On October 20th, 2012 the town of Nhill in the Wimmera district of Victoria held a Fly In event to help raise money for the restoration of a World War Two era Avro Anson (a twin-engine trainer and liaison aircraft. This particular one was recovered from a farm in the region where it had sat for many years following disposal by the RAAF) and also to establish a new Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre museum at the aerodrome. During the war Nhill was a major RAAF training base between 1941 to 1946, principally operating the Avro Anson for air navigation training (for both day and night flying – the navigators had to find their way by using the stars).
As the war progressed on both the European, Middle East and Pacific front, more and more pilots and aircrew were required. With the threat of Japanese invasion, especially in 1942, many secret airbases such as this one were built in relatively remote locations to make them more secure from enemy attack (today Nhill is around a 4 hour drive from both Melbourne and Adelaide). Thousands of RAAF aircrew were trained in such bases around the state (around 10,000 in Nhill alone).
During the peak of airbase operations in 1943 up to 35 Ansons and 800 RAAF personnel were based at Nhill. From 1944 the base was also used for armaments training operating Bristol Beaufort bombers, the Avro Anson and training aircraft such as the CAC Wirraway.
Whilst conducting training missions they would drop bombs on a weapons range at the nearby Little Desert. By wars end the base had become a Care and Maintenance Unit with a number of Anson’s held in storage until the base was closed in 1946 (then becoming the town’s airport). Most of the World War Two era buildings are long gone now but some do remain including one of the hangars.
The Fly In event was a great success and the weather was a warm sunny day, perfect for flying. Approximately 90 aircraft flew in and according the Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre November newsletter this could well be the most aircraft to have ever been at Nhill (there would have never been more than around 40 aircraft there at one time even when the RAAF base was in operation)! According to local news reports up to 3,000 people also attended the fly in. This may not sound like a large crowd for an air show but you have to consider the town only has a population of around 1,900 people and it is a long way from most major towns and cities! The organisers are to be congratulated for their efforts.
Feature aircraft of the day were many and varied. These included ex-RAAF aircraft: CAC Mustang (flown and owned by Jeff Trappet an ex-RAAF pilot), CAC Wirraway, CAC Winjeel and a PAC CT-4 Airtrainer (both from the RAAF Museum) along with various training aircraft such as the Boeing Stearman, De Havilland Tiger Moth (the one doing joy flights seemed to be enjoying a roaring trade), De Havilland Chipmunk and a newly imported North American T-28 Trojan (the Trojan was often used by various air forces for Counter Insurgency operations too). They all put on a great flying display which the crowd really enjoyed seeing.
A great display of aerobatics was provided by an Extra 300L flown by Daryl Moore, a local pilot from Horsham (I had seen him practicing over Horsham on a number of days in the weeks leading up to the fly in) and a solo Pilatus PC-9 from the RAAF Roulettes display team (at the time I was in the middle of the air park so this was flying directly overhead me). An Ayres S2R-G6 crop duster also put on an excellent display of low-level flying, which is so typical of when doing ag-flying. On top of these feature aircraft were the many different types of historic and modern civilian aircraft including various kit builds flown in from various parts of Australia by visiting pilots.
In addition to all the aircraft there were parts of the Avro Anson restoration (you can read more about the restoration project by clicking here), various aircraft engines and historic items in a hangar display (one of the old base hangars from World War Two); a book launch for “Flyers of Time” by Kevin O’Reilly (who has also written about Nhill during World War Two), then outside a large number of classic and historic vehicles and motorbikes had arrived. All in all a great day!
The Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre plans to make the fly in a regular event (it is to be determined whether it will be on a bi-annual or tri-annual basis). Based off this years fly in I think they will have many more successful years to come and a very prosperous future for their planned museum. I wish them the best of success and I for one look forward to returning to see future events and check out the museum too.