AUSTRALIAN INTERNATIONAL AIR SHOW 2009 - Avalon Airport / Victoria

From the 10th to the 15th of March 2009 the Australian International Air Show 2009 was held at Avalon Airport located near the city of Geelong in the state of Victoria, Australia. This bi-annual event is considered by many as one of the most important aviation exhibitions conducted within the Asia-Pacific region. Despite the current global economic downturn, aviation industry and trade participation was still considerable however the actual size of the exhibition stands had decreased significantly, especially when compared with the previous 2007 show. Indeed, while the official line was one of optimism that was reflected by the numerous official conferences and speeches conducted a level of concern was still clearly obvious.  As such, it was of little surprise that no large-scale contracts were signed at this years show. A result of the aviation industry may still be holding its collective breath, although hopefully the end is in sight with enough oxygen available for all everybody concerned, but only time will tell!

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One reason for the lack of lucrative contracts, particularly from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) perspective, is the fact that the RAAF had recently received several new aircraft types within the last 5 years (for example the BAe Hawk Mk.127, Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules and the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III). While orders will be placed to replace some extant types such as the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark, which will be replaced by the Boeing F./A-18 Super Hornet (due to be delivered next year) as an interim solution until the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightening II (JSF) comes on line in 2014. This was another reason why the Super Hornet was once again one of the highlights at the Avalon show, flown by Boeings famous chief test pilot, Ricardo Traven. The acquisition of the Super Hornet to replace the formidable F-111 is still a very much-muted point amongst Australian aviation experts (see Avalon 2007).

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The only contract expected within the aviation industry in the very near future will be the procurement of additional Lockheed C-130J Hercules aircraft for the RAAF (12 aircraft). Initial talks took place at Avalon, however a final decision in favour of the purchase was not made until recently. Interestingly the C-130J is to be the replacement for the now obsolete DeHavilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou, which had it's very last public appearance at Avalon 2009.  The Lockheed Alenia C-27J Spartan (built by the Italian company Alenia as a joint venture with Lockheed Martin) was considered as the logical successor of the Caribou with announcement of the acquisition of  Lockheed C-130J Hercules  as a Caribou replacement taking everyone by  complete surprise.

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In many ways the J-model Hercules is a far less capable platform when compared to venerable Caribou or even the newer C-27J Spartain for that matter. It is also far more expensive when compared to the twin engined tactical transporter from Italy. The later is equipped with the same type of engines (Rolls- Royce/Allison AE2100 D3), same propellers (Doety R391) as well as the same type of avionics as the C-130J, also known as Super Hercules. The extraordinary Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) capabilities of the DHC-4 Caribou are truly legendary with this remarkable aircraft serving with the RAAF for some 45 years. The Caribou was originally scheduled for retirement in 1999, however no successor could be found as no modern tactical transport could carry out the same tasks as well as the mighty Caribou. Unfortunately  an increasing number of cracks found in the airframe and corrosion issues forced the RAAF to retire its entire DHC-4 fleet by the end of this year. To partially fulfil the gap in transport capability (at least in some degree) and to train crews in working on a more modern platform, No. 38 Sqn will lease three Hawker Pacific P300 King Air aircraft from the Army.

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All together some 611 listed exhibitors originating from more than 20 different countries contributed to the 2009 Avalon Airshow 2009 being a huge success, however in regard to the flying displays a truly international flavour sadly was missing. Only the USAF was (thanks god they were there depending on your personal point of view) disproportionately highly represented, as they were at most previous shows. US participation consisted of: one Lockheed C-5 Galaxy (static display), one Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker (static display), two Boeing B-1B Lancer (static display & flying),  two F-16C Viper (static display & flying), one F/A-18 Super Hornet (flying) and one Boeing F-15C Eagle (unfortunately also on static display only) . But quantity does not represent quality as the flying displays from the US left a lot to be desired. The B-1B Lancer was flying closer to the moon than to earth and even the F-16 solo display, particularly when compared to European Viper-displays (such as RNLAF or Belgium Air Force), were only mediocre. Many visitors also had ahard time with the commentary of the US displays. For many years (and hundreds of airshows world wide) the official USAF narrator drones on with the same uninspiring dialogs, even with the same exact same pitch to a point where one might think they are using a tape recorder. Please, our dear American friends, devise something new, a little bit more creative and definitely a lot less heroic! Your audience would really appreciate it!

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The actual airshow (on the public days commencing on Friday at 17:00h, then Saturday and Sunday) was subject to very bad weather. In the weeks before the show South-Eastern Australia suffered from record-braking high temperatures resulting in many serious bush fires. Shortly before the airshow took place the weather changed dramatically with temperatures dropping to below 10 Celsius with strong continuous rain missing almost all of the flying displays on Saturday. However on Sunday it was rain -showers and increasing crosswinds which affected the flying displays considerably. Nevertheless more than 165,000 spectators poured into the airfield. The Australians took the bad weather stoically, however only when the very last flight of the legendary General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark was cancelled due to strong crosswinds could one hear more than one unfriendly commentary from the audience.

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Many spectators just came to see their beloved  Pig (the  F-111's unofficial name given by the Australian public, which is derived from the official name of this famous aircraft, Aardvark, which means Earthpig in Afrikaans) for the very last time. It was the crew (according to an official statement) who decided not to fly because of the strong crosswinds. A decision that many of the general public found very hard to accept. The F-111 was one of the most sophisticated all-weather combat aircraft to ever serve in an air force. There had been some rumours that the real reason for this decision may have been a political one (the Super Hornet was flying just half an hour before the F-111, just to show the public that the F/A-18 can do what the F-111 could not). The last remaining General Dynamics F-111 are stationed at RAAF Amberly and will be disbanded by the middle of 2010. At this stage no fly-out or farewell celebrations have been planned.

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Even the amount of warbirds present had decreased considerably when  compared to previous shows. The reason for this relates more in the lack of available hangar place to store these valuable aircraft, a reasonable requirement to protect these rare machines form the bad weather conditions encountered. However one very special guest, who is always a welcome sight at Avalon is the famous Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, owned and operated by the HARS (Historical Aircraft Restoration Society). Unfortunately the Super Connie was grounded on Sunday due to technical problems, but this legendary  airliner is nevertheless a welcome sight and a highlight - even if only on the taxiway. The only warbird which performed a flying display was a Yakovlev Yak-9U and a CAC-18 (license built North American P-51D Mustang). In regard to civilian aviation, the very first landing of a QANTAS Airbus A380 at Avalon Airport  was performed and the appearance of V Australia`s first Boeing 777 Didgeree Blue .

In conclusion, even with the current economic crisis the organizers of the Australian International Airshow 2009, Airshows Downunder did a marvellous job in getting a great event going. Unfortunately the poor weather threw a spanner into the works. We just hope (for the Australian public, the organizers and also for us:-)) that the Australian International Airshow will be back to business as usual in 2011- no financial  crisis, no rain, just great flying displays and the same wonderful people - see you then!

Robert Kysela / CHK6

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