The Wings over Illawarra Airshow is associated with the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) and is conducted at the Society’s base at Illawarra Regional Airport. It is held annually in early May and is an opportunity for the Society’s flying collection to take to the air and strut it’s stuff.
Wings Over Illawarra Airshow
The Airshow is one of the largest events held in New South Wales, and the only major annual air show held in the state. HARS has a number of airworthy aeroplanes in its collection including:
- CAC CA-25 Winjeel (Young Eagle)
- Consolidated PBY-6A Catalina
- Cessna 310B
- De Havilland DHA-3 Drover
- De Havilland DHC-4 Caribou
- De Havilland DH-82 Tiger Moth
- Douglas DC-3
- Lockheed C-121C Super Constellation
- Lockheed SP2-H (P2V-7) Neptune
- Lockheed AP-3C Orion
- North American NA-16 Texan/Harvard
Despite that strong cast of stars, in the 2017 show your author only recalls witnessing performances by the Society’s Caribou and Neptune, but I do not recall many of the other HARS aircraft taking part in the displays.
Not stated on the website that I could see, but I get the impression that this a broad-based airshow intended to cover civilian and military, contemporary and vintage, and fixed-wing and rotary-wing types.
In the map below I have used the very useful SunCalc website to show sunrise, solar noon and sunset at the location of the airshow in an early May time-frame. The crowd is positioned to the east of the North-South runway, while the flying displays occur to the west of the extended runway centre-line.
Solar noon is at 11:54 am and the flying display starts at 10.30am, so the best light will be for the first two hours of the display. All day long, but particularly after about midday, the aircraft will be the best lit when they are to the South of the aerodrome. Shooting towards the North and West will produce the most back-lit angles.
The days are getting shorter at this latitude at this time of the year, and so by the time the flying displays are wrapping up at around 4.30pm the light levels are starting to drop noticeably, especially if there is an overcast above the field.
Because south-facing views were the best, I positioned myself as far south as I could (to be closer to the aircraft located in that direction), and tended to point my lenses somewhere in an arc between West and South.
The show was enjoyable and the pacing and timing were pretty good. There were a few no-shows, but I guess there always are. The light levels in the late afternoon (with an overcast) were getting quite low, and the ISO on my camera was rapidly climbing.
The problem is that this and many other airshows like to end the show with something nice. On Saturday the flying display finished with the CAC Sabre followed by the Hornet pair.
Reviewing my images of those late afternoon displays I have far less usable shots than from earlier in the day. And that is with a Canon 1DX Mark II, a camera known to have very good low-light performance. The Sunday fared much better, with the overcast largely gone.
Some of the aircraft that were scheduled to perform flying displays at the 2017 event are listed below (according to the official program):
- RAAF Roulettes PC-9 x lots
- de Havilland DHC-4 Caribou
- Lockheed P2V-7 Neptune
- RAAF F/A-18 Hornets x 2
- RAN AS35BA Squirrel pairs
- Fokker DR.I and RAF SE5a
- CAC CA-18 Mustang
- Hawker Hurricane (definitely a no-show)
- Supermarine Spitfire
- Wolf Pitts Pro
- Boeing Stearman (I don’t recall seeing it)
- Sukhoi s6MX, Pitts S2c and Pitts S1
- T6 Harvard x 2
- CAC Wirraway
- T-28 Trojan
- Tak-52 and Nanchang CJ6
- Focke-Wulf FW-190 (only flew on day 2 from memory)
- Fox glider
- Jet Provost T5A
- Yak 3U (MIA?)
- Grumman Avenger
- Extra 300L
- Learjet 35 x 2 (don’t recall seeing them)
- MH-60R helicopter
- Marchetti S211
- L-39C Albatross
- C-17A Globemaster III (at the end of day two only)
The airshow is located at Illawarra Regional Airport, Corner of Boomerang and Airport Roads, Albion Park Rail NSW 2527
The 2018 dates are 5th and 6th of May.
The organisers published a media release stating that around 30,000 visitors attend over the weekend. Oddly, the crowd felt much bigger than that. Perhaps the available space is somewhat less than a much larger airshow like the one at Avalon.
Not many…really. I did, however, notice that was very few canopy-up passes (AKA topside passes), perhaps due to the geometry of the airspace and terrain versus the flight-line.
Even if pilots were briefed to roll for a second or so into that angle, then out again, I would have got a lot fewer shots of the sides and bellies of the display aircraft.
Finally, the late afternoon light at this latitude and at this time of the year, towards the end of the flying program, is marginal for photography and videography if there is more than about 6/8 to 7/8 cloud coverage above the field.
Personally, I would like to see the flying display kick off an hour earlier and/or to have the star performers on ‘stage’ earlier in the day, transitioning to other types in the late afternoon.
Would I go again?
Maybe. It depends on the program and the forecast. I would like to see the Hurricane and the Focke-Wulf on both days. I would like to see more of the HARS collection airborne. I would like to see pilots encouraged to, or given an opportunity to, present a topside view of their aircraft during crowd passes.
I would like to see more crowd space opened up since numbers have grown over the past two shows from 22,000 to 33,000. Therefore one might expect close to 40,000 this year in what is a relatively confined space. Can more space be allocated for the crowd?
I would like to see the flying display start earlier and hope to see clear skies in the forecast because any significant cloud makes for dim viewing conditions after 4 pm.
So will I go again? Yes, I think so. For someone living on Australia’s eastern seaboard it is accessible and good value for what it offers.
* This article is based on my visit to the Air Show in 2017, the official Airshow Programme of that year, and information in the public domain.