Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Those magnificent men...and women

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Masterton’s meritorious Wings over Wairarapa air show, staged at Hood aerodrome bi-annually since 1999, was once again a triumph for its organisers. The huge crowd who attended over three days witnessed non-stop and at times heart-stopping entertainment.

Unlike the unfortunate washout four years ago, the weather was clement and the event went without a hitch.

Planes on show and in the air included a line-up of World War I aircraft manufactured at workshops in both Masterton and Wellington by The Vintage Aviator Limited who accurately restore or faithfully recreate aircraft from the 1914 - 1918 period for museums and collectors worldwide.

A dog-fight staged by these masterpieces looked frighteningly authentic.

World War II aircraft included the Russian Yaks, two Spitfires, a Grumman Avenger, a Kitty Hawk, a Corsair, a Mustang and Harvard’s who thrilled the crowd, but were inevitably upstaged by the cacophonic jets represented by the Vampire, the Venom the Strikemaster and the Albatross.

The Air Force chipped with the giant Hercules and the two seater Texan Trainers and the distinctive sound of the “Huey”, one of the RNZAFs soon-to-be-retired Iroquois helicopters, reminded you, somewhat eerily, of films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon and The Deer Hunter.

Up in the commentary box Trevor Graham, who apparently flew in from the UK to describe the event, said his favourite aeroplane at the show was the Avro Anson. A chance meeting with the owner and his wife, Bill and Robyn Reid from Nelson, resulted in an offer to my grandson and me to have a look at the interior or this lovingly restored World War II British bomber. The restoration was painstakingly authentic, but the surprise was how cramped it was inside. The gunner is squeezed into a glass dome placed precariously on the top of the fuselage and his ability to swing his cannons right around the plane would no doubt mean he would need to regularly be reminded not to shoot off the tail section.

But it was more than just an air show. The huge expanse of lawn between the South Road main entrance and the airfield itself hosted a variety of food and wine cafes and an assortment of entertainment options that somewhat mirrored an A and P show. Offerings included bungee jumping, a bouncy castle, a mammoth air slide, ride-on electric cars, a “Bumpit” ball game, a V8 simulator, clowns and face painters and you could view daring stunts by the kiwi motorcycle team.

It was interesting to observe that many of the attendees were enjoying this fairground-style facility while jets were roaring overhead drowning out any possibility of polite conversation.

It was almost surreal.

There was also a marquee as big as a circus tent which housed the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems - known as drones to the uninitiated. Inside a variety of RPAS manufacturers and users displayed their wares and offered their services, all assuring those interested that drones herald exciting advancements in a number of fields. Already being used extensively in aerial photography, in the agricultural world it is thought they could muster sheep and spray crops. I read recently where reckons they are about to use them to deliver parcels to your door. I just hope they get their co-ordinates right.

Sheep dogs and couriers then have a doubtful future.

Volunteers from service clubs attend to the gatekeeping and car parking at the air show and in the mercilessly hot sun this is not an easy task. Better than the 2011 event however which was cancelled due to rain bucketing down and ticket money having to be refunded.

The financial outcome of this unavoidable disaster nearly put paid to the event which up until then had been successfully run by the Sport and Vintage Aviation Society. Recognising that the iconic air show was economically important for the Wairarapa a new organisation was formed called The Wings over Wairarapa Community Trust chaired by Bob Francis. SVAS chairman Tom Williams is still the air show director, but both Tom and Bob will be at pains to tell you that all credit to the smooth running of this massive undertaking goes to event co-ordinator Jenny Gasson.

I noticed too that at least one of the jets was piloted by a member of the fairer sex and as one of the last surviving male chauvinists I find it hard to admit that women could actually run the world.

Fundamental Islamists deny their womenfolk education and in relatively modern Saudi Arabia women are not even permitted to drive cars.

Imagine the brain power going to waste that could potentially make this a more habitable planet.

Crikey, did I just write that?

My daughter will think I’ve completely lost it.

“Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels.” - Fay Whittlesey


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