This morning was the day of the Royal Victorian Aero Club’s “Dawn Patrol” and, once again, I was watching it from the ground. As a tribute to those who flew in the Battle of Britain during World War II, every year around this time a large number of light aircraft take part in the “Dawn Patrol” flight.
Taking off at streamed intervals from Moorabbin (YMMB) at first light, the route takes the aircraft first to Albert Park lake (about where I live) then over the Shrine of Rememberance. After the Shrine they turn towards Point Cook (YMPC) (birthplace of the RAAF) then overfly Avalon Arport (YMAV) and out around the rest of Port Phillip Bay before landing back at Moorabbin. After the flight there’s a cooked breakfast and ex-military pilots tell a few stories.
It takes a fair bit of planning to get this right and pilots attend a briefing about 4:45am, meet any passengers they may have around 5am then head out to their aircraft. Aircraft are assigned numbers and graded based on their typical cruise speed with the fastest ones going first. Ground control will call out aircraft in blocks to taxi out and get ready to go. It’s up to pilots to sort out their start times if they need longer to warm up, etc. Typically the first aircraft are taking off about 6am and, given they’re the fastest, they’re sometimes coming back to land before the last of the slowest aircraft have even taken off.
I’ve flown in two Dawn Patrols, both times with a friend in a Piper Warrior. The first time I was co-pilot and the other time I was sitting in the back with my son Nykolai. A couple of years back I was on the ground at the Docklands (back when there was still some empty grass land there) preparing to launch some hot air balloons when the Dawn Patrol aircraft went overhead. At least for that event I was doing something aviation related, even if I wasn’t involved in the Patrol itself.
Otherwise, like today, I’ve been on the ground. We were supposed to have gone out last night so I didn’t think of trying to arrange a ride. As it turned out, we had to cancel so I could have gone after all. So at about 6am today I was woken up by the sound of the first aircraft tracking past our place on their way to the Shrine. Judging by the sound, I’d say it was probably Judy Pay in her T-28 Trojan as she’s usually flying the fastest aircraft most years. I quickly threw on some clothes and went up to our roof to watch. In the dim light of pre-dawn I could see the outlines of the aircraft and their strobes. Everyone was flying with their landing lights on to help them stand out against the dark grey low overcast. There were showers in the area but the cloud was lifting out over the bay as the first highspeed singles and a few twins went over. After this batch of aircraft went over one after the other there was a lull and with no others in sight. According to the weather report from Moorabbin there were some strong & gusty winds so that may have forced them to hold off on departures until it could be confirmed that the weather was improving.
Sure enough, against the grey south I could see landing lights coming up as another batch of aircraft streamed past. Primarily some of the faster singles, there were a few light twins as well. Not long after this group came the RVAC Formation Flight in their Piper Warriors. Three aircraft were in tight formation (lead plus two wingmen) with another two flying loose second wing positions. These five aircraft were accompanied by two more that were flying quite some distance from the main formation, one on each side (perhaps taking photos?).
Just before this group came over it had started to rain lightly – annoying but not enough to send me back inside. Given there were more landing lights in the distance, I decided to stay and, sure enough, the rain passed about the same time the other aircraft arrived. This time it was more of the slower aircraft although a fast twin came powering through, passing the others and heading off around the bay.
Eventually there were no more lights to be seen so I headed back inside. I think another couple of aircraft went over after I came in but that was about it.
So that was it, another Dawn Patrol has been & gone and I wasn’t involved. Next year if I am in Melbourne I will ensure that I am, even if I have to go as a passenger.