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.
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.
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.
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.
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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