Warbirds over Wanaka: Rides Day success!

Wanaka: The ride may be noisy, uncomfortable and horribly expensive but none of that matters, it seems, for some aircraft passengers.

Flights being offered around Wanaka in a 70-year-old Supermarine Spitfire, have sold out seven months out from the aircraft’s scheduled visit, according to flight operator Frank Parker. The flights, costing approximately $3750 for half an hour would take place during a new ‘Rides Day’ event on Easter Monday following the Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow.

Mr Parker and his wife, Liz Needham, are both highly experienced warbird pilots. They recently started a business at Ardmore Airport near Auckland taking rides in the Spitfire, a P-40 Kittyhawk and a Harvard. It was now possible to do this, Mr Parker said, due to a law change by the Civil Aviation Authority allowing adventure tourism flights to be taken in ‘non-standard certificated aircraft’.

The Spitfire, owned by Auckland-based pilot and businessman, Doug Brooker, completed nearly 90 combat missions with three different squadrons operating over Europe during WWII.

Mr Parker said about 60% of the bookings for the Wanaka flights were from overseas visitors, many of them Australians. “Because of the cost we tend to attract the pure enthusiasts…individuals with the interest, desire and money to do this once in a lifetime experience.”

He said there were a few slots left in the Kittyhawk, at $2500 a ride. Extra flights had been scheduled for early evening after the conclusion of the airshow on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but these had also already sold out in the Spitfire. A few people asked if the aircraft were replicas, Mr Parker said, but most customers tended to know a lot about the fighters.

“The enthusiasts know how many rivets are in the wing. I think the appeal is the chance to immerse yourself in a piece of history, to do what Dad or Grandad was doing 70 years ago.”

“Rides Day was a separate event to the biennial airshow, but was being facilitated by the Warbirds Over Wanaka Community Trust”, event manager Mandy Deans said. “It was part of the airshow’s aim to encourage people into aviation careers and to try and get pilots into warbird flying. There were relatively few new warbird pilots coming into the scene at present,“ she said.

There would also be an emphasis on sport aircraft at the coming airshow, and many examples of these would be available for flights on Rides Day. “Some operators, such as Wanaka Helicopters, would offer the opportunity for passengers to take the controls during flight”, Ms Deans said. This possibility did not extend to the WWII fighters offering flights.

Passengers could choose from Tiger Moths, a Pitts Special aerobatic aircraft, a range of helicopters and light fixed-wing aircraft as well as classic warbirds such as the P-40 Kittyhawk, P51-D Mustang, Harvard, Strikemaster, jets and a Yak 52.

“Some operators reported having several bookings already and some had indicated they would extend the offer to also give rides before the airshow begins on Friday April 18”, she said.

Spitfire Doug Brooker

Source / Author: Warbirds Over Wanaka

Photo: Warbirds Over Wanaka