Warbirds Over Wanaka 2024

More than 70,000 people gathered for New Zealand's premier airshow, headlined by the latest restored de Havilland Mosquito flown by Steve Hinton

The finale fighter flypast of Mosquito, Yak-3U, Spitfire, Corsair and two P-51D Mustangs. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]
Aircorps Art Dec 2019


From Friday March 29th to Sunday March 31st, 2024, the 15th installment of the world-famous Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow (WOW) drew crowds of more than 70,000 people to see a variety of aircraft from 1930s biplanes to a de Havilland Mosquito, a pair of P-51D Mustangs to a pair of Lockheed Martin F-16s, as well as an impressive array of WWII fighters and classic types across the spectrum of vintage aviation. Vintage Aviation News was there to witness what has been called one of the best airshows ever held in New Zealand.

Story by Zac Yates, photos by Nigel Hitchman and Zac Yates

Every two years at Easter since 1988, with only two exceptions, the skies above the small resort town of Wanaka, in New Zealand’s picturesque South Island, have played host to some of the finest warbirds and pilots the small Pacific nation has to offer. From humble beginnings with a handful of aircraft types and a family carnival atmosphere called “Warbirds On Parade” organized by entrepreneur, pilot and warbird collector Tim Wallis (later Sir Tim, born September 9th, 1938 – died October 17th, 2023), WOW has become New Zealand’s premier airshow event, attracting not just aviation enthusiasts from across the world but also world-class international pilots and their aircraft.

The impressive fighter park was headed by the recently-restored de Havilland Mosquito with another rare British-built twin, the Avro Anson — coincidentally also a veteran of Royal Australian Air Force service — parked beside it. [Photo by Zac Yates]

For many years the heart of the show were the aircraft of Sir Tim’s own Alpine Fighter Collection. But after he narrowly survived a takeoff accident in his Spitfire Mk.XIV in early 1996, the aircraft collection was gradually sold off and, in 2006, the event was reorganized. That year the Warbirds Over Wanaka Community Trust Board was formed to ensure the show would go on, with the vision to “aspire to be the best Warbirds Airshow in the World”.

A mass formation of helicopters paid tribute to WOW founder the late Sir Tim Wallis, whose passion for warbirds was funded by helicopter deer hunting and pioneering live deer recovery in New Zealand’s rugged Southern Alps with his company Luggate Game Packers and its successor Alpine Helicopters, which still operates from Wanaka today. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]

The last time WOW was held was 2018 and it it was another triumph in one of the prettiest settings on the planet for an airshow, continuing the Trust Board’s vision “to educate through the celebration and promotion of aviation past and present”. Then WOW 2020 was cancelled only days before the show’s scheduled start date, due to the COVID pandemic and disruptions caused by the associated restrictions on public gatherings. A similar fate befell the airshow planned to take place two years later. The six-year gap between airshows at Wanaka, combined with the death late last year of founder Sir Tim Wallis, meant the 2024 event would need to be something extra special, and the organizing team — led by retiring General Manager Ed Taylor — did not disappoint.

Steve Hinton brings the star of the show, Mosquito NZ2308 — the fourth restored by Avspecs Ltd, with a fifth well underway and a sixth project available for purchase — around the Wanaka crowdline. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]

WOW officials told Vintage Aviation News they estimated 60,000 people attended the airshow — consisting of a practice day on Friday and full airshows on Saturday and Sunday — and a further 10,000 spectators lined the waters of Lake Wanaka for a free evening show on Good Friday that featured a selection of participating aircraft including warbirds and serving Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) types.

A group of de Havilland biplanes returns to the aircraft park past a fence line packed with spectators. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]

Poor weather in the lead-up to the airshow meant many participant aircraft crews had to push forward their ferry flights to Wanaka (near the bottom of New Zealand’s South Island) however the long-range forecast promised sunny skies and minimal wind for the show itself. Indeed the weather gods smiled on WOW as, while there was some cloud on Good Friday, Easter weekend itself had consistent clear skies with barely any clouds in sight, and snow on the hills beyond the airfield added a welcome touch for photographers.

The Mosquito streaks past the Wanaka crowd. The aircraft — which had made its first post-restoration flight only two weeks before — flew multiple displays over the weekend with Steve Hinton at the helm. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]

Undoubted star of the show was the recently-completed de Havilland Mosquito T.43 NZ2308, ZK-PWL of Rod Lewis and Charles Somers which was displayed with typical flair by Steve Hinton of Planes of Fame, who was making his New Zealand airshow display debut. When the Mosquito’s attendance at the show was announced two months before the show, there was a rush on airshow admission pre-sales, and for the first time in the event’s 36-year history tickets for both Saturday and Sunday sold out weeks beforehand, and on the day gate sales were unavailable.

Steve Hinton — who last visited Warbirds Over Wanaka as a spectator — speaks with some of the many fans who were able to meet and chat with the flying legend. [Photo by Zac Yates]
   

Hinton told Vintage Aviation News that NZ2308 flew as “straight” as the other two examples restored by Avspecs Ltd that he had flown, and that having been at WOW as a spectator 20 years ago it was a thrill to finally display at the show. Avspecs co-founder and owner Warren “Wal” Denholm told us that it was a privilege to bring this particular Mosquito (whose storied history was detailed by Dave Homewood for Vintage Aviation News late last year) to Wanaka and be able to showcase it at the airshow. While the unusual color scheme of postwar RNZAF roundels and D-Day stripes has been the subject of much discussion online, Wal told us that the hybrid scheme was a compromise to pay tribute to the aircraft’s original identity (including its RNZAF serial and 75 Squadron codes) and to make it more visually engaging.

The Avspecs restoration team – with Karen and Steve Hinton in front of the roundel and Wal Denholm to Steve’s left – pose for airshow fans in front of Mosquito NZ2308. [Photo by Zac Yates]

Another significant machine making its airshow debut was The Biggin Hill Trust’s North American P-51D Mustang NZ2423, ZK-BHT. This was the aircraft which made the final RNZAF service flight of the type in May 1957. As detailed in our coverage of the aircraft’s first post-restoration flight in late 2023, this machine (built with the USAAF serial 45-11513) had been saved by visionary collector the late John Smith and carefully stored – along with several tons of P-51D parts and several other historic aircraft – at his Mapua farm since the early 1960s.

Sean Perrett gives a thumbs-up to the ground crew before taking off in Mustang NZ2423 for its airshow debut. [Photo by Zac Yates]

Squadron Leader Sean Perrett RNZAF, a former pilot with the RAF’s Red Arrows, displayed the aircraft multiple times throughout the weekend as part of the RNZAF’s Air Force Heritage flight, both solo and in company with the Trust’s Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IXc PV270, ZK-SPI (which was ably flown by Squadron Leader Stu Anderson RNZAF, making his inaugural displays in that aircraft).

Mustang NZ2423 is fitted with replica .50cal guns and original Hughes Aircraft ammunition links. The placards on the gun bay doors are also original. [Photo by Zac Yates]
Stu Anderson prepares for another display flight in The Biggin Hill Trust’s Spitfire. [Photo by Zac Yates]

Another Mustang in attendance was ex-RCAF P-51D 44-74829, ZK-TAF, the first warbird purchased by Tim Wallis in 1985. Later sold to a trust, in 1990 Graham Bethell (a former RNZAF DH Vampire and McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk pilot) purchased the aircraft outright and has campaigned it at airshows across NZ ever since. This year marked his 30th anniversary of displaying ZK-TAF at WOW, and on Saturday he flew his final low-level airshow solo demonstration in the aircraft.

Graham Bethell, owner and pilot of Mustang ZK-TAF for more than thirty years, eases his beloved machine around in a barrel roll for the Wanaka crowd. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]

This aircraft, which has been a fixture of New Zealand’s airshow scene for almost 40 years, is on the market and there were a few tears and much applause as he landed after Saturday’s display. Fortunately for the crowds eager to see the first Wanaka warbird one more time Bethell flew the aircraft in other displays over the weekend, and also flew joyrides in the days after the show.

Graham Bethell after his final low-level solo display in his P-51D. [Photo by Zac Yates]
A visibly-satisfied Graham Bethell after his final low-level solo display in his P-51D. [Photo by Zac Yates]
With crewman Nick Sheehan (left) looking on, Graham Bethell (in the cockpit) discusses his final display with Sean Perrett, Mark O’Sullivan and Steve Hinton. [Photo by Zac Yates]

Both Mustangs were joined for a Pacific Fighters display by Mike Jones’ Goodyear FG-1D Corsair NZ5648, ZK-COR, which recently returned to flight after several years grounded due to legal issues. Now based at Ardmore Airport near Auckland — wartime home to and training base for the RNZAF Corsair fleet when they were not in combat in the Pacific — NZ5648 was recently fitted with a pair of drop tanks. This was in addition to a hybrid paint scheme paying tribute to the crews of 23 Squadron and 2 Servicing Unit RNZAF (meticulously applied by Marty Nicoll of Omaka-based maintainers JEM Aviation), and made for a spectacular sight. Flown by New Zealand Warbirds Association President Frank Parker the Corsair, one of only two flying survivors worldwide out of 424 of the type operated by the RNZAF, made a welcome return to Wanaka skies having last appeared at WOW 2016.

Frank Parker takes off in Corsair NZ5648. The drop tanks had been fitted for the first time only a few days prior. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]
Corsair owner Mike Jones tops up his machine with oil before its next display. On the hill beyond can be seen spectators with their RVs: these coveted parking spots were sold out in August 2023. [Photo by Zac Yates]

A Wanaka debutante which had been waiting in the wings for some time was Ronan Harvey and Mark O’Sullivan’s Yakovlev Yak-3U-R2000 Steadfast, well known as a veteran Reno racer and holder of several world records. Originally planned to make its inaugural Wanaka appearance in 2022, in the days leading up to his trip south O’Sullivan was practicing his routine multiple times a day from the aircraft’s base at Omaka, at the top of the South Island. All this work paid off in spades as the result was a polished display that delighted both airshow newcomers and old hands alike, due in no small part to the Sanders Smokewinders fitted under each wingtip which provided spectacular smoke trails that twisted and contorted against the clear blue skies.

Mark O’Sullivan flying Steadfast thrilled the crowd with a handling display that showcased the air race veteran’s power, noise and maneuverability. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]
Steadfast co-owners Ronan Harvey (left) and Mark O’Sullivan discuss the aircraft’s performance after the latter’s initial display. [Photo by Zac Yates]

Each day the airshow was opened by pilots of the USAF Pacific Air Forces F-16 Demonstration Team (based at Misawa in Japan) flying a pair of aircraft whose design is (remarkably) almost 50 years old, Captain Jett Wright (on Saturday) and Captain Joshua Leonard (Sunday) flying with Captain Ethan “Bantam” Smith using fighters borrowed from the 35th Fighter Squadron at Kunsan, South Korea. In the afternoon Capt. Smith provided an energetic solo display to provide a striking modern contrast to the fighters of the past.

The RNZAF was also present in force, displaying examples of each type operated by that air arm. One of their star performers was Lockheed C-130H Hercules NZ7001, the first H model ever produced, which on Sunday flew the final airshow display by the type after nearly 60 years of RNZAF service. Destined for display at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand at Wigram upon the fleet’s replacement by the C-130J, NZ7001 flew solo displays as well as taking part in the impressive Thunder Formation with sistership NZ7003 and Boeing 757-2K2 NZ7571.

The lighter side of vintage aviation was represented with a series of displays led by a formation of de Havilland types, consisting of a DH.60 Moth, DH.82a Tiger Moths, a DHC-1 Chipmunk and a DH-89B Dominie airliner (known in civil service as the Dragon Rapide). While these aircraft flew a “racetrack” around the airfield two other 1930s classics took centerstage: Cam and Tracey Hawley’s Beech C-17B Staggerwing VH-UXP and Jay McIntyre and Rex Newman’s WACO UOC ZK-AEL, the latter making its WOW debut.

The two classic cabin biplanes approach the crowd for another graceful pass. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]

Another aircraft making its Wanaka (and New Zealand) airshow debut at WOW 2024 was Robert Borrius-Broek’s rare Lockheed C-40A 38-545, VH-HID, flown with aplomb by former owner Doug Hamilton from Australia. This aircraft, appearing in a beautiful polished metal finish and showing surprising agility, was another highlight of the event for many in attendance.

Doug Hamilton, previous owner of the Lockheed C-40, showcased his former mount for the Wanaka crowds on both show days. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]

Fans of aerobatics were not left unsatisfied thanks to many different acts on offer: Ivan Krippner in his Pitts Special; “The Mad Lithuanian” Jurgis Kairys making a welcome return in a borrowed Yakovlev Yak-52; the RNZAF’s Black Falcons team in their Beechcraft T-6 Texan IIs; and the NZ Warbirds Association’s Roaring Forties in their North American Harvards.

The NZ Red Stars team in their Yakovlev Yak-52s practice their routine for the Friday crowds. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman] 

An aerobatics highlight for many was the NZ Red Stars in their Yak-52s performing in tribute to WOW stalwart Brett Emeny, who was a co-founder of the team, and who sadly died suddenly in May 2023. His daughter, Fay, flew as #2 in the team which on Saturday put up a world-first formation of 11 Yak-52s — an idea suggested by Brett to WOW organizers specifically for this year’s event shortly before his untimely passing.

The late Brett Emeny’s daughter Fay taxis the family Yakovlev Yak-52 – appropriately registered ZK-YAK – back to its park after the 11-ship tribute to her father. [Photo by Zac Yates]

Over the years WOW has had several international civilian and warbird acts appear, including Hispano Buchóns from the Old Flying Machine Company, Hans Dittes and the Aircraft Restoration Company; and a Grumman Wildcat and Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero of the Commemorative Air Force. This year it wasn’t the aircraft that were the guests, but the pilots as Craig Mossman of Tauranga-based Fighterjets.nz supplied four Aero L-39 Albatros jet trainers for the American Eagles display team to fly. Consisting of four members of the Patriots Jet Team — Lt. Col. Dean “Wilbur” Wright USAF (Ret.), Rob “Stache” Hutchinson, John “Bordz” Posson and WOW veteran Col. Paul “Sticky” Strickland USAF (Ret.) — the American Eagles flew a tight, precise and well-coordinated routine unlike any civilian jet formation previously seen at a New Zealand airshow.

On the other end of the performance spectrum was a unique formation display of Bill Reid’s Avro Anson Mk.I MH120, ZK-RRA flown by Ryan Southam and Reid, and Legend Aviation’s Harvard NZ1044, ZK-OTU flown by Bevan Dewes. This latter aircraft, considered by many to be the finest example of the type flying anywhere in the world (complete with practice bombs fitted underwing), surprised many by firing blanks from its wing-mounted .30cal machine gun as it flew down the crowd line! The two aircraft made several formation passes before each conducting a solo routine. After Sunday’s display Steve Hinton was seen to disembark from the Anson. One wonders what he thought of the performance of that aircraft compared to his other mount for the weekend!

Ryan Southam (left) and Steve Hinton after the latter’s first time flying in the Avro Anson Mk.I. [Photo by Zac Yates]

Mention must be made of the WOW volunteer army, numbering more than 300 people, who assisted organizers with innumerable tasks: without them the show could not have happened and they deserve to be recognized for their tireless efforts over a very busy weekend.

Engineers from Avspecs inspect the Mosquito’s port engine after its Saturday flights. [Photo by Zac Yates]
Veteran Wanaka pilot Simon Spencer-Bower flew Alpine Helicopters’ Hiller UH-12E. Sir Tim Wallis started his career in a similar machine. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]

The flying program ran from 10am until 4.30pm on each of the two show days and was too full to go into detail in this report — we’ve not mentioned the elegant ASH-21 glider display flown by Dougie Hamilton; the two BAC Strikemasters (one ex-RNZAF and one formerly of the Royal Saudi Air Force) which flew together in an excellent routine; the USAF C-17 Globemaster III which flew from Hawaii to participate; the pair of North American T-28s that flew formation aerobatics; or even the showstopping mock attack where the “bad guy” Harvards bombed and strafed the field while the fighters scrambled to defend it.

Ian Brodie was the founding Director of the New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum from its opening in 1993. A member of the airshow commentary team from 1990 until 2010, he has written a number of books about the airshow and Alpine Fighter Collection aircraft. Brodie was invited to join the commentators on Sunday, and as the fighter flypast for the finale, approached delivered a heartfelt tribute to the man who started it all:

As we watch this formation of aircraft in this epic surrounding I would like everybody here to remember, and pay tribute to, the one person who made it possible. Were it not for a schoolboy that used to cycle out to RNZAF Base Wigram in the 1950s to watch P-51 Mustangs complete their circuits, Warbirds Over Wanaka would not exist. The warbird scene in this country would not be in such a strong and healthy state. Let’s celebrate the drive, passion and sheer single bloody-mindedness of Sir Tim Wallis who, as a very successful businessman, went on to share his love of warbirds with the people of New Zealand, educate them with the development of the NZ Fighter Pilots Museum and invite all of us to his home to see it all at Warbirds Over Wanaka. Tim – part of you will forever be with us whenever we see a warbird in the air. Thank you.”

Moments after this photograph was taken the fighter finale ended with The Biggin Hill Trust’s Spitfire Mk.IX pulling away as Missing Man in tribute to Warbirds Over Wanaka founder Sir Tim Wallis, whose own Spitfire Mk.XVI TB863 was so synonymous with the event it remains part of the airshow logo to this day. [Photo by Nigel Hitchman]

The next Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow will be held April 3rd-5th, 2026. For more information visit the airshow’s official website.

Array

2 Comments

  1. Misawa is not designated as an Air Force Base, because the land it sits on is owned by the Japanese Government. Only bases on American owned land are designated as Air Force Base. The only USAF facility with the Air Force Base designation not found in the US, is Anderson, on the Island of Guam.

Graphic Design, Branding and Aviation Art

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*