I’ll never forget the time my father took me to my first airshow. I thought it would be at our local airport, but my father explained, as we packed the boot with folding chairs and a blanket while the last stars still dusted the sky, that our airport wouldn’t cope with the heavier planes, mainly from the US, that would be on show.
“What sort of planes?” I said, wide awake despite it being dawn.
“I believe they’re flying a B-52 in from Guam,” he said, propping the Esky with mum’s rolls in it hard up against the spare wheel. “You’ll also probably see some F-16s. And a Super Hornet.”
It took the best part of two hours to get to Avalon. From the highway I could see several giant tails, all military grey. This was the heavy stuff my father was talking about; the kind of planes that could never land at our local airport. There was even a 747 parked on the tarmac, which definitely wouldn’t be seen anywhere near our tiny aerodrome. Yet, when it came to aircraft, my father was just as happy watching a Cessna take off as he was a jumbo jet. Even just being at an airport was sometimes enough.
The walk from the car park to the viewing area was agonisingly slow. In the distance a turbine started up and I rushed ahead, afraid something was going to take off without me. But my father grabbed onto my shirt, lest I got lost in the mass-migration steadily funnelling through the gate.
“You need to stay close to me today.”
It wasn’t just the crowd. Once the airshow started, the deafening roar of jet engines made it difficult to hear anything my father said. Because we arrived early, we managed to grab a spot right against the fence, near where the planes taxied out.
In fact, we were so close to the action that when the F-111 performed its famous dump-and-burn I felt the hot breath of its afterburner against my cheek.
The kerosene smell of jet fuel was ever-present, as was the sun beating down on my neck. For days afterward I had a physical memento to go with the sights and sounds still swirling in my head. Despite the stateliness of the World War II planes–Spitfires and Mustangs, all lovingly restored as though they’d just rolled off the production line–it was the supersonic jet fighters that held me in awe. The sound they made, like a giant sheet being ripped as they tore past overhead, made me instinctively block my ears, but by day’s end I was braving the noise with my hands at my sides.
On the way back to the car my head was reeling with thoughts of one day becoming a pilot.
“If you study and work hard anything’s possible,” my father said, as we drove back across the Westgate Bridge. “Of course, you can always get your private pilot’s licence. There are kids your age having lessons already.”
“Are they expensive?”
My father gave me a look I’d seen plenty of times, usually when something I wanted was out of his financial reach.
“You may have to get a part-time job,” he said, and settled into a lengthy silence, punctuated only by my ecstatic recollections of the day we’d just shared.
Later that night I drew a picture for him: of the B-52 we’d seen that afternoon.
Its long cigar-shaped body, exceeded only by its wingspan, had made two unhurried passes and then, just like that, it was gone; its dark, ominous shape trailing off into the distance. I left the picture on his bedside table as a thankyou for the day just gone and to let him know, in my own way, that I wanted for nothing.