The WoW Factor
The place to go for the world's best warbird-watching? Warbirds over Wanaka, New Zealand.
- By Derek Grzelewski
- Air & Space magazine, September 2004
(Page 2 of 3)
The show also offered an example of modern New Zealand aviation: a formation of Crescos—cropdusters produced in New Zealand by Pacific Aerospace Corporation in the late 1970s. This particular group was owned by the New Zealand flying company Wanganui Aero Work.
What sets Wanaka apart, though, are more exotic spectacles, such as a simultaneous takeoff of five Russian Yakovlev Yak-52s and five 1960s Nanchang CJ-6s—Chinese-built versions of the Yak-18 trainer.
There was no missing Wallis’ interest in Russian aircraft. He’s made several scouting trips to Russia. On one, in Siberia, he found enough parts of Polikarpov fighters to commission the restoration of three I-53 Chaikas and six I-16 Ishaks to flying condition. The I-16, conceived by Nikolai Polikarpov in the 1930s, is a low-wing monoplane with retractable undercarriage—the first fighter with that soon-to-be-ubiquitous design. The show featured a formation flight of two I-16s and one I-153.
Another Eastern-bloc attraction was the pairing of a Russian Sukhoi Su-31 and a Lithuanian aerobatic pilot, Jurgis Kairys. An engineer and test pilot for the Sukhoi Design Bureau, Kairys pioneered unlimited free-style aerobatic flying. Unlike traditional classes of aerobatic competition, which dictate the directions, axes, and other parameters in which a routine must be flown, the unlimited free-style class has few such rules.
Kairys’ act began with a roar and a burst of smoke; suddenly he was airborne, more like a cannonball than an aircraft. Kairys yanked the Su-31 into a vertical climb, then leveled off, then climbed and leveled, again and again.
Next, Kairys climbed until his aircraft was almost out of sight. He plummeted down into a dizzying corkscrew dive, disappearing into a river valley below the airfield, emerging in full vertical climb and rolling the aircraft all the way up. At the climb’s apex he paused, hanging the Su-31 from its propeller, before finally dropping down to repeat the routine. A lifelong pilot and World War II veteran watching the act shook his head and said: “Jeez! I’m glad I never had to dogfight this fella.”
The afternoon brought another rarity, the world’s only airworthy Lavochkin La-9. Compared with the chubby Policarpovs, the La-9 looked sleek, fast, and powerful. Seeing the two side by side, you could only marvel at how rapidly the design of Russian piston engine aircraft had advanced in just 20 years.
World War II was over by the time the La-9s became operational. They served the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries. North Korean pilots flew them in the Korean War, but they could not compete with the North American F-86s and other jet fighters fielded against them, so many were converted for ground attack, a role they performed more successfully.