What was to be an historic and momentous year for Brisbane Airport with the opening of our new runway – a project nearly fifty years in the planning – has turned out to be a year we will never forget for quite different reasons.
The novel coronavirus global pandemic has crippled industries around the world and brought the aviation industry to a virtual standstill.
And while COVID continues to present us with a number of uncertainties as we continue to face its challenges, there is one thing we at Brisbane Airport Corporation can be certain of.
We are certain of the resilience of the aviation industry, of our airport family, and of our wider community. We are certain of our ability to adapt and rise to the challenge when faced with unforeseen circumstances.
The way in which we were able to celebrate the historic opening of Brisbane’s new runway - Runway 01L/19R - is evidence of this.
On 28 March 2020, an official announcement was made in relation to the cancellation of the Community Day and Runway Fun Run due to the COVID pandemic and public health directives.
These two public events were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the celebrations and events planned to mark the opening of the new runway – all of which had to be scrapped or revised in line with the ever-changing government directives.
The desire and brief for runway opening day were both pretty clear for BAC. We still wanted to deliver a ‘wow’ moment on 12 July 2020. A moment that was not only a nod to Brisbane’s rich aviation history, but something epic and something never-seen-before at a capital city airport.
Imagine our surprise when a local aviation company agreed to rise to the occasion with next-to-no warning and offer its services?
Enter Fighter Pilot Adventure Flights, a local company founded in mid-2016 by four experienced pilots with a shared love of ex-military aircraft and a desire to allow the public to experience such aircraft for themselves.
The team at Fighter Pilot Adventure Flights is based at Archerfield Airport and they take pride in offering the widest range of aircraft in Australia. They also offer an equally impressive range of flight experiences to suit the wants and needs of everyone, from adrenaline-rushing combat and adventure flights through to awe-inspiring scenic flights over the incredible South East Queensland landscape.
Steve Boyd is one of the directors and looks after Jet Operations at Fighter Pilot Adventure Flights. He has more than 33 years of aviation experience with 19,000 hours in his logbook, and he is a Senior Captain with Cathay Pacific Airways where he flies the Airbus A350.
Steve has been flying since he was 16 and gained his commercial pilot’s licence 15 months after finishing high school.
“For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a pilot. As a young boy there were many trips to the airport either dropping off or picking up my dad from his travel commitments. I guess some of that rubbed off.”
After a 15-year stint in Hong Kong, Steve returned to Australia in 2009 where he continued to work for Cathay Pacific based out of Brisbane. He has gone on to purchase two aircraft – a 1986 L-39C Albatros Jet and a 1945 CAC (Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation) Wirraway.
“Throughout my flying career I had hoped to become involved in operating historic aircraft and the opportunity to own and fly two of them has been a dream come true. We understand however that we are really more of a custodian than an owner and will continue to do our very best to preserve and fly these magnificent machines.”
On Sunday 12 July 2020, he had the honour of leading a v-formation of three aircraft over the new runway – leading the formation in the L-39C Albatros with a P-51D Mustang as his left-hand wingman and a Spitfire MkXVI as his right-hand wingman.
“It was a privilege to lead that formation and it is always special to fly with a Spitfire and Mustang on my wingtips. In reality, as the lead aircraft, I was totally focused on getting the formation correctly positioned at crowd centre, safely and on time.
“We were all lucky enough to have our families in attendance which added to the atmosphere for us on the day. It was fantastic to have them with us alongside the aircraft after our display.”
This particular Albatros was built in 1988 – the same year the new Brisbane Airport with the Domestic Terminal, Air Traffic Control Tower, decommissioned cross-runway and the existing runway two-kilometres from this new runway – opened.
Flying alongside Steve in the v-formation was Brad Bishopp in the P-51D Mustang and Cameron Rolph-Smith in the Spitfire MkXVI.
“Our team was honoured to be invited to participate in the opening ceremony of the new runway at Brisbane Airport and it was an experience that we were collectively very excited about.”
With only five weeks to plan the logistics, the net result was nothing short of epic! Following the v-formation that came in from the CBD, the aircraft then moved into a loose tail chase and positioned to the east side of the airfield where they flew down the grass between Taxiways Y and Z.
The formation passed 200m south of the plane spotters’ area and 200m north of the VIP area, giving everyone on precinct an up-close look at the incredible aircraft.
The Spitfire went on to perform a solo, low-level aerobatics display that saw eyeballs glued to the sky and the airfield silent bar the collective gasps and the roar of the engine. Tricks included Half Cuban 8’s, Loop, Barrel Roll, and a High-Speed Pass.
Shortly after, a 1945 CAC Wirraway piloted by Ross Parker conducted a historic fly-over before landing and taxiing alongside the other three aircraft.
The display was something for the ages – a first for an Australian Capital City airport. And it’s hardly surprising when you consider the four directors of Fighter Pilot Adventure Flights have 97 years of collective experience within aviation.
“Obviously, there was a large amount of planning involved and I must acknowledge the staff at BAC, Airservices Australia and CASA for their help and support throughout that process.
“Additionally, there was a workup required from a flying perspective and that was conducted over the fortnight leading into the event.
“The feedback since runway opening has been tremendous, and we are very thankful for the opportunity. Our family and friends rarely get to see us working together as a team and it was fantastic for them to be included.”
On behalf of everyone at BAC and everyone who had the pleasure of watching the aerial display on 12 July 2020, a heartfelt thank you to the wonderful team at Fighter Pilot Adventure Flights. You played a massive part in giving Runway 01L/19R the extraordinary opening it deserved.