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Veteran fighter pilots celebrated at Great Eastern Fly-In

Milton Cottee standing in front of an F-111 plane
Milton Cottee was responsible for purchasing Australia's first F-111 fighter planes.

ABC North Coast: Samantha Turnbull

The man responsible for bringing F-111 bombers to Australia and one of World War II's best fighter pilots were among the veterans at summer aviation celebration the Great Eastern Fly-In.

The weekend event featured hundreds of aircraft and aerial displays, but it was the stories of war-time pilots that captivated many of the aviation enthusiasts at the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome on the NSW north coast.

Buying F-111s for Australia

Retired group captain Milton Cottee, of Canberra, became chief test pilot for the Royal Australian Air Force after flying Mustangs in Korea.

He also spent much of the 1960s and 1970s in the US where he was tasked with purchasing a fleet of F-111C bombers for Australia.

"What made them special was their performance, their ability to fly very fast and for long distances and to carry a fairly decent bombload over a long distance," Mr Cottee said.

"It had a very accurate attack on targets, and it was a potent aircraft.

The Australian Government ordered 24 of the aircraft and Mr Cottee delivered the last of the fleet to home soil in 1974.

They were never used in combat and were retired in 2010.

Eight of the fighter planes are on display throughout Australia, including one at the Evans Head aerodrome.

"I still consider the F-111s as my babies," Mr Cottee said.

"I tried to be present at the time they were first powered up electrically in the factory, because I considered that as their birth and I extend that to thinking that each of the F-111Cs is one of my babies."

WWII pilot's love of flying continues

Ronald Houghton laughing
Ronald Houghton flew Halifax bombers, Spitfires and Hurricanes during World War II, then went on to become a commercial pilot retiring in his late 60s.

ABC North Coast: Samantha Turnbull

Sydney veteran Ronald Houghton, 92, took his first flight in a Grumman Mallard seaplane at the Great Eastern Fly-In but said nothing could compare to the Spitfires he flew for the RAAF's Fighter Command at the end of World War II.

"It was just the manoeuvrability of them; to me it was just a great airplane," he said.

Dr Houghton said he was given the Fighter Command role after flying in 33 operations with the Bomber Command throughout the war.

He said he was almost killed on seven occasions.

"On each one of those, we dove left or right and we could see when a Luftwaffe pilot was chasing you he could only do so much until after a while he would get tired and find something easier to pick up," Dr Houghton said.

Dr Houghton was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1945 for "skill and fortitude against the enemy" and in 2014 was one of seven Australian World War II veterans flown to France to receive the French Legion of Honour.

He said he enlisted in the military at 17, after lying about his age, and carried that bold attitude throughout his service.

"All I wanted to do was stay alive, pretty much," Dr Houghton said.

"Today it would be quite different, but when you are young nothing can stop you.

Dr Houghton went on to become a commercial pilot for Qantas, Air Lanka, and Philippine Airlines.

He officially retired "well over 65" and then completed a PhD in engineering at the University of Sydney.

"I just like flying airplanes," he said.

"And the bigger they are, or the more difficult they are, the more I like it."