Tri­umphant land­ing for Wir­raway

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News - BY FAYE SMITH

Wir­raway air­craft have landed at Nhill Aero­drome hun­dreds of times, but when an­other Wir­raway lands at Nhill at the end of the month, it will be to ju­bi­lant ap­plause from on­look­ers.

The air­craft will be at the end of a one-way flight and at the end of its time in the skies.

The Sec­ond World War bird, re­garded by some as pos­si­bly the best­p­re­sented Wir­raway in the world, is due to land at Nhill about noon on April 28.

Pub­lic ad­mis­sion to the his­toric event is free of charge and food and drinks will be avail­able.

The plane’s ar­rival will sig­nify the end of a cam­paign by the Nhill com­mu­nity and avi­a­tion his­to­ri­ans and en­thu­si­asts to buy the ma­chine, one of the pri­mary types of air­craft the Royal Aus­tralian Air Force used to train pi­lots at Nhill Train­ing Base dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Its ar­rival will also sig­nal that a money-rais­ing cam­paign has al­most reached the $300,000 pur­chase cost for the air­craft, set to take pride of place in Nhill Avi­a­tion Her­itage Cen­tre.

The Wir­raway will sit along­side an al­most-re­stored Avro An­son do­nated by Gra­ham Drage of Lah and a de Hav­il­land Tiger Moth built in 1942 and owned by Len Creek of Nhill.

A Link flight sim­u­la­tor re­stored by Neil Thomas com­pletes the four main train­ing air­craft RAAF per­son­nel used at Nhill dur­ing the war.

The sim­u­la­tor helped pi­lots learn to nav­i­gate at night, in fog, cloud or other ad­verse con­di­tions.

Avi­a­tion cen­tre man­age­ment board mem­ber John Deck­ert said the cen­tre had raised most of the ac­qui­si­tion cost from pri­vate dona­tions.

Gov­ern­ment grants were un­avail­able to­wards the cost of the plane be­cause it failed to meet guide­lines.

Mr Deck­ert said the Wir­raway owner, Borg Sorensen of Tyabb, was keen to sell the plane to the Nhill com­mu­nity.

“He could have achieved twice that price by sell­ing it else­where,’’ he said.

“But he’s keen that the plane not fly again be­cause that would ac­cel­er­ate de­te­ri­o­ra­tion and he knows it will be well cared for in our avi­a­tion cen­tre.”

Mr Deck­ert said Mr Sorensen had spent 10 years sourc­ing parts for the plane, which then took him an­other eight years to con­struct. Mr Sorensen has flown it 14 years with­out in­ci­dent.

Spe­cial guests

Or­gan­is­ers of the wel­com­ing gath­er­ing for the Wir­raway ex­pect guests to in­clude Sec­ond World War pilot Max Car­land and nav­i­ga­tor Merv Sch­nei­der, both of Nhill, as well as Bob An­drew from Hamil­ton who has logged 200 hours in Wir­raways.

The fighter air­craft, named af­ter an Abo­rig­i­nal word mean­ing ‘chal­lenge’, was the Com­mon­wealth Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion’s first mass-pro­duced train­ing and gen­eral-pur­pose mil­i­tary air­craft man­u­fac­tured in Aus­tralia dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Al­lied forces used it in com­bat for the de­fence of Aus­tralia and in other ar­eas in­clud­ing New Guinea and sur­round­ing is­lands.

It was a com­bat air­craft un­til the late 1950s when phased out by the jet­pow­ered de Hav­il­land Vam­pire.

Nhill Avi­a­tion Her­itage Cen­tre is at Nhill Aero­drome, also the site of the wartime train­ing base.

The cen­tre com­mit­tee is ded­i­cated to the preser­va­tion of Nhill’s avi­a­tion and mil­i­tary his­tory and aims to dis­play, pro­tect and record his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ra­bilia with a fo­cus on the wartime air school.

About 20,000 pi­lots trained at the base dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, with up to 800 at one time. At its height it was home to 32 Avro An­son planes and 18 Beau­fort and Hud­son bombers.

Mr Deck­ert said the site, set up in 1941, was a town­ship in its own right, with ac­com­mo­da­tion, kitchen, the­atre, hos­pi­tal fa­cil­i­ties, den­tist, post of­fice, me­chan­ics shop, fire sta­tion, pa­rade area, ten­nis courts, slaugh­ter­house and veg­etable gar­dens.

His­tor­i­cal arte­facts

The cen­tre’s col­lec­tion also in­cludes a pho­to­graphic dis­play of Aus­tralia’s first ar­moured ve­hi­cle, cre­ated by a small group of First World War sol­diers.

Ivan Young, of Nhill, do­nated his Daim­ler car for the con­ver­sion and the ve­hi­cle, which was used in the Mid­dle East.

Mr Young trans­ferred from the Light Mo­torised Divi­sion to the Royal Fly­ing Corps and be­came Nhill’s first avi­a­tor. He flew with many prom­i­nent avi­a­tors in­clud­ing Keith and Ross Smith, Bert Hin­kler and Charles Kings­ford Smith.

Amy John­son, Nancy Bird and Jimmy Mol­li­son are among other fa­mous pi­lots to land at Nhill Aero­drome. The train­ing school closed in 1946. Vol­un­teers are also restor­ing a nearby build­ing used dur­ing the Sec­ond World War as a ra­dio nav­i­ga­tion cen­tre.

The build­ing had the first type of ra­dio guid­ance sys­tem used world­wide and is the sole re­main­ing build­ing of its type in Aus­tralia on its orig­i­nal site.

The build­ing houses equip­ment from the pe­riod it was in oper­a­tion and will be a unique ex­am­ple of Aus­tralian avi­a­tion ra­dio guid­ance sys­tems.

• Nhill Avi­a­tion Her­itage Cen­tre is open ev­ery week­end and most pub­lic hol­i­days from 10am to 4pm. Group book­ings and other open­ing times can be ar­ranged by call­ing 0490 657 770.

LABOUR OF LOVE: Nhill en­gi­neer Mick King­will works on a re­stored Avro An­son air­craft at Nhill Avi­a­tion Her­itage Cen­tre. King­will has had a pri­mary role in re­build­ing the his­toric air­craft do­nated by Gra­ham Drage of Lah.

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