Warbirds over Wanaka

Sir Tim Wallis in his Mk XVI spitfire

"What", I hear you ask, "is 'Wanaka'?" (yes, I know some of you are asking "Who is Wanaka?", but I can only answer one question at a time).   Well, "Wanaka" is a maori name given to a lake and a town in the southwest of the South Island of New Zealand, a region of  lakes and high snow-covered mountains.

The airshow is the brainchild of this colorful man, Sir Tim Wallis, here shown seated in his Mk XVI Spitfire.   He made his fortune in the 1980s, flying helicopters in the mountains, catching red deer, which at that time were the subject of a faddish upswing in popularity, with most being captured live for sale to deer farms (ten years later, the fad was for ostriches and emus).   To cash in, all you had to do was find a deer, chase it in a helicopter, and fly close enough for someone to jump out and wrestle it to the ground!

Tim got his money, he got his knighthood and then he started getting his collection of world war two fighter planes, which he restored back to flying condition.   One of the first planes he bought was a Mk V Spitfire; its undercarriage collapsed the first time he landed it in New Zealand, but it was soon repaired. 

One Spitfire is good, but two Spitfires is sure to make the gods jealous.  In January of 1996 he crashed his Mk XIV Spitfire - one plane needed hard left rudder on takeoff, the other hard right.  Tim got it wrong.   The plane got into the air, flipped, hit the ground and cartwheeled before stopping upside down.   He suffered serious head injuries and hasn't flown since, though he is much recovered.

American warplanes are particularly well represented, with a couple of P-51 Mustangs, one which Tim part owns in American markings and one in New Zealand markings.   At the time I attended the airshow in 1996 Tim also owned a restored American P-40 Kittyhawk in New Zealand markings.   As well, there's the aircraft which replaced the Kittyhawk, the Corsair fighter.   If you're a right-brain type who wants to read some commentary about the Corsair then take a look at these right brain pictures, if you're an avid Zen Buddhist try these left brain pictures, and if you're the arty type then go for the scenic mountain page.  Another navy plane represented at the show is the Grumman Avenger, on the ground, flying around, and showing off its bomb bay doors.   There's also a relatively rare Catalina seaplane photographed on the ground and in the air.

The airshow has some exotic aircraft as well, including a number of interesting Russian aircraft, like the world war two Yak 3 fighter, the giant Antonov AN-2 "Colt" biplane transport, introduced just after the war, and the Yak-50 and Yak-52 aerobatic planes.  Just after the 1996 Wanaka Warbirds airshow, five Russian Polikarpov I-16 fighters, a Polikarpov I-153 biplane fighter and a MiG-15 jet were added to the list of warbirds flying in New Zealand.

For fairly obvious reasons, there are far fewer examples in existence of planes belonging to the defeated enemy.  That's true even at this airshow, but with some exceptions.  Perhaps the most exciting of these is a Messerschmitt Bf109 fighter, visiting from Europe, as well as its much less well-known predecessor the Bf108, now resident in New Zealand after flying in South Africa.  There are also a couple of Japanese fighters, a replica Mitsubishi Zero and an extremely rare airworthy Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa, referred to by the allies using the code name "Oscar".