Air Show Report : Warbirds over Wanaka 2010
On April 2-4, 2010, the bi-anual Warbirds over Wanaka air show was held at Wanaka Airport, New Zealand. Chris Gee reports.
Warbirds Over Wanaka 2010 - New Zealand
Since its humble inception as a country fair by Tim Wallis in 1988, The Warbirds over Wanaka airshow has grown into the nation’s major aviation event. Now more than 65000 visitors flock to Wanaka Airport from all over the world to witness what must be one of the world’s most unique boutique airshows. Held at Easter every two years, the airshow has gone though some major changes in its history. In 2006 the Warbirds over Wanaka Community Trust was established, and this helped to ensure the legacy and vision of legendary aviation and business entrepreneur Sir Tim Wallis. The airshow brings millions of dollars worth of business into the Wanaka region, and has become famous the world over as a “must-see” event. Despite everything the airshow and the region has to offer, it will always be the fantastic array of rare warbirds and classic aircraft that remain the centre of attention. From graceful pre-war bi-planes to thundering modern fast jets, Warbirds over Wanaka will always have something to excite the nerves and bring back memories of times long gone.
Warbirds & Classics
One of the star attractions this year was the Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero from the Monica Museum of Flying in Southern California, arriving via an ocean journey from Long Beach to Tauranga, then a multi stop ferry flight to Wanaka. One of only three examples still flying today, this was the second visit to New Zealand by a Zero, the other example is still located at the Auckland Museum. Powered by a Pratt and Whitney R1830 Engine the Zero was flown by Col. Stephen W. Barber and Col. Jason Somes to spectacular effect, with many low passes and engagements with the Allied Warbirds. The Zero flew in a number of re-enactment scenarios, including the Pacific Campaign of WWII where the it was chased down by two Kittyhawks and the Corsair.
This Lavochkin La-9 is the only example flying in the world today, and was a key part of what made this airshow unique. Beautifully restored by Pioneer Aero Restoration in 2003, this La-9 was luckily able to fly once again after a new propeller was fitted at Wanaka. The La-9 first entered production in 1946 and was flown by the Soviet Union, China, Romania and North Korea. There are only four other airframes in existence, located in museums around Asia. The La-9 is an exceptional performer and was shown off in some fantastic displays by John Lamont. Unfortunately this was the last display of the La-9 in New Zealand before it heads to its new home in Virginia Beach, USA.
One of the most potent carrier-capable aircraft of WWII this ex- RNZAF Goodyear FG-1D Corsair, flown by Keith Skilling, has both a unique look, and sound. Its distinctive "bent" wings were designed to keep the landing gear short and robust for carrier landings and give clearance for the enormous 13' 4" diameter (4.06m) propeller that gave it a speed of over 400 MPH (644 km/h). Despite its 2000hp Pratt and Whitney radial engine the Corsair has a reasonably quiet, deep sound and as it flew overhead some well-timed breaks in the commentary reminded us as to how this aircraft got the nickname “Whispering Death” from the Japanese.
The Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX is probably the most famous of the Warbirds, and was flown this year by Sean Perrett and John Lanham. This Spitfire is owned by the family of renowned Kiwi fighter pilot Alan Deere and is the first restored in New Zealand. There were plans to have two Spifires flying together but this could not happen due to damage to one of the Spitfires in an accident last year, but its solo display was breathtaking, and also formed the lead in to the ‘Finale’ of the show where thanks were given to all the veterans. A real highlight was the Commemoration of “The Forgotten Campaign” of Burma, where the Spitfire and Zero flew together.
Flown by Graham Bethel and Robert Borrius-Broek the two North American P-51D Mustangs opened each days flying and proved to be a great crowd pleaser. P-51Ds flew duo and solo displays along with formation displays with the Vampire and L-39. Often cited with turning the tide of the war with their ability to escort the Allied bombers all the way to Berlin, the Mustangs range, versatility and Packard-Merlin engines made them into one of the most legendary Warbirds flying today. One example is painted in the colours of the Canterbury Territorial Air Force squadron.
There were two Curtis P-40 Kittyhawks flying together this year, with one of them performing a ‘live-firing’ of its six .50cal machine guns against the Zero during the re-enactment of the Pacific Campaign. Flown by Stuart Goldspink the P-40 fired its guns while passing in front of the crowd at over 240mph (386 km/h). Warbirds over Wanaka is the only Airshow in the world where live ammunition is fired from a classic flying machine, and this added an exciting touch to what was already an exhilarating flying display.
Flown and owned by Arthur Dovey the Yakovlev Yak-3M was the smallest and lightest combat fighter of WWII and flew displays with both the La-9 and the L-39. This example was modified from a Yak-11 Trainer to Yak-3M Fighter in Russia before being finished by Pioneer Aircraft Restorations in Auckland. During WWII the Yak-3 proved more than a match for the Luftwaffe FW190 and Me109, and an order was sent to avoid engaging them at low altitudes.
Since arriving in 1994 with The Catalina Group of New Zealand this Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina has become a common sight at aviation events throughout New Zealand. However at the Warbirds over Wanaka airshow this year the aircraft got to ‘show its teeth’ with participation in the Pacific Campaign re-enactment, where she ran a simulated attack against a static submarine, and was ‘bounced’ by the Zero until the two Kittyhawks and Corsair saved the day. The aircraft's wide parasol wing and large waist blisters allowed for excellent visibility, versatility and long endurance ensuring the Catalina was used extensively in all theatres of WWII, and remained in civilian use for long afterwards.
At the other end of the spectrum of DeHavilland aircraft, Brett Emeny bought his DeHavilland DH.115 Vampire from New Plymouth for a welcome return to the airshow. Its distinctive ‘howl’ and flat take-off were memorable as well as its formation flights with the L-39 and P-51D. The Vampire was designed with a unique configuration to make the best use of the technology available at the time and was the first jet aircraft to become operational with the RNZAF in 1951 staying in service until 1972.
There were two Aero L-39 Albatrosses flying at the airshow this year, one from New Plymouth and one based at Jet Flights in Wanaka. The L-39 flew solo displays as well as formations with the Vampire and P-51D. A highly successful aircraft made in what was Czechoslovakia; the L-39 became the standard Warsaw Pact jet trainer and is still in widespread use throughout the world today.
Due to its high performance, G-loading (+7/-5), accessibility and ease of operation, the Yakovlev Yak-52 has become the ‘warbird’ of choice for many New Zealand pilots, even though the type was never a true combat aircraft. There were many examples present at the airshow and their aerobatics, mass take-offs and formation fly-overs were a great sight (and sound) to behold.
After a proud history and with over 16000 examples built worldwide there are only two Douglas DC-3 Dakotas still flying in New Zealand. One is operated by ‘Fly Dakota’ out of Auckland, and the other by ‘Southern DC-3 Ltd’ out of Christchurch. Both of these aircraft made a grand contribution to the action at Warbirds over Wanaka 2010, especially during the ‘European Theatre’ re-enactment when they flew in formation as part of the ‘Airborne Assault’. The ‘Fly Dakota’ DC-3 has display pilots and crew who are parachute jump rated and a removable passenger door, which allowed the Kiwi Blue team to jump from the aircraft during the display. New Zealand is one of the few places in the world where pleasure flights in classic aircraft are still available, following some extremely questionable security rules being applied to passenger capable aircraft such as DC-3s. The requirements for over wing emergency slides (the trailing edges of the wings are only a few feet off the ground), cockpit voice recorders (the noise is so great that any conversation is inaudible) and armoured cockpit entry doors (the surrounding structure would not support it and the extra weight to do so would remove the ability to actually carry passengers) have grounded many classic aircraft around the world. Luckily common sense still reigns in New Zealand.
The venerable North American AT-6 Harvard has become a staple of the Warbirds Aviation scene in New Zealand, with thousands of kiwi pilots having been trained on them, both by the RNZAF and as trainers to move onto more advanced Warbirds. Of the 202 Harvards operated by the RNZAF there are still 16 airworthy examples in New Zealand, and at least nine of these showed up for Warbirds over Wanaka 2010 to perform aerobatic and mass formation displays. Many of these aircraft are owned by Syndicates and they are a common sight at aviation events throughout the country.
New Zealand has a long history with DeHavilland aircraft and they were well represented at the Airshow. The very first passenger service in New Zealand operated out of Hokitika on the South Island, and one of those very same aircraft, DH.83 Fox Moth ZK-ADI was flying along with its fellows from the DeHavilland stable including the Tiger Moth, Dominie, Rapide, and the very rare Dragonfly. These graceful aircraft serve to remind us fondly of a time long gone.
Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF)
The Kaman SH-2G(NZ) Seasprite is a highly versatile platform and performs a number of roles for the RNZN including ASuW/ASW/SAR and Utility roles. It is operated by No.6 Squadron RNZAF, which comprises both Air Force and Navy personnel. The SH-2G can be operated from the ANZAC Frigates TE KAHA and TE MANA, as well as the new Caterbury Multi-Role Vessel and the Offshore Patrol Vessels. This wonderful helicopter showed off many of its abilities during its display, including the ‘Rescue’ of a survivor off a moving speed boat that was being towed along the runway. Operated by a crew of three the Seasprite can be armed with torpedoes, depth charges, a MAG-58 machine gun and the AGM-65 Maverick missile.
The venerable Bell UH-1H Iroquois has been the backbone of the RNZAF helicopter capability since 1966. Operated by No.3 Squadron in the Tactical Airlift, Special Operations and Medevac roles it is also on constant standby as a Search and Rescue platform. The sound of this helicopter and its two bladed rotor is unique and immediately identifiable. The Iroquois was displayed expertly by Pilot FLTLT Rob Cato and Co pilot FLTL Scott Nicholas, with steep ‘wing-overs’, run-on landings and the winching of a crew member into a moving NZLAV from the Army’s Queen Alexandra's Mounted Rifles. They also helped the organisers of the airshow solve the problem of a car which was “parked across an emergency exit” by dropping it from 1000ft into a paddock, much to the delight of the crowd. The UH-1H is due to be replaced by the more capable NH90 helicopter in late 2013.
Since 1965 the RNZAF has relied on the Lockheed C-130H Hercules for its Strategic & Tactical Airlift capability. L-3/Spar Aerospace in Canada has been contracted for the upgrade of the aircraft including its airframe, avionics, new "glass" flight decks, NAV/COM suites and night vision systems. The Hercules performed a number of manoeuvres during its handling display such as the “Khe-Sanh” or 6-into-3 approach and STOL display, as well as a classic “wheel-barrow” pass a few feet off the runway. At one point during its approach for the low pass the entire aircraft would disappear into the Clutha River Valley only to re-appear a short time later. The Hercules was also one of the launch platforms for the Kiwi Blue Parachute Team.
Kiwi Blue parachute team
The Kiwi Blue Parachute Display Team are drawn from the RNZAF's Parachute Training and Support Unit (PTSU). This year they put on a spectacular display each day after jumping from the C-130. Immediately after departing the aircraft they formed into a freefall star formation, before deploying their highly manoeuvrable parachutes and forming a “Stack” formation, with ankle mounted smoke canisters adding to the effect. Two members jumped with large flags depicting the NZ Flag and the Air force Insignia. This author had the opportunity to watch them jump from within the C-130 on the rehearsal day. Their professionalism was obvious as they kitted up and double checked each others equipment, before inching forward in a huddle and, once given the signal, tumbling out of the aircraft.
New Zealand's maritime area of interest represents approximately 1/12 of the world's ocean surface, so it is fitting that No.5 Squadron is equipped with what is widely considered the best Maritime Patrol aircraft in the world. With a range of over 6000 km and loiter time of 8 hours the Lockheed P-3 Orion has been operated by the RNZAF since 1966. Originally P-3Bs they were upgraded to P-3K in the 1980s. Currently the aircraft are being rotated through a vast upgrade to P-3K2 standard by L-3 Communications in the USA. This upgrade will include replacement of the Data, Sensor, NAV, COM and ground systems. Each day of the airshow this impressive aircraft performed several low and fast passes with an aborted landing and powerful go-around. The sound and sleek lines of this aircraft always make it a crowd favourite.
A unique formation of DeHavilland Tiger Moth, North American AT-6 Harvard and Pacific Aerospace CT-4E Airtrainer encompassed the entire historical array of RNZAF Training aircraft, joined by an ex RAAF Winjeel. One of the five No.42 Squadron Beechcraft King Air B200 Advanced Multi-Engine trainers was also in attendance at the airshow. The RNZAF have been using the CT-4E Airtrainer since 1998, 13 of them being shared at Ohakea by the Pilot Training Squadron and Central Flying School. Unfortunately due to an incident earlier in the year the RNZAF Aerobatic display team The Red Checkers, who also fly the CT-4E, were unable to perform at Warbirds over Wanaka this year.
United States Air Force (USAF)
The United States Air Force saluted the key role New Zealand plays in its Antarctic operations by sending one of its Lockheed LC-130 Hercules equipped with retractable ski and with the apt name “City of Christchurch”. LC-130s and Boeing C-17s operate out of Christchurch International Airport to McMurdo in Antarctica as part of Operation Deep Freeze, a joint mission that has supported the National Science Foundation and U.S. Antarctic Program since 1955. The aircraft was on open static display for the duration of the show and welcomed a steady stream of visitors.
Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)
For many it was the four McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets from RAAF 3 Sqn that stole the show, performing tight four-ship formation flypasts and mock ‘pop-up’ airfield attacks, launching flares, and of course being VERY VERY LOUD. Based out of Christchurch for the duration of the airshow the F/A-18s gave an exhilarating display of raw power and precision flying. On the Saturday of the airshow, All Blacks Captain Richard McCaw was flown past a very jealous crowd in the rear seat of an F/A-18, where he addressed the crowd over the PA before returning to Christchurch.
One of the very distinguished VIPs present was John ‘Jack’ Stafford. In 1945 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross after a very successful tour flying the Hawker Tempest with 486 Squadron in Europe during WWII. He is credited with shooting down eight V-1 flying bombs, one Me262 , two Me109, one FW-190 and one Dornier Do217, as well as seeing significant action supporting the allied airborne invasion of Arnhem and other raids. He spoke eloquently to the audience of how he remembered the Me262 encounter and his sorrow that it had to happen on Christmas Day.
2010 marked the welcome return of “The Mad Lithuanian” Jurgis Kairys to Warbirds over Wanaka. The multi-award winning World Freestyle Aerobatic Champion loves performing here at Wanaka and really pulled all of his tricks out of the bag this time. Along with some breathtaking aerobatics and supported by pyrotechnics he flew through a smoke ring, barrel-rolled around a C-47, raced against cars and wrote his signature “J” in the air with smoke while spinning seemingly out of control through the sky.
Wingwalker Peggy Krainz and pilot Friedrich "Friedel" Walentin brought their Boeing Stearman all the way from Stuttgart in Germany, to perform at Wanaka. Their display proved to be a major highlight of the Airshow, with Peggy’s death-defying transition out of the cockpit and onto the top of the wing, and then out onto the wing itself, accompanied with Peggy’s choreographed dance moves and Friedel’s graceful aerobatics.
Not all the action in is the sky over at Wanaka airport. The ‘Warhorses over Wanaka’ contingent, many of them members of the Historical Re-enactment Society, has become a major part of the airshow. With two ‘camps’ set up at the airfield, one Allied and one Axis, the warhorses have authentic WWII clothing, armour and weapons. They carry out fire fights at their camp, as well as on the airfield as part of the airshow, including a major fight involving live firing of 105mm howitzers and armoured vehicles. At the end of the day both sides of the warhorses came together to defend the Airfield as part of the spectacular finale. This year the warhorses had an array of vehicles involved in their display, most from the WWII and Vietnam War eras and included gun tractors, Chevrolet quad ‘mini-trucks’, army motorcycles, a 35 tonnes Abbot self-propelled howitzer, a Unimog, a six-wheel GMC truck and various Jeeps and Landrovers.
The Boogie Woogie Bugle Girls, from Hamilton, offered entertainment through-out the public days of the airshow. With authentic renditions of the Andrew Sisters and classic songs from the WWII era, they added much to the atmosphere and with the warbirds screaming overhead helped solidify the sensation that, despite the cellphones and digital cameras, we were indeed in the 1940s.
Despite the current economic recession the Aviation Trade Fair was a success with many companies setting up stalls in a large dedicated hanger at the airshow. A wide array of services and technologies were on offer, everything from commercial jet engine maintenance to aviator’s sunglasses and toy aircraft. You could even buy an entire aircraft or helicopter! This year saw the incorporation of a Regional Wine and Food Festival into the airshow for the first time, with many vineyards, butchers and cheese makers showing off their products, and alfresco dining extending out onto the lawns. The Classic Cars hanger has become a tradition at Warbirds over Wanaka, with the display of vehicles from the 30s to 50s getting a lot of attention, especially the Indian motorcycles and the Lincoln Continental. The Aviation Museum of Ashburton and the Bundaberg Classic Cockpits took over Hanger 4, and their Canberra bomber, Vampire and DC-3 cockpit sections proved very popular, particularly with the children.
The coordinators of the show had a very difficult time on their hands with the unseasonable weather during the three public days of the airshow, with especially high crosswinds on the Saturday resulting many of the displays being moved or cancelled, including the Finale on the Saturday. It was a testament to the skill and flexibility of the organisers who moved and reallocated the displays to the effect that many of the punters on the Saturday didn’t know they were missing anything. While the rain overnight on Saturday was welcomed by the region’s rural community it proved a headache for a few of airshow participants. Sunday started with low cloud and a cold wind, but soon blossomed into a beautiful day with blue skies.
Warbirds Over Wanaka Finale
The Finale of the 2010 Warbirds over Wanaka on the Sunday was nothing short of spectacular, culminating in a massive airfield attack, with The Warhorses moving in to defend the airfield as multitudes of aircraft made their attack runs, supported by Pyrotechnics. The Harvards, Spitfire, Corsair, Kittyhawks, Zero, La-9, Yak-3M and Mustangs all flew together as what certainly looked, sounded and smelt like the real thing.
The next Warbirds over Wanaka airshow is planned to take place during the 2012 Easter weekend, April 6-8. For more information visit the Warbirds Over Wanaka official website.
Report and photos by Chris Gee ( view portfolio )