Warbirds Over Wanaka – 1998

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Twenty-plus years have flown by since my first and only visit (thus far) to New Zealand. My main purpose of the trip was to see the highly anticipated Polikarpov fighters, the I-153 and I-16 World War II era planes that the Alpine Fighter Collection had rebuilt in Russian factories during the mid-1990s. The show, during the Easter Weekend of 1998, would present five of the I-16 monoplanes and a sole I-153 biplane. Additionally, many more New Zealand warbirds would take to the skies, giving me a chance to see a whole field of aircraft that I’d never seen before.

More rare aircraft for me… a Yak-3, a “birdcage” Corsair, Grumman TBM Avenger, Consolidated PBY Catalina, DeHavilland Dragon and Dragon Rapide, and the list went on.  Additionally, then-current Royal New Zealand Air Force demonstrations by A-4K Skyhawks, a UH-1 Huey, and a Hawker Siddeley Andover transport added to the truly spectacular weekend of flying.

The sight of the five I-16s in the air at once was amazing, these short, stubby fighters were the first in the world to have retractable landing gear, and were state of the art equipment in 1934, when they were introduced. Powered by a 1000 horsepower Shetsov M-62 radial engine turning a two-bladed propeller, it was initially known as Ishak – or “Little Donkey” in Russian service. That same engine model powers the later AN-2 biplane of today – and you can see why the I-16, being much smaller and lighter, was a hot rod!

Here is a collection of photos from the show… unfortunately the I-153 suffered a landing gear issue and was damaged shortly before the show. Although cosmetically sound, it did not fly during the weekend. On the other hand, I did get to fly and do a “splash and go” in the PBY in Lake Wanaka during the week I was in the area.

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