by John Parker
There is great news coming from Australia with the opening of a new aviation museum – the largest such facility built “down under” in many decades. The Hunter Warbirds ‘aviation attraction’ is an initiative from the Upper Hunter Shire Council in Scone, New South Wales.
The museum’s first phase has involved the construction of a substantial, 3,200m² (≈34,650ft²) display space, currently housing 16 aircraft, artifact displays and several dioramas. The standard and quality of the aircraft exhibits is exceptional, having been designed by the same company which fitted out the Aircraft Hall at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. There are also two high-end flight simulators (one featuring a Bristol Fighter and the other a Supermarine Spitfire) for guests to try their hand at flying a warbird.
The museum’s primary theme is titled Fighters and Trainers of the RAAF. Amongst the aircraft on display is a selection of aircraft with strong ties to Australian service personnel over the past century.
One of the fighters is a replica Bristol F.2b in the livery of B1229, a Bristol ‘Fighter’ which Captain Ross Smith (later Sir) of No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps flew on some 82 sorties in the Middle East. Captain Smith claimed 10 of his 11 aerial victories in B1229, but is also noted for having flown a reconnaissance mission with T.E.Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, as a observer in the aircraft on May 16th, 1918. This replica B1229 is a magnificent rendition of this historic aircraft and a real favourit with visitors to Hunter Warbirds.
A non-profit organization, the Hunter Fighter Collection acts as Hunter Warbirds’ content management coordinator and, in addition to its own fleet of aircraft, it sources airframes on loan from benefactors such as Pays Aviation, Vintage Fighter Restorations and Paul Bennett.
The other aircraft presently on display in the new museum include former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) de Havilland Tiger Moth VH-PCL, assembled in Australia with a British-built fuselage and Australian-made wings during 1942. Stearman (Boeing) B75N1 Kaydet VH-YDF, CAC CA-3 Wirraway A20-81 (VH-WWY), North American T-6G Texan 49-3186 (VH-HAJ), Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk.Ia ET433 (VH-KTY), Supermarine Spitfire F.Mk.IX MH603 (VH-IXF), CAC CA-18 Mustang Mk.21 A68-107 (VH-AUB), CAC CA-25 Winjeel A85-426 (VH-DKK), Lim-6M (MiG-17) “402”, Cessna O-1E Bird Dog 51-12288 (VH-YAP), GAF/Dassault Mirage III A3-44 and CAC/Aermacchi MB-326H A7-047.
In addition to the whole aircraft on view at Hunter Warbirds, there are two dioramas, one featuring the wreck of an Aichi D3A Type 99 (Val) carrier-borne dive bomber and the other a replica Bristol Fighter F.2b fuselage (dressed to represent B1223). Interestingly, during WWI, the community then living in the Upper Hunter region purchased more aircraft (including F.2b’s B1223 and B1229) for the Australian Flying Corps than any other community in WWI, hence the significance of the Bristol Fighters to the collection. There are also many significant artifacts on view throughout the new museum facility.
Hunter Warbirds is not a ‘static’ museum – most of its aircraft fly regularly. The museum expects to feature further airframes in the future, in addition to those already listed above; three more Supermarine Spitfires and another P-40 already are already expected, but there will be others.
To celebrate the opening of the Hunter Warbirds facility earlier this year, the organization helped organize the Warbirds Over Scone air show during the weekend of March 26th/27th. This was perhaps the biggest gathering of civilian-owned warbirds in Australia since soon after WWII. It included four P-40s, three Mustangs, three Spitfires, the sole airworthy Lockheed Hudson, a Corsair, Avenger, FW-190, two Wirraways, three T-28 Trojans and many other historic aircraft.
Supporting the warbird acts, the superlative Paul Bennet Air Shows team performed many aerobatic displays throughout the event. Paul Bennet is one of the world’s premier display pilots and his performances are worth the cost of admission in their own right!
One of the event highlights included a ‘Balbo’ formation featuring a majority of the attending warbirds, led by the Hudson. Despite adverse weather on the Sunday, the large crowd were treated to the opening of the flight line so they could view all of the attending aircraft up close; this was also very well received and will become a feature at future Warbirds Over Scone events.
Warbirds Over Scone was a great way to introduce the public to Hunter Warbirds. The museum is now open to the public, with regular operating hours being 9am – 5pm from Monday to Sunday, (with a 3pm closing on public holidays). They are closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, ANZAC Day and Good Friday. Located on Walter Pye Avenue at Scone Memorial Airport in Scone, New South Wales, visitors will also have the opportunity to fly in some of the locally-based aircraft including the T-6G, ‘Stearman’ and Winjeel. A two-seat Kittyhawk and Spitfire will also be added in due course, all operated by Pays Aviation.
In the future, Hunter Warbirds will also feature regular flying days, where a selection of their aircraft will go on display where they belong – in the air! I can highly recommend a visit to this fantastic new facility – it is well worth the trip for anybody interested in aviation history, but it also makes for an excellent day out for the whole family or tour groups. The Hunter Valley in general offers much to visitors, not to mention wineries and stunning scenery. The town of Scone also has comfortable accommodation, great food, and a variety of entertainment options.
Many thanks indeed to our good friend John Parker at WarbirdsOnline for this article. For those who don’t know, John is also the collections curator at Hunter Warbirds, and played a significant role in bringing in the museum’s exhibits. He also served as the flight line boss during the Warbirds Over Scone air show as well.