Air Show Report : RNZAF Open Day 2009
Royal New Zealand Air Force Open Day 2009 - Whenuapai Air Show
On March 21, 2009, the open day and airshow of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) was held at Whenuapai. Chris Gee reports.
The Whenuapai Airshow took place on the 21st of March 2009 near Auckland. Organised by the RNZAF as a recruitment exercise, those that braved the horrendous traffic were in for an excellent day out. Naturally, the RNZAF was there in force to display their assets in and out of the hangers, on the tarmac, and in the air, proving what a remarkable amount they can accomplish with such a limited budget.
The day began with the Kiwi Blue Parachute Team jumping from a C-130, which then began its own handling display. The C-130H Hercules from No.40 Squadron serves as the tactical airlift workhorse for the RNZAF, and although these aircraft have been flying for a long time, they are kept in exceptional condition. These aircraft are always exciting to watch, especially when they perform the "Khe-Sanh" hostile airfield approach and STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) displays.
Fresh from a well received display at the Avalon Airshow in Australia, the RNZAF Boeing B757 put on an amazing show of its power and handling. The highlight of the B757’s display is its aggressive high angle take-off and low altitude ‘wing-over’ - manoeuvres a commercial operator is unlikely to perform. These aircraft have been recently upgraded with new avionics, cargo loading door / handling system and upgraded engines.
An RNZAF P-3K Orion from No.5 Squadron dropped rescue packages onto the airfield and flew an impressive handling display that served as a reminder that the Orion is widely regarded as one of the best Maritime Patrol Aircraft, while also being one of the longest serving airframes (the Lockheed 188A Electra first flew in 1957!). The RNZAF crews are responsible for saving dozens of lives each year within New Zealand's maritime area of interest, an area representing approximately 1/12 of the world's ocean surface. These aircraft are being upgraded to keep them in the air through to 2020.
No.3 Squadron had a large number of their helicopters performing, with several UH-1H Huey and B47G Sioux flying in formation, as well as displaying their solo handling skills. The UH-1H Iroquois has been in service with the RNZAF since 1966, and is soon to be replaced by the much more capable NH-90. However these Vietnam-era helicopters still give an impressive display in handling and load capability: the highlight being the drop of a car from some height onto the airfield. Even from over two hundred meters away you could feel the 'thud' as a car they dropped hit the deck.
The Bell B47G-3B-2 Sioux helicopter is similarly ancient, although still in service as a training helicopter. It harks back to the days of the early 1950's and, of course, the Korean War, having been made an icon by the television series M*A*S*H. These aircraft are being replaced by the Augusta Westland A109LUH. There are very few places in the world where you can still see these choppers perform close formation aerobatics, apparently something of a chore given their unforgiving handling characteristics.
A "Role Demo" was performed by the RNZAF, involving a UH-1H inserting an Army squad and forcing 'Terrorist' forces off the airfield, under the watchful eye of an orbiting P-3K. The enemy forces were hilarious with their vehicles and 'Rambo' styling, and while not especially realistic they were certainly entertaining.
No airshow in New Zealand would be complete without a precision formation aerobatic display from The Red Checkers and their CT4E Airtrainers. Operated via the Central Flying School, the Red Checkers are a world-class Aerobatic Display Team, performing highly challenging formation manoeuvres and solo routines. The classic ‘Mirror’ and ‘Spaghetti break’ are spectacular. It’s a real shame they are unable to deploy overseas – they would surely be an absolute hit at any major airshow around the world.
The finale of the RNZAF display was the flypast by ‘Formation Thunder’, a unique formation of a C-130H Hercules, B757 and two P-3K Orions. There were a few other unique formations of aircraft at Whenuapai this year, such as a King Air 350 with five CT-4E’s, and a formation of five CT-4E’s and five AT-6 Harvards. These are combinations of aircraft unlikely to be seen anywhere else on earth.
This year saw the welcome addition of some fast and heavy international guests to Whenuapai in the form of two F/A-18A Hornets from the RAAF and a C-17 all the way from Alaska. The C-17 is actually a regular visitor to New Zealand as the USAF flies its C-17s and C-130s from Christchurch in support of their Antarctica mission. The manoeuvrability and power with which the C-17 was displayed was outstanding. It seemed to hang in the air belying its behemoth size. Its STOL capabilities were evidenced by its landing within a few hundred meters at crowd centre. For many, the highlight of the show was the RAAF F/A-18A’s high energy solo display at the end of the day. It has been a long time since a Hornet performed in Auckland’s skies, and it was these aircraft that many of the public were there to see.
The NZ aviation scene is famous the world over for its variety and rare combinations of aircraft, in particularly the huge contingent of Warbirds and Classic aircraft. The Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatross, De Havilland Vampire, Cessna C-37 Dragonfly formed the jet powered part of the Warbirds display, and flew in formation together with solo flypasts. The North American AT-6 Harvard has become a mainstay of classic aviation in New Zealand, and these were joined by Yak-52 and Nanchang CJ6A aircraft. The beautiful FG-1D Corsair is the oldest such aircraft flying today and along with the venerable P-51D Mustang gave a gentle, yet impressive and photogenic display with the sound of their engines bringing back many memories for the senior members of the audience.
Extreme aerobatics was the name of the game for the MXR Technologies MX-2 which seemed to throw out the rule book and defy the laws of physics. This aircraft’s wings and fuselage can obtain lift and retain control at almost any angle and it has enough power to overcome any situation. This was an expertly flown display. For many of the public the favourite moment of the MX-2 will be its ‘drag-race’ against a V-8 car down the runway, harking back to the classic NZ ‘Wings and Wheels’ airshows.
The ‘Wing Walking’ Display by a Tiger Moth was a very entertaining crowd pleaser. While the wing walking woman wore a wetsuit to protect her from the elements, and was safely harnessed to her aircraft, they reminded us of the golden era of the ‘Barnstorming’ 30’s. On the tarmac in the static display were some very interesting foreign visitors this year, such as a CASA CN-235 from the French Air Force, a Q-300 MPA from the Australian Customs and a new C-130J from the RAAF. Inside the hangers of No. 40 Squadron the RNZAF had stands and stalls displaying all the current career paths available, and a large display of engines and armaments.
At $5 entry per adult this would have to be one of the best value for money airshows, yet the intense traffic arriving and departing was frustrating. RNZAF Airshow and Open Day alternates between Whenuapai and Ohakea Airbases, so if you are lucky enough to be in New Zealand in 2010 at the right time, a trip to Ohakea Airbase for a display of New Zealand’s vibrant aviation scene would be well worth your while.
Report and photos by Chris Gee ( view portfolio )
Last Revised: -
Last Modified: 15 April 2009
04/15/09 Replaced photo 13 and 86
04/14/09 Fixed a few captions