Pacific Airshow 2023: Australia
Report and photos by Ryan Imeson
September 1, 2023
When thinking of airshows in Australia, you generally think of them being held at dusty, dry airfields. Depending on seasons, you may even see heavy rainfall, with muddy grounds to follow making moving around the airport a potential nightmare.
Enter the Pacific Airshow. A concept first introduced to the world back in 2016 at Huntington Beach in California.
Rather than at a traditional airport, the Pacific Airshow is held over the water at one of America’s more picturesque beaches.
Attracting millions (yes, millions) of spectators to the Southern California hotspot, the Pacific Airshow is by numbers, the largest airshow in the United States.
In early 2022, it was announced that the Gold Coast would get their very own edition of this increasingly popular airshow. Company CEO Kevin Elliot and his team at Code Four and Pacific Airshows were bringing this incredible event to Australia.
Fast forward to August 18th 2023, and the traditional airshow landscape may have changed in Australia forever.
One of the world’s most famous beaches at Surfers Paradise was about to become an absolute hype of activity. In the air, on the ground and in the water.
Thousands filed through the gates on the opening morning of the inaugural event, a welcome sight for Major Events Gold Coast, the City of Gold Coast Council and Kevin Elliot and his team. The airshow had received its fair share of unfair criticism in the lead up to the event, so to see the public file through so enthusiastically and in large numbers was remarkable.
As far as the eye could see, food trucks, bars and merchandise stands lined the boardwalk behind the beach. Along the shoreline, an almost one kilometre- long crowd line was constructed. With VIP tents and cabanas overlooking the general admission area, the stage had been set.
Due to some unfortunate winds at the start of the Friday show, the Gold Coast Skydive Flag Drop wasn’t able to take place, thus the opening of the show was left to American aerobatic ace Jeff Boerboon in his extremely unique Yak 110. Mother nature was feeling kind on Saturday and Sunday meaning multiple flag drops were able to take place.
One of the more unusual aircraft to ever grace the skies over Australia, the Yak 110 in a nutshell is two Yak 55’s joined at the wing and horizontal stabilizers. As if the power of two 360-horsepower radial engines wasn’t enough, Jeff and his team threw a General-Electric J85 jet engine down the centreline of their aircraft, giving it a further 3000 pounds of thrust.
A display by the Yak 110 has to be seen to be believed. Flat spins, double hammerheads, and a maneuver paying tribute to the late great Bob Hoover, where Jeff actually shuts down both radial engines and flies solely using the power of the jet engine. Known as ‘the pilots pilot’, Bob Hoover would complete this routine during his displays in his Rockwell Commander.
The Royal Australian Air Force contributed to the Pacific Airshow in the shape of a 1 Squadron F/A-18F Super Hornet, a 36 Squadron C-17 Globemaster III, a 37 Squadron C130J Hercules and the Roulettes aerobatic display team.
First to take to the skies of the RAAF collective was the C130J, which joined the show from its base at RAAF Base Richmond each day.
Not often seen at a daytime airshow in Australia is the flare drop, and on all three days of the show, the C130J performed this incredible feat, normally used in combat to help the aircraft to avoid heat seeking weapons.
Just a week prior to the show, the United States Air Force had to unfortunately withdraw its Pacific Air Forces F16 Demonstration Team and its C-5M Super Galaxy due to operational requirements.
The involvement of the United States Air Force was not limited to these two aircraft, with the KC135 Demonstration Team completing their first ever Australian airshow appearance. It was noted that the team was unfortunately restricted in what they could perform for the weekend. Based at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington, aircraft 57-1439 was based out of Brisbane during the show.
From Joint Base Lewis-McCord also in Washington came the USAF C17 Globemaster III. Conducting numerous passes as part of their display, the aircraft from the 62nd Airlift Wing was a crowd pleaser with its size and maneuverability. Like the KC135, aircraft 02-1105 called Brisbane home whilst down under.
Pacific Airshow CEO Kevin Elliot spoke of the airshow helping to strengthen the bond between Australia and the United States even further with the participation of the respective militaries.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have the support of the Australian Defence Force, showcasing key assets from their arsenal at our event. The Royal Australian Air Force’s commitment and participation is of particular significance given Pacific Airshow is the new kid on the block. Their presence will elevate the excitement felt on the Gold Coast and further reinforce our message of mateship between Australia and the United States,” said Elliott.
Representing the United States Marine Corps was the MV-22 Osprey from VMM-363 ‘The Lucky Red Lions’, currently in Australia as part of the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D) for 2023. The remaining international military aircraft to take part was the Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150 Polaris, which is the military conversion of the Airbus A310-100.
Pacific Airshow organisers familiar with the Osprey and its participation at the American event noted it was perhaps the best Osprey display they had ever seen. Hard to disagree with multiple high speed flyby’s and several hovering demonstrations including a maneuver where the aircraft flew backwards whilst rotating.
In some horrible news as this article is published, just a week after appearing at the show a number of the participating Osprey crew passed away following a training accident in the Northern Territory. APD sends its thoughts and condolences to the Marines involved and their families.
Aerobatics is one of the many highlights of any airshow, and on the Gold Coast there was absolutely no shortage of performers.
Matt Hall and Emma McDonald performed a flawless formation aerobatic routine, whilst also completing a solo demonstration each which left many spectators shaking their heads in disbelief with what they had seen.
Local Hayden Pullen made his Australian airshow debut in his Extra 330, whilst current Australian Unlimited Aerobatics and Freestyle Aerobatics Champion Aarron Deliu wowed crowds also flying an Extra 330.
Formation aerobatics wasn’t only limited to Matt and Emma, with the Screaming Diamonds in their various Pitts Specials making an appearance over the skies of Surfers Paradise, as did the Red Star Roolettes. Airshow regulars around Australia, the Roolettes fly a combination of Yak 52 and CJ6 Nanchang aircraft.
Numerous jet warbirds also appeared at the Pacific Airshow, with their sound and speed impressing all on the ground. S211 Marchettis, L39 Albatross’ and a rare appearance by a BAC Strikemaster was a highlight for many. It has been a number of years since a Strikemaster has flown at an Australian airshow.
A formation of two aircraft can be impressive, as can a formation of 6. How about a formation of 13? Australia’s largest formation display team is just that, 13 aircraft. The Freedom Formation Display Team is lead by a Yak 55, with 12 homebuilt RV’s flown entirely by civilian pilots making up the remainder of the team.
Whilst the speed of the fast jets and the size of the large transporters amazes all, it is the sight and the sound of vintage warbirds which can sometimes take the breath away of spectators.
Making the trip north from Wangaratta in northern Victoria was the P40N Kittyhawk, P51D Mustang and the Focke Wulf FW-190.
Social media was of course a buzz following the airshow, and many claimed on various networks that their personal highlight was the appearance of the Focke Wulf FW-190.
Closing the show each day was the RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet. ‘Woody’ and ‘Chook’ from 1 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley rattled windows and ear drums around the Gold Coast, as they ripped up the sky with a combination of speed and power.
An estimated 300,000 people attended the Pacific Airshow over the three days, which included non-paying spectators that lined the shores either side of the fences. Hundreds overlooked the beach from towering apartment buildings with a birds eye view of the action.
APD wishes to thank the team at Code Four and Pacific Airshows for putting on this world class event. Regarded as one of the best airshows seen in Australia, the 2023 edition is only an entree for what we will be seeing for the next 5 years.
An airshow where you can sit on a beach, sip on an iced cold beer and watch some of the world’s best pilots is destined to be a success down under, and we absolutely cannot wait for the 2024 show.