30,000 people flock to Wings Over Illawarra 2017

An annual air show soared to new heights of popularity at the weekend. 

Aviation enthusiasts flocked to the Illawarra Regional Airport for Wings Over Illawarra. 

Although gate numbers were still being finalised on Sunday, organisers reported that more than 30,000 people attended over the two days, a record for the event.  

There was constant activity both in the air and on the ground, from thrilling displays of aerobatics to punters of all ages being able to immerse themselves in aviation history by wandering through rare displays of vintage and classic aircraft.

The excitement associated with flying demonstrations aside, patrons could also meet the likes of Red Bull pilot Matt Hall.

WOI’s equivalent of a rock star, Mr Hall’s aerobatics in his Extra 300L aircraft proved a crowd-pleaser.

The former RAAF Fighter combat instructor is the only Australian ever to compete in the Red Bull Air Race.

He was a popular figure throughout the show, as attendees regularly sought autographs and photos.

“It’s (WOI) got the best of everything… Plus the atmosphere and the people are amazing,” he said.

Among Mr Hall’s fans was Krystal Spencer, nine, whose family travelled from Lismore to attend Wings Over Illawarra for the first time.

“Talking to the pilots is my favourite thing to do (at air shows)… I want to be a pilot one day,” she said.

“What keeps me passionate about what I do is I’ll go out there and put my best foot forward, go and do my display, and when I see the look in kids’ eyes and they say, ‘I want to be a pilot’, that is the best feeling in the world for me,” Mr Hall said. 

Meanwhile, a rare German warplane made its air show debut at WOI.

Owner Chris Mayr flew his restored Focke Wulf 190 into Albion Park Rail from Melbourne, one of only four flying in the world.

The craft was built in 1944.

The rare bird was among dozens to take to the skies both Saturday and Sunday to impress the crowds along with the RAAF Roulettes, RAAF F/A-18 Hornets and a World War I Fokker DR1.

A crowd favourite was Paul Bennet Airshows’ Sky Aces. 

Among their performances included Mr Bennet’s solo flying display in his Wolf Pitts Pro aerobatic biplane.

The group also took to the skies in warbirds such as the Grumman Avenger and T-28B Trojan. 

Mr Bennet has watched WOI develop throughout several years of taking part. 

“It started as more static on the ground type stuff, and it’s grown into a fully-fledged air show - it’s great,” he said.

Event organisers, Mark and Kerry Bright thanked the volunteers and pilots who took part. 

“It’s the best event we’ve ever had,” Mrs Bright said.