s future hosting of the event is assured with the state government of Victoria announcing its support for the show until 2025, thus securing the event for Victoria for at last another 10 years. They come in all shapes and sizes, from all professions and backgrounds, an eclectic mix of individuals that willingly give up their spare time to achieve what some might consider the impossible. We are talking about the volunteer staff that attend the AIAS and do their job with enthusiasm and courtesy. Without the dedication and hard work of the airshow volunteers, quite simply, this event would not happen. As such, it’s the volunteer staff that support the AIAS that truly deserve special recognition and mention. Thank you!

Checksix-online would like to thank Laureen Deale, Peta Richards and the AIAS Media Center team for their usual marvelous level of support and assistance during the event.

Rob Hynes / CHK 6 Australia & Pacific Region

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