Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow New Zealand - feature stories

By: Warbirds Over Wanaka  05-Apr-2012
Keywords: Airshow

Kiwis Celebrate a Proud Tradition of Military Aviation

New Zealand may be a small country but it has a big reputation for contributing to war efforts over the decades, in a huge variety of conflicts worldwide. Kiwi fighter pilots were renowned for their skill and daring in WWII flying under the auspices of the RAF. Since that time New Zealand has continued its traditions in an array of military support, transport and humanitarian roles.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force has been involved in operations in Malaya, Vietnam, Iran, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Antarctica, Bougainville and beyond.

It will celebrate its 75thAnniversary this year, looking back on an extraordinary period of history. An essential part of those celebrations will take place at the Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow during the Easter Holiday break.

The variety of aircraft that have been associated with RNZAF activity make a fascinating line-up and, incredibly, a large proportion of these will be flying together at the airshow which takes place near the southern town of Wanaka in the South Island.  

The delightful Tiger Moth will be one of the earliest RNZAF aircraft represented at the airshow. Tiger Moths were used as trainers at New Zealand-based flying schools to prepare young pilots who were provided to the RAF. They were built at a factory here and were favoured for being cheap and easy to maintain. They proved relatively simple to fly for a tail-dragger but required a firm hand on the controls. This allowed instructors to easily ascertain any weakness among the students in this department.

After the war the Tiger Moth went on to become a popular choice as an agricultural work horse throughout New Zealand, particularly for aerial topdressing of fertiliser. Tiger Moths are a popular sight at airshows because of their simple charm and while they lack the speed and the horsepower of later RNZAF aircraft, many enthusiasts believe they make-up for it in personality.

In WWII Kiwi pilots took the controls of what we now think of as that era’s classic fighters, the Supermarine Spitfire, P-40 Kittyhawk,  P51 Mustang and the Vought Corsair. All of these machines will be present at the celebrations, with most flying formations reminiscent of those troubled times.

A Spitfire recently restored in memory of Kiwi fighter pilot Alan Deere represented a five year project for members of his family based in the North Island. Air Commodore Deere, who was raised in Westport and later Wanganui, was a highly distinguished pilot who served with the RAF for forty years. His nephew, Brendon Deere from Marton, said the machine’s first flight since its five-year long restoration was in March 2010. The Mark IX Spitfire was built in 1944 and decorated in honour of Al Deere as is signified by the ‘AL’ on the fuselage.

The versatile P51 Mustang came into action in the later stages of the Pacific conflict and went on to enter service in four squadrons of the Territorial Air Force in New Zealand. RNZAF pilots also flew the Mustang for the RAF during European conflict in WWII. The Mustang will fly formation at Wanaka and display its speed and maneuverability in a setting far removed from the scenes of conflicts it encountered in Europe and the Pacific.

The Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk was operated in almost every theatre of war during WWII. The RNZAF operated 297 of these fighters in the Pacific and they were responsible for downing 99 Japanese aircraft. They were superseded by the Corsair around 1944 and returned to New Zealand as an advanced fighter trainer.The RNZAF operated 400 of the Goodyear FG-1D Corsairs during WW11 mainly in the Pacific.  The Japanese nicknamed the Corsair ‘Whistling Death’ because of its very quiet approach due to the airflow through the oil coolers. Some Japanese pilots believed the carrier-capable craft to be the most formidable American fighter of WWII.

Helicopters used by the RNZAF will be displayed at Wanaka including the Iroquois and Seasprite.  The Iroquois, used extensively in search and rescue operations, are equipped with a rescue winch, search lights and other specialist features. They first entered service with the US Army in 1959 and saw much action through the Vietnam War. In contrast the tiny single engine Sioux helicopters were used for observation and training. Made by Bell helicopters they served early in the Vietnam conflict and were operated by a range of military forces worldwide.

In the heavy weight division, the massive C130 Hercules, the highly recognisable Douglas DC3 which first flew in 1935, the Boeing 757 and the Consolidated PBY Catalina will all line up. The 757, described as the ‘sports car of the sky’ for its ease of handling, has transported defence force personnel to and from operations in the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Solomon islands.

The Catalina, known as ‘Mother Duck’ due to its essential lifesaving role of water-borne rescue, has a long tradition of flying in the airshow and offering rides to visitors which incorporate a water landing on the pristine Lake Wanaka. The Catalina carried out reconnaissance and rescue missions in the Pacific during WWII.

Jet aircraft will include the de Havilland Vampire, BAC Strikemaster and, on static display, the Skyhawk. The Strikemaster, a British made training and light attack aircraft was favoured for its ability to operate from rough airstrips.

With its distinctive whistling jet engine, the classy Vampire was the UK’s first single-jet fighter. It was the RNZAF’s first operational jet aircraft, arriving in 1951-1952. It served No. 14 and No. 75 Squadron at Ohakea and remained in service until 1972 when replaced by the Strikemaster. 

RNZAF personnel who have played key roles in the organization’s history will be among the large gathering at Wanaka to celebrate the event.

The Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow began over 20 years ago and attracts around 65,000 people to its biennial events. It is set in mountainous terrain near the resort town of Wanaka which is popular for skiing, mountain-biking, climbing and other action pursuits.

The airshow generally features over 50 aircraft from puttering WWI fighters to ultra modern jets, helicopters and aerobatic aircraft, all punctuated by impressive pyrotechnic action. It also celebrates New Zealand’s armed forces and agricultural history through re-enactments and displays, and plays host to a huge aviation trade market, and food and wine expo.

The airshow begins on Friday, April 6 with a ‘practice day’ with the fully commentated event taking place on April 7 and 8th.

F4U Corsair Aircraft

An extract by R.H. (Bob) Glading, Corsair Pilot (Fleet Air Arm – Royal Navy)

Bob was born in  New Zealand and served on the Fleet aircraft carrier “HMS Formidable” and is currently a golf correspondent. 

“….Next to come was the forming of the squadron (1841) and the news that we would have this exciting Corsair. These were in fact the Corsair 1 – apparently the US Navy had crashed so many flying them on to the deck that they refused to pass them for combat which was in fact our great fortune as we had nothing even remotely comparable in the Royal Navy until given the F4U Corsairs.

The early Corsair was in fact a tricky airplane and the only one I flew which a wing would sometimes stall after landing on the runway providing some hair raising moments as it threatened to dip the (stalled) wing on the runway! After converting and spending hours learning about its intricacies (another ‘peculiarity’ of the early mark was that it was difficult if not impossible to recover from a spin, so we were careful to avoid that one) we spent hours on “Áddles”-(assimilated dummy deck landings) and took off for Norfolk, Virginia for our qualifying deck landings. By good fortune and I suppose because my “addles” were pretty good, I was to follow the Squadron Commander and the Senior Pilot out of the bay for the four landings on, of all things an Escort carrier, a small deck compared with a fleet carrier, which hardly did anything for the nervous system suffered ahead of the big test! In the event I managed to make the four “arrivals” successfully (at this time one could hardly describe them as landings I feel as it all seemed to happen so quickly that one hardly knew what was happening.) Soon after my four, the wind (which was barely sufficient when the initial three landed on) dropped even further and the remainder were cancelled – next day the others fellows started out but after a couple of crashes,, fortunately without damage to the pilots, it was decided to cancel the remainder and wait until we were back in the UK for them to do their deck landings.

By this time we had been issued with new Corsairs, built this time by Brewster and these had been modified significantly with much improved stalling characteristics and a bubble canopy which afforded better visibility. With the radial engine and the cockpit however being so far back, the deck landing system was of necessity very much different from any previous Navy aircraft in that one had to turn virtually right round onto the deck – if one allowed it to come in on a straight line astern the batman would be out of sight at the vital moment with often sad results!

Another tricky aspect was that because of the turning factor, the speed had to be controlled at near the stall as when the batman gave the ‘level the wings’ signal, it was followed immediately by the ‘cut’ (engine) signal and any float usually accompanied an embarrassing crash into the wire barrier or even worse a crash over the side with, at best, embarrassing results! The writer managed this on one occasion finishing up sitting what seemed a long way up the nose of the deck and the tail in the air looking down at the Mediterranean flowing past.  

In the Pacific on the HMS Formidible: By this time we were carrying a range of extras on our aircraft including firstly one 500lb bomb, then another was added and later when flying over Japan an 80 gallon fuel (drop) tank. This of course meant extra weight but for our engineering and deck control exoerts had it all calculated on how many feet of deck were needed for take-off with the added weight. Despite our confidence in the accuracy of the calculations one still tended to put the foot on the brakes as the deck officer signaled one ever further up the deck prior to take off. Take-off could at times be somewhat hair-raising despite the calculations, as despite full throttle and wheels whipped up smartly, sometimes one’s aircraft would dip down toward the evr waiting Pacific. An occasional hapless member would get a dunking but such was this great aircraft that in going in on take-off the pilot would invariably get out before being rescued by the waiting destroyer as it would take a few minutes before sinking. This was in fact a wonderful aspect of the flying Corsair – I saw squadron members shot up and ditch at high speeds and at times still drop tanks attached, but the aircraft remained in sight for some minutes and a head would pop out (not always with fortunate results however as some were not seen again despite herculean efforst of the great unsung heroes of the USA rescue organization who took their submarines and flying boats into incredibly daring places in rescuing downed aviators during the months of operations over Japan and  the islands on the way.

While during our operations firstly up in Norway, and later in the Pacific, we lost 50% of the original squadron pilots, I unable to recall one incident of a loss due to an engine failure and as mentioned, I saw them ditch at all manner of ways at various speeds but up would pop the aircraft and out would come the pilot. Another surprising aspect of the Corsair was its manoeucaribility – we could out-perform any Seafire in assimilated combat conditions as we would  lower flap marginally and turn tightly at high speeds.

I count myself fortunate in flying F4FU Corsair, which was so strong and manoeuverable and we had the comfort of knowing that if we had to ditch there was every chance we would survive, or if ‘shot-up’ in the air, that the big engine would continue to operate and probably get us home.”

Keywords: Airshow

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