4 September 2023

Shellharbour Aviation Museum display to honour Vietnam War veterans

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Caribou aircraft

HARS has two DHC-4 Caribous on strength. Photo: ADF.

The Shellharbour Airport-based Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) will pay tribute to Vietnam War veterans with a three-day display of period-relevant aircraft from 8-10 September.

With 2023 marking the 50th anniversary of the withdrawal of Australian forces from Vietnam, the HARS Aviation Museum will display a wide range of aircraft that either participated in the Vietnam War or are relevant to the 1950s to 1970s.

Included in the tarmac display will be two De Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou transports. The RAAF operated 29 Caribous, affectionally nicknamed ‘the Gravel Truck’ in their later years, from 1964 to 2009. Many of the RAAF’s aircraft were delivered directly from Canada to Vietnam, and the rugged `Gravel Truck’ was known for its ability to fly very slowly and operate from short unprepared airstrips.

After the war, the RAAF’s Caribous were operated by No 35 and 38 squadrons at Townsville and Richmond respectively.

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Also on display will be the museum’s signature display item, the Lockheed Super Constellation. ‘Connie’ is painted in a part-representative Qantas colour scheme, and is actually a former US Air Force C-121C Super Constellation transport resurrected from desert storage by HARS and flown back to Australia in 1991.

The museum also has four Douglas C-47 Dakota/DC-3 transports on display. Although the DC-3 was developed before World War II, the rugged and reliable aircraft soldiered on with the RAAF and other forces well into the 1990s. In 1963, one of the museum’s Dakotas – A65-94 – operated the first Australian mission of the Vietnam War, delivering cargo from Malaysia to Vietnam.

One of the museum’s other flying exhibits is the former Royal Australian Navy Bell UH-1B Iroquois helicopter. The ‘Huey’, as it was known, was developed in the late 1950s, and continued in Navy service until the 1991 and RAAF and then Australian Army service until 2003. RAAF Hueys featured heavily in Vietnam, while RAN Hueys were used for training in Australia before Navy pilots deployed into theatre to fly RAAF and US Army Hueys.

One of HARS’ newest display items is a former RAAF F-111C strike aircraft. The RAAF’s F-111s were operated by Nos 1 and 6 squadrons at Amberley near Brisbane but, as they weren’t delivered until 1973, they didn’t participate in Vietnam.

But the museum’s F-111 is actually a former US Air Force F-111A model which the RAAF acquired in early 1982 as an attrition replacement and was upgraded to the F-111C standard. This particular aircraft served with distinction with the US Air Force in 1973, flying missions from Thailand over Vietnam.

The museum also has an English Electric Canberra T.4 on display. Named after Australia’s capital, the RAAF operated a large number of Canberra bombers from the 1950s to the 1980s, and the aircraft distinguished itself in Vietnam flying with the RAAF’s No 2 Squadron. The aircraft on display is a trainer that entered RAAF service in 1956 and was retired in 1964.

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And while the museum’s CAC CA-27 Sabre fighter didn’t participate directly in the Vietnam conflict, RAAF Sabres were deployed from Malaysia to Thailand in the early years of fighting to provide base defence in case any North Vietnamese aircraft attacked.

Also on display are a former US Army AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter which saw service in Vietnam, former RAN Grumman S-2 Tracker, RAAF P-2V Neptune and P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft, and Westland Wessex helicopters, all of which were in ADF service in the 1960s and 1970s.

The museum also has examples of Russian and eastern European MIG-15, MIG-17 and MIG-21 fighters, types which were also flown by North Vietnam in the conflict.

Shellharbour Airport is located at Albion Park south of Wollongong, near the junction of the M1 Motorway, Princes Highway and Illawarra Highway.

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