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Meet the aviation legends at Queensland Air Museum

Queensland Air Museum at Caloundra is home to an amazing collection of aircraft and aviation artefacts, and exciting tales of courage, adventure and lucky escapes. However, you don’t need to be an aviation enthusiast to enjoy a visit here.

The volunteers who have been preserving Australia’s aviation history at this museum since 1973 are what make this place special. Every exhibit has a story to tell and the volunteers are accomplished raconteurs.

Retired commercial and navy pilot Noel Dennett has been flying since he was 17 and still takes to the air as an 86 year-old in a plane he affectionately calls a ‘bug smasher’. The single engine aircraft doesn’t look small to me but unlike Dennett, I haven’t spent my life flying jumbo jets and fighter planes.

He pulls out his phone and shows me a photo of a Fairey Gannet, a British aircraft with distinctive foldable wings that was popular in the post-Second World War era. It is one of a dozen aircraft at the museum which Dennett has flown.

“I was flying one of these for the Navy when the plane blew an engine as the catapult fired. I ended up bobbing around in the ocean about a kilometre in front of the aircraft carrier. That was enough excitement for one day,” he says with a wry smile.

The Queensland Air Museum’s collection features more than 60 aircraft including an F-111, the Lockheed Orion which searched for MH370 and a DC-3 that was commandeered as General MacArthur’s personal aircraft during WWII. It’s the oldest DC-3 in Australia and also one of the oldest planes of its kind in the world. You’ll probably enjoy this aircraft far more than MacArthur did; he apparently hated flying.

Visitors can sit in the F-111 and relax in General MacArthur’s DC-3 during the museum’s popular open cockpit days which are set to resume post COVID. The Lockheed Orion will also be open to visitors. It is the newest addition to the collection and completely intact inside. However, some things had to be removed.

Look carefully and you’ll see the metal patches known as blanking plates that were used during the demilitarising process. It might look like a 1960s aircraft but this plane contained state of the art surveillance equipment so sensitive it could track a mobile phone turning on as the plane flew overhead.

You won’t find any high-tech interactive displays here but unlike most museums, visitors are encouraged to touch the exhibits and ‘feel’ their history. Having the freedom to roam around inside the hanger and outside with sunlight bouncing off the planes’ shiny fuselages gives the Queensland Air Museum a sense of freedom.

It’s impossible not to experience a touch of nostalgia for flying’s days gone by, especially when you stop to explore the impressive collection of airline memorabilia on your way out. There are glamorous sets of matching in-flight crockery, all the more amazing because they came from economy class, pre-internet flight timetables and branded playing cards from the days before there was in-flight entertainment. Even if you’re not an aviation buff when you arrive at this museum, you will be by the time you leave.

Disclosure: The writer travelled with assistance from Tourism & Events Queensland and Visit Sunshine Coast.

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