by Neil Stewart, Mark Salter and Dean Alexander

The Grand Tour of Australia was an extended trip Down Under that combined aviation with more traditional tourist fare. For many it was a five or six week trip an opportunity to escape winter. The trip began with a small group going to Singapore for two days where copious amounts of beer was enjoyed as well as some great food. Alan took us all to good eating spots known to him during his many visits to the country. It was a good stop off to help acclimatise us to warm weather not available in UK at this time of year.

Onto Australia, Perth being the first port of call where some more members joined direct from UK including our avid flyers Barry Scott and Mark Salter (The flying duo), Chris Walkden and Arnold Garside. There was the customary day sight seeing - after all, you cant go half way round the world and not see any of the sights; and a boat ride with complimentary wine along the Swan River. Our first sight of a kangaroo was made by some who travelled to see the Pinnacles north of Perth, Paul Hodges getting within about 4 feet of a mother and baby at the side of the road. Some of the group decided after two days in Australia it was time to go wine tasting so set off to explore the first of the wine trails to be followed during this trip.

Okay its now time for aviation, beginning with a visit to the RAAFA museum at Bull Creek where we were expected and were allowed into the museum earlier than the normal opening time. The highlight here was the Lancaster but there were many great displays, the Junkers 33 floatplane replica was an unusual exhibit. Whilst there, there was a memorial service to one of the RAAF wartime squadrons including a flypast by four RAAF PC9's from Pearce AFB. From here we went looking for the recently arrived Catalina, Alan got us a police escort to the area that it was stored in but was unable to get us access as the owners were not contactable- good try anyway.

Onto Jandakot airfield and a visit to Panama Jack's restoration facility where we found a Sea Fury alongside many Harvards and other warbirds and we were allowed to take photographs (not usually permitted but had been specially approved) and the 'Fighter Adventure Flights' hangar containing a P51, an L-39 and three immaculate CJ-6s. Some of the group then went pleasure flying in a Tiger Moth, while Barry and Mark hired a Cessna 172 and instructor so that Barry could fly them out to Rottnest Island for a brief visit to the airstrip there, followed by a flight around the island before returning to Jandakot.

The next day began with a BAe 146 flight to Ayers Rock where we were joined by Dean Alexander from the USA. Here we took a coach tour to drive and walk around the base of the rock before watching the sun set over the rock. We had an early start next morning to watch the sunrise over the rock to quote Neil Stewart it was "quite under whelming" we should probably have stayed in bed!

Following another 146 flight to Alice Springs it was time to visit the Central Aviation Museum, with its Flying Doctor DH Drover on guard duty outside. An interesting exhibit here was the remains of 'Kookaburra', a Westland Widgeon that was recovered from the desert many years after having to make a forced landing while searching for the missing aircraft of Charles Kingsford-Smith. The remainder of the day was spent around Alice, including visits to the Flying Doctor visitor centre and the old telegraph station and lunch at the local RSL club.

Another early start was required on the following day as we had arranged a balloon flight this proved to be excellent as we were in a group of four balloons which were inflated in the dark before launching just before sunrise, giving us the chance to do the first air to air photography of the trip. We spotted several kangaroos as we drifted over the desert, the balloon was piloted by the Polish national balloon champion. We then helped to pack up the balloon, which was good fun even though we all ended up covered in red dust! After an open-air breakfast of Champagne and chicken near the landing site we had our final aviation visit in Alice Springs prior to taking our Qantas flight to Darwin; a superb visit to the aircraft fleet of the local Flying Doctor Service where we given a briefing and tour of the fleet of PC12's operated by this (one of the busiest) RFD Flight.

Darwin was quite a contrast to Alice Springs, a short flight from the desert Outback; Darwin is a humid, tropical city where it rains every afternoon. The thunderstorms provide an excellent excuse to seek shelter in the pub. We were housed in a hotel along the bay-front esplanade and near the city center. On the aviation side, we visited the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre, a museum dominated by a B-52G and featuring many remains of aircraft that fought in the region in World War II and some fascinating relics from Japanese aircraft that were shot down during the raids on Darwin in 1942-3 this was followed by one of Alan's surprises, a stop to see progress of the restoration of a Corsair in an industrial estate. Barry and Mark were then dropped off at the local flying club where they hired another Cessna 172 and instructor for a flight over Darwin and a quick landing at Delissaville; a small strip a few miles away. The main group then had a private visit to the storage and restoration area of the museum where there is a treasure trove of wrecked parts and engines. The staff there were very friendly and insisted on us having a stubby before showing us round! While exploring the Darwin Airport, the group came across a DC-3 being painted in a hanger. After some short negotiations, Alan arranged for a pleasurable and economical flight in the DC-3 around the Darwin area at low level while dodging a number of local thunderstorms all for 40 each!

Friday morning we started out much too early, with a 6:00 a.m. flight to Cairns. As it was the third early morning in a row, many thought the lack of sleep was playing tricks on them as we landed in Cairns and spotted a Belfast parked on the ramp. Sure enough there was Heavy Lift's Belfast 9L-LDQ parked on the ramp along with a B727. It seems that Heavy Lift is now using Cairns for a base of operation. On arrival we were met by the operators of the Aero Commanders of 'Reefwatch Air Tours' who picked us up to take us to their operating area of the airport, stopping off en-route for the airports preserved DC3 followed by the Belfast now based next to the Reefwatch ramp. We were given ramp access to photograph the aircraft and the RAN Hydrography Office's F 27-500 Laser Airborne Depth Sounder, and the Australia Custom Service's DHC-8s allowing us to get some good photos.

The Reef Watch flights were excellent 90 minute trips in an Aero Commander 500, which began by heading north up the coast over beautiful sandy beaches and rain forests before heading out to sea and flying at low level over some of the coral reefs which make up the Great Barrier Reef. Deryn was given her first flying lesson during her flight as she had control of the aircraft whilst flying over and around Green Island and the Reef itself. During the reef flights yet again our flying duo managed to hire a Cessna 172RG and instructor to allow Barry to fly around the local area for an hour while Mark took some aerial photos of the beautiful scenery.

Following the reef flights the group took a coach trip through the rain forest and over the mountains to Mareeba, where we visited the fascinating collection of military aircraft and vehicles built up by Sid and Barbara Beck. Their collection includes a unique P-39D, probably the oldest complete extant Airacobra in the world. Barbara made us all cups of tea and supplied biscuits for us whilst Sid gave us the history of many of the aircraft. A short stop off was had at Mareeba airport where a C47 from Wangarratta had recently been delivered, there were also parts of a Thai AF O1A at this very quiet airport. We returned from Mareeba to our hotel, once again on the bay-front esplanade. George out did himself with this hotel. Not only was the hotel on the bay, but also rooms were good sized and had balconies with view of the water. And it was close to restaurants and shopping.

In the morning we took a boat trip out the Barrier Reef first stopping for a couple of hours at Green Island before heading further out to sea to a platform on one of reefs. We stopped here for a few hours to allow snorkelling over the reef and trips in the 'semi-submersible' boat with underwater viewing windows. The trip was a great way to experience one of the world's treasures. Due to withdrawal symptoms and not enjoying the boat journey out to the reef our flying duo decided that the boat trip out had been a little too rough for us, and that they fancied a quicker and more comfortable ride back to Cairns. Therefore they took a trip on the Jet Ranger which departs from a pontoon at the reef and lands at the pier at Cairns Harbour. This proved an excellent choice as they obtained some great views of the reef on the way back.

We flew to Brisbane next day for a five-day stop which was to include lots of aviation and lots of flying. Our landing at Brisbane generated a bit of controversy; some of the group thought they saw a Spitfire at one of the airport tenants. After we visited the nearby Charles Kingsford Smith Memorial; where the original Fokker Trimotor 'Southern Cross' is preserved we went looking for the Spitfire and found it on the other side of the airport (more later); this was followed by our driver giving us a city orientation tour before arriving at our hotel.

The next day was a free day, but continuing to ensure withdrawal symptoms do not set in, the flying duo continued the aviation theme by hiring a car and touring the local airfields. A visit to Redcliffe failed to find the Beech Staggerwing pleasure flights which were rumoured to operate from there, but they had more luck at Archerfield, where once again they hired a Cessna 172 and instructor. The plan to fly south to the Gold Coast was thwarted by bad weather, but found an excellent alternative by flying north over the sandy islands just off the coast; landing briefly at the sand airstrip at Tangalooma on Moreton Island, landing at Redcliffe; before skirting around the bad weather as they flew down the eastern side of Brisbane and back into Archerfield.

The month of March began with visits to airfields on the Sunshine Coast. Time for more members of the group to go flying including Graham Spiller who arrived from UK the day before. Caboolture airfield was the first stop with a visit to the excellent museum and to do some flying in two indigenous Australian types the Wirraway and Winjeel. Unfortunately the proposed P51 flights were cancelled due to insurance difficulties with the aircraft. At the airfield we discovered a DH Dragon in one of the other hangars, a Staggerwing in another and an ex RAF Chipmunk returned back after the owner took the pristine aircraft out for the day. The main attraction for many though was the chance to fly in the aircraft and do air to air photography and formation flying, many of those having the flights were given hands on, an experience that Mark savoured as he was allowed to take control for a while and fly at low level over an unpopulated forest area.

Continuing along the coast the group set off for Caloundra to see the Queensland Air Museum with its Sea Vixen nose and a complete aircraft (Alan drooled over them as he had worked on both the aircraft 35 years ago), and do some Tiger Moth flying over the Gold Coast. Whilst the flights were being taken some of the group and especially the ladies went for a paddle in the Pacific at a nearby beach.

A base visit came next, as we drove 100 miles or so west of Brisbane to Oakey the Australian Army Aviation Base and Training School and a detachment of Singapore Air Force Cougars. As well as visiting the control tower and fire station, we had an excellent guided tour of the hangars used for training maintenance personnel including some very impressive computer based training aids. Although a full ramp tour was not possible we were able to photograph some of the helicopters from the edge of the ramp. Unfortunately the new Tiger was locked away and not available for us to see. Also at Oakey is the Museum of Australian Army Flying with many aircraft and helicopters on display, a superb surprise was the privately owned beautifully restored airworthy Boomerang fighter - this aircraft flew at the Avalon airshow later in the trip.

On the way back to Brisbane we stopped at Toowoomba to visit Alan's friend Lynette Zuccoli and her superb collection of airworthy aircraft including another Boomerang and a Sea Fury. The afternoon was spent at the collection so we could indulge in some tremendous pleasure flying in various aircraft such as a CT/4E, a Stearman in a wonderful U.S. Navy "recall" colour scheme featuring a black and white barber's pole pattern and a Pitts Special. Many thanks are due to Lynette Zuccoli and her colleagues for their excellent hospitality - especially the hot and cold drinks, cakes and biscuits!

Our next stop was to the Beaufort Restoration project near Brisbane Airport, where Ralph Cusack is rebuilding a Beaufort Mk.VII to airworthy condition using parts from several crashed Beauforts. This was followed by a private visit to the training school where the "spotted" Spitfire was located, a composite of Spitfire Mk.V and Mk.IX displayed at the 2003 Avalon show, this airframe is awaiting restoration at the apprentice school, Alan managed to contact the school to arrange this visit which included a full tour of the facilities. More pleasure flying followed at Archerfield in an immaculate T-28 in silver USAF colours and Yak 52 and a Cessna 210 here for a sight seeing flight over Surfers Paradise. Whilst at Archerfield, some of the group photographed the aircraft at the field including a C-54E which exercised its engines while we were there; we also visited the Flying Fighters Museum where we found another Sea Fury and a Yak 9 among other aircraft.

Off to Sydney next, where we were met by our driver for the next few days, Ken known as "Skippy" who informed us that he was into aviation and that during his time in the Army he flew in a USN F4 Phantom of USS Enterprise whilst serving as a ground support liaison officer. We began with a sight seeing trip before arriving at Rose Bay for our planned Beaver and Cessna 185 floatplane flights over Sydney Harbour - once again with a complimentary thunderstorm. On the next day we had another aerial view of Sydney Harbour as we flew over it in a beautiful DC-3 operated from Bankstown by Discovery Air Tours. We also looked around the Bankstown Aviation Museum; the space around the museum was crowded with a large number of aircraft in various states of repair including an ex-Luftwaffe de Havilland Heron and had the opportunity to look round the visiting CH54 Tahre water bomber. Also on the field were several ex-RAAF BAe 748s being reworked for civilian use.

This was followed by a visit to the Camden Museum of Aviation. This is a real treasure trove of rare aircraft, including a unique Vultee Vengeance as well as a Beaufighter, Mosquito and many others, once again Alan Thomas opened up specially for us and gave us access to the storage area of this unique museum located in a hangar surrounded by residential properties. Off to Camden Airport where we were given permission to walk the ramps and see what was hiding here - Stearman, Chipmunks, Tiger Moth etc, whilst Mick Hellen took the first of his many Tiger Moth flights since joining the group in Sydney. We were supposed to have flights in the Mig15's, Iskras and CT6 of Aerocombat but these were to be rescheduled for the next couple of days when the operators would fly those booked on these flights to Bankstown.

The following day was officially a free one, but the five intrepid pleasure fliers from the group who had booked the Mig 15 flights were flown to Bathhurst along with the Mig pilots and their equipment in various light aircraft; this was fun in itself as it involved flying over the beautiful Blue Mountains. Once the Mig had been prepared the first flight took off accompanied by Mark in the back of a Yak-52 to take some air-to-air photos. This proved fortunate as the Mig experienced problems with its Air Speed Indicator, the Yak pilot, Mark Pracy, had to fly alongside the Mig and call out airspeed readings to Ray Ekinci, the Mig pilot; fortunately, the Mig was brought in for a safe landing thanks to some skilful flying from both pilots. Undaunted by this incident Mark was then treated to some aerobatics in the Yak, including a Cuban 8 with two-point hesitation rolls.

An attempt to fix the problem with the Mig was unsuccessful, however the day's fun had not yet ended. The return flight to Camden was conducted as a three-ship formation, with Barry flying a Piper Warrior under Mark Pracy's supervision as formation lead, with the Yak 52 in close formation on one wing and an Air Trainer in even closer formation on the other - all good for air to air photography. All was not lost, the story of the Mig flights continues later.

The following day our tour through the spectacular mountains and lovely towns of the Blue Mountains finished with a diversion to RAAF Richmond where the Hercs were out in force for the number crunchers. After having a day in the Blue Mountains it was back to aviation with a visit to Williamtown RAAF base where we were able to witness the Avalon F18 display rehearsal and photograph F18's, forward air control PC-9 and Hawk aircraft bashing the circuit as well as visit the superb museum. Next stop was Maitland where some of the group went flying in Pitts, while those of us that remained on the ground enjoyed the hospitality of the Royal Newcastle Flying Club.

The quick visit to Maitland was followed by an unscheduled adventure to find the Luskintyre Aviation Museum. This is where Tiger Moths go to retire and be restored to health in a bucolic setting. It seems that the world's entire population of Tiger Moths needing some loving care and attention followed by resurrection gravitate to this site. Here there are several hangers of Tiger Moths in all kinds of conditions: restored, undergoing restoration, disassembled, and stored - Mick Hellen was ecstatic. There were also some other interesting aircraft on the site including a SM.1019, a Winjeel, and several helicopters including two ex-Canadian Kiowas.

However, three of the group were determined to have a final attempt at flying in a Mig 15! They were driven back out to Bathhurst, where not only had the original Mig 15 been repaired but another had been flown in as well. This meant that the Migs were operated as a formation pair, which was greatly enjoyed by the lucky passengers! It was definitely worth all the effort to get our Mig flights as it was an amazing experience to fly in such an unusual aircraft. Unfortunately the proposed Iskra flights were not available as the aircraft were all currently grounded by the Australian CAA.

Wednesday morning we bid farewell to Sydney and drove south to Nowra via Albion Park. At Albion Park we found the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society in the process of building a new hanger and their Neptunes, Catalina, and Connie locked behind a fence. A few quick calls and Alan arranged for one of the Society officers to come and let us in. In the meantime we visited with the beach patrol of the "Aerial Patrol" which have Partinavias and FLIR-equipped PA-31s. Once into HARS we got close looks at their Neptunes and into the C-121C Connie. Next stop was the Naval Air Station at Nowra, where we saw some flying from the Australian Navy helicopters based there (Sea King, Squirrel, Seasprite and Seahawk) as well as visiting Australia's Museum of Flight. We were to have a base visit but unfortunately due to a passing out parade this was cancelled, we did however see the Historic Flight's Huey in the air.

At this point the tour literally went "off the beaten path" on our journey to Canberra. No sooner than we had left the air station that Alan and Ken took us on a short-cut down an unpaved road and through a National Park. This route supposedly kept us from back tracking to the main road, and it provided an opportunity to see an emu; this resulted in an exciting (but bumpy!) two hour drive along a gravel road through the countryside and through an amazing set of huge rock formations. Alec Tullis thoroughly enjoyed the experience. On arrival at Canberra a stop at the airport allowed us to see the three PZL Iskras in storage there and the Boeing BBJs and CL-604s Challenger aircraft of the RAAF VIP unit plus our first sight of the new Tiger helicopter which was visiting en route to Avalon.

Our next visit was to the War Memorial Museum in Canberra where there are several interesting aircraft such as the Lancaster 'G for George', an Me163, an Me 262 and a Zero. Then we drove to Temora and the immaculate collection of airworthy aircraft at the Temora Aviation Museum, including a Hudson, a Meteor and a Canberra. Final stop was at Wagga Wagga to see the small collection of aircraft outside the RAAF base, before stopping for the night at Albury.

Continuing our journey to Melbourne, we stopped off at Albury airport to see the DC-2 painted in KLM colours commemorating the emergency landing of the Dutch DC-2 taking part in the London to Melbourne air race in 1934, it landed on the local racecourse when prevented from reaching Melbourne by bad weather. Our first stop in Victoria was at Wangaratta to see the Pacific Fighterplanes Collection which is located in the hanger once occupied by Air World. The classic civil aircraft of Air World have been replaced a large number of restoration projects including P-39s, Kawasaki Ki-61s (Tony) fighters and a Vultee Vengeance being rebuilt alongside the many P40's. The first P40 off the "production line" was outside the hangar prior to its departure to Avalon.

On arrival in the Melbourne area we went straight to the excellent RAAF Museum at Point Cook. Some of the highlights here were a Douglas Boston, a beautiful Supermarine Seagull (Walrus) in a yellow Antarctic colour scheme, a DH Dragon in silver RAAF markings and the unusual GAF Pika, a manned version of the Jindivik target drone. We then moved over to the civil side of Point Cook airfield for some pleasure flying in a Yak-52, two Tiger Moths and a Skyfox Gazelle ultralight. Unfortunately once again Vincent was to be done out of his P51 flight as the pilot was unavailable during our visit even though it had been planned months before.

After a free day to explore Melbourne, the group next visited the museum at Moorabbin which includes a Beaufighter in its collection and the Bristol Freighter from Wangaratta. We then went on to Tyabb, where Judy Pay gave us a fascinating tour of her warbird collection including a rare P-40F which is under restoration to flying condition. Judy also put us in touch with other aircraft owners based at Tyabb, who kindly showed us their aircraft that included a Yak-9, a Fairchild Argus and some very smartly painted Yak-52s.

The next day's program was another day trip from Melbourne. Our first stop was at Wirrebee to visit with the B-24 Restoration Project. Here a group of volunteers are making excellent progress to restore a RAAF Liberator despite wind damage, collapsed buildings, and thieves. The misfortunes have forced a year delay in the project, but we could see that most of the major structures were under restoration and that a complete airplane was within reach. We then went pleasure flying from Geelong in a Tiger Moth and also in a Grumman Ag-Cat that has had its chemical storage hopper converted into a two-passenger cockpit. We also visited Tiger Moth World at Torquay, but sadly low cloud prevented any flying from here, this was the only flying that was lost due to bad weather in the whole six weeks.

Adelaide was our next destination, via a morning Qantas 737 flight; the rest of the day was spent sight-seeing around the city. The following day started with a visit to Parafield which began with a full guided tour of the airfield including the water catchment areas, the full perimeter track and all the hangars thanks to Chris Walkden's old friends now in Adelaide. This was followed by a visit to the Classic Jets Fighter Museum that includes a P-38 under restoration; some of the group also took a sight seeing flights over Adelaide in Piper Archer aircraft. The highlight of this airfield was the chance to take a close look at the Grob Egret and the other aircraft based there for use in scientific research - once again Alan charmed his way into these government facilities.

The star visit however was to see Geoff Davis who very kindly showed us his collection of vintage aircraft at his factory, an Avro Avian and Beech D17 Staggerwing both being restored, and his hangar at Gawler airfield, including such gems as another Avro Avian and a Curtiss Robin. From Gawler we travelled through the vineyards of the Barossa Valley to the Lincoln Nitschke's collection that held preserved Ansons, Wirraways, Mosquitoes, Vampires and a Canberra which had been used at the rocket base at Woomera. Finally we called back at Parafield for another pleasure flight in a Cessna 206 and to view the damaged Fokker Trimotor replica stored in one of the hangars. The group all celebrated Alan's birthday in the evening with a surprise birthday party before retiring to a local hostelry for more beers.

Our last day of organised pleasure flying began with a visit to the South Australia Aircraft Museum who opened up early especially for us, where we found a Spifire amongst several other interesting aircraft. Next we drove to Goolwa (seeing a Koala on the way - well spotted Alan!) for what proved to be the highlight of the whole trip for many - flights in Nanchang CJ-6's. Two aircraft were flown together for full aerobatic experiences and a couple of air to air sorties; beginning with a formation take off alongside each other, followed by some formation flying over the beautiful coastal scenery at the mouth of the Murray River. We then broke formation for some individual aerobatics before rejoining for the return back to the field. Many thanks are due to Nigel Dunn and his colleagues at Warbird Adventure Flights for this wonderful experience. That evening we went to Adelaide airport, where we saw the preserved Vickers Vimy flown by Ross and Keith Smith on the first England to Australia flight in 1919. We then flew back to Melbourne.

The main group were dropped off next morning for a full day at the Avalon airshow. The flying duo however had some flying to fit in first! We made our way back to Tiger Moth World where they both took a short flight in a Great Lakes 2T biplane followed by a flight in a Piper Lance for a sight-seeing flight at low level along the beautiful coastal scenery to the 'Twelve Apostles' (rock stacks just offshore from some spectacular cliffs). They landed briefly at the small airstrip at nearby Peterborough before setting off again to fly in to Avalon in time for the start of the flying display -by far the best way to arrive at an airshow!

Once again the airshow was worth the journey down under with many aircraft on display covering all aspects of the aviation scene in Australia, we were allowed early access before the public were allowed in giving us time to see the displayed aircraft at leisure. Aircraft were arriving all morning on the first public day before the show stared after lunch and went onto the special evening show- a night flight by the Super Constellation, which produced spectacular exhaust flames from its engines, and the two F-111 displays, which included 'dump and burn' demonstrations both by day and night. Many of the group returned for a second day at the show before departing for either Tasmania or returning home.

A small group set off for the island of Tasmania for a three day stay where they covered over 800 miles exploring the island. The sights included rain forests, historic sites, old prison colonies, waterfalls and even penguins. The only negative thing about Tasmania is the place closes down at 8pm (every night) this was however good for our diets!! Stop offs were organised for the return journeys in Singapore and Tokyo with a sightseeing tour organised at the latter.

This was a great trip with a great group. It featured a good balance of aviation and sightseeing. The sightseeing included some of the most significant natural and cultural resources in the world. The aviation side included a good selection of aircraft that are pretty much unique to Australia or are surviving in Australia after being taken out of service elsewhere. It would have been nice to get onto more military bases, but it seems that the authorities were not cooperative following the recent attacks on Australian citizens in places like Bali. Still it was wonderful trip and there was discussion of plans for a next visit to the Land Down Under. We would like to thank Alan Key for all his efforts in organising and leading the tour and also George Pick for arranging all the travel and accommodation for us.

Close this Report to choose another from the Reports Page.