Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to sit in the cockpit of an F-111 Fighter Jet? Or experience a seat in Business Class on a Qantas 747? How about exploring every nook and cranny of a Neptune Submarine Hunter? Put yourself in the picture and get a closer look at these aviation marvels.
Impressive aviation displays surround the building, including a plane jutting from its exterior. We walked through the entrance - made to resemble an engine - and into to HARS - Historical Aircraft Restoration Society. Located only 1.5 hours south of Sydney CBD, and 20 minutes south from Wollongong CBD, this is your next weekend adventure.
Once inside, we saw the First Class check-in reception area, where we each paid $20 for a full museum tour with a guide. Check out the many tours on offer and prices here
Our admission included a guided tour of the premises from an expert. There were no barriers or ropes separating us from the aircraft, which continues to be a major drawcard of the museum. It is an operational hangar, so this is the reason for the tour guide. These guides are passionate volunteers, giving their time and expert knowledge while delighting visitors year-round. Anyone wishing to volunteer and take part in recording and preserving Australia's national aviation history can find out more here.
To the side of the reception area is Café Connie. Here they serve coffee, tea and café-style treats and sandwiches with plenty of tables and chairs. There is also seating outside if you prefer. Open 9:30 am - 3:30 pm every day.
Enjoy a coffee at Cafe Connie
Opposite Cafe Connie's was the gift shop, full of miniature collectable craft, clothing and souvenirs. Further past the gift shop were displays of aviation memorabilia lining the rear wall.
We met our tour guide and headed into the hangar with an impressive display of planes of all types. We were guided from one craft to the other. From a De Haviland Tiger Moth, an open tandem biplane used for training, to a CA25 Winjeel Basic Trainer. Be prepared to learn a lot about the planes on display.
One of the highlights of the hangar is the opportunity to sit in the cockpit of an F-111 fighter jet. This jet can reach speeds of up to 2,500km/h.
You'll never know what you'll find in the hangar - We chanced upon a stunning Learjet, however, it wasn't a part of the regular display and only a temporary visitor – Still, very impressive. We also got up close to a DC-4 and a DC-3. (The DC-4 is currently being restored to be the only flying DC-4 in Australia.) This place was packed with must-sees.
Get up close to a DC-4 and DC-3
Our guide led us outside, where we climbed aboard the Neptune Submarine Hunter. (This was my favourite) The AP-3C Orion travels up to 700km/h. Used for submarine hunting and maritime surveillance, up until two years ago in RAAF service, now demilitarised. HARS is the only museum in the world to have one of these in an airworthy condition. It was also this particular aircraft that located Tony Bullimore after his yacht capsized in 1997.
We toured economy, premium economy and business class (there's no first class on this plane). We peered into the tiny spaces where staff would have slept on their shift breaks. We looked behind doors, curtains and panels. Perfect for anyone who has ever wondered what's behind the business class curtains, or inside the cockpit.
We learned about the day this Qantas plane landed at Albion Park Airport on 8th March 2015 to massive crowds and aviation enthusiasts. The plane had 4 crew, no passengers. Because of the shorter runway, crew underwent simulator training to land. They also reduced the tyre pressures to make the landing easier.
Once we were out of the plane, we had the chance to walk underneath the belly of this massive jumbo jet, a rare experience for such a close-up view.
You might not arrive an aviation buff, but you'll leave as one. It's a special place where you can immerse yourself into the history of many fascinating aircraft. A visit to HARS is a lesson in history and genius design and there's something for all ages to be discovered.