Russian jet's big thrills

By Joseph Aldridge

Tauranga investors have brought an exciting new tourism venture to the city - adventure flights in a Russian fighter jet.

The Czechoslovakian-made L-29 Delfin jet took to the skies above Tauranga for test flights last week after Civil Aviation Authority clearance and is now ready to take paying passengers.

Pilot Peter Meadows says the L-29 has a cruising speed of 460km/h and a top speed of 820km/h and will satisfy even the most adventurous daredevil's need for speed.

Mr Meadows runs Double X Aviation, the first certificated adventure aviation business in New Zealand, and is part-owner of the jet that now sits in his hangar.

His business partners are Tauranga-born pilot Matt McLaughlin (currently based in Hong Kong) and Tauranga businessman Warren Banks.

Mr Meadows brought and de-constructed the aircraft in Texas last year, packed it into a container and shipped it to Tauranga where the plane was reassembled, safety tested and audited.

It is one of only three fighter jets operating adventure flights in New Zealand.

"We wanted the ultimate bucket list aircraft so people in New Zealand could experience this," Mr Meadows said.

Mr Banks said buying the jet was an opportunity to bring an exciting attraction to Tauranga.

"We could have just spent the money on a drab old building in town and tried to find tenants for it but, nah, this is bloody exciting."

Mr Banks, who had his first flight in the jet on Saturday, said the experience was "really thrilling".

The pair co-ordinated with a photographer in another plane to get photos of the jet flying past Mount Maunganui, before gaining altitude and performing some aerobatics.

"I was just thrilled, I checked my heartbeat and it was about double what it normally is," Mr Banks said.

Mr Meadows says flights in the L-29 can be customised to suit the passenger's wishes and will range from a basic flight around the Tauranga area to a scenic trip up to the Coromandel.

Passengers will be asked if they want to perform aerobatic manoeuvres such as barrel rolls or loops.

Basic flights will start from about $2000, while longer flights with more aerobatics will cost about $3000.

He accepted the prices were out of reach for many people, but said he already knew of a lot of people who wanted to fly in the jet.

What is it?

  • The L-29 Delfin was made by Czech manufacturer Aero Vodochody in 1973.

  • The aircraft's top speed is 820km/h or three-quarters of the speed of sound.

  • The plane is 10.8m long and has a wingspan of 10.3m.

  • A dial in the cockpit controls nine different weapons, including guns, bombs, rockets and missiles.

  • Double X's L-29 has fuel tanks attached rather than weapons, allowing extra flying range.


- Bay of Plenty Times

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