Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre rises to the ‘Challenge’
|A dream was realised on Saturday afternoon when Wirraway aircraft A20-722 touched down at the Nhill aerodrome to become part of the exhibits in the Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre.
Two years ago the opportunity arose for the Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre (NAHC) to purchase the final piece for their collection of World War Two aircraft significant to the former Royal Australian Air Force training base at Nhill.
The long-term project that the NAHC is built around is the restoration of an Avro Anson aircraft which is well underway in the Ahrens Hanger, and earlier this year a second aircraft, a Tiger Moth, was purchased by a local pilot and is also displayed at the NAHC.
The Wirraway aircraft becomes the third piece in the collection and its acquisition comes two years after the challenge to raise the $300,000 purchase price began.
This entire amount was raised before the aircraft touched down in Nhill, with all but a very small amount raised from public donations as there were no options to apply for grants for this purpose and philanthropic organisations and big business were not particularly interested in contributing.
Donations ranged from $5 up to $15,000 and to raise the full amount in such a short time highlights the support for this project. Whilst the aeroplane will be under the custodianship of the NAHC, it belongs to the community.
Aircraft engineer Borg Sorrensen took up the challenge to reconstruct a Wirraway aircraft in 1984 as a way of preserving its place in history, and after being unable to find a suitable aircraft to restore, Borg “created one from scratch.”
Along with the help of his family, he set about tracking down all of the components required to build a ‘new’ aircraft and made those that he could not source original parts, and this search took him to many places, including around the Wimmera.
Upon completion and when viewing it being flown for the first time, Sorrensen commented that “I have had every part of the ‘plane in my hands.”
The aircraft number of A20-722 came from the instrument panel that was sourced from Horsham, and so the aeroplane is in effect coming home as it arrived at its new home in the Wimmera.
After completing the Wirraway, which is considered to be one of the best examples of this type of aircraft in the world, Sorrensen exhibited it at air shows, but the original purpose of the project was to preserve it for the future, and its place in the NAHC collection will ensure this.
Despite potentially being able to sell it on the international market for twice what he offered it to the NAHC for, Sorrensen believes that it was a “natural fit” for it to be preserved at Nhill.
The intention is to not fly the aircraft again, but it will be maintained in a suitable condition that it will be able to be taxied around on the ground.
The Tiger Moth is the only aeroplane in the collection that will be flown.
The function to welcome the Wirraway to Nhill was attended by in excess of three hundred people, with over 50 aircraft lined up along the taxi-way forming a guard of honour.
The arrival of the aircraft was delayed due to a mechanical fault before it left Tyabb, south of Melbourne, but it did eventually arrive at 2.45 pm after the one and a half hour flight.
Due to the delay, the official ceremony was held before the aeroplane arrived and was led by NAHC President Rob Lynch. Others to address the crowd included local Member for Mallee Andrew Broad, former Wirraway pilot Max Carland, World War Two aviator Merv Schneider, the driving force behind the project John Deckert and Hindmarsh Shire Councillor Ron Lowe.
For the handing over ceremony, Rob Lynch represented the NAHC, Geoff Eastick represented the new ‘owners’, the community, and Liz Sorrensen responded on behalf of her husband.
Wirraway is an aboriginal word for Challenge which embodies the journey that has seen Borg Sorrensen build this aircraft, and the work undertaken by many individuals in the NAHC and the wider communities to see it come to Nhill.
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