We awoke Monday morning, checked out of our hotel, drove out of the basement and made our way to Newcastle.
Long term readers will recall, Karen and I stayed near RAAF Williamtown three years ago on a trip to Newcastle but did not go to Fighter World which was literally down the road. I was hoping to make amends for that on this trip. Driving out of Sydney on a monday morning was interesting. It seemed like we were perpetually in a school zone of 40kms per hour for the whole city.
Eventually we got out on the open road and made it to our destination.
We fuelled up at the same servo we had years earlier near the airport.
Many years ago a friend of mine from high school served at RAAF Williamtown. He told me there was a great cafe at Fighter World and so that is where we were lucky enough to have breakfast and he was right – it was excellent! As we ate jets flew past low level outside.
Upon arriving at Fighter World we had noted huge crowds.
I wondered if it had something to do with the RAAF’s Centenary this year.
When we got to the front of the line we were handed a brochure and told to go in. I asked where we paid and the door greeter informed me that we had arrived on the annual open day. Admission was free.
Many years ago I went to the RAF Museum at Hendon in England which was just a smorgasboard of all kinds of aircraft types. There is nothing in Australia that can compare to Hendon but there is something a little special about taking in history that you feel belongs to you.
Like I said a friend of mine actually served in the RAAF, in my home city the F-111s flew overhead from nearby RAAF Amberley at Riverfire and did their famous Dump and Burn. Afterburners igniting jet fuel dumped to light up the night sky before the fireworks display. There was nothing like it in the world and here was the aircraft that did it – for me to see up close for the first time.
Early jet aircraft like the Meteors, Vampires, Sabres through to Mirage IIIs and then a bomber in the F-111 known affectionately as The Pig for its ability to fly low level.
For a while there we always seemed a little behind the curve, Meteors first flying in the closing days of World War II were sent to Korea by the RAAF and quickly found themselves outmatched by the cutting edge MiG-15 and switched to the ground attack role.
RAAF Sabres missed that war but served in the Malayan Emergency and were sent to Ubon, Thailand to fly air patrols during the Vietnam War at a time when the F-4 Phantom was a generation ahead of that aircraft. We leased some Phantoms in the early 1970s but had procured instead the French made Mirage IIIs which proved versatile if not terribly sophisticated.
Working through the teething problems of acquiring the F-111 in the early 1970s and acquring the F/A-18 Hornet in the late 1980s changed everything.
The Aardvark was a medium range bomber and state of the art – there was nothing like it in the rest of South East Asia.
The Hornet would go on to fly Combat Air Patrols over Diego Garcia during the war in Afghanistan and drop bombs in anger in Iraq.
Though a little outdated during the peak of their service in the RAAF, these early jet aircraft were still game changers and beautiful planes to see up close that served our nation valiantly over the years.
The first aircraft to break the sound barrier in Australia was a Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation built Avon Sabre A94-101 flown into a dive by RAAF test pilot Flight Lieutenant William Scott on the 21st of August, 1953 near Avalon Airfield, Geelong, Victoria.
Karen and I arrived on the look out deck of the museum just in time to see what appeared to be Hawk Jet Trainers fly past us low level. A real treat.
Fighter World was a real delight. We got glider planes for Karen’s nephews to play with and a whole raft of posters too that Karen picked up. On our way out an older couple had their posters fly loose across the driveway leading me and the husband to race off after them. They seemed in pretty good nick.
Not for the first time did I marvel at our RAAF personnel who served our nation. Plenty flew humanitiaran missions as well as in war time. Plenty lost their lives or had their health affected to keep those birds up in the air flying. There is a rich history preserved by the staff and volunteers at Fighter World that I was grateful to get to see.
You can read my review of FIghter World at Weekend Notes Fighter World – Newcastle (weekendnotes.com)
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It was well past midday now so Karen and I started off again for Brisbane and home.
I didn’t want to stop at the same old places so on the way back I took a turn off the highway and ended up at a place called South Valla Beach. We parked and looked out over the ocean. A woman nearby in a car looked at me with distrust and befuddlement.
As if she was thinking, “What the hell are you doing here? Nobody comes around here to our place.”
Next we went to a cafe that was shut and parked around the back where there was a pharmacy.
I asked the pharmacist if we could please use his bathroom and he said yes. After we did they closed the shop.
Must have just got in.
As the drive carried on I got white line fever but Karen got thirsty. Husband and wives may know where this conversation led. There are a few twists and turns in such a conversation but in the end I parked outside a servo far off the highway as the sun was setting.
I did however get to see the beautiful area around the town of Grafton. It would be nice to go there sometime properly.
The sun set, we drove past big trucks, big trucks drove past us, the country roads got dark and high beam lights were turned on and off with traffic. I was reminded of my tense late night drive back to Newcastle from Sydney three years earlier, as we passed Byron Bay and headed for the border of New South Wales.
But the darkness didn’t last as long this time, the road didn’t curve and slant as dramatically as it did outside Sydney.
Familar landmarks that let you know you are close to home do make you rest easy for some reason. That’s how I felt as I crossed the border back into the state of Queensland.
My second holiday in twelve months came to a close with 213,556 kilometres on the odometer.
A new record 902 kilometres driven in one day.
That was a 1,785 kilometre trip all up, a jam packed weekend, a wonderful wedding with friends.
I feel very grateful and fortunate to have attended my friend’s wedding, to have enjoyed a night out in Sydney and a day at Fighter World.