14 November 1998 - Ardmore
The NZ Warbirds Association had its origins in the late 1970's. At that time the RNZAF was disposing of its surplus Harvards, following the retirement of the type in 1977. Some concerned individuals thought that all the aircraft might be lost overseas - echoing the fate of NZ2417, a P-51 Mustang which was restored to airworthiness in 1964 as ZK-CCG, and displayed around the country (known as the 'Mobil' Mustang) only to be sold to the US in 1974 (it is now in Kermit Weeks collection as N921). Although the groups tender was unsuccessful, they later acquired a non-airworthy example which was restored. From there, both the fleet and the group of interested individuals has grown.
The NZ Warbirds Association is now an umbrella organisation for a number of individuals and syndicates representing more than sixty aircraft. Dedicated to "Preserving Service Aircraft in flying condition for the enjoyment and education of present and future generations of New Zealanders", originally the group was primarily based at Ardmore, but now has members all over the country. Membership is not restricted to pilots - members come from all works of life, and present a range of skills - united by their interest in aircraft.
Acknowledging the phenomenal growth in the organisation, and the rise in interest in the warbirds movement, the Association decided to celebrate their 20th Anniversary with several events, including a fly in at Ardmore.
Given the origins of the Association were an intention to save former RNZAF aircraft, it was good to see the Air Force put in an appearance. As well as the heavyweight C-130H, it also brought along its latest type - the B200 King Air. The King Air only came into service earlier in the year, as an Andover replacement in the training role. The Herc was very popular with visitors, as they toured the cavernous interior. Queues stayed lengthy for most of the day.
Other visitors including the Confederate Air force - from which 16 Wing is based at Dairy Flat (North Shore). They brought along their Twin Beech, and a former RNZAF Harvard, now attractively painted as a USMC SNJ. The Alpine Fighter Collection contributed their Corsair - an appropriate decision given that Ardmore was one a training base for the type when in RNZAF service. Individual attendees included the former RNZAF airtourer up from Wharepapa South, Stan Smith's Moth Minor which also served with the RNZAF, and a n American interloper from Rotorua, in the form of a Stearman.
Amongst the locals on display were a conspicuous number of Harvards, the Association Beaver, and some foreign types including Len Cowper's Stearman, the Nanchang CJ-6, and a Bf-108. Although he's based in Taranaki, Catalina captain Brett Emeny is practically a local - he was also on hand to display his Vampire.
There was plenty to keep attendees occupied - talking to the crews (A-37 pilot BJ Rhodes was clearly enjoying his discussions), walking amongst the aircraft, or exploring the displays in the Warbird Association hangar. As well as the usual books, magazines, and models, there was also a substantial display of some very good aviation art. Very importantly, there was also a good range of food and beverages to keep the energy levels maintained!
One display that got my attention was two recently restored Ryans. One was Les Marshall's immaculate PT-22. the other was a rare STM presented in the colours of its original owners - the Netherlands East Indies Air Force. This aircraft, ZK-BEM, is owned by MoTaT, but operated by the Warbirds Association. The original bequest specified the aircraft was to be maintained and displayed, and is done so under a unique arrangement.
Also pleasing was the number of DH82a Tiger Moths on hand. The grassed area out by the runway was alive with wings - in multiple sets. One of my favourites!
The displays weren't all ground bound. Although the fly in was not an airshow in the traditional sense, there was a lot of flying going on. A number of low passes, some aerobatics, and other handling displays occurred. Something I'd never seen before was a pilot change for the Cordsair - out on the taxiway, with the engine running.
... and for those who waited for the end of the day, there was also the sight of the static aircraft departing. Particularly exciting for me was a short takeoff by the C-130.
© 2001 Phillip Treweek, all rights reserved