The pilot of a plane that crashed shortly after the opening of Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow is shaken but not injured, the airshow general manager says.

Arthur Dovey's rare Yak 3 Russian fighter plane landed on a grass runway at Wanaka Airport but clipped one of two cherry pickers parked between the grass and sealed runways.

The retired airline pilot was flying his Yak 3 alongside another taking part in the show's opening display, just before the crash about 10am.

He signalled to the crowd he was okay when he emerged from the mangled plane and walked away from the wreck uninjured.

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The aircraft however sustained serious damage with part of one wing torn off.

The pilot is understood not to have been injured. Photo / Supplied by Matthew Warner
The pilot is understood not to have been injured. Photo / Supplied by Matthew Warner

An eyewitness said the plane hit with a ''hell of a bang''.

Warbirds Over Wanaka general manager Ed Taylor said he spoke to Dovey, who has flown at the event and other airshows around New Zealand for many years, immediately after the crash and he was shaken up but not hurt.

Taylor said the left wing of the plane was badly damaged along with the undercarriage on that side.

"It will need a full evaluation of exactly how badly it's been damaged. They can all be rebuilt but it's the cost of it."

Part of the Yak 3 Russian fighter plane's wing was torn off when it clipped a cherry picker at Warbirds Over Wanaka. Photo / Liam Parker
Part of the Yak 3 Russian fighter plane's wing was torn off when it clipped a cherry picker at Warbirds Over Wanaka. Photo / Liam Parker

Another witness to the crash, photographer Matthew Warner, said he heard a "massive bang" and looked around to see the Yak 3 colliding with the cherry picker.

"Fortunately the pilot was okay but they've spent the last hour cleaning up the mess."

He said they had launched a full investigation into the crash.

The show opened at 10am but its programme had been set back by about 35 minutes, as emergency services attended to the crash.

A Civil Aviation Authority representative at the airshow cleared the aircraft to be removed while the other Yak 3 had landed safely.

F-16s no-show at opening

Taylor said the aircraft was cleared before lunch and the runway swept.

During that time the Royal New Zealand Air Force continued with a Boeing 757 display, which was not landing at Wanaka Airport but operating out of Christchurch.

He said the crash was disappointing.

"Right at the start of the airshow, it was a real shame. Obviously our first concern was for the pilot, and our emergency services responded fantastically."

He said the two cherry pickers were to be used in a display later in the day and there was no one on the equipment when the crash happened.

The Yak 3 was one of two taking part in the opening sequence at the show. It dates back to 1943 and was used by the Soviet Air Force.

Dovey, who has been flying for 55 years and flew fighter planes for the Air Force according to the Otago Daily Times, is understood to have owned the rare fighter plane for about 13 years.

In 2013 when a stray bullet was found in the Yak 3 at a Wanaka Airport hangar, New Zealand's only other Yak 3 at the time was being advertised on Trade Me for $1.3 million.

Those attending Warbirds over Wanaka will be treated to F-16 jet fighters over easter. Source - Otago Daily Times

Meanwhile, bad weather that disrupted the surprise opening of the show had now cleared to blue skies and sunshine.

Early morning rain was gone but it's understood the weather was the reason why United States Air Force F-16 jet fighters cancelled an appearance at the opening.

The jets, flying out of Christchurch Airport, were expected to put on a flying demonstration over the show later today.

Founder of the show Sir Tim Wallis was to take a spin along the runway aboard a New Zealand Air Force helicopter during the opening.

Other dignitaries expected at the show were National Party leader Simon Bridges and his family, and United States ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown.