The B-52 was a no-show, but the P-3 Orion was a worthy replacement. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
Concern for public and pilots prompted Sunday cancellation
First night show ‘simply stunning’
The largest contingent yet from the New Zealand Defence Force made Wings Over Wairarapa a spectacular show on Saturday before rain caused the cancellation of the programme for Sunday.
The US Air Force B-52 bomber, known colloquially, and crudely it turns out, as BUFF, was a no-show but the New Zealand Air Force deployed a P-3 Orion at short notice and it did a thrilling low pass in front of the crowds.
Defence Minister Ron Mark said US Ambassador Scott Brown called him on Saturday to tell him the B-52 was grounded in Australia.
It was originally going to fly over Masterton on its way to Australia but left Guam early to avoid Cyclone Oma.
Mark did not know if speculation that the aircraft was damaged when it hit a landing light in Australia was correct, but it was grounded.
“I asked the Chief of Defence Force if we could stand in at short notice and I asked about a P-3 Orion,” Mark said. “They are always kept on standby for search and rescue missions.”
The Chief of Air Force was also involved.
“He rang back to say ‘yes sir, it’s all go’.”
The first call Mark received was at 9.30am on Saturday and by 10.52am it was sorted.
Brown issued a statement which said the plane was on its way from Guam to New Zealand, but was grounded in Australia due to a maintenance issue.
Mark said it was the first Wings Over Wairarapa he had attended as Defence Minister and he had been to others as a mayor and a local MP.
Squadron Leader Jim Rankin, the air force display director, chatted with Mark after the display and was happy with how it had gone.
Aviation legend Sir Tim Wallis travelled from Wanaka with his wife and a nurse to be at the show. He has been at every Wings Over Wairarapa Show, organisers say.
Sir Tim was a dedicated supporter of the event and an outstanding man, Wings chairman Bob Francis said.
Francis said he had been talking to Philip Duncan of weatherwatch.co.nz twice a day.
It was decided to cancel Sunday’s programme and heavy rain did fall. People with Sunday tickets had earlier been allowed to swap them for Saturday.
“It’s an outdoor event so you are weather dependent,” he said.
Francis said Mark did a fantastic job in organising for the Orion to come and he had no negative feedback about the B-52 no show.
He said the big crowd on Saturday had been “right up there”.
“The support is there for the next one,” he said.
There was a big crowd outside the event for the B-52, and some had travelled quite big distances. That crowd dissipated quickly when word spread the B-52 wasn’t coming.
Francis said the involvement of children at the event had been a real highlight and he had also hosted people involved with planning for the National Aviation Centre.
Sir Peter Jackson was still in the UK, but his collection of vintage aircraft was the mainstay of the afternoon show.
Francis said they don’t go to Wanaka now and they are housed in Masterton,
“There is nothing like it in the world,” he said. “They are quite exceptional.”
The show included the public debut of The Vintage Aviator’s Airco DH4.
Francis said Sunday was cancelled because of concerns for public safety and for the safety of pilots flying in minimal conditions.
“We’ve recognised the potential risk at bringing public on site and having a limited airshow for patrons,” he said. “It’s been a difficult decision but the right decision from a health and safety perspective.”
The first-ever night show on Saturday was a dazzling display over fireworks, a fly-over by the C130 Hercules and a magical performance by Airborne Pyrotechnics from the UK.
“We’ve been delighted with the feedback we have received from the public about Saturday’s show, especially the first-ever night show which was simply stunning,” Francis said.
“In addition, Friday’s education day, which saw almost 5000 Wairarapa school children come on site, was wonderful, and I think we’ve inspired a new generation into the aviation industry.”
There were 20,000 people there across Friday and Saturday and it was too early to say how the show performed financially, a spokeswoman said. The event had insurance.