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Touring New Zealand 2008
Warbirds over Wanaka


We have always had an interest in aircraft and have been to visit the New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum at Wanaka airfield regularly as well as belonging to the Catalina Group and have flown on the Catalina regularly. We have also visited various other museums with vintage aircraft in New Zealand such as the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Marlborough on the outskirts of Blenheim. We have also written about the Catalina before so will not say more here however our interest will show in the pictures!

First a few samples of the 90 pictures which follow.

All the pictures on this and the following pages provide details of where they were taken if you hover the cursor over them and they can all be clicked to open a larger version in an Overlay (Lightbox style) or Popup Window. The image display options can be changed using the settings links at the bottom right corner of every page which includes pictures. The 'Spanner' icon or the following link takes one to a page covering the Image Display Options in more detail including bandwidth reduction options.

Ever time we visited the New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum at Wanaka we promised ourselves that we will attend the Warbirds over Wanaka event which is held over the Easter weekend in even years. It is nice to look at aircraft in a museum, but it is so much better to see them flying. In 2008, Easter was early and it was just after Pete's birthday. The tickets were an obvious birthday present.

Since the first Warbirds over Wanaka event in Easter 1988, not only has it grown but there have been a number of changes. It was originally established by Sir Tim Wallis, his family and the Alpine Deer Group, now the ownership and organisation of the event is for the first time with the Warbirds over Wanaka Community Trust. And over the 20 years the show has expanded to be one of the Big Four Warbird Airshows in the world. The New Zealand Warbirds Association was formed in 1978 with a Chipmunk and Harvards. Now it is not just a Warbirds event it features a wide variety of classic and vintage aircraft such as WWI fighters and aircraft with historic significance to NZ.

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. There was a dedicated paddock at the airfield where they all camped for the duration of the event, and it was appropriate that the long line of Land Rovers were just over the hedge from their area.

We purchased the Gold Pass tickets, costing $365, which gave 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 all the 2000 people in the stand and all the displays were centered on the Gold area.

Having seen pictures of the queues of cars for the event, with typically 110, 000 people attending over the 3 days, we decided to book a camping slot at the nearby Albion Cricket Ground at Luggate. It only cost $5 per person, per night, and the site was just over 2 miles on foot from the airfield so early booking was essential - most people booked 6 or months before the event. We planned to walk rather than drive each day and found it took about 40 minutes. Some campers who were self-contained had booked to go to the top of the hill which overlooked the airfield, at a serious cost, and were going to be forced to be there from 0700 on Friday until Monday morning. They did have an excellent view down onto the runway, and it was only a short scramble down the hill to get into the show.

The show is open to the public for three days - a practice day and two days with a full flying program from 1000 to 1600. On Good Friday, the practice day, it was very windy and a relatively low attendance with reports of only 14,000 people. Saturday was more busy, in spite of the cold weather, and the roads leading to the site were two lanes and one way only. Sunday was inexplicably quieter although the weather was beautiful. Newspaper reports later stated that under 90,000 people attended over the three days. This is not as high a number as in 2006 or 2004 where the numbers exceeded 110,000 - the weather on the Saturday may have contributed to the reduced numbers as many people just arrive and pay cash at the gate.

Friday, a Practice Day

Friday 21 March was labeled as a practice day, and we walked in to look around the various trade stands. Our favourite aircraft, the Catalina, had already arrived, and many others were flying in and practicing their routines. The winds were however gusting to 30 knots, too high for the first world war aircraft to fly and it made the aerobatic displays very difficult - the wind and turbulence was very evident in the smoke trails. We however had lots of opportunities to take pictures of aircraft on the ground.

It was announced that two aircraft would not be flying as scheduled; the Supermarine Spitfire was not cleared through US Customs in time, and a Lavochkin LA-9 had propeller problems. We were disappointed that the Spitfire was not able to fly because it is very special aircraft and one of the few two-seater mark IX Spitfires in the world as used by the Israeli and Irish Airforces for training.

We returned early to the camp ground as the winds rose to protect our tent. We opened every flap up but even so we feared we would have broken poles as the wind gusts peaked at about 1800 but eventually they dropped a little just before the heavens opened overnight. Fortunately the tent is very waterproof and the rains cut back at dawn.

Saturday and Sunday - The full Flying Display Programme

On Saturday and Sunday the shows are identical, and there is a lot of careful choreography to ensure that the timing works. We noticed that some of the flying displays were best on Sunday, having been further ‘practiced’ on the Saturday. The main difference between the two flying days was the weather. On Saturday it was very overcast and cloudy with considerable wind whereas on Sunday it was blue skies, hot and sunny and so calm that the smoke often did not disperse from in front of the stands. The different conditions meant that the aircraft took off and landed in different directions on the two days. It also meant that the very old aircraft were able to give a very different display when the conditions were calm than when it was windy. The following report uses pictures from both days, in some cases the dull background was an advantage, in other cases the calm blue skies gave a better background, especially when smoke was used during aerobatics. The images often indicate which day when you hover over them.

The flying programme for Saturday and Sunday began at 1015 with an opening sequence by the two De Havilland Vampire jets, and ended with a splash of pyrotechnics which gave an indication of the mixture of flying and fireballs to look forward to. There are only 10 Vampires currently flying worldwide so the two NZ based examples represent 20% the of the flying total.

This was swiftly followed at 1020 by a nice aerobatic display from the MX2, and at 1025 a display by the Thunder Mustang – a beautiful ¾ scale version of the original P51 Mustang. There was always something to see, whether it was aircraft taking off to get positioned for their display or other aircraft showing their stuff. We had chosen our seats carefully in the Gold Pass grandstand and settled down for the day.

For us both, the highlight was the display by British, German and French replica fighters of WWI. These were the French Nieuport II, designed by Gustave Delage in 1914 and pressed into service in 1916, the British Sopwith Camel, the Pfalz DIII and two Fokker triplanes. The three German Fighters flew ‘against’ the French and British aircraft. The Nieuport and the Camel are both powered by the Le Rohne Rotary engines.

At 1050 these were replaced in the sky by ‘The Roaring Forties’ Harvard Formation Aerobatics Team. We had already seen their display at Napier and although they are not a professional aerobatics group they have extremely experienced pilots and always put on an excellent display.

These were followed by one of the world’s great all-time Unlimited Freestyle Aerobatics champions, Jurgis Kairys who came to WOW for the third time and brought his Juka, designed and built by himself. He also brought a Sukhoi 29 flown by Japan’s Yoshi Muroya and a Yak 50 flown by Kiwi Rob Fry. Together the trio make up the Air Bandits. The idea was to use three different aircraft on a set of different flight paths to provide ‘organised chaos’. All three aircraft use the same nine-cylinder M14P radial engine. They gave a very precise and professional display, as expected from full time professionals.

The morning was obviously going to bring a lot of good flying! Next on display, at 1120, were the Yak-52s. Designed in Russia and manufactured in Romania, the Yak-52 was not used as a military aircraft. There were six Yak-52s flying together.

At 1135 the aircraft from the Vietnam era gave a display which also enabled the ground troops from Warhorses at Wanaka to take part in a typical offensive operation. The US Cessna Bird Dog - which carried out recognisance directed proceedings from above - was retrieved as a wreck out of Vietnam 19 years ago. The T-28 Trojan was the successor to the Harvard, and first flown in 1949. It was later re-engined and fitted with hard points and an arrestor hook for the US Navy including service in Vietnam. In the re-enactment the Cessna Bird Dog spotted an 'enemy' village and calling in the artillery and troops in 2 UH-1 Huey's and 4 MD-500 light choppers to insert troops with the T-28 as Close Air Support.

We had known very little about New Zealand involvement with the Vietnam War. It had a relatively low-key role in Vietnam, with C130 Hercules and B-170 Bristol Freighter used for combat support and their helicopter pilots attached to RAAF, and strike pilots attached to USAF in Cessna Birddogs, Cessna 337 0-2As and OV-10 North American Broncos.

At 1150 we expected to see the RAAF DHC-4 Caribou, a light transport aircraft capable of very short take-off and landings, and also a veteran of the Vietnam War. The programme mentioned there would be three Caribou but none arrived. Instead there was a display of water bombing from a local built Pacific Aerospace Cresco which dropped 2 tons of water on the runway in front of the stand.

By now it was 1200 and time for the section titled Lunchtime Entertainment.

The first display at lunch time was a model aircraft. We expected nothing special but international champion Frazer Briggs gave a beautiful display of his 42% model Edge. It was a large model aircraft with 150cc engine, weighed 20kgs and had a 2 to 1 power to weight ratio. Some of the maneuvers seemed almost unbelievable and defied normal aerodynamics and it took a look at our video to convince us we had really seen some of them. The picture below shows the climb out following an inverted transition to a vertical climb which lowered the tail to under a foot above the ground and held it for several seconds before the climb.

This display was followed by the Gyrate Eagle, a tandem two seater gyroplane built in Germany. We had watched his practice flight on Friday and so decided this was a good time to get up and fetch lunch. The winds had been difficult on Friday and the display on Sunday, in calmer weather, gave a better chance for the pilot to demonstrate it. We are not sure where it fitted into a Warbirds airshow.

Our Gold Pass tickets had also included a food voucher for $15, which was the same price as the mains for sale at the Gold Pass canteen. On Saturday we chose to eat from the public food stands where for $6 each we purchased a good venison burger, and added $2 for a tub of chips. On Sunday we cashed in the vouchers and paid $6 for a smoked salmon wrap accompanied by two $12 brunch baguettes with bacon egg and hash brown in a hunk of herb bread. It was not as good value, but both meals were much better than the food available at UK airshows.

On Friday we had also watched the practice races between Jurgis Kairys in his Juka and a Formula 3000 race car. From a standing start it was no contest; the car won easily although the Juka tried to exploit the ground effect by flying just above the runway. It was a more even race when the aircraft was already airborne. Just when we thought the Juka had lost we noticed that he was flying inverted. It was all very good fun. The ground clearance on the race car was so low that there were sparks as it bottoms out on the runway and on the Sunday standing start run Jurgis held The Juka down to about one foot the whole way down the runway beside the car. On Friday the car had to call on its support vehicle, but at the weekend it had no problems.

The programme continued with a flypast by 9 de Havillands, mainly Tiger Moths but led by a Fox Moth with two German Klemm 35 WWII trainers in Swedish Airforce markings. The DH 83 Fox Moth was designed late in 1931as a very cheap and economical light passenger aircraft and the first airliner in New Zealand and was similar to a Tiger Moth but with a larger fuselage with a small cabin for two or three passengers below and in front of the pilot who was still in an open cockpit. Many components including the engine, undercarriage and wings were identical to those being used for the Tiger Moth then being built in large quantities as a military trainer. The pilot sat in a raised cockpit behind the small enclosed passenger cabin, which was usually fitted with four seats for short range hops or three for longer range uses.

They were followed into the air by a the bright red Beech D17S Staggerwing, the iconic and totally luxurious private aircraft of the Art Deco era which put on a separate display. The Staggerwing was designed as a large, powerful, and fast biplane built specifically for the business executive. The name comes from the top wing being set, or staggered, behind the bottom wing and was first flown in 1932. Each Staggerwing was custom-built by hand. The luxurious cabin, trimmed in leather and mohair, could hold up to five passengers. It set the standard for private passenger airplanes for many years to come. It was the executive jet of the 1930s.

The wing configuration with the upper wing staggered behind the lower resulted in a design that maximized the pilot's visibility while minimizing the aircraft's tendency to stall. The retractable landing gear, uncommon at that time, combined with streamlining  produced an aircraft that could achieve a top speed of over 200 miles per hour able to climb at 1,600 feet per minute to over 20,000 feet. The Staggerwing's speed also made it a favourite of the air racers of the 1930s. The D17S was a late version with an extended fuselage and was the most popular version with many also built for the military. 

This was followed by a Warhorse display – a military re-enactment with pyrotechnics.

At 1230 Jurgis was back to give his spectacular solo display in his Juka. This included a 14 turn spin, which we all counted as it was easy to see with smoke on and a rolling tailslide hanging on his prop as well as a number of interesting 'tumbling' maneuvers. The aircraft is his own design and build. His final pass by the Gold Pass grandstand had everyone applauding, which made photographs difficult with everyone waving their caps in the air.

The afternoon programme continued with the RNZAF display. For the next hour we saw the C130 Hercules, and then the descent of the Kiwi Blue Parachute team, followed by a Sea Sprite, Bell Sioux and Iroquois helicopter pairs.

For many people the highlight aerobatic display was the RNZAF Red Checkers Formation Aerobatic Team. We had seen them fly many times, and each display is impeccable.

After seeing the home team they were followed at 1335 by the Royal Australian Air Force display. 2006 was their first visit to Wanaka and in 2008 the timing matched their visit to NZ for training in the mountains. The newly acquired C17 Globemaster did not manage to fly in for the display on Saturday because of the weather, but she arrived safely overhead from Christchurch on Sunday. She is the biggest aircraft ever to come to Wanaka and is too heavy to be able to land on the runway, hence she can only fly over. It is a high-winged, four engined, heavy transporter and to give a scale has three times the carrying capacity of a C130 Hercules. But she was not the star of the show. That was for the RAAF’s F-111 twin-engine swing-wing aircraft which made a noisy arrival even flying subsonic. It proceeded to dump and burn fuel, which was not something usually seen and created a massive flaming tail, and everyone reached for their camera. Like the C17, the F-111 flew in from Christchurch.

The Main Warbird Display began at 1400

The first set piece was based in the Pacific Theatre and was a re-enactment of attacks on shipping at Rabaul during 1944. It began with the Catalina attacking a submarine (beached from the river Clutha below!) . It was intercepted by two Japanese Nangchang CJ-6's fighters before these were intercepted by the two P-40 Kittyhawks and a FG-1D Corsair. All 3 intercepting fighters have local history as one P-40 was operated by the RAAF in the South Pacific in WW2 and the other P-40 and the Corsair were operated by the RNZAF in the Pacific islands during WW2. P-40 is unique in that it is fitted with 6 operational .50 cal Browning machine guns and all ammo feeds etc. These were loaded with blank ammunition and several burst were fired as the P-40 attacked a target on the airfield for what is believed to be a world first at an airshow and the first time a P-40 has fired its guns since WWII. On the Saturday, which was dull, the flashes could be clearly seen by eye and just on our video. The ejected cases were collected and sold as fundraising venture for the Warbirds Over Wanaka Community Trust and New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum. The cases have been signed by the two Kittyhawk pilots, Frank Parker and Garth Hogan. The .50 caliber guns, and all of the other items necessary to operate them added nearly half ton of weight to the airframe.

Followed at 1430 by two P51 Mustangs.

Then at 1445 there was a display by aircraft from the Russian front: the Polikarpov I-16 and I-153, the Hawker Hurricane and Yak 3-M. The I-16 dates from 1933 and was the first fighter in the world to go into service combining cantilever monoplane wings with a retractable landing gear. A total of 7,005 single seat and 1,639 two-seaters were produced. Six wrecks were restored in Russia for Sir Tim Wallis and are the only flying examples in the world. The I-16 was flown by multiple unlimited world Aerobatic champion Jurgis Karyis who showed the potential of this stubby little fighter surprising many by performing 2 snap rolls at the top of a loop. He was having a busy day. The I-153 dates from 1938 and is one of the fastest biplanes ever produced. 3,437 examples were built. Three wrecks were rebuilt in Russia for Sir Tim Wallis during the 1990's. Having seen the two aircraft fly for the first time this year we now understand why Sir Tim Wallis made so much effort to get hold of examples of the type, and get them restored and rebuilt. Although over 13,000 were built, the Hawker Hurricane on display P3351/DR393 is one of only ten airworthy examples. It is a famous RAF fighter, capable of more than 300 mph.

At 1515 it was the turn of the NZ Warbird Assoc Jet team, with their 2 DH Vampires, 1 L39 and A37 Dragonfly in a very well flown display of mixed type aerobatics.

1535 gives a final pyrotechnic display, followed by a massed flypast

The show finally closed at 1600, and everyone was asked to stand and remember those who had flown in these aircraft.

2008 also celebrates 60 years of Land Rover, and as well as being Warbirds over Wanaka Official Vehicle Sponsor there were two lines of Land Rovers of various vintages which lined the pedestrian entry road. The Warhorses at Wanaka also use vintage Land Rovers in their displays. Vintage Fire Engines were parked on the grass next to the Land Rovers.

Details of the events are found at Warbirds Over Wanaka and the many of the details of the flying display programme are extracted from the official souvenir programme. We have bought the DVDs of earlier Warbirds over Wanaka and can recommend them. There is also an excellent book on Tim Wallace "Hurricane Tim: The Story of Sir Tim Wallis" by Neville Peat ISBN: 9781877361173 which makes interesting background reading although Warbirds only forms a small part of the story. The New Zealand Warbirds Association is the overarching body for almost all Warbird flying in New Zealand and their web site also has an excellent list of Links to NZ Aviation Sites. We have also used Wikipedia as one of the initial sources of our background information on some off the less common aircraft. Any comments, corrections or clarifications are always welcome - click on our name at the bottom of any page. Warbirds over Wanaka 2010 will be Easter 2010 - April 2, 3 and 4.

I have retrospectively added a YouTube video of Warbirds over Wanaka 2008

. This covers the practice day and the two display days and is about 80 minutes long with the 'natural' sound in the background od engines, commentary etc.

The saga of our New Zealand Holiday in 2008 continues in Part 5 - the Journey North

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