Airshows Downunder Shellharbour 2024

Formerly known as "Wings Over Illawarra" the airshow showcases some of Australia's unusual and unique warbirds

The past and future of the RAAF: 100 Sqn's CAC Mustang leads its modern counterpart, F-35A A35-33 of 2 OCU, in a heritage flypast. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]
The past and future of the RAAF: 100 Sqn's CAC Mustang leads its modern counterpart, F-35A A35-33 of 2 OCU, in a heritage flypast. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]
Aircorps Art Dec 2019


Airshows Downunder Shellharbour is held in the Illawarra on the south coast of New South Wales, just over an hour south of Sydney. Situated in a picturesque location with an amazing backdrop of the Illawarra escarpment, it is Australia’s favorite regional airshow and the best vintage airshow experience within easy reach of Sydney.  Our “Roving Reporter” Nigel Hitchman was there reporting for Vintage Aviation News.

By Nigel Hitchman

Airshows Downunder Shellharbour, previously known as Wings Over Illawarra, is a major airshow, the largest event held in the Illawarra and NSW south coast, and a major airshow experience within easy reach of metropolitan Sydney. The event’s diverse program included ground displays and flying demonstrations of historic, military, modern, and aerobatic aircraft as well as vintage car and motorbike displays, children’s rides, and other aviation and technology-related exhibitions.  For its first seven years, Wings Over Illawarra was a successful community event, managed by a committee supported by Shellharbour City Council, local service clubs, and community volunteers.  After the successful 2013 event, it became clear that Wings Over Illawarra had outgrown local community resources and needed dedicated commercial management to prepare for future growth.

A sight unique to an Australian airshow: an English Electric Canberra on finals for landing while a CAC Wirraway (left) and Lockheed Hudson wait their turn. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]

In November 2013 ownership and management of Wings Over Illawarra was transferred to Bright Events Pty Ltd.  Bright Events ably managed and developed the airshow through challenges of growth and weather, expanding to a two-day event in 2015. 2018 saw the event expand to include more military aircraft on display in the air and on the ground, plus a huge sideshow carnival with spectacular rides for visitors of all ages and world-class freestyle motocross motorcycle displays.

In March 2023 Australian not-for-profit corporation AMDA Foundation Ltd (the Aerospace Maritime Defence and Security Foundation of Australia Ltd., formerly more familiar as AirShows DownUnder) became the new operator of Wings Over Illawarra. AMDA Foundation was established to promote the development of aviation and Australia’s industrial, manufacturing, and information/communications technology resources in the fields of aviation, aerospace, maritime, defense, and security. It is intended that under the stewardship of the AMDA Foundation, the renamed Airshows Downunder Shellharbour Airshow will continue to grow and develop.

A “Balbo” flypast of some of the attending WWII aircraft was led by Paul Bennet Airshows' TBM, flanked by the Mustangs of Doug Hamilton (left) and 100 Sqn RAAF, followed by that unit's Spitfire Mk.VIII and finally the Kittyhawks of Ross Pay (lower) and Allan Arthur. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]
A “Balbo” flypast of some of the attending WWII aircraft was led by Paul Bennet Airshows’ TBM, flanked by the Mustangs of Doug Hamilton (left) and 100 Sqn RAAF, followed by that unit’s Spitfire Mk.VIII and finally the Kittyhawks of Ross Pay (lower) and Allan Arthur. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]

While the new airshow organizers are well known for running the big show at Avalon, Victoria, this wasn’t like today’s Avalon in that there was very little commercial or trade presence: instead crowds were met with an excellent collection of visiting warbirds, together with heavy participation from the local superb Historic Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) collection based on the field, both in the flying display and static, with their collection hangars open to the public. There were also several aerobatic displays, including the unique Yak-110, and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) participated with a Lockheed Martin C-130 and F-35A Lightning II flying – plus several warbirds from 100 Squadron, the Air Force’s Heritage Squadron.

Always a highlight, the HARS Lockheed C-121C Super Constellation VH-EAG was flying for the first time in a year. One of only two actively flying examples of the classic airliner worldwide, Connie thrilled the airshow crowds. It was also great to see their newly restored 1926 Fokker F.VIIb/3m Southern Cross replica VH-USU now flying in the hands of Bruce Simpson and Mark Thurstan, following the HARS team’s extensive repair of the wing and other structures since its ill-fated last flight in 2002 (as previously reported here by Vintage Aviation News).

HARS’ fleet of maritime patrol aircraft also took to the sky, with the Grumman S-2G Tracker VH-NVX, Lockheed SP-2H Neptune VH-IOY (currently the world’s only flying example of the type), and Lockheed AP-3C Orion VH-ORI each doing a number of flypasts. They also flew more “big iron” in the shape of a pair of Douglas C-47s (VH-AES and VH-EAF), and one of their two airworthy de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribous in the form of RAAF veteran VH-VBB.

100 Sqn RAAF brought their English Electric Canberra TT.18 VH-ZSQ  (currently the only flying British-built example in the world), Cessna A-37B Dragonfly VH-XVA, Lockheed Hudson Mk.III VH-KOY (another unique airworthy example), Supermarine Spitfire Mk.VIII VH-HET,  CAC CA-13 Wirraway VH-BFF, and CAC CA-18 Mustang VH-SVU (an Australian license-built version of the P-51D). This already impressive lineup joined Doug Hamilton’s P-51D VH-LUI and two Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks from Ross Pay (VH-KTY) and Allan Arthur (VH-ZOC).

Jeff Trappett brought his CAC CA-27 Sabre VH-SBR, but unfortunately couldn’t fly due to the wet runway on Saturday and then the ground power starter unit failed on Sunday. Better luck was had with the Paul Bennet Airshows’ team, which provided their Grumman TBM-3E Avenger VH-MML, CAC CA-3 Wirraway VH-WWY, and their newly acquired Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 VH-HPB (as recently reported by VAN). This latter aircraft was making its Australian airshow debut, now back with Australian markings and the name Southern Cross which it wore when first restored by George Baker in Florida in the early 1980s. The sole “enemy” aircraft for the event was provided by Chris Mayr with his excellent Russian-engined Flug-Werk FW 190 VH-WLF.

While Friday was cloudy and hazy Saturday, the first show day proper, was marred by darker clouds and some drizzle but despite the below-average conditions a relatively full program was flown, minus the aforementioned Sabre and F-35. Sunday dawned bright and clear with blue skies all day with more in attendance taking advantage of the excellent weather. Local news estimated attendance at around 10,000 with many families enjoying a day at Australia’s newest airshow.

For more information about the airshow and next year’s dates, visit www.airshowsdownundershellharbour.com.au

The past and future of the RAAF: 100 Sqn's CAC Mustang leads its modern counterpart, F-35A A35-33 of 2 OCU, in a heritage flypast. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]
The show finale comprised an RAAF heritage flypast of the CAC Mustang and Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, followed by a solo display by the fifth-generation jet. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]

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