F-35 Lightning II Confirmed For Wings Over Illawarra 2022 As New Warbird Balbo Finale Hinted?

Wings Over Illawarra has confirmed the F-35 Lightning II for the 2022 edition of the air show’s flying program alongside a list of other aircraft confirmed this week to fly at the event. One special listing was of a ‘Warbird Balbo‘. Could this be a new finale for the growing air show?

Warbird Balbo image from Wings Over Illawarra flying program webpage
Image: Wings Over Illawarra

A ‘Balbo’ is a large aircraft formation that appears at the end of an air show. It is named after Italo Balbo, the Marshal of the Royal Italian Air Force during the first 2 years of the WWII.

It is named after him after his participation in the Decennial Air Cruise, a mass transatlantic flight from Italy to Chicago, the United States of America in 1933 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Royal Italian Air Force. He wanted to show the world Italy is the most advanced in aviation in 1933 so he led 24 military aircraft in formation across the Atlantic. As they arrived and left Chicago, they were escorted by up to 42 aircraft of the United States Army Air Forces, bringing a total of up to 66 planes in the sky at once in formation.

They then headed back to Italy but not before the name ‘Balbo’ referred to any mass aircraft formation. This lasted until the end of World War II. The Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom also named one of their flying tactics after him during World War II. Nowadays, the name ‘Balbo’ is still referred to as a mass aircraft formation but only at the end of an air show.

Wings Over Illawarra has promoted a Warbird Balbo for both public events days in their current flying program. A warbird is any military aircraft still flying but not used for military purposes. Wings Over Illawarra usually has a great line-up of these planes in their flying program.

In 2018 & 2019, the flying programs for the event did have a segment called WWII Fighters. This consisted of 4 warbirds in both years (hardly a ‘mass’ aircraft formation), and they only briefly flew in formation instead mostly doing individual flybys of the airport. Most importantly, the name ‘Balbo’ was never used in the flying program.

So is this Warbird Balbo that is going to appear at Wings Over Illawarra the old WWII Fighters segment returning (just under a new exciting name) or are we going to see a new finale featuring a flyover of 7+ (the biggest formation the event has had) warbirds in formation? Wings Over Illawarra did not respond to our query in time for the article’s publication. We’ll just have to wait & see.

Other aircraft that were confirmed onto the flying program this week included:

  • Paul Bennet Airshows‘ North American T-28 Trojan (warbird trainer/counter-insurgency aircraft)
  • MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’ (military helicopter)
  • CAC-13 Boomerang (fighter warbird)

This brings the number of warbirds up to 16! What a finale that should turn out to be!

The previous finale was a jet flying over the airport before the Wall of Fire exploded alongside the runway to conclude the air show. This was usually but not always with the F/A-18 Hornet military jets but since they made their final appearance at last year’s air show, it might mean a new finale is needed.

As stated earlier, since we announced Wings Over Illawarra as the newest flagship Sydney Spectacular, the F35 Lightning II, which is the replacement for the F/A-18 Hornets in the Royal Australian Air Force, has been announced as making its 2nd appearance at the event after making its debut flying display in Australia in last year’s air show.

Last year, the new jet made lunchtime/midday appearances, showing off its new features with the first use of military aircraft flares at the air show. If a Warbird Balbo is to be the new finale, it must mean the F35 Lightning is not available to conclude the show but only appear briefly earlier in the day (like at last year’s air show) and thus, no need for a Wall of Fire as a mass formation flyover of warbirds is likely to be slow in aerobatic terms. It is not a fast flyby of a modern military jet simulating an air attack but more of a salute to the audience thanking the public for their support of their aircraft during wartime or other military operations.

The F35 Lightning’s confirmation means a great air show line-up is assured but is more exciting news about the flying program yet to be confirmed, as we’ve speculated above? Wings Over Illawarra has hinted through social media of more “exciting announcements” to come. Could a Warbird Balbo finale of 16+ aircraft be confirmed? There are less than 3 weeks to go until the air show and roughly less than 2 weeks until the flying program’s timings are announced. Not long to go now!