Here’s to 40 Years

An organisation hitting its 40th birthday is an impressive milestone, one that’s cause for celebration. That’s exactly what transpired this September at the RAAus 40th Anniversary Gala; a fantastic celebration of the organisation’s past, present and blossoming future. Guests travelled from across the country to give RAAus the birthday party it deserved. The result did not disappoint.

As we all know, 2023 marks the 40th year since Recreational Aviation Australia (originally the Australian Ultralight Federation) came into existence. What began in the early 1980s as a representative body for a sparse bunch of homebuilders and often self-taught pilots, has grown and evolved into a sophisticated organisation of over 10,000 members. Every day, across the country, these members are fulfilling their dreams of flying. Dreams made possible by RAAus’ continued hard work over the past four decades.

Celebration of this achievement then, was undeniably due. On a typical brisk Canberra’s evening at the magnificent Australian War Memorial, crowds gathered,
glasses clinked, conversations sparked and festivities began for our beloved organisation.

Laughter and conversation filled the air at Poppy’s Café on the Australian War Memorial grounds as guests began to arrive. Old friends from far across the country
reunited and new friendships were made, keen to discuss everything aviation. Anticipation for the night’s festivities began to fill the room, as guests were led to
the Aircraft Hall in the AWM’s main building.

A beautifully apt location for the night’s proceedings, Aircraft Hall is a testament to the aviation industry’s innovation and engineering ability. Several beautifully
maintained aircraft are on permanent display in the Hall for visitors to browse. The P-51 Mustang, Hawker Sea Fury, Avro Anson, MiG-15 and A6M Zero drew
plenty of interest from the aviation-enthusiast crowd. Surrounded by these magnificent aircraft, there could be no doubt of our purpose here tonight; we were here
to celebrate aviation in all its glory.

The main event began with passionate speeches by RAAus CEO Matt Bouttell and Chairman Michael Monck. Both touched on the importance of RAAus’ presence in the Australian aviation landscape, and thanked the hard work of staff past and present who have helped shape the organisation into what it is today. A common theme emerged between the two that there was still progress to be made, work to be done. It was clear that while we were here to celebrate RAAus’ first 40 years, the organisation was well and truly looking toward the future.

As dinner service began, guests heard from OzRunways CEO, Bas Scheffers, who thanked RAAus for their early support of the OzRunways platform and reiterated the company’s commitment to serving its recreational pilot customer base. Airservices Australia CEO, Jason Harfield, spoke of the important partnership formed between his organisation and RAAus, and touched on the significance of recreational pilots’ airspace access.

The night featured several fantastic guest speakers, such as Lloyd Galloway, a former RAAus Scholarship winner. Lloyd reminisced on the opportunities his scholarship presented him, opening a door to his time with the likes of Precision Aviation Services and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. He encouraged everyone thinking of undertaking training to apply and chase their passion for aviation, even if it left him with “too many aeroplanes”.

The evening also featured presentations that highlighted the effect aviation can have on various communities. Tyeisha Clark, a.k.a The Barefoot Pilot, shared her story via video presentation. The 19-year old indigenous woman from Far North Queensland had dreamed of becoming a pilot, and found the opportunity to do so thanks to a chance meeting with Learn 2 Fly co-owner, John Sayers. Now, Tyeisha is the face of The Barefoot Academy, a program aimed at training indigenous pilots from remote communities.

Also sharing via video was Hayden McDonald, a 22-year-old autistic pilot. Hayden is currently circumnavigating Australia for autism awareness, documenting the journey on his Wings Without Barriers YouTube channel. High above the Nullarbor, Hayden found the time to record a video for the evening, expressing his thanks for RAAus’ assistance, acceptance and advocacy. Praising RAAus as one of the “most progressive” organisations he’s worked with, Hayden was hopeful that RAAus would remain a
shining example of inclusiveness amongst the industry.

TV Presenter and new pilot, Catriona Rowntree, also appeared via video. Catriona’s journey to her lifelong dream of becoming a pilot was recently featured in Touch The Sky, a documentary exploring women in aviation. The Getaway presenter thanked RAAus for their support, and was hopeful that her story would inspire more women to pursue aviation both recreationally and professionally.

There was considerable buzz in the room for the featured speaker of the night. Former RAAF fighter pilot and Red Bull Air Race champion, Matt Hall, took the stage to rousing applause. Matt shared his journey from flying-crazed kid to Air Force pilot to Air Race Champion in a passionate speech about achieving your dreams, no
matter how ambitious they may be. Matt shared some thrilling stories from his impressive career, accompanied by head-spinning footage from the cockpit of both his
F/A-18 Hornet during training missions, and his Zivko Edge 540 at the Red Bull Air Race.

With speeches done, there was one more birthday tradition to tick off; the cake! And what a cake it was – an expertly crafted replica of the Infinitus Aero
E22 Spark, Australia’s soon-to-be-first commercially produced electric aircraft.

All in all, the RAAus 40th Anniversary Gala was a roaring success, offering an entertaining night of interesting speakers, delicious food and plenty of
celebration. A huge thank you is deserved for the RAAus events team; Maarit Maher, Maxine Milera, Candice Hagen, Jennifer Douglas and Letesha
Stretton, whose hard work and planning ensured RAAus got the birthday party it deserved. After all, you only turn 40 once!