An air armada of 46 civilian aeroplanes celebrated the centenary of the Royal Australian Air Force in Melbourne on 28 March with a mass flyover of the home of the RAAF: Point Cook.
Known as the RAAF Centenary Air Armada, the event was organised by Lilydale Flying Club, Peninsula Aero Club at Tyabb and Moorabbin's Royal Victorian Aero Club, but drew formation-endorsed pilots from as far away as Toowoomba and Cape Tribulation in QLD.
Various elements departed from either Lilydale, Tyabb or Moorabbin and formed up together over Westernport Bay and the Mornington Peninsula into two formations called "balbos" depending on aircraft speed.
The two balbos then circumnavigated Port Phillip Bay, highlighted by a co-ordinated run over RAAF Williams at Point Cook and a fly-over of Moorabbin Airport.
Point Cook was originally created as an air base in 1913, when it became home to the fledgling Australian Flying Corps. In 1921, Australia established the stand-alone Royal Australia Air Force with Point Cook as it's first air base.
It is the oldest continuously-operated military airport in the world, and an appropriate centrepiece for the air armada route.
Air armada designer Murray Gerraty said the flight went off almost perfectly.
"It couldn't have been much better," he told Australian Flying. "The link ups between the balbo elements were almost spot on and we co-ordinated the pass over Point Cook with a fair bit of accuracy.
"After seven months in planning, to have it all go off this well and having all the challenges successfully met is a real buzz. Hats off to the team at Airservices Australia and CASA who worked with us from the beginning and smoothed our path through controlled airspace south of Melbourne.
"Particularly, I want to thank the pilots who flew the plan so well and so safely; this really was their day."
All pilots were formation endorsed and flew an eclectic collection of aeroplanes that represented the most common types in general aviation.
Leading the slow balbo were two ex-RAAF CT4 Airtrainers, followed along by Victa Airtourers, Piper Warriors, a C170, several C172s, Slings and a smoke-trailing Bellanca Decathlon.
The fast balbo was led by a Beechcraft Baron, flying at the head of elements made up of a Twin Comanche, Beechcraft Bonanzas, RVs, the very colourful Red Radials flying Yaks 52s and Nanchang CJ-6s, and a Socata Trinidad.
Paul Canavan co-ordinated the involvement of the Moorabbin contingent.
"Well after quite a few months of organisational planning, practices, organising pilots and aircraft it all came together on Sunday 28 March," he said
"Royal Vic, together with Learn to Fly Flying School launched 13 aircraft on the day. Nine Piper Warriors and four Slings made the round the bay flight along with contingents from Lilydale and Tyabb.
"All pilots and aircraft performed well and all pilots thoroughly enjoyed the day! After recovery back at Moorabbin, all pilots and observers retired to the RVAC Club Bar for a few drinks, nibbles and a lot of hangar flying!"
The air armada was preceded by three shorter and smaller rehearsal sessions in January and February, which exposed flaws in the rendezvous procedures and tested remedies until the last rehearsal two weeks before the big show, which gave the teams the confidence that the air armada would work as planned.
On the day, teams at each of the departure airports held local briefings followed by a larger briefing co-ordinated via the internet with the other elements.
"We just want to say Happy Centenary to the RAAF," Gerraty concluded. "We're pleased to have played our part in the celebrations."
Australian Flying edtior Steve Hitchen flew in the air armada as part of the Lilydale Flying Club contingent.