Reenacting groups or communities are comprised of people who recreate history or as some prefer to call it as “living history”. It is a relatively niche hobby requiring much money, time and effort to make it worthwhile for the purists. Overseas in the USA and UK mainly, reenactors that recreate pilots and aircrews have been going on for decades. These efforts have become very large scale and quite popular.Some of the more popular airshow events like Duxford, Oshkosh and many more, attract reenacting teams who work with warbird organisations like the Commemorative Air Force, Collings Foundation and many other individual warbird owners, so that they can recreate extremely detailed period era settings alongside the aircraft.
With so much variety available in the USA and UK, aviation reenactors are dressed from eras covering WW1, WW2 and sometimes more modern wars, as fighter / bomber pilots, other air crews and groundcrews. These people’s efforts to recreate so much history, make the airshows and events more exciting and interesting for the general public to attend. The reenactors set up areas or as some call them “camps” at airshows. These meticulous recreations are alone in some cases a good reason for the general public to attend the airshows to see how people 50-100years ago lived and worked in combat areas.
Over in Australia, people and groups who focus or specialise on reenacting aviation pilots or ground crews from past wars or military service, are counted on 2 hands nearly. This is because due to a variety of reasons is a relatively new concept in Australia to reenact aviation.
AUSTRALIAN AVIATION REENACTING – A PASSION GROWS
The public displaying of heritage flying gear is a still mostly unheard of in Australia. The reason that it is a new is due to many flightgear collection owners are very wary to bring their collection outside of secure storage, for any public viewing. The other main restriction is due to the fragility, rarity and wear + tear that can easily damage many of the old clothing items. These limitations combined, means sadly that many rare and highly interesting flying gear items are never seen by the public on display except at some museums.
This DUAN feature story examines 3 people – covering from Queensland to Victoria – who are making efforts to bring to the airshows and events across Australia some aviation reenacting.
PHIL BUCKLEY AND HIS COLLECTION
Phil has been a flying gear collector and restorer since 1998 with a large and diverse collection built up covering a few different eras. He observed over the period from 1998 to 2008 at airshows there was a missing component in that the public werent being educated to the background nor why the use of flying clothing. After seeing that there was virtually none to extremely limited interest from other flightgear owners in NSW in wishing to display their collection of vintage flying gear, Phil started in 2008 to attend airshows with some of his flying gear collection in order to show the general public what pilots wore in combat and peacetime from across the 1940-80s.
He initially set up a small display the HARS museum airshow day in 2008 and then over the next few years, expanded into a more interactive and diverse display. Included was a very uncommon ejection seat to see in Australia – an F-4D Phantom Martin Baker H7 type ejection seat for the public to sit on. When Phil displays his flightgear collection the setup can include examples of the following:
• A static F-4 Phantom ejection seat display for people to sit on while wearing a flight helmet for photo purposes.
• Cut out display of flying gear for photo purposes.
• Table set up with various ww2 to modern era RAAF and USAF flying helmets on display
• Mannequin dressed in flying gear in period era clothing.
• Display board with various flying gear items on show
His diverse collection and displays have also been on display at the Temora Aviation Museum, Rathmines Catalina Festival and special invite only celebration events at RAAF bases.
Filling in the gaps and the lack of public knowledge about flying gear, Phil is able to educate the general public on historical issues and reasons as to why the flying gear was chosen for specific timeframes and how it works.
When Phil displays his F-4 Phantom ejection seat, it allows the ability to explain to the person sitting in the seat, how the flightgear links together, such as the parachute harness the pilot wears that is connected to the parachute stored in the ejection seat, while also allowing the general public the chance to wear an actual military flight helmet and oxygen mask that would have been used with the aircraft type. Many kids and adults have had some fun doing this. Some Royal Australian Air Force cadets have never seen an ejection seat before up close that they could touch and they are quite curious when they sit it in and try on the helmet as well.
Though it doesnt replicate the fun of sitting in an actual aircraft cockpit, the ejection seat display nevertheless enables a person to learn about some of the life support equipment systems that some aircrew use.
Besides attending airshows with the above educational display setup, some of these events enables Phil to take part in reenacting around aircraft while the public take photos. This helps the general public to see historical warbirds with the correct era pilot standing nearby thus allowing a period setting to be created.
In order to this make happen, there is some background work and Phil organises and discusses with the owners or museums the planned outcomes or access arrangements needing to be obtained. Phil then on the day “suits up” by wearing the appropriate flight gear and then is positioned along side or inside the warbird/s on display.
Engaging the public’s interest by positioning around and sitting in (when allowed to) the aircraft, creates interesting and sometimes not to commonly seen photo opportunities for the general public to see. The other positive aspect about reenacting is that the photos helps to raise awareness and attracts more interest in warbird aircraft, promote warbird aircraft flights and the warbird aviation industry.
Phil has accumulated flying gear to reenact the Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Air Force and USAAF / USAF from WW2 (1940-1945), Korean war era (1950-3), Vietnam war (1960-1973) through to modern times.
Some examples of the events and displays below showing Phil exhibiting his collection with the help of following businesses and museums – HARS museum – based at Albion Park, NSW – http://www.hars.org.au, Combat Dragon – A37B Dragonfly – http://sydneyhs.com.au/jet-fighter-20/ and http://aasaviation.com.au/warbird-maintenance/, Paul Bennet Airshows –https://paulbennetairshows.com.au/, CAC Mustang VH-MFT Fighter Trust based in Caboolture QLD – https://www.mustangflights.com.au, Ross Pay – Pay Air Services – http://www.paysairservice.com.au, Temora Aviation Museum – http://www.aviationmuseum.com.au and Randal McFarlane who previously owned a O-1 Birdog:
Sometimes the effort to transport the collections to airshows or events is quite significant and can involve a bit of logistical planning. Some events can be catered for easily with a suitcase size pack while others will need a vehicle and trailer to move all the items safely and securely.
By doing reenacting and displaying part of his collection at airshows and events, Phil has met a variety of people from current serving ADF personnel, veterans, families of veterans through to other flightgear collectors / enthusiasts. This mix of people enables quite interesting discussions to take place and at times to enhance the flightgear reenacting network.Phil is also able to offer for a small fee, a consultancy service to museums and collectors, to assist in acquiring the correct era flight gear for displays. Some warbird owners around Australia have worked with him over the years to acquire hard to find flightgear for own their collections. Over the next few years Phil is looking to focus on when time permits, reenacting photoshoots with T-28 Trojans, Canberra bombers, T-6 Harvards, Mirages, Meteor jets and more around Australia.
STEVE HAYNES AND HIS COLLECTION
Steve has had a long term interest in aviation, which was further enhanced by grandfather who was a wireless operator on Lancaster’s in 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron based in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, during the WW2 and that sparked his interest in Australian aviation. Lastly, He is a resident of Point Cook in Victoria, an area that needs no introduction to the warbird world!. Steve’s interest in aviation reenacting took place when he started collecting a lifetime of militaria items and then taking part in displays as a combination of historical re-enactment and showing the public insights to part of his collection.
The two concepts of reenacting and aviation then came together well and he started appearing at Airshows around Victoria along with a small group of like-minded people. Steve has been able to work in conjunction with the B-24 Memorial from Werribee, 75th Anniversary Nhill Airshow, Tyabb Airshow and particularly Avalon International Airshows. He gets immense satisfaction from the interaction that occurs with the general public and even some within the warbird community!
Steve focuses on displaying the US and Commonwealth flight gear both on the person as well as static and mobile displays. He likes to also represent US units that served in Australia and the South West Pacific during WW2, such as elements of the 380th BG who were based in Darwin and surrounds. Another aspect is that Steve likes to reenact the USMC/ Navy pilots in the South West Pacific during WW2.
Steve’s collection consists of as much equipment and personal items used by US and Commonwealth aviators as can be realistically displayed. He tends to focus on what aircrew wore both on their person and in their pockets. As he says, the devil is in the detail – covering everything from parachutes to identification documents.
For the future Steve is wishing to see a gathering of aviation re-enactment and displays in the eastern states of Australia take place, as there are a few people out there that collect flightgear. He thinks if they all came come together and do a large display at a show, it would “be brilliant!”. Steve would also like to promote more his and his fellow reenactors displays so that they can reach out to more people at more shows.
AIDAN KAYROOZ AND HIS COLLECTION
Aidan’s journey into flight gear reenacting is not overly long from first glance, but you would be maybe surprised at how it has managed to work its way into what makes him feel like an individual.One of his earliest aviation memories is of watching TOP GUN, the iconic motion picture of 1986. To say he was enthralled by it is an understatement; despite all of its factual inaccuracies, it has inspired a few generations of kids to pursue a career in military aviation, so it’s not all bad.
Living in Townsville, Queensland, Aidan’s collecting and re-enactment activities started back in 2014, where he wanted to find a fun hobby that would also motivate him during university studies. The other motivator is that he thought it would be cool to dress up like Maverick from Top Gun for his looming 30th birthday. Recalling how he started his collecting, Adian explains that he acquired the USN gear as he would jump at any chance to wear it. He decided that if he were to start collecting flight gear it must be the best deal he could source. The first purchase came about by chance when Aidan found a set of unissued KH-3 anti-g pants from China. The price was right and thought they were cool, so home they came. Aidan then started focusing on his main interest in recreating a US Navy 1980s F-14 pilot setup. He set himself some guidelines that any gear he purchased had to be issued in the 80’s for that authentic worn look, and be adaptable.He is furthermore fascinated with its function in that it is surprisingly comfortable despite its weight and lack of ventilation once everything is donned. It has taken him so far 2 years in developing his F-14 pilot set but to fullly complete it he still needs Martin Baker leg restraints and US issued flight boots. To make it more accurate, Aidan will also consider fully retrofitting the helmet with communication cords, a leather liner and 3m reflective tape for graphics. These photos below show Aidan kitting up in the US Navy gear at the recent 2016 Townsville airshow.
These photos below show Aidan at the recent 2016 Townsville T-150 airshow, in various stages of “kitting up” in some of the above US Navy gear .
During 2016 Aidan was most active in re-enactment as he felt that he could offer a convincing portrayal of a 1980’s US Naval aviator (who may happen to bear some resemblance to “Maverick”). When he attended the Townsville T-150 Open Day where he was able to join other local like minded history reenactors in showcasing Australian and foreign military history. As Aidan roamed the aviation displays across the day, the general public would frequently be asking him why he dressed like this and also asked to be photographed with him.
For a new reenacting display, Aidan is now in 2017 looking forward to beginning to expand his collection of Chinese gear by acquiring enough items to complete his Chinese MiG 21 pilot set. Aidan has found that researching for further information regarding Chinese flightgear equipment, up until recently has been no easy task, as the Chinese military have been fiercely protective of letting foreigners know about their equipment in detail. To that end the equipment that he is collecting is now more in line with a current day PLAAF pilot.Aidan has not worn this collection publicly as he is still to acquire what he says it to be some awfully expensive items to complete the pilot set.
Regardless of the event, Aidan tries his best to offer a realistic touch to this re-enactment as he feels it would be disrespectful to the hard working men and women who have given their lives so that we may be able to enjoy this freedom. The adaptable requirement as discussed earlier on, means that Adian sets himself goals in allowing himself the enjoyment in showcasing his flight gear equipment in an educational w
ay at re-enactment events with the gracious help from fellow members of the North Queensland Military Re-enactors and Collectors Inc (NQMRC) and North Queensland Historical Re-enactment Society (NQHRS), and also in an entertaining way through appearances as a pop-culture icon at cosplay events.
As for the longer term plans, Aidan wishes to collect a handful of foreign military aviation uniforms and equipment that offers an interesting insight to what pilots had to entrust their lives to while “in the office”.
COOPERATION WITH WARBIRD OWNERS, AVIATION MUSEUMS AND AIRSHOWS
Without the co-operation, support and understanding of the many warbird owners, museums, events and airshows across Australia, it would not be possible to stage any of these reenacting events across. Whenever access is given to a warbird for display purposes, reenactors understand that it is not easily given. All of the reenactors in Australia appreciate the time and efforts undertaken to enable these photo shoots and living history events to take place.