City's high flyers entertain the lunchtime crowds

By John Cousins

A thrilling display of flying entertained the lunchtime crowd above Tauranga's downtown waterfront when the RNZAF's Red Checkers once again showed why they are New Zealand's elite aerobatic team.

Flying wing tip to wing tip and trailing plumes of smoke, they provided a taste of what the crowds can expect at Ohakea Air Base this weekend when the RNZAF puts on a pageant to celebrate its 75th jubilee.

The Red Checkers cancelled their display over the Mount Main Beach on Sunday because of strong winds and instead showed off their skills and daring yesterday in a 15-minute show that started shortly after midday.

It was precision flying at its best with not much seeming to separate the aeroplanes in formation flying manoeuvres where it looked like the smallest error could spell disaster. St John Ambulance officers were parked on the waterfront just in case.

The event ended in a spectacular star burst after which the aircraft flew low along the waterfront to farewell waves from the admiring crowd.

Coinciding with the 75th jubilee celebrations will be the eagerly anticipated arrival at Tauranga's Classic Flyers Museum of one of the RNZAF's Skyhawk fighter jets.

The McDonnell Douglas A4K Skyhawk dating from the late 1960s was being trucked up in pieces from Blenheim's Woodbourne Air Base and was due to arrive on May 3.

Classic Flyers CEO Andrew Gormlie said it would take another three or four days for air force engineers to assemble the aircraft after which it would take pride of place in the museum's main hangar.

Once the Skyhawk was in display condition, Classic Flyers would host an arrival ceremony in which former Skyhawk air crews living in the Bay, museum members and others who gave generously to get the aircraft to Tauranga would "pat the Skyhawk's nose" and have a chat over a few beers.

Mr Gormlie said the Museum had so far raised about $26,000 of the $34,500 cost to transport the the Skyhawk from Woodbourne and have it assembled.

"Getting about $26,000 has been incredible but we have not finished. There will be a bit of a drive for the last bit."

The Skyhawk would be on permanent loan from the Ministry of Defence. It was formerly the squadron's No1 aircraft. "We are really pleased about that," Mr Gormlie said.

Unlike the museum's iconic single-seater Hawker Hunter jet that features on the front page of this month's Aviation News flying over Matakana Island, the Skyhawk would go on display minus its engine.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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