It was an overcast but otherwise sunny and warm day in January when the NZ Sport and Vintage Aviation Society (abreviated S.V.A.S. from here on). held their bi-annual airshow. This year it was held at their aerodrome in the Wairarapa on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd. They have a roster for these shows with it alternating around the country to a different airfield so that the entire country gets an airshow near them on a regular basis. The S.V.A.S. have been doing these shows for a while now and their experience shows at many levels throughout the show.
The first indication of this came as Ewen and I arrived in his car to the showgrounds. Traffic had been directed in an orderly fashion to the two entrances and parking space had been allocated in various fields situated next to the aerodrome. Continuing their organisational prowess the traffic was neatly directed to their parking spot so that the fields filled in an orderly fashion and everyone had clear room to get into and out of their cars. It was nicely done and much better than the usual rugby scrum  approach many volunteer groups use to handle parking.
Once parked it was a moderate walk over the fields to the entrance proper of the aerodrome. At the time we arrived the show had already begun and we could see the early World War 1 Fokker planes flying overhead. The show had a timetable that you could download and print off indicating the order of the days events and they stuck very closely to the outlined timetable. Sadly the presense of the planes flying slowly overhead, these planes travel so slowly they almost seem to drift idly across the sky rather than actually fly purposefully, meant I made quite the big mistake for the day. I spent my time looking up and not concentrating on where I was going.
The astute reader will know exactly what is coming next. Yep, I put my foot down badly and managed to fall over twisting my ankle nicely. Fortunately not enough to do permanent damage or break anything but plenty enough to put a painful crimp on movement for next few days. This meant any thoughts I might have had about wandering around the parked planes being exhibited went right out the window. As did any thought of maneuvering about to get a good shot of the various aerobatics. Ewen and I ended up plonking ourselves down near the runway behind a wire fence that gave us a good view of the planes taking off and taxiing. We also ended up getting a good look at the servicing and preperation of the planes especially the two Vampire jets we were situated behind.
Thus if you see wire in the foreground of my photographs - that is why. It simply was too painful to get up and get to someone where I'd get a clear line of sight. I did try to compensate for this by focusing past the fence and it was bright enough that I could get away with shallower depths of field thanks to the wide apetures. Even so it crops up in a few images here so my apologies, my foot asks your indulgence here. The other factor complicating matters was the somewhat rude crowd of children and parents who, despite a very large and obvious camera featuring on my part and Ewen having his out as well we kept getting people pushing in front of us or shaking the fence making it hard to poke the lense between the wires to try and get one layer of the wire fencing out of the shot.  I'd be happier to tolerate this without any complaint if I was shooting with a digital camera but when each shot taken costs to get it developed then it rapidly becomes very irritating. It took some direct and pointed requesting that people stop mucking about with the fence to get the point across but eventually we got them to stop.
Fortunately such anti-social behavior was not the norm and generally the crowd spent a pleasant time watching the planes go through their paces. Well apart from the hat and umbrella clearing blast we got from certain elderly jets warming up, but I am getting ahead of myself. Thanks to the foot twisting by the time I limped into position and then got my camera out then the Fokkers had largely finished their gentle gliding across the sky. I did get this nice shot of a British Avro 504K as it wandered overhead. The amazing thing with the older planes is, being used to jets and faster prop planes, just how slowly they move through the air. They seem almost to hang in the air using skyhooks to hold them up. It doesn't help that their engines are also pretty quiet so once they get a few hundred feet up they become background gnats noisewise - angry moths doing slow maneuvers over the airfield. I rather imagine it's a bit more of an exciting and white knuckle ride for the pilots than it appears from the ground.
The general organisation of the airshow was to work chronologicaly through the aircraft starting with pre-WWI era aircraft, WWI planes, then on to the WW2 planes before finally unleashing the jets to deafen us all. Mixed in were acrobatic displays around lunch time, a special appearance from NZ military teams and finally to round the day off a mock airfield raid complete with air and ground defences. This nicely mixed up the day and an especially good feature was the running commentary provided by a variety of people over the loudspeaker system during the day. Care was taken to keep the speaker relavent to the planes flying and they often had informative details to relate about the history of the planes featured, their capabilities and quirks. Again a nice touch indicative of the level of organisation present throughout the show.
Anyhoo once the World War I planes settled back to the ground it became the inter-war period planes turn to shine above the airfield. One side effect that was interesting was the flight ceilings used by the planes. The World War I era planes tended to keep pretty close to the ground but as the power and maneuverability of the planes increased the flight ceiling kept rising as the speeds involved forced wider turns - despite the newer planes being more agile. At this point in the proceedings the planes were still moderately low to the ground and a lot of their aerobatics were taking place behind a set of large staff tents, thus the large number of taxiing photographs you are going to see for the next few planes. Well that and the few shots I did get of the aerobatics weren't particularly exciting.
First off we had the classic shape of the de Havilland DH82 Tiger Moth, with a pair of them doing aerobatics. Anyone who has read the Biggles novels gets goosebumps looking at these sturdy old planes, although Biggles flew a Sopwith Camel not a Tiger Moth - one of those featured in the WWI flybys so it was all good. Also featured was a Beechcraft 17S Staggerwing, which I have to say is not a plane I was aware of to any great degree. Certainly it flies well though and while the photograph here is a little dull the plane put on a great performance dancing across the field very nimbly. If you follow the link above you can see that this plane, like many pre-World War II planes were the product of an inspired and dedicated designer who pushed the design ahead despite the objections or obstacles raised.
We then had various trainer aircraft put through their paces. Most memorable, or perhaps best photographed of the lot, was the North American Harvard seen here taxiing and overflying the field. This proceeded to put on an aerobatics display and I believe one was fitted with a gas gun simulator allowing it to stage mock attacks as part of the maneuvers conducted. This sounded less like a gun firing and more akin to the plane suffering from a chronic case of flatulence. But still, it spiced up the display so I should be a touch kinder about it. In some ways the presence of the gas simulator fits the primary roles these planes filled - that of trainers. So having one of the examples here simulating an attack on the airfield seems just so fitting.
Perhaps most unusual about these planes was the forward folding landing gear that while rendering the plane more streamlined for flight do look a little odd in the way the leading edge of the wing starts with wheels. I can't say I have seen that on aircraft before and it lends the Harvard a distinctive visual marker - not that this helped me when I was putting this page together. I managed to completely confuse the Yak52 and the Harvard 2A for half of the photographs featured here. It was only the clear Civial Aviation Authority registration number on the wings of one of the planes that clued me into my mistake - I saw the registration number listed against a very different plane type than I had expected.
Next up was a tribute to Edgar Percival who designed a variety of planes
of which three featured in the display. I missed getting a good shot of
the Piston Provost but did get the
as seen here and the
Proctor a little
further down. The EP 9 is a very distinctive shape and has a remarkably
quick take off and landing span required. The pregnant guppy looks belies
its original cargo and crop spraying design. I have to say while the name
of Edgar Percival may mean a lot to aviation enthusiasts the planes
themselves aren't wildly recognisable to me. The Proctor is a remarkably
modern looking for a plane its age and this is no doubt the point of
featuring Mr Percival's work - it has been influential to a large degree.
One of the major highlights of the day for me was the presence of a Douglas 'Dakota' DC3. I've read a fair bit about these planes, watched the odd documentary about their creation and even seen a fair number of TV series & films where they feature prominently. Even with all that I wasn't prepared for the noise the plane made. The engines on this DC3 were very recognisable producing the droning humm that many a film has depicted. What the films don't convey well is the strength of that humm. One Dakota was loud enough, I can scarcely begin to even imagine what the 2,000 odd, that featured in the early stages of D-Day shuttling the troopers of the 101st airborne paratroopers across the English Channel, must have been like. Contemplating what that sounded like for the German forces they flew over is interesting, it must have been an awe inspiring and probably terrifying experience. Here I managed to capture the DC3 in flight replicating remarkably well the cover artwork of Mike Oldfield's album 'Five Miles Out'.
Sharing engine types with the DC3 is the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina - a venerable flying boat design that reminded me of my grandmother describing flying boats operating out of Wellington Harbour. A much slower and a touch more ponderous craft than the DC3 it was nonetheless a pleasure to see one of these in flight. The pilot did multiple passes, some with the outrigger amphibious floats lowered to show the profile the plane would take when landing on water. Thanks to its amphibious capabilities, relatively good observer visbility from various bubbles and a decently long range (3,782 km odd) many of these planes served as search and rescue units. No doubt many a grateful pilot was very glad to see one of these almost ungainly planes coming down to land and pluck them from the water.
After the Catalina a 'lunch' break featured with a variety of smaller remote controlled aircraft providing displays. One of the more unusual was a 1/6th scale A-10 Warthog replica which kept the crowd decidedly amused as it jetted around. Only having fuel for something like eight minutes of flight its display was short and to the point. Having given everyone a chance to get food the display resumed with a mock airfield attack of World War II era planes. One of the biggest crowd pleasers present was the Corsair as well as a P51D Mustang - a plane which I totally failed to capture any decent photographs of. But the Corsair was quite spectacular first featuring in a mock raid on the airfield and then having it's own aerobatics display. The shear physical presence of the plane is hard to state. The Mustang, while a remarkable and agile plane, was almost reserved in feel compared to the loud growling of the Corsair. The Corsair was, bar the jet aircraft, simply the loudest aircraft in the display. It's huge propeller span and crooked wing profile made it instantly recognisable and very easy to follow as it put on an excellent display. Swooping from a thousand feet or so up it pulled out just as the characteristic wail of the air intakes was really getting going and then proceeded to do several low flyovers. Unlike any other plane of the display you didn't so much hear the Corsair go overhead as feel it, the plane leaving a strong shockwave behind it of both disturbed air and simple engine noise.
As can be seen in the photographs by this point in the day the early cloud cover had lightened to provide patches of blue sky - giving the Corsair frequent chances to briefly disappear on the high end of the loops and rolls performed. The sky blue colouring working remarkably well. Of course these was no mistaking that the plane was around, the engine noise never let you forget that and I can see how soldiers on the ground facing one of these machines could be intimidated by it. It was definitely a lot of fun to see this plane put through its paces.
After the Yak 52s and Nanchangs strutted their stuff it came the turn of the Jets to begin. First to warm up was a venerable deHavilland DH115 T.55 Vampire which required a little battery assistance to get it going. I have a soft spot for these planes having been raised on Gerry Anderson TV shows when I was a kid - the Vampire just looks like it stepped out of a Thunderbirds model workshop with its' curved and unusual shape. Amusingly enough it was also the plane that created the most havoc amongst the group of spectators we were in because of it's backwash when spooling the engine up. The Vampires required a gentler wind up with time for the engine to adjust to the heat and stresses involved - all of which meant some consternation as hats and umbrellas were scattered a bit during this process. That and the heavy wash of kerosene as the engine whined it's way up to power. Once in the air all the effort of getting the two Vampires on display was forgotten with the planes putting on several graceful arcing maneuvers over the airfield.
As part of that an Eastern Block plane, the Checkoslovakian made L-39C Albatross jet, joined in with the Vampires. All three did a couple of passes over the airfield. Sadly the very speed of the jets is their own undoing when it comes maneuvering for displays. The flight ceiling available was fairly low which limited the faster jets to mostly straight line manuevers in which less time was spent over the airfield. It is just an unfortunate reality of the speeds these machines operate at. In most respects the World War II prop driven planes provided the most exciting display of the day through having the most powerful and nimble planes that don't require such a large operating volume to work in. Still it was very interesting to see the Albatross flying with the Vampires with the thirty years of design work and refinement between the two plane types showing in how they maneuvered. The Vampires had to be a touch more gentle with the power maneuvers as the jet engines in them have to be treated with a lighter hand. The Albatross, with a much newer engine, could do flashier moves as a result.
After the jets finished it became the turn of the RNZAF to strut their stuff. First off was a flyover of airfield by an Orion from which a team of AirForce skydivers proceeded to drop in on the show. It was a nicely executed parachute drop landing pretty close to the aim point designated. That was then followed by what was described as "NZ's counter terrorism asset", yes that was singular. One Iroquois helicopter which proceeded to do several flybys of the field. I tried to get a few photographs of it but most of my efforts came out as fairly dull shots. What Ewen and I spent a bit of time chuckling about was the thought that any terrorist operating in New Zealand hopefully didn't think to pack any surface to air missiles or our counter-terrorism asset is kinda in trouble...
If you are interested Ewen has his collection of photographs online, which includes a few shots of the Iroquois doing its stuff. These helicopters have been a staple of Airforce/Army work all around New Zealand and have proved to be pretty durable and dependable machines. Well aside from the odd scandal when buying reconditioned rotor blades that weren't reconditioned properly - hardly the machine's fault. Still the sound of these helicopters is fairly distinctive and I suspect a large proportion of New Zealand's populace is very familiar with that noise as they often aid in search and rescue operations for missing trampers.
Another portion of the display that the RNZAF put on was the Red Checkers aerobatics team doing formation flying and a variety of stunt manuevers. These guys were very polished and sadly my photographs of them don't really reflect the skill and precision with which they flew. What wasn't helping was unfamiliarity with the maneuvers being performed so that by the time I had the camera focused in the right place to take the shot it was usually far too late. If I had been using a Digital camera I would have been far happier to just snap away in rapid fire to try and capture the moment. But I had only a limited number of film rolls with me and I was trying to conserve a roll for the finale sequence of the show, I expected that to be pretty dramatic. You can also see in some of the shots here I decided it was sunny enough to warrant sneaking the polarising filter out to give the colours a lift. Again it is tricky to use that filter well with a rapidly moving target as they are very sensitive to the angle the subject is relative to the direction of the sunlight.
This brought us to the grand finale of the day - the airport attack. Various fighters, all WW2 vintage, staged a mock assault on the airfield. Carefully positioned dummy explosives then produced billowing clouds of smoke and pyrotechnic noise as the attackers pressed the assualt. Naturally, this being a pretend WW2 airbase, the defenders came to meet the challenge with the first response being on the ground as WW2 era tanks and vehicles moved into position to provide anti-aircraft fire.
Quite a variety of vehicles came out for the display including a couple of WW2 era tanks. The announcer commented that airshows is pretty much one of the few times the tank owner gets a chance to drive the vehicle as it has a huge appetite for fuel. Also present were a variety of trucks, jeeps for command staff and a couple of heavy machine gun half-track vehicles originally intended to provide anti-aircraft fire. This collection of vehicles proceeded across the field while a healthy number of defending aircraft proceeded to challenge the attackers - providing another opportunity for the gas gun simulator to find use.
Now I may have this back to front but I think the Valentine tank was supporting the attacking squadron of Yaks and Nanching's while a defending squadron of the Corsair, P51 Mustang and two Harvards flew to deal with the attackers. The defenders being supported by an extra tank to deal with the Valentine and a variety of support vehicles including medical trucks, half-track heavy machine gun mounts for AA fire and Jeeps. It actually was quite surprising how many vintage vehicles were available for the display given that a great many of them are just personally owned by residents of the Wairarapa region. There obviously is a healthy community of WW2 militaria afficionados who seem to get a great kick out of driving them any chance they get.
It all made for a suitably dramatic and fun conclusion to the airshow.
In the odds and ends segment the clouds clearing to let the sun through produced some more unorthodox methods of finding shade. Always nice to know the specially imported and no doubt expensive Checkoslovakian jet makes such a perfect improtu umbrella. In fact the crew that flew the remote controlled A-10 Warthog spent a fair bit of time poddling around near the L-39C as well, often nipping under the wings to get away from the sunshine.
Also in the unorthodox use of jets category was the surprise revelation that a Vampire wing is apparently extremely comfortable. No doubt a line of lounge furniture will be forthcoming - think of the novelty roast food you could prepare off the jet engine while your guests enjoy wingtip sartorial comfort! Well maybe not - the cost in jet fuel for a properly cooked sausage might be a touch prohibitive not to mention the issue of avoiding setting your lounge alight...
But perhaps the photograph for me that summed up the airshow would be this one. In it three generations of powered flight share the field of view giving you a snapshot of the line of development that aviation has undergone. This to me is what it was all about, seeing that lineage and understanding just how far aviation really has come. Not to mention to an extent how short a time it has all happened in. It can be easy to forget that the days of no aviation at all are only just begining to pass out of living memory which is where shows like these really become important, I can remember my grandmother talking of the days when flying arrived in the first place and her thrill at taking a ride for the first time in a biplane. Having seen the frailty of the very first planes it gives you a better appreciation of why people could so easily underestimate the effect the airplane was going to have on shaping the world we know today. It also can be easy to mistake these airshows as being purely about militaria but it is to the SVAS's credit that a large variety of the planes featured were civilian models as well with displays of topdressing, passenger and messenger planes getting a good share of limelight.
All in all it was an excellent days entertainment. Congratulations to the SVAS for putting on such a well organised and entertaining show, given the level of work involved I can see why these shows are done biannually but long may they continue.
 For the international readers this generally means an unorganised mess which is what most scrums in a rugby game look like to the non-fan of the game.
 What perhaps makes this the most annoying is that both Ewen and I, in recognition that others would want a clear view, were sitting down on the ground to let those behind us get a good look. This forced us both to use the fence to rest the cameras on making the whole fence shaking much more annoying than normal.