January 29, 2000 - Whitianga Airfield
For the year 2000, the Mercury Bay Aero Club tried something new as a fundraiser. Well known for their annual flyin and seafood dinner, this time they organised an airshow. The show was advertised locally to attract summer visitors and the local crowd, but not much further afield except through the aviation press. Intended as a family day with admission at only $5 per adult and children free, it succeeded in attracting over 3000 people. I was one of them, having made the two hour trip by car with my wife and son from Hamilton. Much jealousy for those who flew in, or lived locally. Whitianga is a lovely seaside town on the Pacific coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. Part of its attraction is its remoteness. I had expected a flyin format with some of the local aircraft and perhaps a few exotic visitors. Instead I found a full on airshow! Activity got under way at 11am, and a full programme continued until 4pm.
The show opened with a hiss and a roar as Warbirds Association President TT Bland arrived in the Potez-Fouga Magister for a low-level display. The aircraft flew in from Ardmore, and departed back to its base at the conclusion of its routine. The grass strip at Whitianga was unsuitable for the French jet trainer. The aerial stage was then turned over to the RNZAF, who opened with the Kiwi Blue parachute team. The follow up was an enthusiastic UH-1H performance, followed by a low level Orion display.
Many of the displays were themed. Following the RNZAF display was an 'early NZ aviation' segment. A Tiger Moth pair (John Pheasant and Peter Ryall in ZK-AIA and ZK- CCQ) was followed by Jim Schmidt in his Auster, Dave Grey in DH-89 Dominie ZK-AKU, and Richard Shepeard in Rotorua based Stearman ZK-XAF.
Next up was an Ag-aircraft section. An amazing handling display by Robin Langslow in Cessna 185 ZK- was followed by John Stephenson in the unique Auster Agricola. This sole surviving airworthy example is a Whitianga local, and one of the reasons I trekked to the airshow. More was to come with the Beaver ZK-CAK, Keith Hale in his Fletcher Fu-24 400 ZK-MAT, and then Bruce Harding in a Cresco. Bruce and ZK-LTY are part of the Wanganui Aeroworks team, but his solo display in the brand new (delivered in December) PAC Cresco was a sight to behold. The aircraft is designed to carry a 2-tonne load, and the power to weight ratio when empty are fairly stunning.
Even more so was the 3:1 power to weight ratio of Frazer Brigg's R/C Edge 260. He put the 8' wingspan model through some amazing permutations - all choreographed to music. Frazer came 4th at the 1999 Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas, and its not hard to see why he has such a top ranking. The crowd were just spellbound. Unfortunately I was too far away for an decent photos, but some can be found on the Sportavex00 page. Back to the real aircraft, and Peter Meadows displayed his Cessna Skymaster, ZK-DFT. The USAF markings are spurious, but the aircraft looks good. Neville Cameron then displayed a PZL Wilga. I really like these ungainly looking aircraft, and was disappointed the display wasn't a bit longer. I did catch up with Nevill and some 'volunteers' parking the Wilga.
It wasn't all aerial activity. On the ground their was lots of food on offer, and less energetic options like the facing painting provided for Celeste Jacobs by Anna Dixon. I took the opportunity to wander down to the fire crew, and also walk through the aircraft parks. I wasn't the only one, and the RNZAF Iroquois was very popular! Seen in the park are former RNZAF DH-104 Devon NZ1808, former RAF DHC-1 Chipmunk (ZK-UAS), and Wayne Edward's newly restored DH-82a Tiger Moth, ZK-BEC (RAF serial T7167).
In the mid afternoon, the trio of heavy weight warbirds did their stuff. Catalina ZK-PBY flown by Brett Emeny was low and slow, and in comparison, the CAF Beech 18 flown by Jim Pavitt which followed seemed to have a lot more pep. An illusion I think, based on their respective sizes. The Dakota, ZK-DAK finished up the trio.
Dick Veale displayed his Nanchang CJ-6 ZK-OII before making way for two formation displays - the Yak-52 trio lead by Sir Kenneth Hayr, and a four-ship formation of Harvards. Rounding out the day was Graeme Bethell in the P-51D Mustang, followed by Maurice Hayes in the Cessna A-37B Dragonfly. This was a spectacular sight on the grass strip. Whereas the Mustang was in its element, the jet was spraying grass in all directions - quite an experience.
With the display activity, there was still time to enjoy the refueling process, before aircraft began to disperse. A wander through the aircraft park meant a chance to chat with some of the crews (thanks especially to the folks with ZK-AKU for the interior pics), and catch up on news. The Harvard and other warbird pilots can be seen in a very public debriefing. The Stearman, Catalina, and Dakota seemed to be doing a good job in carrying enthusiasts into the sky. I was amazed to see at least three very enthusiastic people manage to get joyrides in the Mustang (jealousy is a terrible thing).
I contacted spokesperson John Stephenson after the show, and he said the club were impressed by the support received from the RNZAF, Warbirds Association, and other operators. Main sponsor Shell had provided 7000 litres of fuel, and the CAA had been very cooperative in getting the event off the ground. As a result the Club are looking to another event in two to three years time. I'm looking forward to attending that one too!
© 2000 Phillip Treweek, all rights reserved