Rewriting aviation history

JESSY EDWARDS
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2014
Wings Over Wairarapa airshow director Tom Williams
Supplied

RESTORED CRAFT: Wings Over Wairarapa airshow director Tom Williams shows off the Chipmunk aircraft at the George Hood Aerodrome in Masterton.

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Historians might need to rewrite the books if a reproduction of a Kiwi-built 1903 plane achieves lift-off at the 2015 Wings Over Wairarapa airshow.

Airshow director Tom Williams has confirmed the appearance of an exact reproduction of the plane that South Canterbury farmer Richard Pearse built, and possibly flew, in March 1903 - eight months before The Wright brothers.

"If it does fly then it lends credibility to the story that Richard Pearse may well have been the first person to fly in the world," he said.

The plane is currently being built and has not yet been tested.

"The big question is will it fly, and my view is it will," Williams said.

Wings Over Wairarapa recently won gold at the Wellington Gold Awards in the Event, Hospitality and Visitor Facilities section, and is continuing to build its brand with the next show featuring planes from 100 years ago, and into the future.

"Representing the modern era we're hoping to have a full scale rocket that does work, and we're hoping to have the Martin Jetpack . . . and then we go into the drones effectively - there will be a significant display of those things here," Williams said.

He said most of the drones are small vehicles that carry cameras and have "enormous application in rural New Zealand".

"For example farmers use them to monitor their stock, grass growth, use them for security looking for poachers and things like that," he said.

Wings Over Wairarapa kicked off in 1999 after Williams had a suggestion from Tim Wallis, a friend and founder of Warbirds Over Wanaka, as they sat on a plane to Korea.

"He said, ‘Tom, you should run an airshow,' and so we [the New Zealand Sport and Vintage Aviation Society] ran our first one in 1999.

"The vision was to get a few dollars so we could preserve our vintage aviation and fly some of our old aeroplanes, but it's grown exponentially," Williams said.

Nine thousand people showed up to that first event, which had a budget of just $12,000.

"The entrance fee then was only about $10 so it wasn't a massive capital outlay, and it's grown from that time up to where we are today - the flying budget has gone from $12,000 to $400,000," Williams said.

The event attracted crowds of more than 24,000 over Wellington Anniversary weekend last year, making just over $100,000 profit.

Event organiser Jenny Gasson said Wings Over Wairarapa normally makes just over their budget of $1 million, with two-thirds of revenues from ticket sales and the rest from corporate hospitality, merchandise, and a trade show.

"We aren't a profit-making event, that's not our driver, but our driver is to take our profits and put them back into the community," she said.

But the big planes have pulled big spenders to the Wairarapa, with credit card data showing people swiped more than 105,000 times over the 2013 event, spending almost $4.6m, up 8.2 per cent from in 2012.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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