While the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island is internationally renown for its beauty and outdoors lifestyle, it is also home to one of the largest events to be held in the region, the famous Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow. The 2018 Easter weekend saw Wanaka’s small rural airport came alive to a constant stream of aerial activity from the over 80 aircraft that attended. Established by local aviation and business entrepreneur Sir Tim Wallis, this years show was particularly significant as it highlighted the events 30th anniversary. Those who attended were treated to a wonderful range of flying and static displays that included everything from warbirds of yesteryear right up to state of the art military fast jets. The opening of the show was heralded by a fly past of an Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) NH Industries NH-90 helicopter with Sir Tim on board, in the door waving at the audience as the helicopter made its way along the crowd line, a great sight for all to behold.
Without doubt one of the stars of the show was the Hispano Aviation HA-1112 M1L BUCHON. The BUCHON was developed by Spain following the Second World War as a licence built version of the German Messerschmitt Me 109 G model. The BUCHON displayed at Wanaka is a veteran of the 1969 motion picture classic “The Battle of Britain” and more recently played a role in the film “Dunkirk”. The example at Wanaka was displayed in the scheme that featured in the film “Dunkirk” and is owned by the Aircraft Restoration Company of Duxford in the UK. The BUCHON was beautifully displayed at Wanaka by Duxford based pilot John Romain.
As arch nemesis of the 109, the Supermarine SPITFIRE was arguably one of the finest fighters of the Second World War. The Supermarine SPITFIRE Mk IX at Wanaka was displayed in the markings of No 485(NZ) Squadron then based in the UK and was superbly flown by Brendon Deere. Approximately 22,000 of the type were built with this particular machine owned by the Deere family and restored to honour Air Commodore Alan Deere who served with the RAF for forty years. Two beautiful examples of the North American P-51D MUSTANG provided a wonderful display of this very formidable fighter. A highlight of their performance was one MUSTANG performing a very low pass, canopy back with the pilot waving at the crowd as a wonderful tribute to the legionary Kiwi Spitfire pilot, the late Ray Hanna AFC. This particular MUSTANG was represented in the markings of Second World War USAAF machine “Dove of Peace”.
While perhaps not sharing the same fame as the Me 109, SPITFIRE or MUSTANG, the Soviet Yakovlev YAK 3 is considered by many as one of the finest fighters of its time. This single engine fighter of wooden construction played a pivotal role during the Second World War in gaining control of the skies over Eastern Europe. Two YAK 3 fighters added to the already superb range of aircraft in attendance. Unfortunately however, on the Friday one of the YAK 3 aircraft came to grief when it collided with a cherry picker while landing causing substantial damage to the aircraft, thankfully the pilot emerged unharmed.
The “ROARING FORTIES” display team consisting of five North American HARVARD/T-6/SNJ trainers provided a spectacular display of close formation flying. The HARVARD display later culminated with the Marsh Harvard Mass Formation consisting of no less than 11 HARVARDS taking to the air to perform a mass flypast. The Yakovlev YAK 52 Aerobatic Display Team comprising of nine cold war era YAK 52 trainers also thrilled the crowd with some very colourful precision flying displays. Multi-engine warbirds were also very well represented at Wanaka by the superb Avro ANSON Mk 1 owned by Bill Reid, the only remaining airworthy wartime example of its type in the world. Bill put on a wonderful display recreating a battle scene for the film “Dunkirk” involving mock aerial battles with the BUCHON. The ANSON was utilised by RAAF and the RNZAF in the navigation training role during the Second World War with the RNZAF operating 23 of the type. Originally built in 1935, this particular aircraft is the result of a 10 year restoration project and is now a regular on the NZ airshow circuit.
Another multi-engine performer included the pristine Consolidated PBY-5A CATALINA of the Catalina Preservation Society Inc. The RNZAF operated 56 CATALINA flying boats from 1943 to 1953 being eventually being replaced by the Short SUNDERLAND. The society’s CATALINA made for an impressive sight at the show while also providing rides for paying customers. On the Saturday, the YAK 52 team also took part in a brief display over Lake Wanaka featuring a formation flypast lead by the CATALINA. As part of this display, the CATALINA later performed a landing and take-off on the lake which made for a truly impressive sight for the hundreds of spectators watching from the shoreline.
Civilian owned jet warbirds were also very well represented by an immaculate Aero Vodochody L-39 ALBATROS jet trainer and two De Havilland VAMPIRE fighters. The L-39 ALBATROS, owned by Greg Mossman, was skilfully flown by Paul “Sticky” Strickland, a former USAF F-16 pilot. Both VAMPIRES performed some very smooth formation flypasts which also included the L-39. The DeHavilland VAMPIRE first entered RNZAF service in 1951 and was the first operational jet aircraft to serve with the RNZAF. The type was operated by Nos 14 and 75 Squadrons of the RNZAF until 1972.
Overseas participation was extensive at Wanaka and included two USAF Lockheed Martin F-16C FIGHTING FALCON aircraft of the F-16 Demonstration Team based at Misawa air force base Japan, the team thrilling the crowd with an impressive display of speed, power and agility. The F-16 is a multi-role, air superiority fighter that first entered service in 1978 and is still in service with many air forces worldwide thanks to a series of capability upgrades. The USAF was also represented by a Boeing C-17 GLOBEMASTER III strategic transport of the C-17 Globemaster Demonstration Team which provided a low and very graceful handling display. The C-17 attending Wanaka was from the USAF 15th Wing based at Hickam-Pearl Harbour Hawaii.
As one would expect, New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) participation was also strong at Wanaka with impressive displays by the RNZAF BLACK FALCONS and KIWI BLUE parachute display team. The BLACK FALCONS were formed in 2000 and consists of Qualified Flight Instructors from Central Flying School and No 14 Squadron based at RNZAF Base Ohakea in the North Island. The BLACK FALCONS provided an extremely tight and well orchestrated display of close precision flying in their black Beechcraft T-6C TEXAN II trainers while their use of smoke further enhanced an already spectacular display. A Boeing B 757 transport of the RNZAF provided a very spirited display of handing and agility, particularly impressive when you consider the size of the aeroplane involved. The B 757 is utilised by the RNZAF primarily for the transport of military personnel to operational areas such as the Middle East and the Solomon Islands, the B 757 is also utilised by the NZDF in the disaster relief and medical evacuation roles. A RNZAF Lockheed C-130H HERCULES also provided a flair drop demonstration much to the delight of the crowd.
A RNZAF NH90 Battlefield Support Helicopter gave a great display of handling and versatility demonstrating the manoeuvrability of this large helicopter. The RNZAF operate eight NH-90 helicopters replacing the Vietnam war era Bell UH-1 IROQUIOS. Each NH-90 can carry up to 18 troops (light order) or 12 troops (fully equipped) or up to nine stretchers plus medical staff. The French Air Force was well also represented by a CASA CN-235-300 medium range transport. The CN-235 is primarily utilised in the troop transport and maritime surveillance roles with the aircraft at Wanaka providing a great demonstration of short field take-off and landings, a stunning sight against the regions beautiful mountains and scenery. The French Air Force currently operate 27 CN-235-300 aircraft with the CN-235 at Wanaka being based at Tontouta in New Caledonia.
Verdict: Warbirds Over Wanaka was a great event that featured a superb range of flying and static displays.
With an very impressive range of local warbirds in attendance, not to mention many international guests, Warbirds Over Wanaka is a must see for anyone even remotely interested in the field of aviation. And what better way was there to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Warbirds Over Wanaka than by conducting such a successful show ! !
Our special thanks goes to, Ed Taylor, Celia Crosbie and the Warbirds Over Wanaka Media team for their wonderful support during this event!
Rob Hynes / CHK6
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