Polikarpov I-16 Arrives in New Zealand for Warbirds Over Wanaka

"Red 9" pictured here during the aircraft's last air show performance at Warbirds Over Wanaka in 2008. The diminutive Soviet fighter has returned from her home in Germany to repeat this performance at Warbirds Over Wanaka 2020. (photo by Gavin Conroy)
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*One of the stars for this Easter’s Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow, a Polikarpov I-16, has arrived in New Zealand after a long journey from its present home in Germany. The WWII-era Soviet fighter was last seen in Wanaka during the 2008 air show. That event featured all nine of the Polikarpov fighters which Sir Tim Wallis, the show’s founder, resurrected in the early 1990s from wrecks salvaged at various sites across the former Soviet Union. Indeed all nine flew at Wanaka’s shows until 2008, when the collection dispersed to various new owners overseas.

“Tight Fit” – The Polikarpov is prized out of its container at Wanaka Airport after arriving from Germany.

This particular aircraft had originally been slated to attend the 2018 air show, but maintenance issues a few weeks before its ship-date to New Zealand that year unfortunately prevented her trip. But she is now up and running in New Zealand, which should be great news for anyone planning on attending Warbirds Over Wanaka in a few weeks, as the type is indeed a rarity in the skies these days.

This I-16 is based upon the remains of an aircraft which rolled off the assembly line at Gorky Aircraft Plant 21 as construction number 2421319 circa 1939/40. She flew with the Soviet Air Force’s 155th Fighter Squadron at the time of her crash circa 1942, going down roughly 25 miles southwest of Kostomukuksha in Karelia, now a republic within modern day Russia. In 1942, however, Karelia was a part of Finland. The Soviet Union and Finland (aided by Germany) were embroiled in fierce combat in that region during the Continuation War, a conflict separate from WWII itself in significant ways, and one which we rarely hear about in the West.

“Polikarpov engine run” – Twenty24 Ltd engineer Mark Williams gets into the Russian theme with his fur-lined hat and gives the thumbs up as the Polikarpov fires into life for the first time since arriving at Wanaka.

The fighter was recovered in 1991. Sir Tim Wallis funded its restoration at the Aeronautical Research Bureau/Aviarestavratsiya in Novosibirsk, Siberia along with five others of the type plus three Polikarpov I-153 biplane fighters. This particular I-16 was the first of the rebuilds to fly, taking to the skies again for the first time in September, 1995. She wears the original “Red 9” markings she once wore while serving with the 155th Fighter Squadron. Thomas Jülch imported the fighter to Germany in February 2009. She is now with a new owner, Wolfgang Frey, but still based in Jülch’s hangar at Lachen-Speyerdorf airport, just southwest of Mannheim, Germany.

Warbirds Over Wanaka enlisted the help of sponsors Hamburg Süd and Mainfreight to ship the aircraft from central Germany to Wanaka. It wasn’t an easy job; the aircraft had to be squeezed into an open top container (with a special cover to keep it dry).

Upon arrival at Wanaka, the container went to an MPI-approved Helisupport hangar for inspection. It took a full day to prize the valuable aircraft safely out of the container and to get MPI clearance.

Chief Engineer Callum Smith, from the Wanaka-based aircraft maintenance and restoration facility Twenty24 Limited, led the team which extracted, reassembled and then test ran the Polikarpov following its arrival in New Zealand. Regarding the fighter, Smith noted, “These are pretty straight forward aircraft, but there’s always the chance that something has got out of kilter during the whole process of shipping it halfway around the world. It was an unusually tight fit, so we had to be ultra-careful. But it all seems to be fine, and when we fired up the engine it sounded a treat!”

Callum had worked on this same aircraft when it was last in Wanaka, stating, “It’s amazing! It looks exactly the same as it did when it was shipped out of here 12 years ago!”

For the Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow, the highly experienced Lithuanian pilot, and two-time World Aerobatic Champion, Jurgis Kairys will be flying the diminutive Soviet fighter. Jurgis will arrive at Wanaka in early April to run the fighter through its paces ahead of the event.

Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow will take place at Wanaka Airport from April 10th through 12th.   Doubtless, it will be an amazing experience for everyone who attends! For more information and tickets please visit www.warbirdsoverwanaka.com

*Includes elements of a press release by the Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow

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