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Wings over Illawarra air show sees life-long passion for aircraft

An airplane performs during Wings over Illawarra air show held about 100 km south of Sydney, Australia, Nov. 12, 2022.(Xinhua/Bai Xuefei)

As the largest annual airshow in Australia, the Wings Over Illawarra air show is held in Illawarra and offered an annual feast for many Australian aircraft enthusiasts. But this show is special for Paul Roberts, the 79-year-old Australian who is engaged in a volunteering career with the HARS team and is tightly bonded to aircraft all his life.

SYDNEY, Nov. 14 (Xinhua) -- For 79-year-old Australian Paul Roberts, it is never too late to become a volunteer, as long as the work responsibility is related to his long-term interest -- aircraft.

On Saturday morning, Roberts, wearing a neon green vest and holding a cane, walked into an indoor parking space of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) Aviation Museum.

For the following hours, he would stick to his post next to a renovated transport plane that was built in the late 1940s, and introduce its history to every visitor coming for the Wings over Illawarra 2022 air show -- an annual feast for many Australian aircraft enthusiasts.

Starting in 2007 and held from Saturday to Sunday this year, Wings over Illawarra has grown from a community event into one of Australia's largest air shows, with tens of thousands of people each year flocking to the Shellharbour Airport, formerly named Illawarra Regional Airport, a training facility during World War II.

Airplanes perform during Wings over Illawarra air show held about 100 km south of Sydney, Australia, Nov. 12, 2022.(Xinhua/Bai Xuefei)

The HARS Aviation Museum, located in the airport, not only contributed many of its aircraft for display but also enriched visitors' experience of the air show with a team of grey-haired volunteers.

2022 marks the eighth year for Roberts in attending the Wings over Illawarra air show. Back in 2014, he embarked on his volunteering career with the HARS team at the age of 71.

"I started up being a guide and then advanced to helping repair engines," said Roberts, who developed a love for aircraft when he was 12 years old.

Over a long span of his life, Roberts recalled that he had a lot of jobs, such as working for the council and fixing footpaths, but never made a foray into the aviation industry, not to mention flying a plane by himself.

Airplanes perform during Wings over Illawarra air show held about 100 km south of Sydney, Australia, Nov. 12, 2022.(Xinhua/Bai Xuefei)

When the opportunity of surrounding himself with aircraft came in his twilight years, Roberts said he had a huge interest in doing a job like this.

Unlike most other air shows that focus on the most cutting-edge series, Wings over Illawarra brought many vintage types into the spotlight, enabling visitors to climb onboard through static displays while sending some historic warbirds back to the sky in its flying program.

Helping retired planes wiggle their wings again is part of Roberts' duty at the HARS Aviation Museum. Working as an assistant to licensed aircraft maintenance engineers, Roberts would wash up parts before handing them to his colleagues.

"When we get new parts, we need to get the wax and all that sort of stuff off. So they can put them into the motor," he said.

Spending eight years at the aviation museum, Roberts humbly said that he still has limited knowledge about every plane showcased at the air show.

But when the AP-3C Orion hovered through the air, he spotted it immediately from a distance and pointed out that the plane once participated in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

Airplanes perform during Wings over Illawarra air show held about 100 km south of Sydney, Australia, Nov. 12, 2022.(Xinhua/Bai Xuefei)

Including the AP-3C Orion, over 20 aircraft from the present and the past stunned the audience with breathtaking aerobatic and handling displays at the air show.

After finishing a tour around the static displays, visitors took out their folding chairs, sought a shadow cast by their favorite aircraft, and enjoyed aerial performances combined with the deafening roar of the engine.

In the eyes of Roberts, Wings over Illawarra's charm comes from its richness in aircraft variety. "There's a different variety of aircraft here. People may not like that plane, but they might like one of those out there. So that's why people love the show," he said. ■