By Melissa Walsh Photos Yanni
She is one of Australia’s best known and loved warbird owners, an airshow performer, aviator, mother and grandmother. She owns and operates the Old Aeroplane Company in Tyabb, and is a woman who always achieves what she sets her mind to. Peninsula Essence talks to Judy Pay about life and a love of vintage aircraft that saw her opening a museum that houses a unique collection of warbirds and other interesting aircraft.
When did you start being interested in aircraft and flying?
I wasn’t always interested in planes but, having grown up down the road from the Tyabb airport and living here for many years I used to drive past the airport every day. I became intrigued by the planes and thought it would be cool to fly one. Then when both the kids started school I had some free time and thought “Why not? I will do it.” I first learnt to fly in a Cessna 152. The first lesson I was so sick and the instructor said “you just have to do it and you will get better”. After the first three hours I was still getting sick but I absolutely loved it. I was totally hooked on it.
Did it take a long time to learn to fly? How did you juggle family and flying?
It was easy to make time to learn and I just went straight though. I am an all-or-nothing person so I just did it. Once I set my mind to something, I have always just gone out and done it and never felt there were any barriers really.
Have your children or grandchildren shown any interest in flying?
My granddaughter Emily, who is 14, has done flying lessons but she gets air sick. My son has a pilot’s licence and a grandson who is 16 is learning to fly now.
What are you doing in the Tyabb air show this year?
Well usually I am there organising and helping with the show but this year I am hoping to just sit and enjoy watching it. We have several planes in it this year: the Trojan, Tiger Moth, two Harvards and the Mustang will all be flying. I have been doing air shows and organising the flying display since the ’80s. I haven’t recently flown in it; normally I am the organiser so stopped flying as well but this year I want to just sit and watch the air show.
How did your children react when you got your pilot’s licence?
Because we had a business in Falls Creek we were commuting from here regularly, and the drive took close to five hours. My husband at the time was virtually living up there and I would bring the kids up on a regular basis. When I got my pilot’s licence, my husband and I bought a four seat Cessna which we would fly up and back with the kids. Unfortunately they used to “throw up” sometimes which was not great but they appreciated that it only took an hour to get there instead of five.
So how do you go from learning to fly a Cessna to owning an aeroplane museum and collection?
It was just fortunate that I learnt to fly at Tyabb as it has a reputation for vintage aeroplanes which is when I became enthralled with them. The first plane I bought a share in was a beautiful Tiger Moth and eventually I was able to buy it outright. I guess that was the start when I look back and everything just took on a life of its own. Eventually my ex-husband and I decided to buy a Harvard and then a T-28 and we became hooked on these magnificent planes.
Have you ever had any accidents or incidents where you think this is getting difficult?
Usually it is about weather and conditions but we are very careful when it comes to flying safety conditions.
How much time do you get flying now?
Not enough. It is never enough though.
How did the Old Aeroplane Company evolve?
I actually owned 10 acres of land next to the Tyabb airport so once the planes begun to morph into a collection, I decided to build a hangar on it which we used to store our planes and do maintenance and restorations. Soon we were building another hangar at the back which is now where the Old Aeroplane Company museum stores its planes.
What sorts of planes do you maintain and restore in the original hangar?
We do maintenance and restoration work on warbirds and other vintage planes. We have a few aircraft we are working on at the moment including a rare German Fiesler Storch that was used during WWII as an observation aircraft.
“It’s a big and slow aeroplane that could take off in the length of this hangar. A guy from Mildura purchased it from the States after which my friend bought it before deciding he didn’t want it, so I bought it from him – again, it just happens like that.”
What sort of team do you have working here with you?
We have three engineers and a team of volunteers on board and I couldn’t do it without these amazing people. They all have the same passion I have for these magnificent planes and we all enjoy showing groups of people around the place and giving tours.