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Warbirds Over Wanaka 2016 - I
(Touring New Zealand - part 16)

Introduction and Background

This was our second time at Warbirds over Wanaka, the first being Warbirds over Wanaka 2008. The show is held every other year over the Easter Weekend. Easter Friday is a Practice Day, the Saturday and Sunday have an identical full flying program and it is often possible to have flights on some of the aircraft on the Monday and there are also limited opportunities to fly after the flight program has been completed on Saturday and Sunday.

There were a number of differences in the aircraft this year compared to 2008. In 2008 there were many First World War aircraft and aircraft developed between the wars whilst this time there were no WW1 aircraft and some of the interesting early WW2 fighters such as the Polikarpov I-16 and I-153 were missing as was the Hurricane. These were all aircraft which had been obtained and rebuilt for Sir Tim Wallis and the New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum at Wanaka. In fact the New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum at Wanaka is no more and is now "Warbirds and Wheels" with an emphasis much more on "Wheels" than "Warbirds" and certainly not on flying aircraft - a great loss.

Warbirds over Wanaka was originally established by Sir Tim Wallis, his family and the Alpine Deer Group. Now the ownership and organisation of the event is with the Warbirds over Wanaka Community Trust assisted by over 300 volunteers. Over the 28 years since the first show in Easter 1988 it expanded to be one of the Big Four Warbird Airshows in the world although there are now two other major players in NZ with the one at Omaka in alternative years arguably being the prime airshow for early WW1 aircraft. Warbirds over Wanaka has over time itself changed from being not just a Warbirds event and features a wide variety of classic and vintage aircraft with historic significance to NZ as well as some of the new Light Sport Aircraft. A number of the air forces of the world support the show with airborne displays including NZ, France, Australia and the USA. In a good year Warbirds over Wanaka can attract 110,000 visitors, a good fraction of the population of South Island!

Any airshow would be missing something without some aerobatic displays and there were many at Wanaka, mostly formation displays by both true Warbirds and Military Trainers of the past and present, but the highlight was once more from Jurgis Kairys, two-time World Aerobatic Champion, flying an aircraft of his own design, and paired for the less insane parts of his display with Rob Fry. This Siberian born Lithuanian is now 63 having been flying world class aerobatics for 40 years and still pulls 10G during his displays without even a pressure suit.

Additionally there is the display of classic military equipment and hardware which complements the Warbirds aircraft, demonstrated by the Warhorses at Wanaka. This group of enthusiasts are interested in the preservation of military vehicles, equipment, weapons and uniforms. They combined this with an interest in their use and history, trying to make their displays and re-enactments as correct authentic and professional as possible. They also enjoy the firing of weapons and field guns which are timed to match the aerial displays.

Over lunch there were also a number of less formal displays - this year included a the first public display ever of the Martin Jetpack , Skydiving, a Warhorse Display and a Classic Aircraft Flypast and a Bike versus Plane race featuring Jurgis Kairys (more of him latter) - there should have been a sailplane aerobatic display led by Gavin Wills which never came to pass.

We purchased the Gold Pass tickets, costing $399, which gave priority parking and access to the event for all 3 days, together with grandstand seats alongside the runway, a large tented area with food and tables to sit, and access to rows of Gold Pass facilities. There was sufficient seating for 1500 people in the stand and all the airborn displays were centred on the Gold area. The Gold Pass holders also had access to the flight line for a period every display day before flying started and could get as close as one wanted to the aircraft and talk to pilots and crew. We could even watch the rearming of guns on the P-40 Kittyhawk and even see at close quarters a test firing, quite an experience to be with 15 metres of three guns firing (blanks, but only jus, as they need enough power to activate the re-loading mechanism). Pauline has a picture showing ejected cartridges in mid air amidst the considerable smoke from the second firing, she jumped so much the first time she missed the picture. The P-40 Kittyhawk belonging to and flown by Liz Needham is the only private rearmed WW2 fighter in the world. The cartridge cases from the show were collected, signed and sold for charity.

A Full Day at the Airshow

Gold Pass opportunity to Walk the Line 0900 - 0930

Both full days started with the opportunity to walk the line and get up close to the aircraft and take pictures and looking back we found that we had concentrated on the main WW2 fighters - the Spitfire, the ME-109, the P-40 Kittyhawks, in particular the gun installations, the Russian Yak 3, the Mustang P51Ds and the big Pacific Carrier based aircraft, namely the Corsair and Avenger especially interesting when the wings were folded or bomb bays open. We also got a chance to get a good close look at the Avro Anson and, of course, the Catalina. We got some nice pictures of some of the older aircraft, Tiger moths, Fox Moth, Harvards, Beech Staggerwing, and the Yak 52 trainers as well as the Air Bandits aerobatic aircraft. The only aircraft missing were those only operating from the runways including the jets such as the Vampires and Strikemasters and the various airforce aircraft from New Zealand, Australia and the USA although some of the transport aircraft were available to everyone to walk through including the RNZAF C130H Hercules and the French CASA CN-235-300. It was also difficult to get close to most of the helicopters as operations were ongoing in their case.

We will include our close up pictures of the aircraft on the ground with the main descriptions of the aircraft which will will come latter.

Practice Day and Lakeside program

The practice day was less of a full run through of the program than on our last visit and most of the pictures from it will be included under the aircraft write-ups to avoid duplication.

The most interesting part of the day was not at the airfield but in Wanaka on the lake shore where several of the amphibious aircraft landed on the Lake including the Catalina which is now restricted to fresh lake water to avoid the inherent corrosion of salt water in the sea. It was marvelous to see her not only back in operation but it was the first time we had seen her land and take off from water.

The other aircraft to land on the lake was a Light Sport Aircraft, a Progressive Aerodyne SeaRey ZK-WET which claimed to have just as short a takeoff run from water as from land. It certainly seemed very manoevrable on the water although it looked to have very little freeboard. You can see the sharp turn before its takeoff in on of the following pictures. From what I found on the Internet, some 600 have been built from kits (~US$40,000) as well as many factory finished aircraft and one has just completed the first solo circumnavigation of the globe by a single-engine flying boat.

Flying Program

The main flying program was from 1000 - 1230 and 1330 - 1600 with additional lunchtime entertainment. We saw most of the program through both days and they will be combined in this write up. The first day started dull and humid giving some fascinating pictures showing propeller vortices but less spectacular flying pictures whilst the best flying pictures came the second day with almost clear skies and clear air giving a magnificent backdrop of the hills and mountains surrounding Wanaka. Both of us were using identical cameras, Canon Powershot A720 ISs with 6x optical zoom. They were mostly used fixed focus or sometimes pre-focused and the optical viewfinder so rarely found on compact cameras was essential to capture the moving aircraft. Pete also took some video with his Sony Camera but with only a screen or pointing over the top the results were less sure. some of the aircraft flew both morning and afternoon and also in set piece 'battles' so this write up does not fully follow the program but more the order of first appearance. I am considering re-ordering to cover the WW2 aircraft in one group then the Aerobatics and other displays. I will see how it comes out.

Buchon ME-109 (HA-1112)

This aircraft received the top billing in the Airshow Literature. According to the figures in Wikipedia there are only 10 ME-109s flying out of 35,000 built and 7 of them are the Buchon version built in Spain and based on the ME-109-G2 but (re) engined with a 1,600 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin 500-45 engine and Rotol propeller, both purchased as surplus from the UK in 1954. This engine altered the lines of the Bf 109's airframe visually. Many have survived because of their late production and their extensive use in WW2 films such as "Battle of Britain" which purchased 27 at auction from the Spanish Air Force in 1968. She flew extensively during the show, both in individual aerobatic displays where the power and manoevrability were obvious and in the set pieces including mock dogfights with the Spitfire.

Spitfire Mk IX

Whilst there was a lot of information about the Me-109 and most of the other aircraft in the WOW program there was nothing at all about the Spitfire, although the commentary gave a fair amount of information. This led me to do some background reading on the internet about the particular aircraft and it's background and I also found a book by Jonathan Glacey "Spitfire, The Biography" which is more recent than those I have back in the UK and gave a bettter understanding of the various marks than I have found. It was an ex libris copy from the Rotorua Library which looked as if it hardly been opened for the great some of $2 and has distracted me for several hours from getting on with writing up!

First a bit about this particular Spitfire, a Mark IX which served in several theatres during the WW2 took 6 years and 35,000 hours to get back into a pristine flying state achieved through the efforts of Brendon Deere who allows it to be flown at public events as a tribute to his uncle Alan Deere one of the best known NZ WW2 aces who flew an identical aircraft. It is painted in the markings of Alan Deere who, as a Wing leader was ableto have his initials on the aircraft hence the registration AL on the side. His overall score was 22 confirmed kills and 10 probables.

This aircraft was built in September 1944 and served in the final stages of the war with the Royal Air Force in northern Italy. After the war it served with the Italian, Israeli and Burmese Air Forces. Its final flight was in July 1956 and it then spent 26 years as a gate guardian at a Burmese Air Force Base. In 1999 it was sold to an American collector and went to the UK before coming to New Zealand for restoration. The restoration has resulted in a substantially original aircraft with most fuselage frames and wing ribs able to be refurbished or repaired back to airworthy condition. The restoration followed original wartime materials specifications and including all aluminium being sourced in the UK as well as original equipment and fittings coming from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, USA and Britain.

I will now try to place the Mk IXs place in the development of the Spitfire. There were a confusingly high number of Marks as responses were made to particular requirements and threats, often out of the logical order. To confuse things further wings were sometimes clipped to improve roll rate within a Mark or latter bubble canopies used for better visibility and models were upgraded from Mark to Mark. As a vast simplification I will say that the Mk IX is the last of the classic Spitfire design in large scale production with the Merlin Engine, the following Spitfires had the much larger Griffon engine resulting in a much longer nose. The main fighter variants were the Mk I/II (Used in Battle of Britain, 2500), Mk V (6787), Mk IX (5665) and Mk XIV (Griffon Engine 957). In addition there were a large number of important photo-reconnaissance versions. The main differences were increased engine power from the Merlin with a two stage supercharger and in armarment with cannons being added. The Mk IX had the speed and firepower to be more than a match for the ME-109G and FW190 at the time, in fact it was developed in great haste to counter the threat from the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 which completely outclassed the Mk V Spitfire when it came into service in the late autumn of 1941.

The Yak-3

The Yak-3 was an outstanding Soviet fighter. It was a formidable dog figther and was regarded as one of the finest interceptors of WWII. Its high-power to weight ratio allowed its excellent performance and it proved to be very robust and easily maintained. It complemented the Lavochkin La-7 which was primarily was used as the interceptor. It first flew in October 1943 and went into full service in July 1944. In the early part of the war the Soviet aircraft were completely outclassed by the Me109 and other German aircraft and lost some 80,000 aircraft between 1941 and May 1945 and the Yak-3 helped reverse that - on 14th July 1944 a flight of 18 Yak-3s encountered a flightof 30 Luftwaffe fighters and destroyed 15 for the loss of one aircraft. An warning was issued not to engage any Yak fighters without an aircoolerunder the nose, an easy way to distinguish it from the less agile Yak-1. The plywood Yak-3 was liked by pilots and ground crew as it was robust, easy to maintain and a highly successful dogfighter. Some French pilots who flew them with the Russians rated them even higher than the Spitfire or Mustang. It had a top speed of 407 mph and had a single 20mm canon firing through the propeller and two 12.7 mm machine guns.

It was so delightful to fly that in 1991 some Californians approached Yakovlev in Russia to build a new series of Yak-3s after the original jigs were discovered at the YAK Design Bureau. None of the nearly 5,000 YAK-3s built during the the Great Patrotic War had survived in an air worthy state. Wooden wings were replaced with a new design metal wing and an American Allison V-12 engine replaced the almost extinct original Klimov V-12. Some of the original craftsmen took part in the building they followed on the original series of serial numbers. This aircraft was one of ten new-build YAKS completed by the Yakovlev Design Bureau in the early 1990s. The starting and the majority of the flap, gear etc operation is pneumatic as hydralics tended to freeze in the adverse weather conditions on the steppes.

North American P-51D Mustangs

The British inspired, American built Mustang was one of the most potent and versatile fighters of WWII, operated as a long range escort and in the close air support role. It became the first fighter capable of accompanying American bombers all the way to Berlin and back. When first flown in 1940 it was powered with an Allison engine. But later models were powered by a Packard built Merlin which provided it with considerable extra power at higher altitudes. The aircraft with the yellow rudder is called the 'Dove of Peace', it was initially called the 'Angel of Death' but the CO insisted that it was renamed.

Curtiss P40 Kittyhawks

The Auckland based P-40N Kittyhawk Currawong is the single engine, single seat, all metal fighter and ground attack aircraft first flew in 1938. It was used by the Airforces of twenty eight nations, including the Royal New Zealand Airforce. A total of 13,738 P-40 aircraft were built during the Second World War. Today only a handful remain flying around the world, this aircraft belonged to the Royal Australian Airforce. It was recovered from the Northern Coast of New Guinea where it had been abandoned at the end of the Second World War. Its restoration started in 1997. Work was completed three years later and the P-40 made its first public debut flight in 2000.

The second Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk came down under for the RNZAF in 1942. Withdrawn from use in 1945 it was rebuilt for flight in 1997 at East Tamaki. Shipped to England in 1999 it returned to New Zealand in 2003 and was converted to a two-seater aircraft. It is actually quite difficult to see the conversion, it just looks like an extra area of cockpit extending back and it can be covered in panels. It is again normally at Ardmore.

Three hundred P-40s were allocated to the RNZAF under Lend Lease, for use in the Pacific Theatre, although four of these were lost in transit. The aircraft soon proved to be successful in air combat against the Japanese between 1942 and 1944. The P-40 pilots claimed 99 aerial victories, whilst losing twenty in combat. The overwhelming majority of RNZAF victories were scored against Japanese A6M Zeros and Aicha D3A ‘Val’ dive bombers. Geoff Fisken was the highest scoring British Commonwealth ace in the Pacific. The New Zealand pilot shot down fourteen aircraft, eight of them while flying a P-40 Kittyhawk. From late 1943 and 1944 the RNZAF P-40s were increasingly used against ground targets, including the innovative use of naval depth charges as improvised high capacity bombers. In late 1944 the P-40s returned to New Zealand as advanced fighter trainers and were replaced by F4U Corsairs.

The P-40 Kittyhawk belonging to and flown by Liz Needham is the only private rearmed WW2 fighter in the world. We watched the rearming of guns and saw at close quarters a test firing, quite an experience to be with 15 metres of three guns firing (blanks, but only jus, as they need enough power to activate the re-loading mechanism). Pauline has a picture showing ejected cartridges in mid air amidst the considerable smoke from the second firing, she jumped so much the first time she missed the picture. The cartridge cases from the show were collected, signed and sold for charity. The Kittyhawks did some excellent formation takeoffs and landinss in front of the stands but I have concentrated in the following pictures on the more unique pictures of the arming and test firing of the guns.

Goodyear FG-1D Corsair

First flown in 1939 it was the first American aircraft to exceed 400mph in level flight. Operated by the US Marines and US Navy the type was also operated by a number of other countries including Great Britain and New Zealand. The Corsair helped gain air superiority by the Allies in the Pacific. Powered by a 2000hp Pratt & Whitney radial engine it is the last airworthy example of over 400 operated by the RNZAF.


That largely completes the WW2 fighter aircraft. We will continue in the next part with the WW2 Bombers, Reconnaisance and Transport aircraft and Trainers moving forwards in time. Classic Aircraft, Aerobatic displays, Light Sport Aircraft and the 'Set Piece Battles' are also in this part.


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Content revised: 18th July, 2020