• WOI has always attracted a good crowd to Shellharbour Airport, and this year organisers will be hoping for another good turn-out. (Steve Hitchen)
    WOI has always attracted a good crowd to Shellharbour Airport, and this year organisers will be hoping for another good turn-out. (Steve Hitchen)

There is a lot of expectancy riding on Bright Events. The aviation industry is keen for them to deliver a spectacular Wings over Illawarra for 2021. General aviation has been starved of its major parties over the past two years, with only RotorTech hitting the calendar between Tyabb in March 2020 and WOI this coming weekend. People are itching to get back to big aviation gatherings and staring into the sky at machines that have largely been hidden since the initial outbreak of COVID-19.

And then there is the Royal Australian Air Force, whose centenary year has been cruelled by coronavirus with plans for a big showing going south with the cancelation of Avalon 2021. The RAAF–like many people reaching milestone birthdays this year–was faced with having to celebrate with a few quiet sherries behind closed doors. The fly-over event in Canberra last March was an official celebration, but was not the impression of excitement the RAAF was hoping to make on the general public.

Through all the COVID carnage, Bright Events kept working away at making WOI happen. It, too, was postponed from May to November, then was threatened to be overshadowed by Avalon 2021's short-lived flirtation with an early December date. The thing that kept WOI on the calendar and under the eyes of general aviation was the courageous optimism of the organisers. They now deserve the mother-of-all air shows to repay their determination and sweat in kind.

However, aviation's eternal and omnipotent nemesis–the weather–has yet to play its best card. The Illawarra region is looking decidedly soggy for this weekend, which will deter many aviators from flying in, but true to form, Bright Events has issued an umbrella warning rather than just crying over the synoptic charts. The show goes on.

In the air ...

And what a show WOI 2021 is shaping up to be. With the shackles off and no other commitments to crowd the calendar, the WOI flying line-up beginning on Saturday could very well be one of the best smorgasbords the show has ever served up.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has long since recognised the value of WOI when it comes to getting in the faces of the Sydney public. With the RAAF the guest-of-honour this year they're bringing some firepower to bear on Shellharbour Airport. The game plan includes:

  • an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in its first fully-aerobatic public display
  • five F/A-18 Hornets in a farewell public appearance including a four-ship formation (aka The Purple Cobras) and ground-attack simulations
  • the Royal Australian Navy attempting to steal some of the limelight with a Sikorsky Sea Hawk Romeo sequence.

These are the machines of today, but the RAAF in particular has relied on many models of aircraft over the past 100 years to perform missions on point, especially during the heat of the Second World War and the ensuing Cold War. With 100 SQN taking over the flying assets of the Temora Aviation Museum and with the support of HARS, WOI 2021 will feature a line-up of past aircraft that will cover some of the darkest hours the RAAF fought through.

Most pleasing is the return to air-show service of the English Electric Canberra, Australian versions of which served throughout the Cold War, particularly in Vietnam. Its supporting cast are stars in their own right, with a CAC-17 Avon Sabre, Spitfire, Kittyhawk, Boomerang, Hudson and a raft of other crowd-pleasing warbirds.

Even adversaries are represented with a rare Focke-Wulf FW-190.

Taking their own places in the line-up are the queen of air shows, the Super Constellation Southern Restoration, and performances from the twin-towers of the Australian aerobatic circuit: Matt Hall and Paul Bennet.

But as experienced air show goers will appreciate, no aircraft display is a definite starter until it's actually over and some touted attraction could be withdrawn on the day for any number of reasons.

Check out the full flying program on the WOI website.

... and on the ground

WOI 2021 is more than an air show, it's an aviation event that features just as much on the ground as it does in the air. Static displays by aircraft manufacturers dot the ground layout and a GA exposition has attracted some of Australia's most prolific GA companies to WOI. Schools, suppliers, associations, colleges and even regulators have booked space that will make the GA expo worth a visit. It's looking pretty big.

And if that's not enough to grab your attention, the static aircraft area surely will, with the ADF putting up a C-130 Hercules, BAe Hawk 127 and MRH-90 for inspection and classic aircraft like a C-47, de Havilland Drover, Westland Wessex and PBY Catalina there to complement the flying program.

If WOI lives up to the standard it has delivered in the past, you won't know whether or not you should be looking at the ground or in the air.

Whether you fly-in (underwing camping!), drive, train it or take RPT, your journey to WOI 2021 is unlikely to be wasted. It has been so long in coming and the organisers have been so dedicated in bringing this show to both the aviation community and the general public that it's bound to go off just on the anticipation alone.

Wings over Illawarra is on this weekend at Shellharbour Airport, Albion Park Rail, NSW. Check out their website before you roll-up.

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