I-16 Set For Return to Warbirds Over Wanaka 2018

The Polikarpov I-16 photographed in 2008 by Gavin Conroy
United Fuel Cells

The Polikarpov I-16 photographed in 2008 by Gavin Conroy
The Polikarpov I-16 photographed in 2008 by Gavin Conroy

Of all the air shows in the world, the biennial Warbirds Over Wanaka display in Wanaka, New Zealand, is easily one of the most anticipated and impressive events. Set against the stunning, mountainous backdrop of the Southern Alps, and Lake Wanaka, it would be hard to argue that there is a more impressive location to feature vintage military aircraft ranging from original WWI fighters to exotic WWII types such as the deHavilland Mosquito and Mitsubishi Zero. The show often features aircraft which travel from other countries, sometimes from as far away as Europe and North America. Warbirds Over Wanaka will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2018. The result of the legendary Sir Tim Wallis, the display was created originally as a showcase for his collection of WWII-era fighters, and has blossomed ever since. For those unaware of Wallis’s warbird pedigree, he is perhaps the man most responsible for the resurgence of the Hawker Hurricane on the airshow circuit, having made possible the exceedingly complex (and expensive) remanufacture of the type’s main spar tubing and other parts. He is also the man behind the resurrection of the charismatic Polikarpov I-16 and I-153 fighters. Every single airworthy example in the world is a direct result of the project launched by Sir Tim Wallis back in the 1990s. With this in mind, Warbirds Over Wanaka is set to return one of these pre-war Russian fighters to the fore. The air show organizers issued the following press announcement to this effect…

An iconic Warbirds Over Wanaka aircraft is set to make an emotional return to Wanaka.

 One of the nine Polikarpov fighter aircraft famously restored by Sir Tim Wallis back in the 1990s is coming back to Wanaka from Germany for the 30th Anniversary Airshow at Easter 2018.

The recovery and restoration of the six Polikarpov I-16s (fondly known in Russia as Ishak or Little Donkey) and three I-153s is still regarded as one of the most audacious private Warbirds projects ever undertaken in the world.

Warbirds Over Wanaka General Manager, Ed Taylor, says “they have been working hard on getting a number of significant aircraft to mark the 30th year since the first Airshow and also Sir Tim’s 80th birthday. With the support of the aircraft owners and major sponsors Hamburg-Sud and Mainfreight, this is now possible.”

“We couldn’t think of a better birthday present for Sir Tim than to reunite him with one of his beloved Polikarpovs. It will no doubt be a special moment for Sir Tim and Warbird fans everywhere when he gets to see the I-16 perform at Wanaka one more time.”

“When we ask our visitors which warbirds they would most like to see here, the Polikarpov is always high on the list. The link between this stubby, noisy little Russian fighter aircraft and Wanaka is very strong.”

The story of Sir Tim’s Polikarpov project is legendary in warbird circles. Following the first ever Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow in 1988 Sir Tim visited Russia on business but took the opportunity to check out some possible aircraft for restoration. He returned in 1991 and that’s when he fell in love with the Polikarpov I-16. At the time none were flying anywhere in the world.

Sir Tim and his chief engineer Ray Mulqueen located nine wrecks. In 1992, Sir Tim signed a contract to start work on rebuilding the aircraft in one of the original aircraft factories that had produced the aircraft back in the 1930s.

It was another six years before the Polikarpovs first flew at Wanaka. They continued to star at Warbirds Over Wanaka for the next 10 years. Following the 2008 Airshow, Sir Tim’s Alpine Fighter Collection was disbanded and the Polikarpovs were sold off to owners around the world.

The Polikarpov I-16 photographed in 2008 by Gavin Conroy
The Polikarpov I-16 photographed in 2008 by Gavin Conroy

Six of them are still flying, including number 9 which is the one coming to Wanaka. This aircraft was initially sold to German businessman and Warbirds collector Thomas Juelch. The aircraft has since been sold to Wolfgang Frey but is still housed in Mr Juelch’s hangar at Lachen-Speyerdorf airport in Germany.

“Mr Frey has been very generous in allowing the aircraft to come to Wanaka. Meanwhile, Mr Juelch says he’s happy to help get the aircraft ready for shipping because of all the help he received from Sir Tim and others in Wanaka back when he first bought the aircraft,” says Ed.

Another key part of the project to bring the Polikarpov to New Zealand was shipping. Hamburg-Sud has again come onboard as a major sponsor and will oversee getting the precious cargo from Germany to Wanaka and back.

“Hamburg-Sud were fantastic helping us get the Buchon here from the UK in 2016 and now they’ve continued their amazing support by agreeing to transport the Polikarpov for next year’s Airshow. Mainfreight have also agreed to help out looking after all the logistics at both ends. Without the support of the aircraft owners and Hamburg-Sud and Mainfreight this simply would not have happened,” says Ed.

The Polikarpov will be flown at Wanaka by Lithuanian pilot Jurgis Kairys. Jurgis is a world aerobatic champion and regular performer at Wanaka.

Information about the airshow is available at www.warbirdsoverwanaka.com along with
ticketing choices – call Free phone 0800 224 224 within New Zealand or 1300 798 550 within Australia.

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