Just over an hour drive south from Sydney Airport, an amazing display of almost 50 aircraft await visitors to a guided tour of the uniquely interactive HARS Aviation Museum.
From the only Boeing 747-400 remaining in Australia to military evolution from the present and back to an almost ready to fly again recreation of the Charles Kingsford Smith 1920’s Southern Cross (a faithful replica Fokker F.VIIb/3m trimotor) — the collection is a proud testimony to 40 years of perseverance, dedication and expertise of members of the all-volunteer Historical Aircraft Restoration Society.
As HARS President Bob De La Hunty puts it: “Our aim is straightforward – to recover, and where possible restore to flying condition, aircraft or types of aircraft that have played a significant part in Australian aviation civil and military history.”
But it’s way more than that for the society’s almost 800 members. As Bob says: “In addition to our pride in maintaining our aeroplanes, HARS has a valuable social function in allowing our pilots and engineers to continue their love affair with aeroplanes and to interact with their compatriots long after they have moved on from active involvement with heavy aircraft.”
It was tenacity over a gruelling five years which enabled Bob and his then fledgling team to bring back to life
a Lockheed Super Constellation – now the only one of its type anywhere in the world still flying. Originally a 1955 era USAF military transport, “Connie” was flown into desert graveyard storage in 1977 and deteriorated until saved by HARS members then flown for 39.5 hours in an epic flight from Tucson across the Pacific to Australia back in 1996. It’s a rare chance to walk back in time on board “Connie” to reflect on how far international travel has come – for both passengers and crew — in over 60 years since the type inaugurated Qantas around-the-world services.
Towering over Shellharbour Airport, the sheer size of the Boeing 747-400 makes it a highlight of any visit to HARS Aviation Museum.
It wasn’t just the first of its type to enter service with Qantas back in 1989. After a record-setting non-stop direct delivery flight of 20 hr 9 min and 5 sec from London to Sydney, the “City of Canberra” served for 25 years carrying some four million passengers before setting another Qantas mark with a final delivery flight of just 11 min from Sydney to the regional airport back in 2015.
While a walk through this Queen of the Skies with expert guide commentary is included in all museum visits, visitors can book ahead for options including a Wing Walk, Cockpit Tour with an experienced pilot or the four-hour premium Total Boeing 747 Experience Tour which takes in an inspection of the entire aircraft conducted by experienced 747 crew.
Apart from Connie, other aircraft maintained to flying status are three DC-3/C-47 aircraft including “Hawdon” which flew the first passenger service for Trans-Australian Airlines in a three-hour journey from Melbourne to Sydney in 1946, the last of the three-engine de Havilland Drovers built at Bankstown in 1950 and a Tiger Moth.
Restoration of civil aircraft include a DC-4 now resplendent in 1950s Qantas livery, a Convair 440 in TAA colours, two Fokker F27-500 Frienships and a Morava which was used by Ansett-ANA in the Whitsunday Islands and Queensland.
Not yet back in Australia is the former Qantas Boeing 707, currently registered N707JT, which John Travolta has donated to HARS. Challenging work in the Covid environment is well underway at Georgia in USA and progressing well to fulfill the task of bringing this classic aircraft back to airworthiness condition for its ferry flight to Australia.
Flying military history continues to draw admiration with a PBY Catalina (the only one of its type in Australia still flying), three P-2 Neptunes (two flyable), two former RAAF Vietnam veteran de Havilland Caribou, a Winjeel and the only former defence AP-3C Orion now flying in civil registration. There’s an impressive range of static military history including a CA-27 Australian Sabre jet, a Canberra bomber, two Vampires, a Mirage III and an F-111C.
Now classed as the Navy Heritage Flight, the museum hosts a flying Grumman Tracker S-2G with folding wings showing its aircraft carrier heritage and former RAN Fleet Air Arm Iroquois helicopter 898. Static former RAN aircraft on show are a Wessex helicopter, a Sea Venom, a Hawker Sea Fury, an Auster Autocar with a former Navy Dakota currently under restoration.
Tarmac Days, held on the second Friday of each month and onto the weekend, provide an opportunity to showcase selected aircraft, and where possible engine runs or flying, for visitors to HARS Aviation Museum.
On Tarmac (and all other) Days you can drop into Café Connie which offers great coffee and a wide selection of hot and cold foods at very reasonable prices so you can make a meal of your visit.
In addition to welcoming visitors, HARS Aviation Museum now has an eShop. A special range of HARS-branded clothing such as T-shirts and hoodies are available together with some HARS household items such as carry bags and cushion covers. These items are not carried in the HARS shop located at Shellharbour Airport. The merchandise is of exceedingly high quality and will be delivered by post to your nominated address.
HARS Aviation Museum, located at Shellharbour Airport just off the old Princes Highway at Albion Park Rail, is open seven days a week (except Christmas Day). It’s a short walk from Albion Park railway station on the South Coast line. Please allow around two hours for a comprehensive tour.
With New South Wales emerging from a long winter’s lockdown, for current opening hours and for an up-to-date of any restrictions necessary to ensure a Covid-Safe environment it’s best to check the HARS website (www.hars.org.au) with additional information posted on the HARS Facebook page.