Vintage Biplane Aerial Adventure in New South Wales, Australia
As a kid, I was particularly fascinated by all the things that fly, from birds to aeroplanes cruising high in the blue skies and marking contrails.. I always wondered, how amazing it would be to pilot a plane. But as life would have it, my aerial ambition would remain a childhood dream.
Most of our encounter with aeroplanes are usually with the airliners we took on an overseas vacation. It gets you in comfort to your destination but the flight experience is akin to one in a big air-conditioned bus. And you don’t even get the chance to see the pilots or cockpit. So naturally, I was over the moon when I was informed that I could opt for a flight in a vintage biplane during this exploratory trip to beautiful New South Wales, which was organised by Jetabout Holidays in conjunction with Tourism New South Wales.
Southern Biplanes @ Albion Park.
Based at Illawarra regional airport, Southern Biplane Adventures is the go-to place in New South Wales for aerial adventure. You can choose between relaxed scenic flights or adrenaline pumping aerobatic flights over Shellharbour’s and Wollongong’s beaches. For aviation junkies, I definitely recommend the aerobatic package. Other than flight packages, the company is also a pilot training school specialising in advanced flying skills and flight screening preparation.
The Southern Biplane office and hangar at Albion Park. The venue is located within the Illawarra Regional Airport compound, about 18 km southwest of Wollongong,
The restored biplane, a Boeing-Stearman or Kaydet, served as a primary trainer for the United States Army Air Forces, the United States Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force as the Kaydet throughout World War II. After the war was over, thousands of surplus aircraft were sold on the civilian market. In the immediate postwar years they gained popularity as crop dusters, sports planes, aerobatic and wing walking use in air shows. In short, though very old, this is a reliable aircraft with an excellent track record.
This is a lovely hangar ambience which aviation geeks will savour. Smell the aerial fuel, be close to aircraft and hear the roar of engines as they take off from the runway just meters away. But you can’t roam freely beyond the hangar boundaries due to safety regulation.
The Stearman (Boeing) Continental W670, 7 cylinders, 670 Cubic inches radial engine. Horsepower varied from 210 to 240 at 2,200 rpm. In addition to being used in aircraft, variations of this engine were used in a number of light armoured vehicles of World War II. At least 10,626 were built in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s. That makes the plane much older than me!
The hangar director and pilot preparing the Stearman for the flight ahead. Every moment leading up the impending flight is pleasantly exciting as you wait for the ride of your life.
My pilot for the session, Shaun Holmes, is the chief CASA-approved flying instructor of the Five Point Aviation School. In the pic, you can see him working the engine to prepare for the flight.
The antique cockpit, remnant of a bygone era. So rudimentary, yet so beautiful.
Tony Clark, pilot and director of the company, belting me up in the Stearman while explaining the safety aspects and flight procedures. The belting process is the most tedious part of the entire session as it involved a military-styled 4-point harness with the over-center latch that holds everything together. This is necessary as you don’t want to drop out of the plane during an inverted loop or when flying upside down. And as part of the flight is conducted over the South Pacific Ocean, a life-vest pouch is attached to my hip as part of safety regulation. No camera is allowed to be brought onboard but the cockpit is fitted with two GoPro to record the flight from start to finish.
There I was, with the plane making a loop over the South Pacific Ocean with the coastal area of Illawarra below me. The G-force achieved during the flight was about 4G max. The plane is built to withstand about -3 to 6Gs. Maneuvres during the flight included Wing over, Barrel roll, Hammerhead and the dreaded Tail Spin where the plane throttles down and spun towards the ocean. This is something like on a rollercoaster ride except you are disconnected from Mother Earth. I recommended riders not to have a heavy meal prior this flight. A sick-bag is available on request with the pilot handing to you within the cockpit. It was with relief that I need not ask for the sick-bag. But it made me respect the pilot even more as withstanding the Gs can be a daunting experience.
The Stearman returning to base after the flight. Shaun elected to touch down on the grass area instead of the tarmac runway which was indeed refreshing. You can’t do that with an airliner.
The plane is affectionately named the Lily Warra. The flagship of the company fleet, providing riders with a true open cockpit flight experience. Instead of saying you flew in a Boeing Stearman, it’s definitely warmer to say “I flew on the Lily Warra”.
Another of the company fleet of trainer aircraft, the CAP10 Aerobatic Trainer, for advanced pilot training. Aviation geeks (especially those from my land scarce hometown of Singapore) will truly appreciate the ample opportunities to take up training for aerial endeavours.
Historical Aircraft Restoration Society Aviation Museum (HARS) @ Albion Park.
This is a special mention for the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Museum which is located just stone throw from Southern Biplane, so you might like to factor in some time to visit this quaint museum.
The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society Aviation Museum (HARS) holds Tarmac Days displaying some of the unique aircraft held at its headquarter at the Illawarra Regional Airport at Albion Park. HARS is now home to the 747-438 “City of Canberra” – Longreach, Qantas Passenger Jet, which is part of the permanent static display at the museum. The Tarmac Days are held outside the HARS hangars and involve the static display of some its distinctive aircraft. Members of the public will be able to board and sit in some of the aircraft cockpits including F-111C fighter-bomber, Neptune submarine hunter. There will also be guided tours of the aircraft on display. HARS Museum will soon be home to John Travolta’s 707 which has kindly been donated. The Tarmac Days are held on the second Friday, Saturday and Sunday of every month. (HARS website)
The grand old dame of long-haul flights, the Jumbo Jet. Many travellers, especially in their late forties and fifties, would remember flying in one.
Great place to shoot unique of the legendary Jumbo Jet and other iconic aircraft. Just have to get yourself here.
This biplane experience is indeed one of the most exciting activities you can do on this part of NSW. For many aviation enthusiasts especially from land scarce Singapore, this will be definitely a bucket list experience I recommend to do at least in your life, bar none. Many thanks for coming along on my pixels journey. For visitors keen on self-drive vacation in Australia, please do visit to check out my other travelogues.
Footnote: All pictures used in this travelogue are copyrighted to Jensen Chua Photography and Jetabout Holidays and all rights reserved. The opinion expressed is factual, objective and that of the author.