Updated: Feb 28
✦ The Magnificent Seven in their Flying Machines! An exclusive interview with Bobcat Formation Leader Dr. David Cooke
If you look to the skies every Saturday morning when in the Port Macquarie, Lake Cathie and Bonny Hills areas then, weather permitting, you will be treated to a dazzling air show performance by some of the most experienced and impressive pilots around!
The enthralling and daring performance is thanks to a collection of pilots known as the Bobcats who soar through the clouds in their colourful aircrafts in impeccable formation, thrilling observers on the ground.
The Bobcat Formation was started in 2009 by former flying doctor and Airforce pilot Dr David Cooke. David was joined by friend and former Navy pilot Alan Bradtke and the two members of the Hastings District Flying Club would indulge in casual formation flying, more as a hobby than anything else. After a chance meeting with fellow pilot Greg Kemp back in 2013, the nucleus of the Bobcat Formation evolved in time into the seven-strong set-up it is today.
“I’m pilot number one,” says David with a smile. “That doesn’t mean I am any more important than any of the other pilots, just that I lead the formation and am therefore the first pilot to take to the air.”
Flying has always been in David’s blood and his family has a rich tradition in the aviation industry; his grandfather was an instructor in Bristol Box Kites during the First World War and his father was a Spitfire pilot in the Second World War. Both his boys are jet captains.
“After my father died, my mother married another pilot in 1945,” explains David. “He was killed and then she married a third pilot. The day I came home at the age of 16 and said to her that the Air Force was teaching me to fly she burst into tears!”
David, a GP for 55 years who also served as a Flying Doctor, was recognised with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his service to medicine and aviation in the Queen's Birthday honours list last year – something he is, understandably, incredibly proud of.
Masters of the Skies
Today, in addition to David in his DeHavilland Chipmunk aircraft and Alan in his KR2 which he built himself, there is Bobcat 3, Rod Hall in his Sling 4 who used to perform aerobatics in his jet fighter, and Bobcat 4 John Hayler in his RV7 who practised formation flying in the Zimbabwean Air Force; Bobcat 5 is navigated by Steve Woodham who built his own Sonex aircraft, Bobcat 6 is flown by Peter Fowler and Bobcat 7 by Anthony D'Angelo.
“Although there are seven of us in total, we only ever have six taking to the skies at one time,” commented David. “Who flies each weekend often depends on who is available although we never take more than six planes up.”
These masters of the skies absolutely know their craft and they truly understand the dangerous nature of what they undertake.
“Despite having different backgrounds, all the pilots are experienced and really know what they are doing,” says David.
“Alan is ex-Navy who still does aircraft maintenance work. Rod Hall used to sell jet fighter rides here in Port Macquarie, John Hayler is a retired Airbus captain from Cathay Pacific with 24,000 hours of flying time under his belt who learned formation flying with the Rhodesian Air Force and Steve Woodham built his own Sonex aircraft and therefore has intrinsic knowledge. Similarly, Anthony Angelo and Peter Fowler are both senior instructors.
“We originally had Greg Kemp fly with us as well but he moved to Queensland so he is unable to join us anymore. He was an instructor for the Australian Aviation College in Port Macquarie.”