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 3 of 3)
Only five La-9s exist today. This specimen had been taken out of service with the Chinese air force in the early 1960s. After 10 years of negotiations, it is now owned by Ray Hanna of the Old Flying Machine Company in Great Britain and Garth Hogan of Pioneer Aero Restorations in Auckland, New Zealand. The owners had the engine and propeller overhauled in the Czech Republic in 2002, while the airframe was shipped to Pioneer Aero Restorations. Luckily, Hogan’s team had most of the parts it needed. “Our main obstacle was that, although we scoured the world to learn as much as we could about the La-9, our best source of documentation was an operation manual written in heavily jargoned Russian,” Hogan recalls. “Often the translations we had done made no sense at all.”
The restoration took two years. Finally, in March 2003, the La-9 flew again, piloted by New Zealand airshow coordinator John Lamont.
It was also Lamont who flew it today, roaring past the grandstand at jet speed. Suddenly he looped away and disappeared from the sky. A silence fell as the crowd tensely scanned the horizon. Finally, the show commentator announced that the La-9 had developed engine trouble and the pilot might need to land at another airfield. In the end, he did land in Wanaka, away from the crowd, and taxied to the hangar. The engine problem was fixed, and the La-9 was pleasing crowds the next day.
On Sunday came yet another Eastern Bloc show-stealer, the graceful Czech-built Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros jet trainer. The 1960s design flew wingtip to wingtip with three unexpected partners: two de Havilland Vampires—fighters designed in the 1940s—and a Cessna A-37 Dragonfly light strike-fighter, which served in Vietnam.
The show finally erupted into a crescendo finale: nine of the show’s star aircraft simulating an air battle and an attack on the airfield. The gladiators then dispersed, and we were brought down to earth and the reality of a mega-traffic jam caused by 29,000 people all trying to get home.