Warbirds put WW2 pilots in the clouds once more
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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...