CLASSIC FIGHTERS Air Show 2015   -  Omaka / New Zealand

Located  in  the  picturesque  Marlborough  region  of  New  Zealand’s  South  Island,  Omaka  airfield  is situated approximately four kilometres from the small township of Blenheim.  Owned and operated by Marlborough Aero Club, the Omaka airfield also incorporates the Aviation Heritage Centre featuring an impressive collection of WW1 aircraft and artefacts belonging to famous filmmaker and aviation enthusiast, Sir Peter Jackson.  Omaka airfield is also home of the biannual CLASSIC FIGHTERS air show held every second year over  the  Easter  long  weekend.  This  year’s  event  provided  all  who  attended  with  an  action  packed programme  against  a  stunning  and  diverse  backdrop  of  rugged  mountains  and  beautiful  wineries. CLASSIC FIGHTERS however is much more that just a gathering of New Zealand’s very active war bird community as it also serves as a major fund raising event to support the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre.

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Flying on all days of the show was truly impressive with an action packed, non-stop programme that included something for everyone.  Incredible sights included eight replica Fokker Dr.1 TRIPLANES taking to the air at one time as they performed mock dogfights in perfect blue skies. On the ground battles ensued with infantry supported by replica PzKpfw IV tanks while other WW I aircraft joining the battle included a Pfalz D.III, ALBATROS D.Va, Airco DH.5, Sopwith CAMEL and Nieuport 17, Fokker D.VII, and D.VIII. World War Two aircraft were as equally well represented with a true highlight being the attendance of no  less  than  three  SPITFIRE  including  a  very  special  Rolls Royce GRIFFON  powered  Supermarine  SPITFIRE  MK XIVe, a RR Merlin powered Supermarine SPITFIRE Mk IV and a very rare Supermarine SPITFIRE Tr.Mk 9 two-seater. This was the very first time all three of these wonderful machines have been displayed at the one air show in the Southern Hemisphere.  Along  with  the  mock  air  battles,  ground  theatre  re-enactors  provided  the  audience  with  an  insight warfare in the trenches during the Great War and later the Second World War with very convincing performances and equipment that included a very convincing replica German PzKpfw IV tank. These re-enactments  also  highlighted  the  100th anniversary  of  the Australian  and  New  Zealand  Army  Corps (ANZAC) tradition and the very close bonds between the two countries. 

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The  Royal  New  Zealand  Air  Force  (RNZAF)  operated  a considerable  number  of  US  built  aircraft during the Second World War and two such examples were on display, a Goodyear FG-1D CORSAIR and a Grumman AVENGER TBM. The CORSAIR was represented in US Marine markings while the AVENGER was displayed in RNZAF livery. Two Curtiss P-40 KITTYHAWK fighters were present along  with  two  new  build  Yakovlev YAK-3U  Russian  fighters.  The  quality  of  the  flying  displays  by  these aircraft  was  first  rate  and  included  several  very  low  and fast  knife-edge  passes  directly  across  the crowd line providing ample photo opportunities. Another beautifully restored aeroplane was the Avro ANSON Mk I owned by Bill and Robyn Reid. The result of a ten-year restoration project, this meticulously resorted aeroplane was operated by the RNZAF as a navigational trainer during World War II. To see this great example flying again was without doubt one of the highlights of the show.  

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A very cleverly constructed _ scale replica V-1 “DOODLEBUG” powered by five small jet engines and  complete  with  a  launch  rail  system  was  something  very  different  to  see  at  such  an  event.  The DOODLEBUG, a project by local aviation enthusiasts, was successfully flown several times during the course of the show with another two “static” V-1’s placed centre stage. On the final day the ANSON took part in an attack on the V-1 site dropping two inert 100 lb bombs “destroying “ the V-1 base with explosions being provided by some well-placed pyrotechnics.  The only real mishap occurred during Fridays practice when the beautiful new build Flugwerk Focke-Wulf  FW-190 had  its  left  break  lock  up  on  landing  forcing  it  to  ground  loop  off  into  the  dirt. Fortunately the  pilot Frank  Parker,  managed  to  emerge  from  the  battered  and  bent  aircraft unscathed. While the damage sustained was quite substantial, the good news is that the aircraft is fully repairable and should be returned to flying condition in due course.

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Military power of a more contemporary nature was also present. The New Zealand Defence Forces (NZDF)  was  well  represented  by  their  latest  acquisition,  the  NH-Industries  NH90  Multi  Purpose Helicopter.  The NH90 provided a demonstration of inserting and recovering troops while NZ Army LAVIII armoured vehicles covered the exercise in front of the crowd. Sadly though this was the last public display  of the RNZAF’s  venerable workhorse the Vietnam war era Bell UH-1 HUEY. The HUEY on show provided a great display of winching and airborne rappelling while  a crewmember fired blank ammunition from his door mounted machine gun. Other RNZAF aircraft performed several fly-pasts during the show including a Lockheed P-3C ORION Maritime Patrol Aircraft and a Beechcraft T-6 TEXAN II advanced trainer. Not all aircraft at CLASSIC FIGHTERS were of a military nature. Bush pilots in their De Havilland BEAVER  and  big-wheeled  Piper  CUB  aircraft  provided  great  demonstrations  of stunt flying  and short field take offs and landings while highlighting the versatility and agility of these small utilitarian aircraft. A resident Bristol Type 170 FREIGHTER also made several taxi runs along the crowd line much to the delight of the audience. On the final day the ANSON returned this time dropping hundreds of  red  poppies  over  the  crowd,  a  wonderful  gesture and  very  poignant  end  to  an  already  very impressive show.

Verdict: Classic Fighters Omaka was a wonderful show that featured something for everyone especially with its great location, marvelous aircraft and an action packed program. What was apparent was the effort and hard work that was done by the organizers and volunteers to ensure a wonderful time was to be had by everyone, they thoroughly succeeded.

Rob Hynes / editor CHK6

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