Warbirds Over Wanaka – Jet Race Report

Photo by Steve Zimmerman.
Photo by Steve Zimmerman.
Photo by Steve Zimmerman.

Easter weekend saw another brilliant episode of the biennial Warbirds Over Wanaka air show in Wanaka, New Zealand. Each of these events, set against the magnificent mountainous landscape made famous in the Lord of the Rings films, seeks to offer new features to the viewers who travel from all over the world to attend. This year the show launched the inaugural Gigatown Wanaka Jet race. The high-speed racing thrilled crowds of around 50,000 people on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as an invitational US team challenged three Kiwi pilots around a course marked by giant inflatable pylons. Paul Hughan streaked to victory, with fellow Kiwi Brett Emeny coming second and Peter Vause third, but the visiting Americans are determined to return and challenge the Kiwis again, general manager Ed Taylor assured. Given the tremendous buzz the jet racing generated, it seems certain they will take part in the next Warbirds Over Wanaka air show in March, 2016.

Other highlights from the air show included a special WWI commemoration which featured six WWI fighters dog fighting over Lake Wanaka. It was the first time an air show event took place in town, and organisers were delighted at the 5000 plus people that crowded the foreshore and surrounding hillsides to witness the aerial display which ended with six blasts from a 25 pound Howitzer field gun. 

In an unusual twist, Lithuanian aerobatic pilot, Jurgis Kairys, flew his Sukhoi Su-29 in a race against Kiwi Motorsport legend, Greg Murphy, in his Lamborghini.

Unfortunately, bad weather throughout the rest of the country presented arrival challenges to airshow visitors and participating aircraft alike. Ed Taylor remarked that, “One guy who got stuck in the Haast had to detour over Arthurs Pass then got stopped at a slip near Oamaru. It took him 18 hours to get to Wanaka. Jurgis Kairys took two and a half days to make his way down from Auckland, arriving on Saturday only hours before his performance.” Even so, Taylor said, “Crowd numbers for the three day event were similar to those experienced at the 2012 event, at around 50,000.”

Photo by Steve Zimmerman.
Photo by Steve Zimmerman.

The event concluded on Sunday evening with organisers honouring 13 people who have been involved with the airshow since its inception 25 years ago. These included airshow founder and patron, Sir Tim Wallis and two warbird display pilots who have flown at every show, John Lamont and Keith Skilling. We expect to bring further details on the warbird flights during the show as well…

The next show dates are March 25, 26 and 27th, 2016.

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