Situated 2 hrs north of Sydney, the Fighterworld Heritage Centre is located next door to RAAF Williamtown and alongside Newcastle Airport. The heritage centre focuses on preserving the proud history of the RAAF’s fighter aircraft operations from 1916 to the present day. DUAN editor Phil Buckley visited the aviation museum in late 2016 to see why the museum is described as one the best in Australia for tourists to visit.
The museum plans originally stemmed from RAAF Williamtown Base Museum which was established in the early 1980s. At this point the museum operated out of a wartime hut located near the main base gate. Located out the front were several aircraft as gate guard displays.
The museum started simply with the aircraft that were on open display at the front gate. These aircraft were painstakingly restored by squadrons that have proud histories of operations associated with the type. The Sabre was sponsored by 3 Squadron and is painted in 3 Squadron colours. The Meteor was operated by 77 Squadron in Korea and painted in the original colours of that aircraft. The Vampire is the first Vampire built in Australia and is a tribute to 26 Squadron whose technicians rescued it from severe deterioration from its time spent sitting in the open. It remains one of the very few intact aircraft of its type. Two Mirage fighters were stored on base and include A3-3, the first Mirage built in Australia and A3-102 ‘Daphne the Dual’. These aircraft are on permanent loan from the RAAF Museum, Point Cook, Victoria. The immaculate condition of the Mirages is a testament to the preservation skills of the men and women of RAAF 481 Wing who maintained them during their service life.
Located next to the aircraft at the front gate was a hut where aircraft parts and equipment, uniforms, photographs and personal memorabilia were kept for public display. At this time it was noted that the museum would need better housing for future expansion plans. There were no other buildings on the base that could be used to house the museum exhibits, so an alternative long term approach was devised to ensure the museum’ future.
A plan to make the preserved exhibits better organised while looking ahead to develop into a large scale museum, saw the small museum become incorporated with a committee formed to oversee and manage its operations. The committee was comprised of senior RAAF base personnel and local people who came together to ensure the vision’s success. The cost for the building of a large size museum was estimated to be $3m.
A boost to the museum fortunes came in the early 1980s when the Federal Government established the Steel Regions Assistance Programme (SRAP) to stimulate economic local growth around Australia. Fighter World saw this as an opportunity to help build its new museum hangar structure. The committee applied for and was awarded a grant of $500,000 from the SRAP. This funding enabled the construction of the main Hangar for which building begin in late 1988. The hangar is a large semi circle shape design and was completed in early 1989. The construction of the new hangar was proven to be well worth the money as soon after its completion, the original Fighter World museum building was closed in late 1980. It had become a structural and fire hazard.
Federal funding ceased with the completion of the main hangar so other sources of funds had to be found to complete the project. Fundraising activities showed much early promise; however, increasing economic hardship in the local region and the plight of many victims of the 1989 Newcastle earthquake diverted the aid of many interested organisations into assistance to the local community. Despite the hard times supporters came forward from Caltex, Westfield Holdings, Newcastle Permanent Building Society and Boral who all made significant contributions.
Much support was received from Port Stephens Council and local RSLs to help move along the museum plans. The funds raised helped enable an interim museum display to be opened by the Minister for Defence in anticipation of the RAAF 50th Anniversary Open Day on 16th February 1991. Due to security problems relating to the Gulf War, the Open Day was cancelled by the Air Force. The displays have increased in detail and size since opening in 1991 with new aircraft added and some leaving the collection. During 2008 the RAAF restructured its operations and merged the Tactical Fighter Group with Strike Reconnaissance Group resulted in the Air Combat Group, which is yet another stage in the evolution of the RAAF’s long history.
Fighter World is operated with a small team of staff and a large team of eager, passionate and helpful volunteers. As noted on our visit a large number of volunteers of different ages and backgrounds ably assist the management and shop staff. The volunteers assist in the museum cafe, move displays, show visitors around the buildings and keep the grounds maintained to a high standard.
Fighter Worlds volunteers and staff are drawn from a variety of backgrounds with some having flying or military experience, some are local tradesmen while some just enjoy the interaction with visitors. Terry Wells, the museum manager, stated that “that without the volunteers, Fighter World just wouldn’t be as successful and the leading Newcastle region tourism attraction as it has become”.
Terry Wells described to DUAN the function of Fighterworld “as educating visitors through a ‘hands on’ experience”. The ability to allow visitors to see inside some cockpits, see displays and exhibits up close, enables a great museum experience. Tourism focus has been the driving factor for the museum plans and remains so nearly 30years later. The focus has been primarily on fighter aircraft, their operations and the historical legacy of the units. This has been complemented by also focusing on the air defence systems and environment that has, and continues to, operate from RAAF Williamtown.
The museum has the following setup along side aircraft – The early days; People and musterings in the modern RAAF; Propulsion systems; Armament; Communications; Airframes; Escape and life support systems; Operations in the defence of Australia; and Simulation of flight. This ensures that the museum tells the history of the Air Combat Group and the Defence of Australia.
Also pivotal is the region’s long association with these aircraft and their crews. This ensures many exhibits remain a firm favourite with the people of Newcastle and the Hunter. Inside the main hangar the Norm Forrester Collection exhibits undoubtedly one of Australia’s greatest displays of hand built model aircraft and it is unique to the museum. Within the two display
Within the two display hangars visitors can walk around, touch and look into the cockpits of such famous aircraft as the Dassault Mirage III, the CAC Sabre, the Gloster Meteor, the first Vampire jet built in Australia, a CAC Winjeel and the most recent item, the mighty F-111. There is variety and diversity at the museum with the collection including a Russian MiG-21 jet fighter (in Indian Air Force colours), Hawker Hunter (Singaporean AIr Force colours), 2 WWII Spitfire replicas, a Messerschmitt ME-109 replica and more. Future plans are for an F/A-18A and an F/A-18B Hornet to be added to the collection over the next few years as the Hornet fleet is retired from service.
What makes Fighter World more exciting than some museums is that they offer the public the ability to sit in the cockpit of a 1960s Mirage interceptor and Macchi jet trainer and experience first-hand what it was like to be a pilot in these aircraft in the 1960-2000 period. Being up close to and sitting inside a jet allows the public to view the controls, the gauges, the ejection seat and the tight environment that a pilot would have flown in.
THE AIRCRAFT COLLECTION
CAC Sabre Jet A94-959 “Raymond Terrace”. Located out the front of the museum, recently acquired CAC Sabre jet A94-959 is an aircraft dear to the hearts of many nearby Raymond Terrace locals and highway travellers.
It has adorned the plinth at Bettles Park since 1981 and is the subject of a book by Trevor Boughton. Today it has been carefully restored to its former glory under the custodianship of Fighter World after spending 31 years as the ‘silent symbol of the Raymond Terrace Lions Club community work’. The tail art honours 76 and 79 SQN.
CAC Sabre Jet – A94-951. This example displayed indoors was built in Australia and delivered to the RAAF on 4th December, 1956. The Avon Sabre was built by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and was the RAAF’s mainstay fighter during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
The Australian Sabre was the American design fitted with a more powerful British Rolls Royce engine and twin 30mm Aden cannons. Australian Sabres were later modified to carry AIM-9B Sidewinder heat seeking air-to-air missiles.
The first Australian CAC built Avon Sabre flew on 3rd August, 1953 and during its test flight it became the first aircraft in Australia to break the sound barrier in a shallow dive. RAAF Sabres saw active combat service in Malaya confrontation in 1958 and provided base CAP at Ubon (Thailand) from 1962 through to 1968 during the Vietnam War era.
General Dynamics F-111C – A8-148. The F-111C served from 1973 to 2010 in RAAF service and was a high speed, all-weather attack aircraft capable of low-level penetration of enemy defences via terrain following radar ( connected to the autopilot which gave it the ability to fly at low level in all weather conditions) along side a variety of self defense systems. The F-111 was built in the 1960s and at the time was a radical aircraft which featured two Pratt & Whitney TF30 afterburning turbofan engines, variable geometry wings (which moved between 16 degrees full forward and 72.5 degrees to full sweep), an internal weapons bay and a cockpit with side by side seating.
The cockpit served as part of a crew escape module. The airframe is made up mostly of aluminium alloys with steel, titanium and other materials used throughout the aircraft.
The RAAF equipped its 2 squadrons 1and 6 SQNs with F-111s at RAAF Amberley from 1973 onwards where they proved themselves. In the 1980s highly capable PAVE TACK AVQ-23 laser designators were added which allowed stand off targeting and delivery of
Laser Guide Bombs (LGBs) GBU-10, 12 etc.
Gloster Meteor jet F.8. Meteor A77-875. This Meteor was delivered to the RAAF on 11 May 1953. It was possibly used for ground instruction and later served with 77 Sqn. The aircraft was part of the aerobatic display team ‘The Meteorites’ in 1958.
On 1951 Meteors made their mark in RAAF history when they went into action with No 77 Squadron in Korea. The Meteor was armed with four 20-mm Hispano cannons and could carry up to eight 27 kg (60 lb) rockets or 454 kg (1000 lb) of bombs.
DeHavilland Vampire A79-1. In 1946 approval was given for the RAAF to purchase an initial quantity of 50 Vampire aircraft. The first three machines were British-built aircraft, an F 1, F 2 and FB 5, and were given serial numbers A78-1 to 3. (Note Australian built aircraft were different with the prefix of A79-xxx).
The first Australian built Vampire F30 fighter, A79-1 which is preserved and on display in the hangar, flew in June 1949 . It was followed by 56 more F 30’s, before the final 23 aircraft were completed as FB 31’s with strengthened and clipped wings and underwing hardpoints. Of all the Vampire aircraft produced, only the first two had sequential serials, A79-1 and 2. For security reasons, all later serials were scrambled. The last FB 31 was delivered in August 1953. All aircraft built in Australia were powered by the CAC license-built Nene engine.
GAF / Dassault Mirage III-0 fighter. A3-3. This Mirage III-O was the first single seat Mirage assembled in Australia and delivered on 13th March 1964. The aircraft served with the Aircraft Research and Development Unit at RAAF Edinburgh in South Australia before being transferred to RAAF Williamtown NSW where it was operated by 76 Sqn, 2 OCU and 77 Sqn before being withdrawn from service on 31st March 1987.
Built by the French firm Generale Aeronautique Marcel Dassault (GAMD), the first Mirage III prototype flew in 1956. and many were exported around the world.
Dassault / GAF Mirage III-D trainer. A3-102. The Mirage IIID is a two-seat Mach 2 trainer and tactical strike aircraft.The first two-seater Mirage IIID, A3-101, flew on 6 October 1966 and was accepted by the RAAF at Avalon on 10 November, followed by a further nine over the next year. The two seat version (III-D) A3-102 was delivered in November 1966 and served at 2OCU and 77 Squadron at RAAF Williamtown.
The dual seat Mirage added a second cockpit behind the front seat pilot and the avionics equipment, previously stored behind the pilot, was relocated in the nose. The RAAF’s Mirage trainers were assembled by GAF from imported French-built fuselages and CAC-built wings and vertical tail surfaces.
In December 1970 the Australian government approved the purchase of six additional Mirage III-D trainers A3-111 to A3-116, at a cost of $11 million. These aircraft were delivered between August 1973 to January 1974.
GAF MB-326H Macchi jet trainer. A7-062 was delivered to the RAAF on 9th October 1969. The aircraft served with 2 OCU, 77 Sqn and 76 Sqn at RAAF Williamtown and was withdrawn from service on 24th May 1999. The aircraft on display is loaded with 8 BDU-33 practice bombs.
The Aermacchi MB 326H was ordered by the RAAF in August 1965 after it was decided there was a need for high-performance jet training to prepare pilots for the Dassault Mirage, then entering service. 97 Macchis were delivered to the ADF from 1967 and they were retired in 2000, replaced by the Bae 127 Hawk LIF trainer.
Visitors are allowed to sit in the cockpit of another Macchi fuselage section which located in the museum.
DAP Beaufighter cockpit section. A19-50.. Fighter Worlds Beaufighter cockpit nose section was rebuilt by Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS). The nose section is marked to represent the Beaufighter A19-50 ‘Wendy Joy II’ operated by Mostyn Morgan and Fred Cassidy from 5 Mile Drome (Wards Strip) near Port Moresby. Fred Cassidy was a member of No 30 Squadron RAAF that flew in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea mission when an entire Japanese reinforcement convoy bound for Lae in Papua New Guinea was sunk in a single day. This was done by Australian Beaufighters and some sixty other allied aircraft.
The Battle of the Bismarck Sea was a decisive victory and an important turning point in the fight to save Australia from invasion. A total of 581 Beaufighters served with RAAF squadrons in Australia and the South-West Pacific. The highly capable medium attack aircraft became one of the RAAF’s most used aircraft during WW2 with its legacy recalled by skilled pilots who used its speed and weapons to attack the enemy. A total of 5,584 Beaufighters were built between 1939 and 1946 in the UK and also included 365 of these built by the Department of Aircraft Production in Australia. The last Australian Beaufighter was retired from service in 1957.
CAC Winjeel trainer. A85 -428. Designed to a 1948 RAAF specification for a basic trainer to replace the Tiger Moth, the CAC Winjeel first flew in 1951. While not a fighter aircraft the CAC Winjeel earns its place at Fighter World because of its long association with the training of fighter pilots in Close Air Support (CAS) procedures. In the Forward Air Control role the aircraft was fitted with a carriage and release unit located underneath the aircraft fuselage and was capable of the airborne delivery of smoke grenades to mark targets to be identified and engaged by Fighter/Attack aircraft.
MiG 21UM “Mongrol B” VH-XXI .This particular aircraft was built in Czechoslovakia. The aircraft was delivered to the Polish Air Force on 21st November 1973 where it remained in service until August 1991. In July 1992 the aircraft was purchased by Australian Dick McIntosh who painted it in the blood red colours of the Indian Air Force ‘Red Scorchers’ Aerobatic team. It still bears its Australian registration VH-XXI and performed at airshows in the mid 1990’s.
The Russian MiG-21 was the main fighter of the Warsaw Pact countries during the cold war period and became the most extensively used fighter in the world with over 10,000 aircraft being built.
Hawker Hunter FGA.74.“546” The Hawker Hunter “546” on display was imported into Australia in 1995 and was kindly donated to Fighterworld by Sydney businessman Mr Greg Ackman. Fighter World volunteers assembled and restored the aircraft for display.
The Hunter first entered service in Britain with the Royal Air Force in 1956 and this example was transferred to the Royal Singapore Air Force (RSAF) in 1973. During service in the RSAF it flew at RAAF Williamtown in joint exercises and training detachments.
MISSILES AND DRONES
Bloodhound missile. RAAF No 30 Squadron was equipped with the Bloodhound in January 1961 and was stationed at RAAF Base Williamtown, with a detachment forming in Darwin in 1965 to ward off high flying Indonesian bombers. The missile was retired from service in 1968. No 30 Squadron is also the only RAAF unit to date to have operated ground based surface to air missiles. The Bloodhound was intended to form part of a UK defensive shield against strategic bombers and as such was a long range high speed weapon capable of intercepting enemy aircraft at quite high altitude.
Development of the Bloodhound surface-to-air missile (SAM) was a joint project between Bristol Aircraft and Ferranti Electronics. In 1952 the design was accepted by the Combined United Kingdom / Australia Committee for trials. Following initial firings in Wales, the first launches at the Woomera range in South Australia began in mid-1953, with firings against Jindivink target aircraft from 1956. The Mk 1 entered British service in 1958, and was selected for the RAAF in November of that year.
Jindivik drone. N11-750. The drone on display was delivered to the Royal
Australian Navy in December 1985. Jindivik history can be traced back to March 1948, when the British Ministry of Supply had a requirement for a high-speed pilotless target aircraft for use in its guided missile program. Development of the specification was undertaken in Australia. Between 1952 and 1986 a total of 502 Jindivik aircraft were produced and interestingly due to demand, in 1997 the production line was re-opened to build another 15 aircraft for Britain.
DR-1 Triplane. Fighterworld’s Fokker DR-1 Triplane was one of four produced for a movie filmed on Stockton Beach and was acquired by a Newcastle family who used the prop as an advertising feature on the roof of their Lambton shop. This replica is a two thirds scale example of one of the most famous German fighters of WWI. The black paint scheme was adopted by Fighterworld and depicts the personal aircraft of fighter ace Leutnant Josef Jacobs who, aged 25, claimed 48 victories when in Command of Jagdstaffel 7 during 1918. He became the Triplane’s highest scoring Ace. It currently hangs from the roof of the main museum hangar. History records that Manfred von Richtofen first flew the Fokker Triplane on 1st September 1917 and shot down two enemy aircraft in the next two days. The Fokker, however, suffered chronic wing structural problems that destroyed any prospect of large-scale orders. Production eventually ended in May 1918, by which time only 320 had been manufactured. The aircraft was originally painted red – the colours of the original von Richtofen aircraft.
Spitfire and BF-109 Replicas – These 3 replica fighters were built for the Bicentennial Air Show at RAAF Richmond by Eddie Mathews (and his sons) a builder and aviation enthusiast from the Gold Coast and carefully restored by Fighter World volunteers.
Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII replica. The Mk VIII replica on display is a fibreglass, timber and metal replica of a RAAF 79 Squadron Spitfire that operated in defence of Darwin and New Guinea during WWII.
The replica has been constructed using some authentic Spitfire components. No. 452 Squadron was the first RAAF Squadron to fly the Supermarine Spitfire. Formed in Britain in 1941 during the Second World War the Squadron flew Spitfires for the entire period, initially over the UK and Nazi occupied Europe. Over 1200 Spitfires were delivered to RAAF Squadrons between April 1941 and October 1945.
Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI replica. The Mk XVI replica on display is a fibreglass, timber and metal replica of an RAF aircraft from 127 Squadron. The Mk XVI was unique in the fact that it was fitted with a Packard Mk266 engine instead of the Rolls Royce Merlin. This engine was slightly heavier but more powerful than the Merlin. The replica depicts production number TV900 – Squadron identification 9-NF and was delivered on 17th March, 1945 and was named ‘Winston Churchill’.
Flying Officer Jeffrey (Robbie) Robinson (RAAF) from Newcastle, flew the aircraft in Europe on ground attack missions.
The aircraft was transferred to the Belgian Air Force where it met an untimely end on 30th May, 1946 when it crashed and was destroyed on impact. 1054 Mk XVIs were produced and RAAF Squadrons 453 and 451 were issued with the Mk XVI.
BF-109E replica. This aircraft is a full size fibreglass and timber replica of Germany’s most famous WWII fighter. It was one of the first truly modern fighters of the era, including such features as an all-metal monocoque construction, a closed canopy and a retractable landing gear. It was powered by a liquid cooled, inverted V12 aero engine.
The BF-109 was the most produced warplane during WWII, with 30, 573 examples built during the war. The Spitfire and Messerschmitt were arch enemies in the famous Battle of Britain. Fighterworld’s replica is painted to represent the aircraft of Oberleutnant Carl Hans Roders who was killed when his Messerschmitt was shot down by a Spitfire over the English Channel on 23rd June, 1941.
Boeing Stearman or Kaydet. This aircraft is a two seat bi-plane that first flew in November 1934. The aircraft was produced at the Stearman Aircraft Division of Boeing in Wichita, Kansas and served as a primary trainer for the USAAF (N13-N17), the USN (as the NS & N2S), and with the Royal Canadian Air Force as the Kaydet throughout World War II with over 8,584 aircraft being produced between 1936 and 1944. The Fighter World Stearman replica is approximately 1/3 scale and painted to represent a Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft used in the Empire Air Pilot Training Scheme conducted in British Commonwealth countries for the WWII war effort. A number of RAAF pilots underwent training on Stearmans in Canada. The replica now hanging from the roof of the main hangar arrived in a state of disrepair following its use as a prop for an Australian made movie called ‘Kangaroo Jack’. It appeared in the movie marked as ‘Dingo Air Charter’ with a drunken pilot and featured in a crash scene. The Stearman replica was carefully restored by the volunteers at Fighter World.
What is life support you may ask? Life support covers a variety of areas from pilot flightgear to life rafts to parachutes and ejections. All of these items are what keep a pilot once they either bail out or ejection from an aircraft.
At Fighter World a variety of ejection seats are on display along side a parachute, a life raft and mannequins dressed in vintage and modern era flying equipment.
ENGINES, WEAPONS AND MISC DISPLAYS
Mirage III-O radar unit cut away display
Assorted engine displays
Mirage fighter Matra missile and 30mm Hispano cannon
Australian made 1970s era Karinga cluster bomb.
M-61 20mm Vulcan Gatling gun and SUU-20 trainer pod
Mirage III-O cockpit display – This appears at community events and helps to advertise the museum.
WW2 Link trainer
Aircraft model displays
If you have not yet been to Fighter World you should consider visiting.
When you are finished the museum inspection, if your an aviation enthusiast who likes fast jets and aircraft noise, there is the chance to go to the Observation Deck located at the back of the museum, where the various aircraft of the RAAF such as F/A-18s, BAe-127 Hawks, E-7 Wedgetails can be observed taking off and landing if they are flying on the day. The public can also see a variety of civil airline operations intermixed with the military aircraft.
Fighter World is well catered for the aviation enthusiast and family members as they have a Cafe on site next to the main display hangar which has some great tasty foods – light meals and snacks along with cold drinks, coffee . Also within the main hangar is a gift shop with a large range of aviation theme books, museum souvenirs and model kits available to buy.
It is open every day except Christmas Day, from 10am to 4pm. The staff will be more than helpful if you need any information or assistance to make your visit a great experience.
The museum’s website can be found at http://www.fighterworld.com.au
DUAN appreciates the assistance given on the day of our visit by Terry and the volunteer team, as I roamed around the museum as the volunteers were moving aircraft back in for display.