Sentinels at the gate

Two new gate aircraft were installed in front of RAAF Base East Sale on Wednesday, the original Winjeel, and a Macchi Roulette from the 1970s.

Two new gate aircraft were installed in front of RAAF Base East Sale on Wednesday, the original Winjeel, and a Macchi Roulette from the 1970s.

RAAF Base East Sale now has another sentinel at the gate.

Joining the classic Winjeel, which has had a top-to-bottom refurbishment, is one of the original Roulettes, a Macchi MB326 trainer jet, which had its first flight in 1971.

The two planes have been installed about 150 metres from the front gate of the base, and will eventually be joined by a retired bright-red PC-9, one of the current Roulettes.

Squadron Leader Steve Currie, who heads the Static Display Aircraft Support Section, said it was always exciting to deliver a finished project to a base.

“Our team of RAAF active reservists, predominately aircraft technicians, basically we refurbish — we remove corrosion, we manufacture, we repaint, and then we’re involved in the installation and repositioning of the aircraft,” he explained.

“It’s great to see it taking shape, we had a few setbacks but this is great, it’s what we like to see.”

The three-month refurbishment of the 1950s-era Winjeel has made it sparkle, after it sat out the front guarding the gate for more than 30 years.

The installation on Wednesday involved lifting the aeroplanes over the security fence — a delicate operation, as the wind picked up.

Local contractors were involved in the laying of concrete and helping to lock the planes into place.

Wellington Shire Council is also helping with the project, with plans to create something of a tourist attraction, according to natural environment manager Tim Rowe.

“It’s a significant thing that we have (the RAAF base), and the local community are proud of that, and it adds a lot of value from an economic development perspective,” he said.

“I’m not sure in terms of the timing, but once we get all three aircraft out here, council will do a bit of work as part of the project to enhance the visitor experience, through some informal car parking, some pathways to allow access, and interpretive signage that we’ll work with the Defence Force on.”

Sqn Ldr Currie added it was also a good demonstration of the many roles the Air Force Reserve performed around Australia.

“Most of our personnel have come from the permanent Air Force, and done between 20 and 40 years then transferred to the active reserve, so essentially we’re transitioning to retirement at some stage, but we’re still involved in the things we like doing,” he said.

“We’ve had some interesting jobs — we rebuilt a Neptune in Townsville and made one aircraft out of two, we have done a lot of work on the F1-11s, which are retired from service, we have work to do on static displays in Woomera, and we have worked on Bloodhound missiles and Mirage aircraft in Darwin.”

Gippsland Senior
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