RAAF 'Sabre' before restoration....
(Image: Fighter World)
You can drive by them without even a second thought. An incongruous piece of elevated man-made metal, lost among the branches and green foliage of parkland. Children now run around its base and families picnic in its shadow, but once the noise erupting from its engine would have been too great to bear. This fighter jet is done with the towering cumulus and has retired to the quiet corner of a country reserve. Two worlds, so very far apart.
It is a scene repeated time and time again. Old warriors now stand guard by gates or move ever so slightly in the wind atop their poles. It is a far cry from their halcyon days of air shows and sound barriers, but it is at least an existence. While their comrades were scrapped and melted down, their reprieve came in a form of remembrance. Their role in retirement was to serve as a reminder of the part their kind had played in the skies of the past.
As a boy, our car would always pull to the roadside when such an aircraft was sighted beyond the swing-sets and picnic tables. I would wander beneath those wings and roundels in amazement, my mind removing the pillar and setting the jet free once more. I could feel the heat of the efflux and see the pilot’s helmeted head ‘checking his six’ before pulling up and rolling even more deeply into my imagination. My father would stand there too, but his thoughts were memories, not dreams and beneath the helmets were the faces of friends now gone.
Sadly, over the years, some of these marvellous machines were neglected, their paint peeling and canopies crazing from years exposed to the weather. Their squadron markings faded and their intakes filled with litter, time had become the enemy that no amount of cannon fire could silence. It seemed such an indignant end.
But it was not the end.
Slowly, their intrinsic value became appreciated. Communities began to restore their weary airframes, while others were brought down from their perches and rejoined their brothers within the sheltered walls of museums. Once again their pride was restored and mounted plaques could speak volumes of their service. Veterans could thumb through their log books in search of markings and a new generation now stood beneath the wings, but this time they were close enough to touch.
Our gratitude goes out to those who care and preserve those machines and their memories. The old warriors may now be silent, but they still have much to say. Whether they now rest in parks, museums or stand guard by gates they offer us a glimpse of an era that has now passed and allow me once again to look up and imagine.