OUR FIRST AIR SHOW IN NEW ZEALAND AND WE WEREN’T DISAPPOINTED!
Classic Fighters is held every two years at Omaka airfield, near Blenheim on the South Island. I’d heard of much about the air show over the years and it had been on my “to do” list for a long time. The reason it’s been on my list is because of the WW1 aircraft that fly there. It’s really the only place, this close to Australia, where you can see these wonderful machines fly.
New Zealand has a vibrant warbird scene and the promise of seeing something that doesn’t fly in Australian skies was a big drawcard as well.
We (Rhi and I) arrived in Blenheim early and headed out to the airfield for a scout. We parked near the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre (well worth a look) and the first thing I saw was a couple of Fokker Triplanes. Turning my head a Sopwith Pup and Camel came into view. At that point an aero engine drew my attention to the sky and coming in to land with a Chipmunk was another Fokker, this time a D.VII.
I was in heaven but there was still more to come.
Looking back towards the museum were two very rare aircraft being prepared for the upcoming display days, an Avro Anson and new build FW-190. I could tell this was going to be no ordinary show and Rhi was already swooning over the Anson (women?!).
The display days were held over the Easter long weekend with Friday being a practice day with an evening show. The Saturday and Sunday were the official display days.
Friday was amazing. It was a cold morning when we set ourselves up near the flight line. Omaka is an all over grass field and the planes were taking off in two directions, with the light WW1 types taking off from our left to right and the heavier types taking off towards us to our right. This format would continue throughout the weekend.
The day went well with the aircraft flying around but to no particular sequence. There was no ground display (like there would be on the weekend) but that didn’t matter.
The WW1 dogfight sequence was truly amazing. Seven Fokker triplanes and the D.VII slugged it out with a Bristol F.2B Fighter, Sopwith Camel, Pups and Triplane and an Airco DH.5.
Watching these small fighters and hearing their engines, especially the Camel’s (as it only had two settings, flat-out and idle) gave us a really good idea of what early aerial combat must have been like. Unfortunately one Fokker Triplane suffered engine failure on Sunday, but the pilot did a great job of getting the aircraft safely down in the middle of all those swirling machines. He did such a good a job I doubt if too many of the crowd actually noticed!
WW2 was widely represented by an assortment of warbirds.
There were two P-40 Kittyhawks, two Yak-3’s, two Spitfire’s, one being a two seater (and yes, you can fly in it – for a price) a P-51 Mustang, an FG-1 Corsair, stacks of Harvards and of course the Anson and FW-190 as mentioned earlier. All the aircraft put on a very lively display (especially the Corsair) and the Anson even shot down a German Me-109 (represented by a Me-108).
There were a number of other vintage aircraft flying over the weekend including a lovely Staggerwing, several de Havilland types such as the Dragon, Gipsy Moth, Tiger Moth, Fox Moth, DHC Chipmunk and Beaver, DC-3’s and a duo of jets in the form of a BAC Strikemaster and a de Havilland Venom. A Stearman also flew paying passengers throughout the weekend and there was an excellent aerobatic display flown in a Pitts Model 12. Formation aerobatics were represented by teams of Harvards and Yak. Both of which were very good.
The New Zealand military had four types of helicopter on display; the NH-90, SH-2G Seasprite, the A-109 and the UH-1H Iroquois, which is being phased out.
The RNZAF also sent a B-757. Watching such a large aircraft fly flat-out at very low altitude was rare and appreciated by the crowd. Even the wet Sunday didn’t dampen its display, it just seemed to fly lower!
Omaka was one of the best air shows we’ve been to. It’s well set out, visibility is excellent for the spectator and there’s no particularly bad spot on the flightline. The aircraft are displayed in such a way that it’s a photographer’s paradise. Entry was also pretty reasonable. The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is also a must for everyone regardless of your level of interest in aviation but that’ll be the subject of another post.
I can’t wait for 2015.
Check out our gallery of the 2013 Classic Fighters Airshow below. If you’d like to see more of my photographs, go here.