War­birds put WW2 pi­lots in the clouds once more

Wangaratta Chronicle - - News - BY JEFF ZEUSCHNER

jzeuschner@ ne­me­dia.com.au

THERE were cheers, and a few tears, as World War Two vet­eran pi­lots Bert Smith­well and Jim Mitchell took to the skies over Wan­garatta in a P40 Kit­ty­hawk and Wir­raway on Aus­tralia Day.

It had been more than 70 years since the duo had been in the cock­pit of th­ese air­craft they trained and flew com­bat op­er­a­tions in dur­ing the war, but their il­lu­mi­nated faces clearly re-ig­nited mem­o­ries of old.

“It’s won­der­ful,” en­thused 95 year old Bert, look­ing at ease seated in the sturdy Wir­raway as it roared to life on the Wan­garatta apron, ex­cit­ing fam­ily and friends among the 100-strong throng of spec­ta­tors, many chow­ing down on sausages in bread cooked by the Wan­garatta Aero Club as the morn­ing sun be­gan to bite.

“I didn’t ever ex­pect this... to be in a Wir­raway again....it brings back many mem­o­ries.”

Bert was just a teenager when he en­listed in the RAAF in 1942, train­ing in Tiger Moths and Wir­raways and then fly­ing Kit­ty­hawks in op­er­a­tional mis­sions in Dutch New Guinea against the Ja­panese un­til the end of the war.

So too Jim, now 93, was also a teenager when he en­listed in 1942 and did his ele­men­tary fly­ing train­ing at Be­nalla, gain­ing his wings on Wir­raways at De­niliquin, then fly­ing Boomerangs and fi­nally Kit­ty­hawks in op­er­a­tions against the Ja­panese in the South Pa­cific.

At war’s end he vol­un­teered to fly as a co-pilot on C47s re­turn­ing Aus­tralian pris­on­ers of war.

Jim’s re­union with the P40 Kit­ty­hawk - owned and op­er­ated by Doug Hamil­ton and his Clas­sic Air Ad­ven­tures based at Wan­garatta Air­port - was a mo­ment he said he’d savour for the rest of his life.

He was air­borne with Doug for more than 20 min­utes, fly­ing for­ma­tion with Bert and Andy Bishop from the Temora Avi­a­tion Mu­seum which pro­vided the his­toric Wir­raway.

“Doug cer­tainly knows his stuff,” Jim quipped, back on the ground af­ter some aerial rolls and low level fly­overs.

“The Kit­ty­hawk is such a strong plane.

“The Spit­fire could bend in the air but it only had a top speed of 365mph...at 10,000 feet I could do 480mph in the Kit­ty­hawk.”

In what was an emo­tional re­union, Jim’s eyes be­gan to well up, his voice quiv­ers.

“It has been won­der­ful, but this has also brought back a lot of sad mem­o­ries too,” he said.

“I lost so many good mates in the P40s.”

Af­ter the de­light of hav­ing re­united Bert and Jim with their WW2 air­craft, Clas­sic Air Ad­ven­tures is now hop­ing to or­gan­ise an­other sim­i­lar event for as many sur­viv­ing WW2 Aussie pi­lots as pos­si­ble.

For more de­tails contact the comp­nay via email on info@clas­si­cair.com. au

QUITE A SIGHT: Clas­sic war­birds get­ting ready to take to the air at Wan­garatta Air­port on Aus­tralia Day were (from left) a P40 Kit­ty­hawk, a T6 Har­vard and a Wir­raway. PHO­TOS: Jeff Zeuschner

FLY­ING HIGH: Pilot Andy Bishop and 95 year old WW2 vet­eran pilot Bert Smith­well (top) get air­borne in the Wir­raway; Bert (above, left) shows his ela­tion af­ter the flight; 93 year old WW2 vet­eran pilot Jim Mitchell (above) gets set­tled into the cock­pit...

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