Enjoying the country air
You see. This is what I’m talking about…
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.