Vital signs

Enjoying the country air

You see. This is what I’m talking about… 

At Aldinga, there was nothing to get in the way of a good look. Several of these aircraft also flew on the day… The visitors were respected – and so were the aircraft. (airscape Photo)

In the past two weeks I’ve been to two small, country air shows. And country shows are the best.

The first was quite by accident. The small airfield at Aldinga (YADG), about 45 km from central Adelaide, had promoted an ‘Open Day’ that I wanted to go to. (You’ll see why in an upcoming post.) It was billed as a chance to walk around, meet the pilots, and look in the hangars ‘just like we used to before there were airport fences’.

What a beautiful idea, right? Count me in. 

Value to the community

Aldinga locals make the most of their chance to wander around the aircraft and take a closer look. (airscape Photo)

When I did last minute checks before setting out on the day, I found some other publicity with the headline ‘Open day to highlight Aldinga Airfield’s value to the community’.

Well! If I was looking for two great reasons to hold an airfield open day, that would be both of them. 

YADG is located about 40km south of Adelaide in the McLaren Vale wine region. It is a base for rescue helicopter training and for Angel Flights. It’s also home to a small but active flying club, a good number of private aircraft (including those Angel Flight pilots) and Adelaide Biplanes – which operates the airfield, offers scenic tourist flight, and provides flight training.

Open, friendly, engaging… The Aldinga Airfield Open Day was a well organised treat for aviation’s neighbours. (airscape Photo)

Despite a dark trough looming in from the west, the day was simply fantastic. Hundreds of people turned out to walk through the parked aircraft (each with info cards on their propellers, a la Oshkosh), watch aerobatics displays, see a parachute jump, check out the aviation and community  exhibits, and enjoy an excellent range of refreshments.

Close it down

Meet the aircraft… Visitors roam the aircraft parking area at Aldinga Airfield. (airscape Photo)

The highlight for me, though, was remembering that several years ago a local resident action committee was raised with the the aim of severely curtailing, if not totally closing, the airfield and its aviation activities. 

Aldinga is only a local airfield, so there was no Federal protection to be had.

But by working with their neighbours – rather than simply fighting them – Aldinga, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency were able to reach an arrangement that satisfied the local farmers, tourism operators and aviators. The cornerstone of the deal is a set of curfews that respect public holidays, daylight saving hours, plus agricultural working (and sleeping) routines. 

As a glowering front closed in, the inimitable Chris Sperou took advantage of his unlimited aerobatics rating. In case this doesn’t look low to you, it was taken with an iPhone – no zoom! (airscape Photo)

I’m not going to get all misty-eyed and imagine the core of people who wanted to close everything down were there for the Open Day – or that they’ve even changed their minds… But the airfield is thriving and the local community is interested enough to come out (in droves) to enjoy a closer look.  And that goes to show what a co-operative, reasonable approach by all sides can achieve.

Air Spectacular

Chris Sperou, fresh from Aldinga the week before, in his Super Stinker. (airscape Photo)

The second show, on October 21st, was the Jamestown Air Spectacular. This is one of my all-time favourites and I will move heaven and earth to get there. The first time I ever went, I arrived in time to see the RAAF’s lead F/A-18 test pilot wringing out one of his country’s frontline jets for a solid 12 minutes, before disappearing in a vertical climb into the flight levels. 

I’ve been to quite a few major and RAAF shows over the years, taking in a wide range of aircraft and any number of aerobatic performances, but I’ve only seen an inverted ribbon cut at ten feet, and a Pitts flown under a motorcycle doing a flip, at Jamestown. 

Airshow maestro Paul Bennet begins the walk down from his Avenger after an awesome display of the huge warbird. (airscape Photo)

This year the displays included a couple of Pitts aerobatics performances, a Grumman Avenger, T-28, P-40, CA-18 Mustang, CAC Boomerang, CAC Wirraway, DH-82a Tiger Moths, DHC-1 Chipmunks, Nanchang, Glasair, SIA Marchetti, SA341 Gazelle and more. 

It’s not a bad effort for the local flying group in a country wheat centre, with a population of only 1,600.

In the shade

Some of the heavy warbirds included P-40E VH-KTY, originally #41-25109, which flew for the appreciative crowd. (airscape Photo)

I can’t decide whether it’s the warbird and other aircraft owners who make a special effort to attend; the fact that you can watch the show from the shade of a massive gum tree (shade being a rare commodity at any air show), or the way the community gets together and welcomes all comers to their aviation event… but my triennial pilgrimage 200km north never disappoints.

Jamestown’s show is a lot bigger than Aldinga’s – with a firmly-established reputation, it draws in several thousand visitors. However it always feels very local, very engaging, and very positive.

It doesn’t get much more easy-going than this! Jamestown’s uniquely open approach to their spectacular air show. (airscape Photo)

The simplicity of the day has to be one of its greatest charms. There are a couple of viewing precincts immediately adjacent to the movement areas, but the overall plan simply involves closing the road that runs past the airport and letting people use it as a grandstand. Trees lining the westerns side of the road lend their grace and shade to the day. 

No 12-foot chainlink

Taking it easy about 100m from the runway threshold – with no fences to spoil the views. (airscape Photo)

It’s also possible to set up a camp chair about 100m from the runway threshold, for perfect view of every aircraft as it begins its take-off roll and then roars past on short finals.

A couple of handy sheep paddocks serve as carparks – sans sheep, fortunately, but you still need to watch where you step. And the carpark marshalling is flawless, even if the marshalls are only wearing their farm clothes and gesturing with bits of stick instead of something more… I don’t know… unnecessary. 

Jamestown’s picture-perfect day was 21º with light breezes and great viewing. Those parked aircraft, by the way, are on the far side of YJST’s runway! (airscape Photo)

And none of the airport fences is more than waist high. There’s no 12-foot chainlink here. They’re mostly sheep netting, designed around the real threat of curious ovines on the 1,095 days between shows, rather than some unspecified chance of terrorism. 

There’s an implicit trust that none of the spectators will act like an idiot. And none of them do. It’s just a great atmosphere, with great aircraft and great flying, in a great part of the world. 

We’ll be okay

Barossa Helicopters did a brisk business all day, taking people for a $40 flip over the town in the very best traditions of barnstorming. (airscape Photo)

The amazing thing about both shows is the health of public fascination with aviation. People aren’t as jaded as they appear when their clothes are being swabbed for traces of explosive, or they’ve just stepped off a ten-hour red-eye with hardly enough elbow room to feed themselves the peanuts.  

In fact, a lot of people want to see planes and ask questions of their pilots. Shutting them out is the worst thing aviation can do. 

A nice indication of the variety on show at Jamestown – Pitts and Wirraway. (airscape Photo)

Of course, the challenge now is is to take the goodwill of the big day and draw it out over the coming year – or three

(Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling… A lot of effort goes into marketing air shows like this – putting a little more into follow-up marketing, to remind people what a good time they had, could do immeasurable good. Even if it’s immeasurable. Or a photo contest where entries are exhibited in the local town hall, celebrated in the local paper, and promoted online would reconnect visitors with the event after it was finished.)

These genuine, welcoming engagements reinforce the fact that ‘the aviation community’ isn’t just ‘the flying community’ or ‘the pilot community’. It’s a much bigger tent than that. The more people we can welcome in, and keep in, the better off we’ll be.

There’s no way everyone is going to love General Aviation, or even engage with it. But as long as enough people do, we might be okay.

Have road, won’t travel… A view of the ‘general seating’ area – Murchland Road, 5491, closed to traffic for the event. (airscape Photo)

10 thoughts on “Vital signs

  1. Your post was heartening to read. The lack of fences and loud jets were quite refreshing to this city boy. We just had the Huntington Beach Airshow near my home, and while the Blue Angels are always exciting to see, they don’t exactly scream “accessibility” or “grass roots”.

    And your suggestions were good ones. I’d add one more: get the kids involved, however and whenever you can. Have the schools bring them out during the week before the show for special events, send the pilots into the classrooms with multimedia presentations, give them free rides (Young Eagles), teach them about all the jobs in aviation, do whatever is necessary — because today’s kids are tomorrow’s property owners, community leaders, and politically active citizens. Capture them when they’re young, when their imagination is still ripe for it. It will pay dividends for GA long into the future.

    1. Excellent suggestion! Getting the kids engaged is super-important, and they’d probably jump at the chance to help out, meet pilots, ask questions, etc. Plus, I imagine a country school like Jamestown would always be happy for practical applications of their STEM curriculum.
      I noted yesterday (on avweb.com) that the U.K.’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation has listed STEM recruitment for aviation as one of their top priorities. Planting the seed early makes even more sense.

  2. WOW! I would have LOVED Air Shows like these when I was a kid! I’d love them now too! Last ones I went to at Biggin Hill, the closest you could get to ANY aircraft was about thirty feet!

    1. Yup – pretty special. I imagine having a small, relaxed airshow anywhere in southern England would be nigh on impossible. However I’m sure there are quiet fields on the continent where remarkable aircraft gather in friendly circumstances…

      1. Nearest we would have to that I guess would be at Headcorn (Lashenden) but even then fences separate the crowds from the aircraft by quite a distance. Talk to the pilots? NEVER known that to happen unless you are a member of that rather elite group. Very sad.

  3. Sounds like two great successes. It’s so nice to have that openness and trust that no one will act like an idiot. You see so many here just ignoring those around just to get that one shot rather than enjoying the show for what it is.

    1. They were two wonderful events in quick succession, and I feel very lucky. It’s obviously not quite so easy everywhere… A friend and I have watched the Warbirds Downunder show at Temora get progressively more fenced off with each iteration – to the point where I didn’t even feel compelled to go this time. It’s a shame. And when a few attendees don’t respect the boundaries and the aircraft, everybody suffers. As a group, we’re effectively doing it to ourselves.

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