Raptors, Kawasakis…and a Martin Mariner converted into a caravan! Highlights from the 2019 Avalon Airshow

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Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes from ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. All of which make him gloriously over-qualified to be our correspondent from the Avalon 2019 airshow in Australia. 

“Every two years, a major airshow is held at Avalon, South-West of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. The show is extraordinary because, unlike Paris and Farnborough, it does not just focus on the latest aerospace industry products and systems, but also encompasses major Air Force and Scientific Technical Conferences, and showcases general aviation, home-built aircraft, classics and warbirds as well as attracting participation from regional Air Forces and manufacturers.

I have been in the habit of attending these shows whenever I can. There is always a visual feast for the photographer, but there are also items of technical interest, the rare, unusual and simply odd. As an example, here is something covering all those descriptors, and surely to be found ‘only in Australia’

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In case you are wondering, yes, that is a Martin Mariner caravan. Sold off from Lake Boga in Northern Victoria after the war, and converted into a quite colossal caravan.

This year, I attended the show on the Friday. For photographers, this is a good idea, as with the right entry ticket one can see the visiting aircraft in the slightly more relaxed atmosphere of the morning Trade Show, before the crowds are admitted at midday. Having taken a number of photos through the day, Hush-Kit has asked me to put together a top-twelve of my own choice, together with a commentary explaining why I have chosen them.

“The sheer brutality of the manoeuvre was extremely impressive, although there was a significant bleed-off  in energy”

— Jim Smith, on the F-22 display

12. Oxai Skywave

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I selected the Oxai Skywave as an example of Avalon attracting interest from the broader Asian Aerospace community. This is, I believe, the first time a Chinese light aircraft has been exhibited at a Western airshow, and is in advance of its expected participation at Oshkosh later in the year, where direct comparison with the similar Icon A5 will be possible. Apparently, the Skywave will fly over to Oshkosh from Shanghai, travelling west through Dubai, which would be an impressive achievement for this small aircraft.

The Skywave looks an attractive proposition for the reasonably active amphibious aircraft community in Australia, which already enjoys the good weather, extensive and attractive coastline and many rivers and lakes as possible operating areas. The aircraft itself is mostly Carbon-fibre, has an empty weight of only 350kg, and is Rotax-powered. Unusually, the sponsons can be removed if one wishes to operate it as a landplane.

11. Sikorsky MH-60 Romeo ‘Wherefor art thou Jin-class submarine?’

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The MH-60R is now in service with the Royal Australian Navy, and replaces the SH-70B Seahawk as the Navy’s anti-submarine and anti-shipping helicopter. At the show, the Navy gave a spirited performance showing off their new helicopter, and participated in the Capability demonstration, showing off the Joint capabilities of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). In the case of the Romeo, this included a simulated sonar dip to locate that most elusive of prey, the underground submarine!

I included the Seahawk, not just for the photo, but for fond memories of the spirited debates which always seem to accompany helicopter acquisition, not just for the ADF, but, in my experience, also for the UK Forces, and, I dare say, worldwide.

I also wanted to showcase one of the less publicised examples of the transformation in the ADF which has been in progress for the last several years. Other examples not featuring in this list include the entry to service of the P-8 Poseidon and the E-7 Wedgetail, with the latter, in particular, proving to be a very capable system, very popular with not only the RAAF, but also the USAF in coalition operations.

10. A330 MRTT refuelling boom aerodynamic fixes ‘Address: Karman street, Boomtown’ 

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As an ex-aerodynamicist I find this fascinating. The refuelling boom of another new ADF capability, the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) is loaded with flow control gizmos.

Running down the length of the boom on both sides are two perforated strakes. These, I surmise, are there to prevent the shedding of a Kármán vortex street ,which would otherwise cause lateral shaking of the boom. The strakes are perforated so that the disturbances they introduce themselves are small in scale and dissipate rapidly. The strakes are performing the same function as the spiral strakes seen on slender chimneys, but in this case, the flow direction is predictable, so a linear strake can be used.

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Further aft, the lower surface of the boom has a nice array of vortex generators. These are there to encourage the flow around the end of the boom to stay attached as long as possible, again to reduce buffeting and boom motion. Inside the boom aperture are a row of small cylinders, which may be there to promote mixing in the shear layer between the internal and external flow around the boom.

Finally, the fences at the end of the boom vanes serve to separate the flow over the vanes from the disturbed flow around the boom.

Looking at these aerodynamic fixes, it is easy to see why it can take some time to refine and achieve the right behaviour from the boom, especially if a hose and drogue attachment may be attached, as every vibration of the boom can be amplified at the receiver end of the system.

 

9. Cessna A-37 Dragonfly ‘Aussie dog whistle’

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The Cessna A-37 Dragonfly represents the enduring and active participation of the Temora Aviation Museum at Avalon. This year, in addition to the Dragonfly, the museum brought their Lockheed Hudson, Supermarine Spitfire and Commonwealth Boomerang to the show. As well as the Temora contingent, other participants from the same era included a Curtiss P-40, a Douglas DC3 and a Lockheed 12. On the day I attended, expected participation from the RAAF Museum Sopwith Pup, Sopwith Snipe and Royal Aircraft Factory RE8 did not occur due to relatively strong winds.

However, the Dragonfly put up a very sprightly show, as seen here. This particular aircraft is one of two operated by Temora, and has recently been completely rebuilt. The A-37 has more than twice the thrust of the original T-37, at 5,700lb, and operating at relatively light display weights a thrust to weight ratio of about 0.8 appears plausible.

Aided by blue sky, sunshine, and very effective smoke generators, the Dragonfly put up a fine display to represent the Temora contribution to Avalon.

8. Pilatus PC 21 ‘PC gone mad’ 

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Of course, the RAAF Roulettes are, to the Australian airshow scene, as iconic as the RAF Red Arrows are in the UK. The Roulettes first displayed in 1970 at Point Cook, using the Macchi MB 326, and this year’s Avalon show featured the last Roulettes display with the PC9, a type they have been operating since 1989.

To mark the transition to the new PC-21, the team flew their normal 6-ship PC9 routine accompanied by a 4-ship formation of PC-21s. The new aircraft has some attractive features, including a 1600 shp engine driving a 5 -blade propeller, giving the PC-21 much higher performance than the 1150 shp PC-9, and a quite different look and sound in the air.

These offset to some extent the ‘what were they thinking?’ colour scheme, which really does not do this attractive aircraft any justice at all. Notwithstanding this, I am hoping to see the full team equipped with the PC-21 at the Wings Over the Illawarra airshow in early May, where I anticipate the higher performance PC-21 will breathe new life into the RAAF Roulettes display.

7. Boeing CH-47F Chinook ‘Gizzardgulper handler’

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The ADF has been operating the CH-47F Chinook since 2015, so this is again a relatively recent enhancement in capability for helicopter lift. The photo shows one of the two CH-47Fs participating in the Joint Capability demonstration, lifting off after unloading ground troops to assist in wresting Avalon airport from unspecified foes.

The cloud of blackened dust rising in the background is the by-product of pyrotechnics and petrol used to simulate the effects of earlier ‘cannon and rocket fire’ from two Tiger attack helicopters. In passing, this was a pretty sporty thing to do on a 40 deg C day with a stiff Northerly breeze.

I chose this picture because the Chinook is a pretty impressive aircraft, and has given sterling service to its many customers since first flight of the type back in the mists of time in 1961. The latest model follows the well honoured tradition of having everything you could imagine hung on it, including huge particle filters and IR suppressors for the engines, and an impressive elephant’s trunk-like tube on each side to carry waste shells away from the rotary cannon. An impressive piece of kit.

6. Lockheed C-130H Hercules ‘Kiwi Fat Albert’

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Why the Hercules? Well, the RNZAF put up a really good display with their Hercules, and had the endearing habit of treating the long runway at Avalon as the perfect opportunity to turn every take-off into an enduring low pass, in this case at a height of 14 ft.

In addition to the low passes, parachute dropping, and general all-round spirited handling display, this particular airframe dates from 1966, and is therefore one year older than my kombi, and quite a bit more capable.

The RNZAF is really quite a small force, but regularly appears at Avalon, and I well remember low passes in earlier years by their 757 VIP transport, and even the 727 which it replaced.

So hats off to the Kiwis.

5: Boeing C-17 Globemaster III ‘Globemaster Flash’

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Avalon this year was graced by both USAF and RAAF C-17s in the flying display. This is the USAF one, illustrating what brings the crowds to Avalon year after year. The crowd line is close enough to the runway to allow a really imposing view of the aircraft, big or small, noisy or quiet.

In this case, of course, the Globemaster, always imposing, but when seen up close, raising clouds of dust on take-off, truly impressive. And, as always, an equally impressive flying display, enhanced by the absence of the usually patronising and overdone US commentary.

In this year’s display the aircraft were generally supported by well-informed and interesting commentary, and were, in many cases allowed largely to speak for themselves. If you want to experience a well-run airshow, in ways that now appear impossible in Europe, come down to Oz for Avalon. Next time it will be the 100th anniversary of the RAAF, so expect big things!

4: Kawasaki C-2 Japanese jet ‘Atlas’

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I was delighted to see that the JASDF had brought a Kawasaki C-2 down to Avalon. I was not aware that the aircraft was at the show, and its participation in the flying display was a bonus.

The aircraft has quite recently entered service with the JASDF, and its presence was another indicator that Japan is now prepared to export some military aircraft capability (they are actively promoting this aircraft for New Zealand). This follows on from the recent overseas tour made by the Kawasaki P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft, and discussions on possible sales of the Shin-Mewa US-2 amphibian.

The C-2 has something of the appearance of a turbofan powered A400M Atlas, or a scaled down C-17 Globemaster. Compared to The Atlas, it carries a smaller payload, but at significantly higher cruising speeds. There have been a few issues in development, and six years elapsed between the first flight of the aircraft and its acceptance into service in 2016.

The display aircraft gave a generally rather sedate performance, rather late in the day, before signing off with some fairly extravagant wing rocks, as seen in the picture.

3: McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet ‘The badass bug’

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As part of the general flying programme, the RAAF put up a four-ship Hornet display team, made up of aircraft and QFI pilots from Nos 3 and 77 Squadron, and No 2 Operations Conversion Unit, all based at RAAF Williamtown.

Although the practice sessions for the team were apparently held outside normal working hours, a very creditable result was achieved, including the echelon pass shown here. It is quite unusual these days to see a formation display team using operational fast jets (leaving aside one-off passes for special occasions, like the recent Tornado farewell fly-pasts in the UK), so I thought I would recognise this by including this picture.

Although the first F-35s are beginning to join the RAAF, and some of the F-18s are apparently going to go to Canada, the type will remain in RAAF service until 2022, with the Super Hornets and Growler serving on well beyond that.

2: Lockheed F-35A Lightning II ‘Panther burns’

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Although the first F-35 for the RAAF appeared briefly at the previous show, and performed a few sedate fly-bys, this year was the first occasion at which a full on, high-energy display of the aircraft was available to the public. In fact, the displays were quite extensive, as in addition to the solo display of the aircraft, it also featured in some mixed formation fly-pasts with 2 Hornets and the F-22 Raptor.

Impressive features of the display included the rapid acceleration on take-off, the noise, which was colossal, and a significant amount of high-g manoeuvring. It was interesting to observe one of the high-speed turns concluding with significant down elevator and large taileron deflection, as the aircraft was rapidly unloaded and rolled to level the wings.

In the low humidity of a 40C day, there was very little of the condensation so beloved of fast-jet photographers, visual effects being limited to occasional tip vortices, the afterburner flame — an extensive exhaust hot-gas ‘jelly’.

An impressive display, but the true test of this aircraft is in BVR combat in contested airspace – hopefully never to be realised except in training exercises.

1: Lockheed F-22 Raptor ‘Patchwork Pete’

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With a degree of inevitability, my final choice is the magnificent Raptor. On a previous occasion at Avalon, we were treated to blue skies, cooler weather, and lots of atmospheric effects accompanying the Raptor display.

This time, what we got was just a display of brute power. Very noisy, and full of very aggressive manoeuvres. The photo was taken just at the end of a fast pass, with the aircraft beginning to roll hard-left into a thrust-vector assisted 9g turn.

The sheer brutality of the manoeuvre was extremely impressive, although there was a significant bleed-off in energy.

Both the F-22 and F-35 did passes with the weapons bay doors open, revealing in both cases a surprising complexity of plumbing and hardware. The F-22, in particular, presented a very mottled appearance, suggesting servicing activity requiring much making good of signature reducing surface treatments.

How to sum up Avalon? On the one hand, it’s the display with everything: comprehensive trade show; general aviation; home-built aircraft; executive jets; warbirds; military helicopters, transports and heavy metal; all in an environment with generally fine weather, tolerant of noise, and with great viewing opportunities from the flight line and the grandstands.

I am conscious too, that my 12 photos do not do justice to the breadth and scope of the show, with no insane aerobatic aircraft, and almost no warbirds, and little coverage of the extensive and fascinating ground exhibits.

For me, this was another great show, but the good weather on Friday, extending as it did to high temperatures, a hot North wind and 7 hours of airshow in an open grandstand, turned into such an endurance test that I did not return on the Saturday.

Will I be back in two-year’s time? Definitely. But I’ll be hoping for cooler conditions to really enjoy what should be an absolute cracker – Avalon does 100 years of the RAAF!”

One comment

  1. Mike Sharpe

    Saturday’s show was sadly down a USAF C-17, as an errant bird conducted a brief VIP meet-and-greet with the #4 engine shortly after it began the takeoff roll.

    Two thumbs up to the KC-135 pilot who was amazingly relaxed about the number of people wandering through his aircraft. He was parked at the door and facing away from the cockpit, access to which was more or less unsupervised but seemed very orderly even so. Quite happy for me to pop down into the boom operator’s couch to have a little lay down and waggle of the joysticks, too! A very nice chap.

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