Air show wows the crowd

By Carly Gibbs

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Thousands of eyes peered skyward yesterday as aircraft of all shapes and sizes buzzed over Tauranga, putting on an impressive display. Sunday was the culmination of the two-day Classics of the Sky Tauranga City Airshow at Tauranga Airport.

Perfect weather meant perfect flying conditions and an estimated crowd of 25,000 converged on the airport to lap it all up. The airshow was the third and is now the biggest in the North Island, parading some of the best display aircraft in the country.

Cars also pulled over along Hewletts Rd and around Tauranga Harbour's edge in order to stop and watch the action. Some even set up deck chairs.<inline type="photogallery" id="10994" align="outside" embed="no" />

Chairman of the airshow organising committee, David Love, said the show had gone "superbly well" despite the Red Checkers not being able to fly this weekend, due to one of the pilots making a forced landing north of Waiouru on Friday. The only other disappointment was that a crosswind meant sky jumpers couldn't jump.

But the five jets were there, including the Vampire, the Strikemaster, the Dragon Fly, the Albatross and the Hawker Hunter, plus the two spitfires, and the P51 Mustang and T51 Mustang.

The Thunder Mustang was flown by its owner, Masterchef New Zealand's Simon Gault, and the two spitfires, owned by Brendon Deere and Doug Brooker, came from Ohakea and Ardmore. The airshow attracted 66 display aircraft and up to 150 Sport Aviation Association (SAA) planes.

Mr Love said getting the Hawker Hunter flying had been his personal highlight.

The Hawker Hunter is the only aircraft in New Zealand capable of super sonic flight, done in a dive, and until the weekend hadn't taken to the sky for four years. It is also the only aircraft with a live ejector seat and was clocked going past the airport's control tower at 965km/h in a high-speed, low-level pass. Mr Love said the show had provided a "huge boost" to the local economy and set out to provide Tauranga with an event for the whole family. As well as the planes, there were more than 160 trade stalls and exhibits, and spectators were able to set up picnic spots on the grass.

There were more offers of display aircraft than organisers were able to put in the air.

Papamoa's Alison Jones and Gareth Hughes, and Ms Jones' sister, Kathryn Jones, of Auckland, said the warbirds were their favourite and the show kept getting better every year.

Whakatane's Hayley Lougher said it was her first time, and she was impressed.

"I can't believe how big it is. A friend of mine has been to Wings Over Wanaka [sic] and he reckons Tauranga is up there with that."

Tauranga became the base for the biennial SAA air show after it was staged at Matamata for nearly 20 years. Organisers are determined to cement the show as the biggest in the North Island and to match the Warbirds over Wanaka International Airshow in the South Island.

However, Mr Love said the future of the show would depend on the airshow covering costs, as they were a charity organisation. Andrew Gormlie, the air show's co-director, said the display was a notch up from last year.

Fellow show co-director Bill Sisley, said it had been a "marvellous weekend".

Meanwhile, an event-packed Auckland Anniversary Weekend also saw hundreds of people flock to Mount Maunganui Main Beach for the surf lifesaving Eastern Regional Championships, and they packed out Tauranga Racecourse for the Interislander Summer Festival.

At Mills Reef Winery, music fans set up picnic spots for Stars Under the Stars, with Creedence Clearwater Revisited taking centre stage.

Bay of Plenty Harness Racing Club president Garry Hardaker said the day had been "really successful".

"We've had a huge turnout considering there were a number of other events in the Bay this weekend, like the air show and Mills Reef concert. But we've had a really good day and all the kids have really enjoyed themselves with the entertainment."

Winner of the Downtown Cars Tauranga Grass Cup Handicap Pace - the feature race - was Zenola Steelster, driven by Philip Butcher.

Butcher, his brother David and David's son Zach, drove six of the winning horses yesterday.

Mr Hardaker said another driver worthy of mention was Joshua Dickie, who won three races.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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