(G)olden days

Messing about in planes

This won’t be news to TAVAS members any more, but a couple of weekends back I had the enormous pleasure of hanging out with my mate Andrew at the TAVAS Museum at Caboolture, north of Brisbane. (Plus other shenanigans, which we needn’t go into here.)

The TAVAS Santos-Dumont Demoiselle replica was originally built for 1965’s Those Magnificent Men In The Flying Machines. The Eindecker replica behind is accurate to its Belgian linen covering, while the Farman III wings loom in from the right.

TAVAS Museum

I’d like to stop here, in case your boss comes in and you have to stop before the end, to say that if you live near Brisbane or ever find yourself up that way for any reason, you should definitely plan a trip to the TAVAS Museum.

Andrew has built up an amazing collection of flying pre-war and World War One replicas into The Australian Vintage Aviation Society, including several unique, rare and fascinating machines.

Just as one example, if you’ve never been up close and personal with a full-sized 1910 Voisin/Farman III/Bristol Boxkite you NEED to see exactly how much of a flimsy, fantastical giant of Edwardian engineering it really was.

And that’s just one of fourteen or so.

Along with the aircraft, the museum’s hangar walls are a detailed 360º account of early aviation history that are worth reading every word.

A relatively modern project is this rebuild of Sydney Camm’s iconic Hawker Demon, complete with RR Kestrel engine. If you think a Merlin sounds sweet, just wait until you hear a Kestrel!
The pillowy translucence of a replica Whitehead No.22 of 1902, built for a documentary about the genius pioneer who predated the Wright Brothers.

You can see more in the gallery below, and at the TAVAS website.

Tiger, Tiger

My TAVAS visit would be even more immersive. Courtesy of Andrew and the Westerhuis Family, I was treated to a front seat ride in a formation of two matching DH.82a Tiger Moths. Jordan and the Museum’s Sunday volunteer Pat, both professional pilots, drove the Tigers while Andrew formed up in his Fokker Triplane replica.

One of the two immaculate matching Westerhuis Tiger Moths we took for a spin – literally.

We had briefed a gentle, fun tail chase as a photo op over the Bribie Island passage.

I remember a couple of speed boats were making their way down the passage as we pulled up about 2,500 feet overhead.

I don’t know what they thought was happening. They would have seen three bright red aircraft – one of which appeared to be the Red Baron – arrive in reasonably good formation and then simply exploded into a no-holds-barred dogfight.

Not the greatest air to air photo – but enough to give you the general idea. Fun, directly ahead!

It was pretty clear to me that the boys’ competitive spirit had the bit in its teeth.

It took a minute to get my eye in and find where Andrew had disappeared to, but after that I was able to follow the swirling aircraft as they dove and turned to get on each other’s tail. Just.

A dog in this fight

I now have a better understanding of the fleeting randomness of dogfights. Of how aircraft can be deadly close then disappear in an instant. Or how an adversary can be on you in a flash, but a friend can be too far away for you to help.

Not that there were any friends in our furball. It was everyone onto everyone. 

At one point, with two aircraft behind us, Jordan pulled our Tiger up and over into a spin. Apparently it looked fantastic but I was on the inside, too busy enjoying the swirling earth over the nose and how quickly my brain started barking orders – Close the throttle! Stick forward! Identify the direction of rotation! Full opposite – oh yeah, I’m not actually flying. Enjoy the ride.

The quiet after… Tiger Moths look like such genteel ladies. But when you get one wound up, there is plenty of fight in the old girls.

It was great. Actually, there was a profanity in my review, but you never know what will get your post blocked these days so I’ll leave it to your imagination. 

Pat pilots the other Tiger back toward Caboolture Airfield. The waterway in the background was the backdrop to our furball.

Suffice to say, my camera didn’t see nearly as much action as I did, which is a shame. I guess I’ll have to go back and have another!

A huge thank you to Andrew, Jordan and Pat for a weekend that’ll stay with me forever.

Thanks guys. See you soon.

2 thoughts on “(G)olden days

  1. What an experience! It’s one thing to visit a museum and see historic aircraft sitting statically in a hangar, but quite another to actually take flight in them and participate in a genuine dog fight (sans shooting and carnage).

    I can’t imagine any better way to get close to those who actually flew them in the war. #jealous

    1. To be honest, I’m a little bit jealous of me too! It was a real eye-opener, as well as a lot of fun. And, let’s not forget, a privileged opportunity. I’m always thankful to the people who preserve, replicate, display and operate historic aircraft.

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