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Review: Wings Over Illawarra 2018

We visited Wings Over Illawarra 2018 over the weekend, the amazing air show run at Illawarra’s Regional Airport annually. Here is our review after visiting on the Saturday.

On a beautiful sunny Saturday morning, we stepped onto the grounds of Illawarra Regional Airport. Crowds from all over the country (and probably the world) were arriving to one of Australia’s most anticipated air shows. Aviation enthusiasts, professionals, families, couples and more flooded through the gates and prepared themselves for a great show at Albion Park. This year, the show attracted over 50,000 fans.

The show, whose prime sponsors include the NSW Government and Viva Energy Australia, attracts a range of of aviation professional organisations each year. Amongst the stall holders in 2018 included aeromedical charity CareFlight, industry groups Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association of Australia (AOPA) and Seaplane Pilots Association Australia (SPAA), the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and flight service children’s charity Little Wings.

Stars of the show also included the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS). HARS is an all-volunteer organisation dedicated to preserving Australia’s aviation history. A few years ago, HARS received a now retired Qantas Boeing 747-438 aircraft. The aircraft is now permanently located on the grounds at Illawarra Regional Airport, and has been on display at Wings Over Illawarra for the past few years. We were fortunate enough to walk through the aircraft and get a sense of Boeing history.

It truly was remarkable. The show began with a cadet parade, a welcome to country and the national anthem. It was beautifully sung by the 8-year-old Lillie Hobden.

The aircraft on display was of course the highlight of the trip. We watched the radical RAAF Roulettes put on an amazing show. Established in 1970, these impressive stuntmen made their first display at RAAF Base Point Cook and are now a 6-plane team. They fly all around the country and we were very fortunate to view their impressive display at Illawarra.

The Australian Defence Force was a major partner of the show. They had a range of aircraft on display including the FA-18 Hornet, Hawk 128, RAAF Balloon and P-8A Poseidon. Kids raced towards the Australian Army weapons display, and played around with the F88 Steyr rifles and bazookas. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) also showed off their MH-360 Seahawk Helicopter and more – they even had a Navy helicopter flight simulator.

We watched the amazing little Pitts Model 12 biplane perform its skywriting stunts. It was miraculous watching the tiny yellow aircraft spin around, go upside down and fly in circles. Audiences were exhilarated when he flew to a high point and switched the engine off. He slowly started falling as the audience gasped. He then switched it back on and continued his stunt regime, and the audience clapped with awe and excitement.

Kids were excitedly watching with binoculars. Enthusiasts were gazing with cameras. Older pilots were sitting back smiling at the sky, probably remembering what it was like flying back in their day.

We were also entertained by the trio Sky Aces Formation Aerobatics Display Team. Music played (including Star Wars) to accompany the aircraft as they performed their synchronised stunts against the clear blue sky. Drawing lines and curves in the sky provided for a wonderful sight against the shining rays of the sun.

We lay down on the grass and watched the aircraft as they performed. The sounds of the engines zooming were significantly relaxing and even put one of our staff to sleep. We woke him up when he started snoring.

Our staff also had great fun taking helicopter rides provided by Touchdown Helicopters. In an eight minute ride for a very affordable $80, we were flown across Albion Park and Oak Flats. We were taken along the coast where we saw the beautiful Koona and Burroo Bays. It is always amazing taking a journey through the sky looking down on the world. We become tiny specks, and the cars on the highway look like multicoloured ants scrambling to build their colony.

We often forget how insignificant humanity is in the grand scheme of things. We should remember to take a breath once and a while and enjoy life for what it’s worth.

We then grabbed a bite to eat from the abundance of food. From steak sandwiches, gozleme and sausage sandwiches to freshly squeezed orange juice, french fries and Vietnamese pork rolls, we didn’t go hungry!

Shopping was also plentiful. HARS sold t-shirts, and other organisations sold caps, sunnies, plane models, books, antiques, paintings, drawings, pins, badges and a range of other neat accessories.

The show ended with a bang – literally!

After all the stunts, the RAAF F/A-18 Hornet impressed the audience with its deafening roar. A warning was announced: cover your ears if you have sensitive hearing! It zoomed by, and the growl of an ear-piercing storm followed afterwards.

Then it was on. Fire engines drove close just in case. The aircraft zoomed by once again, and a gigantic fireball followed as the ground exploded with heat and rage. In an impressive display, a ferocious flame burst through the air and the crowd was swept with a burst of heat. We all cheered as the F/A-18 flew away and landed.

It was truly a marvelous ordeal. The show has been running since 2006. As HARS President Bob La Hunty said, “There’s a huge amount of history, romance and technology”.

There has been some controversy now that Wings Over Illawarra has decided to brand itself ‘The Sydney Airshow’. Organisers chose it in order to attract more outsiders. Local Shellharbour mayor expressed disappointment. It doesn’t belong to Sydney, she said. It belongs “to the people in the Illawarra region”. The organisers however insist it will not destroy local identifty and only bring more people down into the region.

We did not feel anything negative about the show when we went down there. We’re all from Sydney, but we certainly felt the local Illawarra vibe. The locals of Illawarra, we believe, have nothing to worry about. Wings over Illawarra is a fantastic display and no matter what it’s called, it will always be uniquely a product of Illawarra.

We recommend all aviation enthusiasts and people who are looking for a good show to attend Wings over Illawarra next year. They always put on a fantastic show.