ROYAL Australian Air Force aviators and professional stunt pilots “turned fuel and power into sheer awesomeness and fun” at the second Sale Anzac Weekend Airshow in The Middle of Everywhere on April 27 and 28.

While this statement was according to the announcer’s reverberating voice, surely the estimated 12,000 to 14,000 attendees, including local, state, national, and international enthusiasts would agree.

“What people really like about this Airshow is they can get up and close to the aircraft…you can really smell them,” Nicholas Heath, event director of the Airshow, told the Gippsland Times.

“For a lot of fans, whenever they go to a really big Airshow, everything’s behind the fence. But here, we let you get in the planes, get in the flight simulators, and really enjoy it.”

Mr Heath highlighted that this year’s Airshow showcased a record number of aircraft. The fly-in friendly event saw 23 planes journey from all over the nation, including Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania. Pilots delighted attendees with thrilling flyovers before landing and joining the crowd as spectators.

The program featured exciting new additions alongside familiar displays. Highlights included ground displays by Hot Wheels driver Matt Mingay and the introduction of new aircraft, such as five de Havilland Tiger Moths and a Hawker Sea Fury, a World War 2–era plane.

Paul Bennet’s aerial acrobatics were on full display. Photos: Erika Allen

By midday Saturday, spiralling air streams followed a twirling yellow plane – a Wolf Pitt Pro controlled by stunt pilot Paul Bennet – as it ascended into the sky. ‘Controlled’ is the operative word to describe how Bennet manoeuvred the aircraft, evident as its loud drone abruptly stopped, the plane reaching its crescendo in the sky before the engine stalled and the plane plummeted towards the ground.

Surely, this reporter was not alone in feeling the nail-biting tension waiting for Bennet to pull the plane up. He executed this at the last second, guiding the aircraft mere metres above the tarmac before climbing again.

All of this unfolded before entering the main gate.

Overwhelmed by the din of loud engines, the smell of fumes, sunscreen, fried foods and the sheer number of bodies, this reporter felt grateful for her dad’s company. Like other fathers chaperoning young kids, he pointed out aircraft – on the ground and in the sky – that she had never heard of or seen before.

With two cameras slung around her neck, like many other attendees, capturing the action was paramount.

Through the lens, an American TBM Grumman Avenger took to the sky. Used as a torpedo bomber, the aircraft was the heaviest single-engine aircraft used in WW2.

A Grumman TBF Avenger took to the sky on Saturday and Sunday.

The CAC Winjeel was another time capsule of aviation history on show. Built in 1956, this aircraft served in various training schools across Australia until its retirement in 1996.

Today, the Winjeel is preserved and cared for by the Air Force Heritage Squadron, No. 100 Squadron, based at RAAF Base Point Cook.

No. 100 Squadron’s executive officer, Flight Lieutenant Samuel Da Graca Costa, piloted the Winjeel on the weekend, leading a formation of other training aircraft.

Flight Lieutenant Da Graca Costa explained that although the Winjeel engine produces significant vibrations, skilled pilots can discern the right vibrations from the wrong ones, relying on this understanding for safe operation.

“That is a skill and an art that’s kind of being lost as we get these (modern) turbine engines, which is actually a good thing because they’re less prone to failure,” he said.

There is no push button start or switch like a modern jet. Instead, the Winjeel’s radial engine can be temperamental.

Flight Lieutenant Da Graca Costas’s trick is to “hold your tongue in the right way (and) give it the right amount of primes”.

He said it adds to the character of the aircraft, describing that the discernible “romance in flying” is lost on modern aircraft.

The highlight of Flight Lieutenant Da Graca Costas’s Saturday was the great weather and the smiles he saw among the crowd.

“After I completed the display, turning around and there’s a young gentleman on the side of the fence and he gave me a thumbs up.”

“That hit me in the feels right there,” he said, holding a fist to his chest.

“You never know what spark you’re gonna light in someone.”

Maybe a budding aviator piloting foam gliders through the crowd was inspired by an aerial display, sparking thoughts of a potential career in the Air Force.

“Whether they end up in the RAAF or going into aviation in general, or whether it’s just a nice memory that they have, we’re very glad to be facilitating that,” Flight Lieutenant Da Graca Costa said.

Pointing to the No. 100 Squadron marquee set up in the centre of the event, he highlighted the importance of public engagement. Seeking to inspire young people to join the Defence Force, Flight Lieutenant Da Graca Costa said their role at the Airshow was threefold.

To commemorate Anzac Day, celebrate aviation and inspire future aviators.

He called the No. 100 Squadron “custodians” because they operate the RAAF’s fleet of heritage aircraft. The Squadron was reformed in January 2021 to coincide with the Air Force Centenary.

“Hopefully the RAAF will continue to do this because we’re keeping alive the experiences of the air crew that operated these aircraft. If they’re not flying, the emotional engagement you get with the sight, smells, sounds and the experience is not there,” Flight Lieutenant Da Graca Costa said.

Speaking of emotional engagement, the RAAF Roulettes aerobatic routine was more than a spectacle for the eyes. Before training your eyes on the symmetrical formation, anticipation builds as the aircraft chases its loud drone. People were enraptured as they swooped over the crowd, heads turning to the sky collectively, phones held aloft.

Performing a corkscrew sequence, Flight Lieutenant Steven Heriban flies left of an inverted Roulette One, while Roulette Four weaves in and out of air steams.

Undoubtedly, the Roulettes were an awe-inspiring moment for the youngest in the crowd. For the older patrons, whether they have attended one or two Airshows or call themselves enthusiasts, a feeling of nostalgia would be evoked.

Mr Heath said there is a “great community attachment” to the Roulettes in the region.

“It’s the home of the Roulettes here, so I reckon they put on their best show of the year here because it’s a home crowd, and they want to show off to the fans,” he said.

Experiencing forces up to eight times that of gravity while flying at speeds exceeding 600 kilometres per hour in close formation with five other PC-21s is a typical weekend for Flight Lieutenant, Steven Heriban.

During the week, he and six other Roulette pilots train instructors at the Central Flying School on how to teach aspiring aviators the intricacies of flying the PC-21.

On weekends, they fly around the country and overseas, performing distinctive aerobatic routines.

Flight Lieutenant Heriban grew up in Yallourn North and developed a passion for aviation after a joy flight with his grandfather at a local air show. He was 15 when he started flying at the Latrobe Valley Aero Club.

Flying as Roulette Three, Flight Lieutenant Heriban said he flies left of the leader in Roulette One – Squadron Leader Lachie Hazeldine.

“One of my favourites (aerobatic sequences) is a slide and break, where we all sort of slide back from each other, and then we cross in front of the crowd and look like we’re all going to hit each other,” he said.

“Obviously, we’re well trained, and that’s not gonna happen.”

Trust and training are key.

Flight Lieutenant Heriban said the former is built over the years, having known his Roulette colleagues in different roles before joining. The latter involves specific ground training where the Roulettes break the routine into chunks and meticulously learn sequences in isolation before bringing it all together.

Air Force Roulettes (from left) Flight Lieutenant Peter Brewster, Flight Lieutenant Justin Hayter, Flight Lieutenant James Dutschke, Flight Lieutenant Ben Hepworth, Flight Lieutenant Steven Heriban, Flight Lieutenant Kris Sieczkowski and Squadron Leader Lachie Hazeldine.

The Roulettes were one of the most popular attractions. After the routine, crowds lined up for an hour, waiting for signatures. For young kids, it was an opportunity to meet their heroes.

“Other than the flying, I really enjoy the interaction with the crowd afterwards and seeing or hearing about parts of the show they liked and also then inspiring others to want to do what I do,” Flight Lieutenant Heriban said.

Mr Heath said the RAAF Base East Sale is “integral to the community”.

“Sale is an aviation centre in Victoria – in Australia for that matter – for training excellence and maintenance. A lot of people in the district are either involved or know someone, so it’s an integral part of this (the Airshow) and there’s this great interest in aviation in the area.

“That means that we get a lot of these community groups, the Air Cadets, the parachuters, and local fliers all come out.”

Members of the Sale and District Aeromodellers Club (SADAC) were among the local enthusiasts in attendance.

SADAC’s eye-catching display of an impressive fleet of model aircraft stopped many Airshow patrons.

SADAC treasurer Stephen Green’s CARF ViperJet drew crowds with vibrant green bodywork and a sleek aerodynamic design.

Taking pride of place in the display’s foreground, Mr Green’s ViperJet features a 2.5 metre wingspan, is around 2.3 metres long and weighs 16 kilograms dry.

Powered by a jet engine boasting 18 kilograms of thrust, Mr Green said the model aircraft is rewarding to fly.

“It’s very stable and easy to fly but it’s quite exciting. It has a great presence in the air because it has an actual turbojet engine in it; it sounds exactly like a jet aeroplane in flight because that’s what it is. It is very realistic,” he said.

Stephen Green’s ViperJet received much of the attention at the SADAC marquee. Photos: Erika Allen

SADAC is a group of 65 members who gather on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays from 8am on Centre Road in Sale. They have been flying model aircraft at this location since the 1970s and welcome newcomers.

Arie Huts, a member since 2004, said he enjoys building planes more than flying them.

Crafting these models is a labour of love and patience and despite meticulous craftsmanship, they can sometimes meet a premature demise on the airfield.

Mr Huts said, “We all crash them from time to time unfortunately and the operative word is unfortunately. Gravity wins most times.”

Mr Huts showcased a Pilatus Porter at the Airshow, featuring distinctive camouflage bodywork. This aircraft boasts a wingspan of 2.4 metres and is powered by a DLE 30 engine. It took around 200 hours to construct.

“I’m building one at the moment, I’m already 800 hours in and I’m probably five per cent of the way through,” he added.

There may be no pilot license on this reporter’s horizon. However, after watching the Sale Anzac Weekend Airshow, is more amenable to participating in a plane or helicopter joy flight.