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Pilot of a different vintage

Bevan Dewes with his 1952 De Havilland Chipmunk. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

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At 25 years old, Bevan Dewes is one of the youngest pilots who will be performing in this weekend’s World War I dogfight display at Wings Over Wairarapa.

The former Rathkeale College pupil said he’d always wanted to fly, since watching topdressing planes fly around the Eketahuna dairy farm where he grew up.

“We always had airplanes on the farm.

“But I’m not from an aviation family.”

At the age of 13 he started by volunteering at The Vintage Aviator Collection – home of the world’s largest collection of flying WWI planes – helping with maintaining the WWI planes, sweeping out the sheds and other “hangar rat” types of jobs.

Dewes took his first solo flight at 16, gaining his pilot’s licence not long after.

“From there I started flying all sorts of single engine airplanes. It’s a bit of fun.”

By the time he was 18 he had saved up enough money to purchase in part a 1952 De Havilland Chipmunk.

His Chipmunk has a royal connection having been flown by Prince Phillip.

“This would have been what they trained in, in the Royal Air Force.”

In 1974 the plane was sold to an American collector before arriving in Masterton.

Dewes said it was a matter of “right place, right time”.

He’s since gone on to fly several other vintage aircraft, including the Chipmunk’s older brother the 600-horsepower North American Harvard, the Curtiss P-40 Kittykawk and Sopwith Pup.

His first aerobatic display was at Wings Over Wanaka in 2014 and this weekend’s performance will be his first time at Wings.

He’ll be flying his Chipmunk as well as partaking in a WWI era dogfight, which features a ‘dancing tiger routine’ with Tiger Moths chasing each other with ribbons.

“Flying these old planes is what I’d call real flying.”

With limited instruments and navigation systems, it takes both skill and experience to fly.

The dogfight is co-ordinated with hand signals as there are no electronic means of communicating.

Operating the rotary engines of the older planes also requires a good ear and some mechanical knowledge.

“You have to listen – whether it’s running rich or lean.

“We wouldn’t do it if we thought it was dangerous though.”

Dewes tries to get up in the air at least once a week to help keep maintenance costs down, admitting that it’s an expensive hobby.

He runs his own beekeeping business with his brother, with about 600 hives, to help fund flying time and also works as a pilot for Skydive Wellington.

He said vintage aviation was difficult to get into but there were more and more young people keen to get involved.

“I sometimes take flying over the country for granted. There are not many people who can do it. One of the most gratifying things is to be able to take people flying and bring them back with a massive smile on their face.

“You just have to really want to do it if you’ve got the passion.”

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