Air Show Report : Omaka Classic Fighters 2011
On April 22-24, 2011, the Omaka Classic Fighters air show was held at the airfield of Omaka, New Zealand. Chris Gee reports.
Omaka Classic Fighters 2011 - New Zealand
Upon a small grass airstrip, near a small rural town, at the top of the South Island of one of the most southern nations on Earth, a truly unique aviation experience is to be found. Every second year over the Easter weekend (this year, 22-24 April), aviation enthusiasts from all over the world descend on the airfield at Omaka, near Blenheim in the South Island of New Zealand. Since its first incarnation in 2001, the Omaka Classic Fighters airshow has become a must-see event, bringing together an eclectic collection of WWI, WWII and modern warbirds not found anywhere else on earth. The New Zealand aviation community attracts the largest collection of flying WWI aircraft in the world for the event, which alternates each year with the equally famous Warbirds over Wanaka Airshow, also held in the South Island of New Zealand. The combination of the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, stunning scenic backdrops and wonderful kiwi hospitality make a pilgrimage to this boutique airshow well worth it, no matter how long the journey to get there.
The airshow this year, while still a resounding success, was unfortunately marred by some inclement weather that threatened to force the cancellation of the last day of the event. It has been said that 'if you're in a drought, put on an aviation event. it will rain', and that adage was proven true once again. Following two glorious days of sunshine on the Thursday and Friday rehearsal days, the weather closed in on Saturday and Sunday bringing with it cloud, rain and wind. The crowd's enthusiasm was not dampened though, and the show continued uninhibited by the weather.
The theme of the 2011 airshow was 'V for Victory', celebrating the allied victory during the Great War in 1918, and the end of the Second World War in 1945. Veterans from all over the country were in attendance, and had their own tent from where they could regale spectators with their stories and experiences. There had been some distant hope early on that the De Havilland Mosquito and Avro Ansen aircraft would be ready to fly at Omaka this year: although this proved to be a pipe dream, with over 110 classic and rare aircraft involved in the airshow this year no one was left disappointed.
Friday Twilight Show
Although the public were welcome at rehearsal days on the Thursday and Friday, the airshow began in earnest on Friday afternoon, culminating in a twilight show and fireworks display. As the sun set behind the hills, the RNZAF UH-1 Iroquois and RNZN SH-2G gave an eerie low-light display, and offered a rare view of these machines in action at dusk.
To begin the re-enactors display, a spy was inserted into the airfield by the Miles Messenger, who, in near darkness, attempted to stop the Germans launching their V-2 Rocket. The re-enactors undertook a large fire fight in front of the public, but unfortunately a lack of lighting and cohesiveness left the audience somewhat confused as to what was happening. The V-2 rocket's ignition sequence was enjoyable and the closing fireworks were indeed spectacular.
World War One
The combination of original and replica WWI-era aircraft that take to the skies together at Omaka is unmatched in the world, and is one of the main draw cards of the airshow. During the WWI-themed parts of the airshow, 13 aircraft were airborne at once, chasing each other in a free-for-all dogfight of a calibre that has not been seen since the end of the Great War. An accurate and very convincing scene was completed by a fight between German and Allied soldiers from the various re-enactment groups on the ground, with the addition of the rumbling of ground-shaking 'Mother' tanks, built by The Vintage Aviator Limited (TVAL) for Peter Jackson. The ground action centred around a French château occupied by German Forces, which housed a Besseneau Hanger hiding a Fokker D.VIII prototype, which the allies managed to destroy in spectacular fashion on the Sunday. It really was like taking a trip back in time.
Built by Ed Storo in Memphis, Tennessee, this gorgeous replica Bristol F.2B fighter now resides permanently at Omaka as part of the 14-18 Trust Collection. The F.2B initially entered service with the Royal Flying Corps in April 1917 as a scout and reconnaissance aircraft, but proved so versatile that it remained in service with the RAF up until 1932, servicing British colonies such as India and New Zealand. They were still in use in New Zealand as late as 1936. The aircraft was believed to be very fragile when it entered service, so was flown very sedately. This led to what became known as "Bloody April" when, just after the aircraft entered service, six F.2Bs were engaged by five Albatros fighters, led by Manfred Von Richtofen. Four of the F.2Bs were shot down, with no losses to the Germans. The Bristol subsequently did prove to be very manoeuvrable indeed, and later racked up a significant number of enemy kills.
The Sopwith Camel 'Tripehound' was the first of the Triplanes to appear during the Great War, and proved to be incredibly manoeuvrable. Entering service in 1917 with the Royal Naval Air Service, it achieved most fame with the 'B' Flight of 10 Squadron commanded by Canadian ace Raymond Collishaw, which shot down a total of 87 German aircraft between May and July of 1917. The Sopwith Triplane remained in service, however, for only seven months before the Sopwith Camel Biplane replaced it. This example, part of the 14-18 Trusts collection, represents 'Black Maria', Collishaw's own aeroplane. Chad Willie of Corning, Iowa, started this project many years ago, and TVAL was then contracted to complete the aircraft once it arrived in New Zealand.
The most notorious of all WWI fighters, the Sopwith Camel biplane was a fearsome fighting machine, with 1294 enemy aircraft destroyed by the type between June 1917 and the end of the war in November 1918. No other single type of aircraft came close to this record during the War. It was a very unforgiving aircraft to fly, however, and more pilots died learning how to fly them than were actually killed in combat. The large engine shifted the centre of gravity to the front, making the aircraft extremely dangerous in the hands of a novice. A skilled pilot could use this to his advantage, however, and, once the aircraft was mastered, the Sopwith Camel proved to be a superb fighter. The RNAS first deployed the aircraft in May 1917, and in July 1917 a flight of seven Sopwith Camels launched off HMS Furious and destroyed the enormous German airships and factory at Tondern. This marked the first ever carrier strike in history.
Nieuport 11 Bébé
This marvellous aircraft was built by Walt Addems and Joe Pfeifer in Porterville CA, and is now part of the TVAL collection. It is a replica of an Italian version, built under license by Macchi in 1917, and flown by the Italian Ace, Sgt Alvero Leonardi, who survived the war with eight confirmed kills.
Originally used by the British and the French to counter the new Fokker 'Eindecker' that was tearing up the skies in 1916, it was impeded by having no 'interrupter gear' to allow the machine gun to fire through the propeller. Instead, a Lewis machine gun was situated atop the upper wing, seriously reducing the accuracy of the weapon, and requiring the pilot to stand up in his seat to fix a jammed gun (which occurred often). One of the most interesting aspects of the Nieuport 11 is its 80hp Le Rhone rotary engine. This engine spins with the propeller, and was state of the art in its day. It certainly gives the aircraft a very distinct and instantly recognisable sound!
Arguably one of the highlights of the Omaka Classic Fighters airshow was the return of the Fokker Dr.I 'Dreidecker' triplanes. Known collectively as 'the Magnificent Seven', this is the largest number to fly together anywhere since 1918. Usually split between Omaka Airfield and Hood Aerodrome in the Wairarapa, they were flown in magnificent formations providing a sight and sound that will not be forgotten easily. The Fokker Dr.I is most well-known for its use by the 'Red Baron' Rittmeister Manfred Von Richtofen. Each aircraft is painted in the colour scheme of individual ace pilots of the Red Baron's 'Jasta 11' squadron. Despite the fact that he only scored 20 of his incredible 80 confirmed victories in the Dr.I, the aircraft will remain synonymous with his life and death. Designed to counter the very successful Sopwith Triplane, the Dr.I was great leap forward in technology, with cantilever wings, welded steel tube framework and aerodynamic wing braces. It failed to perform quite as expected, however, and never achieved the intended impact on the air war.
The Albatros D.Va was not one of the most successful fighters used by the Imperial German Air Service during WWI. It arrived late to service after serious structural problems needed to be remedied, so that by the time it was deployed, the new Allied aircraft in the air already had the better of it. It was, and still is, a beautiful looking machine, with its smooth aerodynamic body and 'steam-punk'-looking wings and tail. This example was built by The Vintage Aviator Limited (TVAL) in Omaka for the legendary American aviator, author and entrepreneur Kermit Weeks, who came to Omaka to collect his aircraft and then flew it brilliantly during the show. As well as being a two-time U.S. National Aerobatics champion, Kermit is the founder and owner of the Fantasy of Flight aviation collection in Florida, where he houses a spectacular array of flyable aircraft. Many more Albatros D.Va aircraft are to be built by TVAL, who have become one of the world's leading manufacturers of WWI replica aircraft.
Widely considered the best German fighter of the First World War, the Fokker D.VII had a major impact in the skies over Europe near the end of the conflict. A replacement for the Fokker Dr.I was needed to match the Nieuports and SPADs of the allies that were dominating the airspace over Europe. Arriving on the battlefield too late to turn the course of the war, the Fokker D.VII was so successful that at the end of hostilities many captured examples underwent extensive structural load testing by the Allies. This example was originally built in France for the famous WWI movie 'Blue Max' which was made in 1966. Though the aircraft reached New Zealand in an airworthy condition, it was discovered that it had been hurriedly built to meet the movie production schedule, and did not meet the standards for authentic replicas that TVAL prides itself on. After an extensive overhaul, facelift, and a new liquid-cooled Mercedes engine, the aircraft now matches the performance of the original aircraft and takes pride of place amongst TVAL's world-class collection.
World War Two
There were several firsts and highlights in the WWII-themed parts of the display, one of which was the full-scale model of a German V-2 Rocket. Built over a period of nine months by Roger Lauder and his team, the V-2 formed the centrepiece of the action over the weekend, eventually 'launching' a few meters into air before being destroyed in spectacular fashion by the pyrotechnics team during the finale of the Sunday afternoon battle. The combination of WWII warbirds involved in the re-enactment was unsurpassed, with three Kittyhawks, two Spitfires, a Corsair, a Mustang, five Yak-52s and four Harvards all making strafing attacks on the airfield. All the while, Allied and Axis ground forces clashed in front of the public using real weapons, even a fully operational Panzer IV tank entered into the fray. The arrival of Winston Churchill being flown in to inspect his troops in the Miles Messenger was a nice surprise. As well as taking part in the re-enactments on the airfield, the devoted members of the various Historical Re-enactment Societies set up camp for three days in the static display area and proved immensely popular with the public. Luckily the Allied and Axis camps were well separated, though sporadic gunfire could be heard from their direction throughout the weekend.
Curtiss Tomahawk IIB
The Tomahawk IIB was the British version of the P-40C, having an extra four wing-mounted British .303 calibre machineguns as well as the two .50 calibre machines found in the American version. These days a very rare aircraft indeed, this example, AK285, was recovered from a crash site in Russia, rebuilt in the USA, and then finished in New Zealand by the team at AvSpecs. We were very lucky to witness the aircraft's display, since it flew for the first time just days prior to the start of the show. The most noticeable differences between this aircraft and the P-40E & N Kittyhawks were the Drop tank under the fuselage and the shape of the nose. Although initially built for the RAF, it was found to be unsuitable for the type of fighting happening in Europe and was shipped in large numbers to Russia under Lend-Lease agreement, arriving on the Northern Front in December 1941. The aircraft did not cope well with the wintery conditions and had to be extensively modified, and was soon superseded by later model P-40s, Bell P-39 'Airacobra' and more advanced Russian aircraft.
Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks
The two P-40 Kittyhawks are a major attraction on the New Zealand aviation scene, especially when they are flying together. One is an 'E' model, which is based at Hood Aerodrome in Masterton with the Old Stick and Rudder Company, one of only six surviving ex-RNZAF models. The 'N' model based at Ardmore is an ex-RAAF example that was restored to airworthiness by Pioneer Aero. Nearly 14,000 Kittyhawks were built, 297 of which were operated by the RNZAF in the Pacific Theatre, shooting down 99 Japanese aircraft. Flown at Omaka by Stu Goldspink and Liz Needham, two extremely experienced warbirds display pilots, the pair of Kittyhawks were also displayed in formation with the P-40C flown by John Lamont.
One of the most highly anticipated aircraft to appear at Omaka this year was the replica Focke-Wulf 190, built by the Flug Werk Company in Germany. Shipped to New Zealand in a container and re-assembled by the dedicated team at JEM Aviation, this marked the first time a Fw190 had ever flown in the Southern Hemisphere, although the aircraft unfortunately had its share of difficulties once airborne. After overcoming some issues with its landing gear, it then suffered damage to its propeller and engine after a blade from the cooling fan broke off. Despite some promising action on the Thursday and Friday, the aircraft was unable to display on the Saturday and Sunday of the show, but nonetheless proved very popular in the static display. Nicknamed the "Butcher Bird" by the Allies after its vicious arrival over the skies on Europe in June 1942, it wasn't until the arrival of the Mk. IX version of the Spitfire that the Fw190's superiority was matched. Although over 20,000 Fw190s were built during WWII, only one original example is still flying in the world today.
Based out of Ardmore in Auckland, this graceful and laidback, four-seater aircraft is powered by an American Lycoming engine, and is the only example flying in New Zealand. The type first flew in 1934, initially under the guise of a 'Civilian Touring' aircraft to avoid the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles imposed on Germany after WWI. Used as a trainer and communications aircraft during WWII, the design bears many features that were later used on the famous Me109 fighter.
Initially delivered to the USAF in 1945, ZK-TAF made its way to New Zealand in 1984 after serving with the Canadian Air Force and various private owners. It is painted to be representative of the Mustangs flown by the Canterbury Territorial Air Force Squadron. Considered by many to be best fighter of WWII, the well-known P-51 Mustang really did have a major effect on the course of the war. Built initially to specifications laid down by the RAF for a ground attack aircraft, the air-to-air potential of the Mustang was quickly discovered when it went into service in 1942, beating the best the Germans could put in the air, namely the Fw190. At first it was powered by an Allison V-12 engine, but after noticing shortcomings at high altitude, a super-charged Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, licence built by Packard, was adopted instead. The P-51 was the only allied fighter that could escort their bombers into Germany and back, with enough fuel leftover to loiter over the target.
If there was any one fighter from WWII that truly captured an entire era of aviation, it was the Supermarine Spitfire. Famed for its role in the Battle of Britain (though much of this credit should surely go to the Hawker Hurricane), the Spitfire's smooth lines and the distinctive shape of this aircraft are instantly recognised by many. This year two examples had their Classic Fighters debut and flew some wonderful displays together, as well as taking part in the re-enactment battles. Brendon Deere's Mk. IXc wears the colours of his uncle's aircraft, Battle of Britain veteran Alan Deere's PV270, flown when Alan Deere was a Wing Leader at Biggin Hill during WWII. Meanwhile Doug Brooker's new Spitfire is a rare two-seat TR.9 trainer version, originating from South Africa. The aircraft is painted in the colours of the Ace New Zealand pilot Colin Grey, who was the best man at Alan Deere's wedding. Over 20,000 Spitfires were built, yet few remain airworthy today
Goodyear FG-1D Corsair
Flown by legendary warbirds display pilot Keith Skilling, this FG-1D Corsair, NZ3009, is the last airworthy example of what was once the most numerous type to serve with the RNZAF. Operated by The Old Stick and Rudder Company out of Hood Aerodrome in Masterton, this fabulous aircraft is always a hit at airshows around New Zealand, performing many low and fast knife-edge passes under Keith's superb command. First designed in 1938, the Corsair was so successful that it remained in service with the US marines during the Korean War, and in some South American countries right up to 1969. Powered by a 2450hp Pratt & Whitney R2800 Double Wasp radial engine, it earned the nickname 'Whispering Death' by the Japanese due to its quiet low-pitched whine as it flew overhead. Designed as a carrier-based aircraft, its wings are 'kinked' in the middle to obtain enough ground clearance for its massive propeller. Its high landing speed and lack of forward visibility made it notoriously difficult to land, especially on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier.
Consolidated PBY Catalina
An angel to many a downed airman or stranded sailor, or the devil to enemy submariners, the Consolidated PBY Catalina is the most successful amphibious flying boat in history, with over 4,000 built since 1935. Capable of flying patrols up to 12 hours long and performing anti-submarine, maritime patrol and rescue missions, the RNZAF operated 56 Catalinas in the Pacific theatre from 1943. New Zealand is very lucky to have the aircraft ZK-PBY flying here, all due to the tireless efforts of the Catalina Club of New Zealand. Imported from Africa, this ex- Royal Canadian Air Force machine now flies nostalgic sightseeing rides for many lucky patrons, and tickets for a flight around the majestic Marlborough Sounds could be purchased at the airshow itself.
Campbell Aviation Replicas
The highly successful family-owned New Zealand aviation company Campbell Aviation Limited had a large presence at Classic Fighters 2011, not least of which was their replica 75% scale T-51 Mustang and 90% scale Mk.26B Spitfire aircraft. These amazing aircraft serve a vital niche of fulfilling every pilot's dream of flying single-seat warbirds without the formidable expense and responsibility of the real thing, or as one pilot put it "90% of the fun for 10% of the price". These aircraft come as kits, and have been hugely popular. The North Canterbury based company also displayed their impressive 7 and 9 cylinder Rotec radial engine and their hand sown replica leather flying helmet, which they have sold all over the world.
Douglas DC-3 Dakotas
The two remaining airworthy DC-3 Dakotas flying in New Zealand were in attendance at Omaka this year, putting on an impressive display. The sight of both of these classic aircraft flying in formation was inspiring, harking back to days gone by. Tickets for joyrides were sold to the public during the airshow to help raise much-needed funds to keep them flying, so there were many opportunities to watch them take off and land. One aircraft is from the NZ Warbirds Dakota Group in Auckland, and the other resides in Ashburton with the Southern DC-3 Trust.
A static resident outside the Marlborough Aero Club for over 20 years, the Bristol Freighter has been given a new lease on life by a dedicated team of enthusiasts, The Friends of The Bristol Freighter led by Al Marshal, who in 2008 got the aircraft up to a taxiable condition. Though the aircraft cannot fly yet, it is thought to be the only Bristol freighter in the world left in an operable condition. After being towed out in front of the crowd the engines were started, an impressive sight in and of itself, the aircraft then proceeded to taxi up and down the crowd line, providing a very rare sight and delighting the crowds with the incredible sound of its two big Hercules engines. In the static display its huge front-loading doors were left gaping open to show its true function as a cargo carrier. The Bristol Freighter was once a common sight in the Marlborough skies, being operated by Blenheim's own freight airline Safe Air.
The 'Roaring Forties' and 'Yak-52's
New Zealand is blessed to have as regular performers on its the airshow circuit two of the world's few civilian formation aerobatics teams. The Roaring Forties fly five of the venerable T-6 Harvards, which are operated by the very successful New Zealand Warbirds syndicate based in Ardmore. Led this year by Frank Parker, the Roaring Forties' display was an excellent exercise in precision formation aerobatics, accompanied by the glorious sound of five Harvards. Although not considered a true 'Warbird' by purists, the distinction is blurred with the Yakovlev Yak-52 trainers from the Soviet Bloc. The same attributes that made these aircraft superb trainers for the Soviet Union, namely its manoeuvrability and robustness, make the Yak-52 ideal as a formation aerobatic aircraft. The team is drawn from across the country, with its pilots putting in many hours of practise and rehearsal in their own time. This practise is evident throughout their very entertaining routine, especially at the end where the team comes together from all over the sky into a head-on formation before executing a perfectly timed 'break' out from the crowd line.
Christchurch based glider pilot Terry Delore gave one of the most outstanding displays of the entire show in the ASH 25 Mi Glider. A tribute to modern technology, simplicity, and aeronautical beauty, this glorious German built glider took off under its own power, then proceeded to fly a dazzling display of loops and passes, until finally side slipping into a graceful landing. You could hear a pin drop as the crowd held its breath during the low passes, with only the whistling of the wind across the glider's wings audible. Terry Dalore and aviation legend Steve Fossett set many world records in this aircraft, whose huge 25m wide wings are capable of bending over two meters up and down. This gives a gliding ratio of 60:1, enable it to reach altitudes in excess of 30,000ft, and the capability to travel 3,000km in a single day. The aircraft has set over 28 world records, and weighs 1.2 tons including pilot and ballast.
Although it wasn't possible in the end for him to perform in the new Pitts S12 aircraft, Richard Hood gave an amazing display of precision and extreme aerobatics in the Giles 202. This incredibly light and manoeuvrable aircraft, really dazzled the crowd with its multitude of high G barrel rolls, tumbles, loops and tails slides. One of New Zealand's top aerobatic display pilots Richard really shows off his talent as a world class pilot. One can only assume he leaves a long gap between eating his lunch flying his routine… He really has chosen his aircraft well: ZK-NUT.
One of the hardest working, and instantly recognised types of helicopters operating in New Zealand are the Westpac Rescue BK117s of the Life Flight Trust. The Marlborough region is covered by the Wellington based unit. The helicopter put on an excellent display where it winched aboard a patient, and displayed with precision how accurately they can hold the a crewmember, dangling from the hoist virtually stationary while the helicopter itself gains altitude rapidly. Jointly developed by MBB of Germany and Kawasaki of Japan, the BK117 is used the world over and was developed into the Eurocopter EC 145. The design is perfect for the air ambulance role, with its clamshell rear and large sliding rear doors allowing the safe loading of stretchers with the rotors turning. The aircraft also has a very low level of vibration making a very comfortable ride for fragile injured patients.
Apparently outperforming the original in many respects, this 75% scale replica of the legendary P-51D Mustang has become famous in its own right, performing at many sporting and aviation events around New Zealand. The combination of an extremely powerful and light 600hp V-12 engine and a total weight of just 30% of the original aircraft leads to some impressive performance statistics, such as a rate of climb of 6000 fpm and VNE of 505 mph. There is currently only one Thunder Mustang in the country, owned since 2005 by a syndicate led by Simon Gault, who also flew the aircraft during the Omaka Airshow.
Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF)
SH-2G Super Seasprite
Shown here is one of the Royal New Zealand Navy's Kaman SH-2G Super Seasprite Helicopters, which is capable of operating off the two ANZAC class frigates, offshore patrol vessels and the HMNZS Canterbury Multirole vessel. Since 2001 No.6 Squadron RNZAF have operated five of these versatile helicopters in the anti-submarine, anti-surface and search and rescue roles. This year pilot Lt Dave Rodderick, crewman Flt Sgt Scotty Hunter and Commander James Taylor flew the display. Cmdr James Taylor flew the Merlin and Lynx helicopters for the Royal Navy for many years, and brings to New Zealand a wealth of experience in naval aviation.
The unmistakable sound and look of the Bell UH-1H Iroquois is always a big hit at air shows in New Zealand. First flown in 1956, No.3 Squadron has had 'Huey' helicopters in service since 1966, so the type is ripe for replacement, with the modern and more capable NH90 helicopters set to start replacing them in 2012. The RNZAF currently fields 13 Huey helicopters and two of these flew together at Omaka this year. These machines will be sorely missed when they are finally retired from service, which will probably be only a few years away.
Absent from New Zealand skies for over ten years, the return of the BAC 167 Strikemaster was a very welcome addition to the display. Brett Nichols purchased this former RNZAF Strikemaster in 2010, and it made its first flight at Ardmore just days before the airshow. This was the first time an RNZAF combat jet has displayed at an airshow since the very last A-4K Skyhawk display, which actually took place at the 2001 inaugural Omaka Classic Fighters Airshow! The aircraft flew low passes across the airfield, to the delight of the crowd - a real show highlight. The RNZAF received 16 Strikemaster Mk 88s in 1972, which remained in service for 20 years before being replaced by the Aermacchi MB 339CB. Rumour has it that a second example has been purchased also. Here's hoping!
Based at Ohakea with the Historic Flight, the North American T-6 Harvard is still flying for the RNZAF after an extremely long history, the type having first flown in 1935, and finally retired by the South African Air Force in 1996. The T-6 Harvard served as the RNZAF training aircraft from 1942 until 1978 when the type was replaced by the Pacific Aerospace CT-4. The Harvard performed solo displays each day of the airshow, continuing a tradition of Harvards in New Zealand.
Not only does the Omaka Classic Fighters airshow have a wonderful flying display, but the amount of action happening on the ground is also impressive, centred around the fantastic Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. Considered to be one of the finest aviation museums in the world, the OAHC is a draw card to the area the whole year round. It forms the hub for a fantastic aviation community. The museum's full scale dioramas, memorabilia, and collection of WWI aircraft are unique in the world, including a real piece of the Red Baron's aircraft. Forming the hub for a fantastic aviation community, the Centre is pivotal in the organization of the Classic Fighters airshow, with over 200 volunteers who sacrifice their time to make the show run smoothly.
Taste buds were well looked after with a large food court based behind the Gold Pass grandstand and the 'Taste of Marlborough' wine festival. The many static displays by re-enactors were a big hit with the audience, especially the collection of hand weapons and memorabilia assembled by Paul Sangsten, from Nelson, who is seeking funding to start a museum for his collection. Several aviation companies also exhibited at Trade Stands, including a number of flying schools offering package deals and lessons for patrons motivated to get into aviation for themselves.
The Omaka Classic Fighters airshow offers a gorgeous setting for photography, with scenic landscapes as the aircraft fly past. By a miracle of planning, the sun is always behind you, and the flying demonstrations are very close to the crowd, always a great combination! This year, the weather offered some dramatic light and cloudscapes, especially at sunset. The humidity in the air before the rain began on Sunday morning produced some spectacular vortices off the propellers, rotor blades or wingtips of the aircraft, which lasted long enough in the air to make for some great photos. There are always a plethora of cameras and long zoom lenses at airshows, increasingly so as they become more affordable. It was great to see the regular aviation photography enthusiasts again, as well as befriend some new ones.
The Omaka airshow is a massive boost for the local economy of Marlborough, with all the accommodation around Blenheim selling out months in advance. While attendance was down this year due to the weather, with approximately 25,000 paying customers attending the airshow over the weekend, the pre-sales were double that of the previous show in 2009, and Gold Passes sold out well before the event. 34% of the tickets were sold to overseas customers, with aviation enthusiasts flocking in from Australia, the USA, UK, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. The importance of the Omaka Classic Fighters Airshow to the entire Marlborough region, and New Zealand's tourism industry, is not to be underestimated, and it is hoped that this unique aviation event will be a regular biennial event for many years to come.
The next Omaka Classic Fighters airshow is planned to take place during the Easter weekend in 2013. Keep an eye on the Classic Fighters official website.
Report and photos by Chris Gee ( view portfolio )