MARK Awad can only have a soft spot for Melbourne because that’s where he first saw his bird.
Yes, he also met his wife Camille in the Victorian capital.
But it is also where he originally set eyes on another love in his life, his warbird he first saw flying over Point Cook.
Mr Awad owns a Winjeel, which was formerly used as a training aircraft in the Royal Australian Air Force.
He flew it into Ballina last week and plans to operate adventure flights locally.
“It’s a gorgeous plane,” he said.
“I love it.”
Mr Awad, originally from the US, was visiting Melbourne on a holiday in 1999 when he first saw a Winjeel in the air.
The pilot of 11 years said he has always had an interest in former military aircraft, and the Winjeel particularly caught his eye because he had never seen one before.
He said the tail-wheel single propeller Winjeel aircraft, powered by Pratt and Whitney engines, were built at Fishermans Bend in Victoria between 1955-1958 and were used as training aircraft in the RAAF until 1975.
“I believe it was the last fully Australian-designed and built aircraft flown by the RAAF,” he said.
Only 62 were built and a handful were kept in service for forward air control training until 1994.
Mr Awad estimates that only about 20 are still flying today, and only half of the total Winjeels built still exist.
Mr Awad has owned his Winjeel CA-25 since 2006 – he married Camille in 2003 – and spent nearly two years restoring it, modifying the original by adding an extra rear seat to the standard two front and one rear.
He said his aircraft hadn’t been flown since it left the service of the RAAF in 1968.
He bought the plane from a man in Camden, to the south-west of Sydney, and admitted the purchase and restoration was a ‘significant investment’.
But he said he had the same kind of passion for the historic aircraft that vintage car enthusiasts would share.
After restoration of the aircraft, the couple shipped themselves and the Winjeel to the US and flew at air shows around the country before moving back to Melbourne, his wife’s home town, last year.
In search of warmer climes, the couple moved to Tintenbar early this year, and the plane arrived, with Mr Awad at the controls, last week.
He said it was the ‘ruggedness’ of the plane he liked.
“They’re designed to be easy enough for a new student to fly, and challenging enough for an advanced student,” he said.
“They can handle the abuse that a student would dish out, and they’re the same aircraft students would use before advancing on to jets.
“They are very stable in the air – it goes where you want it to go.
“They handle in a way that you can’t get with a civil aircraft.”
And he noted that the Winjeels have their place in Australian aviation history.
“They’re collectables,” he said.
“They’re generally very unique planes.”
In Ballina, he plans to operate low-level navigation flights, following regional landmarks, with three passengers, aerobatic flights with one passenger and customised flights.
He said he and his wife chose Ballina Shire to relocate to as it was an ‘up-and-coming area’.
“It is becoming a destination in its own right,” he said.
Ballina airport itself is becoming a regional aerial tourism centre, with Air T&G operating helicopter flights, Go Skydive running its skydive business, while other adventure flight aircraft at the airport include a former RAAF CT-4 aircraft, a Yak aircraft and an L39 jet.