By Mike Mangano
Australia’s Central Coast Airshow Captivates Crowds
During the weekend, on May 14 and May 15, the small airport of Warnervale, Australia on the Central Coast transformed into “AvGeek” paradise as the Central Coast Airshow came to life. The event — supported by AirlineGeeks — was flocked to by those thirsting for a display of heritage aircraft and high-speed aerobatics and left few disappointed.
The airport — approximately one and a half hours north of Sydney —managed to provide a clear Saturday and an overcast-yet-dry Sunday, defying the incessant wet-weather brought by La Niña. Pilots from all backgrounds, including one Qantas First Officer, demonstrated the capabilities of historical warbirds and trainers, aerobatic biplanes, and a finale of the latest F-35 Lightning II. Accompanying the aerial action was a static display of GA aircraft, food stalls and the ever-present souvenir from the rains in the form of four inches of mud.
On entry, there was one port of call with the highest priority — the apron.
The variety and value of the aircraft were world-class, with some aircraft the rarest in Australia and, indeed, the world. Lining the apron on arrival was a magnetic collection of airplanes sized both substantial and slight, most notably a beautifully maintained Grumman Avenger complete with wings folded as if it were on a carrier. When the aircraft was completing a flight, the coordinated turns produced some graceful motions for the avid photographer to capture.
Sitting right next to this immaculate specimen was another, more modern machine: a pristine Pitts Model 12. Built around a 1940s Russian Vedeneyev M14P, 9-cylinder engine, the Model 12 later thrilled the crowd with its high-performance aerobatics.
The presence of perhaps a lesser-known display team composed entirely of civilian pilots from Paul Bennet Airshows. Any formation flight is always captivating, but this team of four flew with precision comparable to any military display team. Flying tight, there was little margin for error as the team proved that ‘you don’t need to be a fighter pilot’ to awe crowds.
It was a further surprise to learn that the pilot of a PAC CT/4 Airtrainer – a variant of the Victa Airtourer (yes, the Australian lawnmower Victa) – was flown by the pilot of an Australian airline giant. Bryan Greenfield, a Qantas Boeing 787 Dreamliner First Officer, performed some great maneuvers in the bright yellow CT/4, telling AirlineGeeks that “flying the 787 is my hobby”. The Airtrainer makes no mistake in sporting some pearly whites. They were purchased several months ago by a local dental surgeon and pilot, Ned Restom, who was taught to fly by Greenfield himself.
AirlineGeeks asked the veteran airline pilot just how he ended up as a part-time aerobatic pilot.
“I’ve been flying the CT/4 at Warnervale for two years,” Greenfield said. “I’ve always looked at flying as a hobby”.
Greenfield credited his grandmother with introducing him to flight at the age of five, flying on a Qantas 707. In a full circle, Greenfield related his experiences in flying for regional Australian airlines before joining Qantas as a Boeing 747-400 Second Officer to advance all the way to the Airbus A330 and, currently, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner as a First Officer.
Now inspiring others to fly, Greenfield started working as an advanced flight instructor for Central Coast Aero Club at Warnervale when COVID brought most of the aviation industry to a screeching halt in 2020. For this writer, it was just another incredible story of pilots helping pilots in a period of uncertainty. Concluding the discussion, AirlineGeeks posed the pilot with the age old question of which aircraft he preferred. Greenfield was blunt: “Boeing all the way!” – this writer concurs.
Despite the great lineup, there were some last-minute changes to the program, meaning a visit from the CAC Mustang – a variant of the P-51 – was canceled. While that was disappointing for some, the cancellation was outshone by a performance of two other World War II icons: a Mark IX Spitfire and a Curtis P-40 Kittyhawk. For the alert spectator, the Kittyhawk fly-by was serenaded by the score from the film Pearl Harbor.
For the lover of heritage warbirds, there was another magnificent sight – a flight by the world’s only flight-worthy Lockheed Hudson. Graceful in motion, it performed a few lazy turns and provided some great opportunities for photos. It would appear that one individual (one may wonder who) forgot a bigger lens to capture such shots, however, he shall remain safely anonymous. The reader will be grateful he caught this shot below, and will not remind this anonymous individual of his silly mistake, which several others generously did on the reader’s behalf.
AirlineGeeks was spoiled for choice when it came to lunch. What did this writer choose? Well, lunch actually found him. A Vietnamese food truck and its crew, Hi Chef, happily provided a hungry writer with a fantastic sweet-and-sour, flavor-explosion on a bread roll for free (perhaps due to sympathy). The mud-pit grounds meant it was impossible to access the food outlets without swimming in four inches of mud, but watching the wise stomp their boots next to those who preferred to take their shoes off altogether made for great entertainment.
The Royal Australian Air Force Roulettes — making their first display since COVID-19 — made an appearance later in the program in perfect formation. Composed of pilots from all areas in the RAAF, the team displayed what the six-week intense training is all about – precision piloting. Joining the commentators in the ‘tower’, a scaffolded stand above the crowds, this writer enjoyed the formation with an unofficial mascot who has made their way around every Australian air show since 2017.
The finale for both days was a display from a RAAF F-35 Lightning II, complete with pyrotechnic charges parallel to the runway. The display, deafening in the best way possible, was heart-stopping to say the least. Spectators were privy to the high-performance characteristics of the new fighter, witnessing the rapid climb rate and, despite the lack of thrust vectoring, sharp turning capability.
The Sunday afternoon finale, to the disappointment of many, was briefly interrupted by ‘traffic’. Although unidentified (possible just radio chatter), the jet rapidly left the airspace until the area could be confirmed as clear. After a display of its maneuverability, the new aircraft flew directly overhead of the crowd, with a the fireballs of pyrotechnics producing a closing bang to follow the roar of a Pratt and Whitney F135, 40,000 lbs thrust power plant.
As the informed AvGeek well knows, there is no destination too obscure to visit; if there are planes, there are planespotters. The Central Coast, however, offers the luxury of planes and polished accommodation. Of great significance is the Central Coast Aero Club. The club, staffed with experienced flight instructors, looks set to grow in the next few years thanks to Sydney’s newest airport.
The Nancy-Bird Walton International Airport — more widely known as Western Sydney Airport — is being constructed in close proximity to the same airspace where nearly all Sydney flight schools train the students. On completion, Sydney flight training will be impacted by increased costs as students travel further from their flight schools to new training grounds, with many such schools based at the south-western Sydney airport of Bankstown, Australia. The Central Coast is in a unique position to absorb many student pilots as they pursue more affordable options without traveling too far from Sydney.
While this writer does not know what to expect at the next Central Coast Airshow, one thing is for certain: he will be returning for more. Just as birds of migration journey to their breeding grounds, AirlineGeeks will join the swarms of other Aviation enthusiasts, as they migrate to the next year’s airshow at this unique location.