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Bomber bummer blamed on bung battery

PHOTO/SUPPLIED

USAF B-52 stranded in Australia as typhoon delays repairs

PAM GRAHAM
[email protected]

The US Air Force B-52 could not make it to Wings Over Wairarapa because it had a problem with its internal batteries when it was in Australia.

There were thousands of people at the event at Hood Aerodrome to see the bomber on Saturday and hundreds of people drove long distances to Masterton to park on surrounding roads for a glimpse of it.

One person was said to have driven all the way from Auckland in a brand new Jaguar and on news of the no-show drove all the way back again.

The B-52 was due to fly over at 2pm and Wings Over Wairarapa posted on its Facebook page at 11.30am that the aircraft wasn’t coming.

The Times-Age sought further comment from the US Embassy in Wellington after there was speculation of delays in telling the public.

A spokeswoman said the embassy found out on Saturday morning that the plane was unable to fly and informed Defence Minister Ron Mark and the event organisers promptly.

“We were all aware that people were travelling significant distances to see the B-52 so we worked to get the news out as quickly as possible,” she said.

“The embassy and our USAF colleagues exhausted all avenues to get the aircraft repaired or provide a substitute aircraft.

“Getting a substitute B-52 was complicated by a super typhoon near Guam. Had there not been a typhoon we likely would have had another B-52 fill in. Mother nature just wasn’t co-operating.

“Our Defence Attache’s office continued to explore options to bring a B-52 to Wings Over Wairarapa as late as Saturday afternoon.”

The B-52 that was due to come to New Zealand had flown to Australia early to get ahead of the typhoon.

On landing in Australia, the plane’s drag chute skimmed a light, but the aircraft itself was unaffected, the embassy spokeswoman said.

But an internal battery issue was discovered that rendered it unable to fly until repaired.

The closest maintenance crews and parts were in Guam which was experiencing the typhoon.

There was speculation there were two USAF B-52s in Australia but the spokeswoman said there was only one – the plane with the engineering fault.

The typhoon delayed the repair crew, which only arrived in Australia on Wednesday with parts to make the repair.

“We would like to reiterate our disappointment that the maintenance issue and the weather conspired to stop us attending this year’s Wings over Wairarapa. The US Embassy looks forward to future opportunities to collaborate with this great show.”

Chairman of Wings Over Wairarapa Bob Francis said the organisation was advised on Thursday or Friday that the aircraft was going to fly to Avalon, near Melbourne, earlier because of weather conditions. There is a large air show at Avalon this weekend.

“We didn’t see any issue with that. Our expectation was they would fly from Avalon to Masterton and back.

“That was pretty straightforward stuff.”

Francis said a senior officer from the US Embassy in Wellington sent a text message to him about 9.30am on Saturday saying there was a problem with the B-52.

“I had Graham Lintott with me and he is an ex-chief of the air force and I grabbed him and we took the call.”

Francis said there was no one more disappointed than the organisers of Wings Over Wairarapa.

He said the US Embassy wanted to put its own statement out before Wings Over Wairarapa went public. They received that at 11am and went public immediately after that.

Francis said Ron Mark had been advised separately by the US ambassador to New Zealand, Scott Brown, and the New Zealand Defence Minister acted quickly and organised for the New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion to do a flyover.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force said it played no part in the planning for the visit of the B-52.

The Times-Age asked if the B-52 was to be controlled by the RNZAF out of Ohakea while flying in NZ airspace.

It responded that New Zealand airspace was controlled by Airways Corporation, not the RNZAF.

1 COMMENT

  1. Was the USA Pentagon ever authorized to send a USAF warplane to New Zealand 23 February by our Government? Because, if it did, then that would be the first a NZ Labour Government has done so for over forty years. Unless I am mistaken, no Labour Cabinet has authorized entry into NZ territory a USA (or British, French or Indian) warplane (or warship) since Norm Kirk’s government of the early 1970’s.

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