Enjoy some of the amazing highlights from Airshow 2019
1992 – LIFT OFF!
The inaugural Australian International Airshow blasted on to the Australian event landscape in October 1992. But, thanks to the best efforts of Mother Nature, it very nearly didn’t happen! The wettest spring in Victoria’s history had turned Avalon into a swamp, with car and aircraft parking areas looking like paddy fields! The decision on whether to go ahead or not was left to the last moment but happily, the weather relented and the clouds opened to reveal the blue sky just in time.
The organisers and the army of volunteers who made the show possible (and still do), managed to reorganise sufficiently to allow the Airshow to go ahead. The damage done to the site by the rain was substantial, and it was noted at the time that just one more day of rain on the eve of the show – or during it – would have killed it completely. But fortune favours the brave, and the Airshow organisers’ steely resolve to push on reaped the rewards of success!
On the day, the skies revealed the exciting appearance of an Antonov An-124, performing a gravity defying display for an aircraft of its size! Also part of the inaugural flying display was an Airbus A340, showcasing its very slow flight characteristics thanks to the wonders of fly-by-wire, plus a host of other aircraft, including an Ilyushin II-86 widebody, various warbirds, significant RAAF participation and lots of fast, noisy jets!
Airshow organisers deflected some difficult “PR moments” with the Russian Air Force non-appearance of a couple of promised overseas attractions, notably the MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-27. But there was more than enough exciting hardware in the sky and on the ground to keep Airshow patrons happy.
Ultimately, some 175,000 people turned up over the two public days of the first Avalon Airshow to witness the excitement and see all the action. The inaugural event was a great success and much was learnt to look forward to the next one…
1995 – SUCCESSFUL CONSOLIDATION
If the weather-affected 1992 show had been in some ways the ‘dress rehearsal’, then 1995 was a successful ‘opening night’!
The first of the biennial events, the 1995 show was moved to March to take advantage of the more benign weather typically expected at that time of the year. The Aerospace Expo was expanded to cater for a big increase in exhibitors and a fuller flying display kept the crowd thrilled and happy. A highlight was the evening Sky Show Finale combining aircraft, light and sound against a backdrop of gathering darkness. This concept would be developed, in time, into the dramatic Night Alight display which would become the Friday evening showpiece of the Airshow.
This time, the Russian fighters did turn up, the Sukhoi Su-27 the undoubted star of the show, supported by a number of aircraft from the former Soviet Union including an II-78 Midas tanker, II96M and Tu-204 airlines and the II-76DMP and An-32 firebombers. The RAAF contribution included its ‘new’ F-11G, while aircraft in the running for Australian Defence Force manufacture orders included the BAE Hawk and Dassault Alpha Jet fighter trainers, CASA/ITPN CN-235potential Caribou replacement and Kaman Seasprite helicopter. Their appearance was indicative of the event’s growing status as a showcase for the entire aerospace industry, and a chance to do some serious business!
The new, locally designed and built Gippsland Aeronautics Airvan utility aircraft was there; while legendary aviator Bob Hoover performed his famous and absolutely brilliant ‘energy management’ routine in a Shrike Commander, usually with one or both engines stopped!
The excitement of the public days, coupled with the success of the industry days, set the blueprint for future biennial Airshow events.
1997 – HOT STUFF!
By its third outing at Avalon, the Airshow event was starting to gain momentum – and recognition.
Visiting aircraft included a USAF F-16, KC-135 and C-17, plus a Canadian CP-140 Aurora (Orion), a USMC Super Cobra (part of a sales push to the ADF by Bell), an Ansett A320 in ‘Sydney 2000’ Olympics colours, and a pair of Canadair CL-215 Super Scooper firebombers.
A highlight was the first appearance at Avalon of the HARS Super Constellation after its restoration in the USA and flight to Australia the previous year. Another was the Night Alight display on the Friday evening, a smorgasbord of sights, sounds, light and dark culminating in the spectacular F-111 ‘dump and burn’ in the darkness.
Mother Nature again had a hand in the 1997 show – this time held in the hottest February recorded in Victoria – by putting on sweltering heat over the first three days! However, conditions abated and the pubic days saw huge crowds turning out to witness the excitement and displays. It was observed at the time that the ‘feel’ of the trade Expo was subtly changing to a wider regional emphasis. As was the case with the previous Airshow, the number of national and international exhibitors and visiting foreign officials from all over the world was up.
1999 – COMING OF AGE
The Australian International Airshow achieved a level of maturity in 1999 which indicated it had arrived on the world scene as a significant player. The timing could have posed a problem – the Asian economic crisis was influencing regional events – but the show’s reputation carried it above that and attracted the largest exhibitor and visitor numbers in its history. Again held in February, patrons enjoyed the boom and zoom of the aerial displays against the backdrop of perfect summer weather!
The US military has a strong presence in 1999, headed by a pair of F-15C Eagles, and supported others including two F-16s, a KC-135R tanker, C-5 Galaxy and B-52H. The latter trio were on a static display only, but the C-5 and B-52 in particular were, nevertheless, literally ‘big’ attractions.
The B-52 – which had a combat history over Iraq – was a highlight for Airshow patrons. It held an air of excitement around it as it was parked at the end of the taxiway, with nothing in front, in case it had to make a quick departure for an operational mission in one of the world’s hot spots!
Lockheed Martin displayed one of the RAAF’s new C-130J-30 Hercules transports, which would soon enter service; and Eurocopter, Bell, Agusta, Sikorsky, and Boeing all had their contenders for the Army’s AIR 87 armed reconnaissance helicopter contract in attendance. Eurofighter even brought along a full-size, and very realistic, mockup of the Typhoon to promote it for the RAAF’s Hornet replacement programme, such was the building reputation of the Airshow as the place for international aerospace business networking.
Business jets of various sizes and capabilities were strongly represented at the 1999 Airshow, as were warbirds and historic aircraft. Among these was the exciting appearance of four of Australia’s five airworthy Mustangs. On the sheer entertainment side, the flying acts encompassed under the ‘Stars of Oshkosh’ banner returned to great acclaim, including some heart-stopping wing walking! Aerobatic star Bob Hoover returned to Avalon to once again perform the seeming impossible in a heart stopping display in the Aero Commander.
2001 – A DOUBLE CELEBRATION
The 2001 show was a blockbuster! Marking the official Centenary of Federation, and celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Royal Australian Air Force’s formation on 31 March 1921.
The RAAF’s birthday celebrations provided the overriding theme of this Airshow , backed up by a strong military presence, notably from the USA and Britain who joined in the celebrations. Visitors were excited to see a B-1B Lancer, B-52, two F/A-18F Super Hornets, two F-15C eagles, two F-16Cs, a C-17, Nimrod, two Tornado GR.1s, a VC10 tanker, and two RAF Hercules, plus others from the USAF and RAAF. A Eurocopter Tiger flew and the RAAF display, both on the ground and in the air, was a fascinating showcase of its assets through the decades.
For most, the flying display highlight was the Super Hornet, closely followed by the Tornado. Civil debutants included a Bombardier CRJ700, Dash 8Q400 and Learjet 45 along with a Cessna Cj2, Dassault Falcon 900EX and Cirrus SR20, heralding a new generation of light aircraft. A sad ‘last appearance’ was made by a RAAF Macchi MB-326 jet trainer, making its final public display before retiring from service.
Once again, exhibitor and crowd numbers were up to record levels, further cementing the Australian Internationals Airshow’s status on the world scene.
2003 – 100 YEARS OF POWERED FLIGHT
‘Celebrating the Centenary of Powered Flight’ was the official theme of the 2003 show, 100 years after the Wright brothers changes the course of history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on 17 December 1903.
A lot had happened in the two years since the previous show. Ansett has disappeared from Australian skies and Virgin Blue has entered the scene. The tragic events of 11 September 2001 has changed everything and prompted war in Afghanistan. But much more was about to occur. Preparations for the US-led invasions of Iraq were well underway in February 2003, including participation by all three Australian services. The battle for Iraq started just a month after the show and the uncertainty created by this – especially for the airlines- was exacerbated at the same time by the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus.
Despite all this, the 2003 show once again attracted healthy crowds and substantial industry participation. The fascinating and thrilling flying displays were based around the ‘Centenary of Powered Flight’ theme, covering everything from pre-World War I types up to the present day.
Despite its commitments elsewhere, the US military was able to provide another strong presence and once again the Super Hornet, flown by company test pilot Ricardo Traven, provided a thrilling flying display that was the highlight of the show. Others included the first appearance at Avalon by a RAAF Hawk, and the brand new NH90 helicopter which had recently been commissioned for Australian service. To add to the excitement around its appearance, the NH90 arrived inside an airbus ‘Beluga’ Super Transporter, attracting considerable attention! For British jet warbirds enthusiasts, a Canberra, a Meteor and a Hawker Hunter swooping through the air were a great sight.
2005 – BIG BUSINESS
Held in March, the 2005 show’s theme was ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ - and it proved to be the biggest yet! The Expo boasted a record 500-plus exhibitors from 22 countries, 11 associated major conferences, along with media briefings, workshops and other events.
Hundreds of accredited media, including a large international contingent, descended on Avalon to cover the event. This, and the record number of trade exhibitors, reinforced the fact that the Airshow was gathering momentum in the corporate aerospace world, especially in the area of defence.
The aircraft enthusiasts and families also turned up in droves and the public days drew big, enthusiastic crowds.
In the air, the USAF and Australian Defence Force provided much of the interest, their aircraft backed up by warbirds, other vintage and historic aircraft and ‘novelty’ acts including breath-taking aerobatics.
The USAF continued to provide major support to the show, its contributions including an F-15, F-16 and C-17 (plus a ‘surprise’ B-52 flypast), while the ADF flew its especially-decorated 20th anniversary Hornet, flown by Sqn Ldr Paul Simmons. Other RAAF displays included the crowd favourite F-111, Seahawk, Orion, Squirrels, C-130J, Army Helicopters, Caribou and of course the gravity defying Roulettes!
On the ground, the Army’s new Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter was on public display for the first time, while the arrival of the RAAF’s first Boeing Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft was a major highlight, although it was still more than five years away from entering active service.
The crowds enjoyed warbirds, historic and general aviation aircraft both in the air and on the ground, but a real crowd pleaser was the astounding aerobatics performed by Jurgis Kairys.
2007 – BREAKING BARRIERS
‘Breaking The Barriers’ was the theme for the 2007 Airshow. It marked the 60th anniversary of Charles E ‘Chuck’ Yeager becoming the first man to officially pilot an aircraft past the speed of sound in his Bell X-1. General Yeager was the show’s guest of honour and a full scale mockup of the X-1 was especially constructed for the occasion! We also celebrated the US Air Force’s 60th birthday as part of the Airshow’s displays.
A slight modification to the Airshow’s official name gave indication of its new direction and emphasis. It was now the somewhat cumbersome, but accurately descriptive, Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition. In 2007 a record number of trade exhibitors – some 650 from all over the world – took stand space in the Expo halls and outside, and there were numerous media and industry briefings conducted on the ‘trade days’ between Tuesday and Friday afternoon.
In the air, the Australian Defence Force – spearheaded by the RAAF – and USAF provided breathtaking entertainment! The might of military aircraft was backed up by warbirds, other vintage and historic aircraft and ‘novelty’ acts including thrilling aerobatics.
The USAF’s contribution included a F-15, F-16 and C-17 (plus a B-52 flypast), while the RAAF debuted its own first C-17 as a static display, plus Hornets, Hawk, F-111, Orion, Hercules and Caribou in the air. The Army flew its Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter at Avalon for the first time, to the delight of the crowd!
The star of the show was once again, undoubtedly, the Super Hornet, due not only to the quality of the display flown by test pilot Ricordo Traven, but also because of the interest generated by the fact that just two weeks before the show, 24 has been ordered for the RAAF for active service.
One breath taking display that will remain long in the memory was Agostino Frediani’s exuberance in the Alenia C-27J tactical transport, including some inverted flight!
2009 – TOWARDS TOMORROW
The theme of the 2009 Airshow was ‘Towards Tomorrow’- emphasising technology through recent developments and future directions. It also celebrated the 40th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon and, to the delight of the Airshow patrons, our special guest was Australia’s first astronaut, Dr Andy Thomas.
For many, the display highlight was the pair of USAF Rockwell B-1B Lancer supersonic swing-wing bombers - one flying and one on static display.
As always, the US military strongly supported the show with an F-16 and C-17 joining the B-1B in the air, and other types of aircraft on static display.
Another crowd highlight was Ricordo Traven’s sublime display in the Super Hornet, his fourth appearance at Avalon in the aircraft, and of special significance again because the first Super Hornet commissioned for the RAAF would be rolled out four months later.
Two great RAAF aircraft made their final Avalon appearances before retirement: the F-111 and Caribou. No more ‘dump and burn’! Crowds enjoyed a final look at these sentimental favourites before flying in to the sunset! The Australian Defence Force mounted a great display with examples of most of its aviation assets at Avalon, while airliner buffs were treated to a Qantas A380 and 747, V-Australia’s new 777, plus an RNZAF 757 being flung around the sky like a lightie!.
It seemed that the 2009 show could have had everything conspiring against it: the global economic crisis, other major events in Melbourne at the same time, and the unpredictability of weather. The Friday evening Boeing Night Alight show suffered from a very low cloud base which prevented several acts from performing. With some very strong wind blowing directly across the north-south runway on the Sunday, some aircraft were prevented from flying due to crosswind limitations, including the final Avalon performance by the much loved RAAF F-111.
Despite all this, exhibitors and public alike turned out in droves, with numbers coming close to all time records.
2011 – TRIPLE CELEBRATION
Three anniversaries were celebrated at the 2011 Airshow: the RAAF’s 90th birthday, the 75th anniversary of the Supermarine Spitfire’s first flight (which occurred on 5 March, the Saturday of the show), and the fact that 2011 was the 10th presentation of the Airshow itself!
The RAAF’s birthday was the centrepiece of the show - and it was celebrated in style with most current assets either in the air or on static display, supported by a good number of warbirds and other historic aircraft which had been part of the RAAF’s rich heritage over nine decades. The RAAF’s new combat aircraft, the F/A-18F Super Hornet, made its Avalon debut to the gasps and acclaim of the watching crowds!
Once again the USAF strongly supported the show with a B-1B Lancer and F-16 Fighting Falcon part of the flying display, and several other aircraft types on the ground. The Republic of Singapore Air Force also contributed to the flying display for the first time with an F-16.
A bonus was the arrival of two F-22A Raptors the evening before the show started (a highlight for enthusiastic plane spotters!), one of them flown by a RAAF official on exchange duties with USAF. The Raptors didn’t fly during the show – its display season didn’t start until later in March and the pilot was back at base working up to verification – but for the first time outside the US, a thrilled public was allowed close to the aircraft on the ground!
The warbirds contingent was the best seen for some time, especially with the return of the Temora Aviation Museum to the fold after several shows’ absence. On the ground, a large number of aircraft were on static display, from ultralights to business jets, vintage and historic types, to the latest hi-tech products, SE.5As to Super Hornets – and just about everything in between.
The weather was a little variable for the trade days on Tuesday to Friday, but the sun came out on Saturday and Sunday and so did the crowds. Both days were packed and some Avalon veterans estimate that Saturday drew the biggest crowd ever seen at the show.
2013 – RAPTOP ROCKS!
The 2013 show, held in late February/early March, had the theme ‘The Power of Flight’, This was perfectly illustrated by the major attraction, the USAF’s Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor fighter, which stunned the crowd with its ‘impossible’ gravity defying manoeuvres!
Visitors to Avalon were very lucky to see the Raptor, especially since US budget woes had all but completely cut all of that nation’s military participation in any air shows anywhere in the world at that time. Such was the importance of the Airshow that Avalon’s patrons were the only public to see the Raptor – or any other US military aircraft – at an air show in 2013. A USAF F-16 also displayed, while a B-52 and KC-135 tanker were in the static park.
While the Raptor was the headline act, there was plenty more to see. The RAAF has a very strong presence led by an excellent four-ship Super Hornet display, plus the spectacular Hercules flares drop on the Friday night - which culminated in the best fireworks yet seen at Avalon!
Other breathtaking flying displays were provided by Hawk, C-17, Orion and the Roulettes. On the ground, visitors could see the new Airbus KC-30A tanker-transport for the first time and also the Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft.
The warbirds contingent was led by five aircraft from the Temora Aviation Museum - Sabre, Meteor, Spitfire, Boomerang and Hudson. They were joined by Allan Arthur’s Kittyhawk, Jeff Trappett’s Mustang, and a variety of trainer warbirds.
There were some exciting ‘novelty’ and aerobatics acts including the Breitling Wingwalkers, multiple Australian champion Chris Sperou making his farewell Avalon appearance, Matt Hall, and nine-times British champion Mark Jefferies.
A major highlight was the brilliant TinStix of Dynamite display, which combined the aerobatics skills of US performers Melissa Pemberton and Skip Stewart, with the spectacular pyrotechnics of Rich Gibson.
2015 – PAYING TRIBUTE
The 2015 show’s main theme – ‘Heroes Of The Sky’ – paid tribute to ANZAC and the pioneers of military aviation, who began fighting in the air for the first time a century ago in World War 1. The show also provided the first significant observance of the Gallipoli campaign in its centenary year. Visitors were treated to the sights and sounds of a number of replica and reproduction World War I aircraft in the air and on static display.
The Australian Defence Force once again made a very substantial contribution to the show with all three services represented and examples of most of its assets in attendance. The ADF had no fewer than 55 aircraft at the show, a magnificent contribution.
A brilliant 80-minutes ‘ADF Showcase’ display on the Saturday and Sunday public days featured mock attacks and ground support operations involving everything from Super Hornets to the KC-30A, C-17 and Army helicopters.
Another highlight was the debut Australian appearance of Singapore’s Black Knights team and its F-16s. A USAF B-52 flypast on the Friday afternoon (plus one on static display during the show), the much loved warbirds, plus some superb aerobatics from the Oris Immortals team, the Awesome Aerobatics duo of Mark Jefferies and Tom Cassells, and Australia’s Paul Bennet, filled the sky with action and thrills!
The static display had everything from ultralights to airliners and included the first local appearance of the Airbus A400M Atlas military transport. Two USAF F-22 Raptors were also on the ground but there was no flying possible as the sole authorised display pilot was not available. 2015 brought enthusiasts and families another great show with the variety and excitement that can only be found at Avalon.
2017 – FEEL THE POWER
The 2017 show held between 28 February and 5 March certainly lived up to its ‘Air Power In Action’ theme! No fewer than five new RAAF aircraft made their debuts, to make this one of the most memorable in the show’s history. The RAAF’s only two (thus far) Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters flew in specially from their training duties in the USA to perform, and returned immediately after the show. They were joined by the first Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. To have two brand new combat jets appear simultaneously in the skies over Avalon was a very special treat!
The jets were joined by the first of the RAAF Pilatus PC-21 trainers which were flown in from Switzerland, the first P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft and the C-27J Spartan battlefield airlifter. The appearance of these five types underlined the RAAF’s capability and also marked the start of a new era in its history. The spectacular ADF Showcase section of the flying display was built around a mock battle scenario involving numerous RAAF aircraft plus ground forces. It well illustrated the ‘new era’ of connected, inter-operability and networked warfare for which Australia now has some of the most advanced airborne assets in the world.
ADF support, and especially that of the RAAF, was massive- with almost all of its aviation assets in attendance, plus visiting aircraft from a number of countries. One of them was the USAF’s F-22 Raptor fighter, which once again dazzled the crowd with its extraordinary abilities.
Warbirds, antiques, aerobatics, helicopters and many other types of aircraft filled the skies over Avalon, while on the ground there were hundreds of aircraft covering just about any role you could think of. In combination with the very large number of industry exhibitors, both large and small, who displayed their wares, this was a very successful Avalon.
The weather was kind and the public voted with its feet, coming in huge numbers and setting a new attendance record. No fewer than 176,742 turned up over the two-and-a-half public days, plus more than 33,000 during the trade days.
2019 – SUMMER SIZZLER
The 2019 Airshow was held between 26 February and 3 March and brought together an unprecedented display of emerging and current technologies, as well as a cavalcade of up to the minute, technologically equipped aircraft, the likes of which have never been seen before assembled in Australia.
The RAAF F-35 Strike Fighter and the USAF F-22 Raptor lead the cavalcade of military heavy metal, showcasing the technology of tomorrow and the 5th Generation Air Force. The skies over Avalon erupted with the roar of supersonic flight as these two state of the art combat aircraft performed high energy, simulated combat manoeuvres. They were joined by the RAAF’s new electronic attack aircraft, the EA 18G Growler – an outstanding addition to Australia’s defence arsenal, fitted with state of the art technology and providing complementary capability to the Super Hornet and the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.
Apart from military hardware, Airshow patrons were thrilled by the breathtaking flying displays of the ever popular aerobatic performers. National aerobatics champion, Paul Bennet, returned to Avalon with one of the most thrilling routines ever seen at an Australian airshow. Paul debuted his aerobatic team – the Four Ship Sky Aces, Australia’s only high performance civilian aircraft aerobatic team. The were joined by historic warbirds and antiques, including a faithfully restored Hudson bomber – a veteran of the war in the Pacific.
Attendances across the entire event totalled over 170,000 as visitors from flying enthusiasts, military delegations and families flocked to Avalon for the Airshow, including the jewel in its airborne crown – The Night Alight Sky show. This stunning night pageant is the Airshow’s night of nights as showers of sparks and piercing lasers shoot from the wing tips of aircraft performing amazing precision aerobatics. Brilliant pyrotechnics light up the night sky as modern military jets perform simulated combat manoeuvres including bombing runs along the run way. As Night Alight reaches its crescendo, the massive Wall of Fire erupts along the length of the runway, and fireworks explode into the night sky. This incredible night of entertainment was declared by our visitors as “better than New Year’s Eve!”.