VIDEO, GALLERY: Aero Club turns 85

ROYAL Newcastle Aero Club has celebrated its 85th anniversary by staging a spectacular mass formation flypast of more than 20 aircraft in the skies above the Hunter.

Club historian and member of 59 years Bill Hitchcock, 85, said a crowd of about 600 watched a World War II Avenger torpedo bomber – one of only six remaining in the world – leave Maitland at 11am, accompanied by three Pitts Special aerobatic biplanes, eight Cessna aircraft, four Tiger Moths from Luskintyre and a gaggle of about 14 home-built and privately owned  planes.

The mass formation flew past Mount Sugarloaf and over Warners Bay, Rathmines, Swansea and along the coastline before turning right at Nobbys Beach and flying over Newcastle and back to Maitland.

‘‘There was a strong westerly wind blowing and it was a little bit bumpy, but the Avengers used to operate off aircraft carriers and are very heavy, so it was perfect,’’ Mr Hitchcock said.

‘‘This anniversary was an important milestone to mark – and a way to show people we’re still here.’’

The club was born in 1928 after former World War I pilots Captain H.S. Preston and Captain L.H. Irwin decided Newcastle should become part of the country’s burgeoning aviation industry and operate a flying school.

The club established an aerodrome at Broadmeadow and in 1935 brought the first Tiger Moth into Australia from England.

Mr Hitchcock remembered kerosene pots used in the 1950s to line the runways before an electronic night landing system was developed.

The club moved to its current site in Maitland in 1962 and is now the largest of 60 aero clubs in Australia, with a fleet that includes general aviation, light sport and vintage aircraft.

It has trained thousands of pilots who embarked on careers in commercial aviation and the Royal Australian Air Force and also hires planes to pilots to fly across the world.

Yesterday’s mass formation flyover followed a Saturday dinner at East Maitland  for 150 people, including president Marj Davis of The Royal Federation of Aero Clubs of Australia.

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