Preparation is everything as Air Tattoo at Ohakea Air Force Base nears

Traffic was backing up past Sanson at the Royal New Zealand Air Force's 75th anniversary in 2012.
LEILANI HATCH/ FAIRFAX NZ

Traffic was backing up past Sanson at the Royal New Zealand Air Force's 75th anniversary in 2012.

As queues of traffic weave for miles, people get out of their cars and set up deck chairs. 

What was meant to be a fun family day out at Ohakea Air Force base watching the the Royal New Zealand Air Force's 75th anniversary show in 2012 turned into a gridlock nightmare on State Highway 3. 

Traffic was at a standstill by 9am as up to 70,000 people flocked to watch the show. 

People got out of their cars and some were seen walking down to the airshow in 2012.
LEILANI HATCH/ FAIRFAX NZ

People got out of their cars and some were seen walking down to the airshow in 2012.

Some people left their cars behind and walked to the base. 

READ MORE: 
Drama in the air over Ohakea - rather than on the roads
Roads will close for traffic heading to Air Tattoo

Others set up deck chairs on the side of the road and were happy to watch the show from afar. 

Military officials confident everyone will make it to the show this time to watch planes on display, including the Black ...
Gavin Conroy

Military officials confident everyone will make it to the show this time to watch planes on display, including the Black Falcon aerobatic team.

Those coming in from the Whanganui area were reporting gridlock as far back as Lake Alice - about 12 kilometres away - and delays of more than three hours. 

At one point, traffic on the Palmerston North side of the base was banked up to just outside the city.

Traffic coming from Levin was backed up at least 30km and cars coming in from all directions were completely stalled by noon.

From left, Squadron Leader Hayden Sheard,  Flight Lieutenant Dan Pezaro, Squadron Leader Brett Clayton, Flight ...
Gavin Conroy

From left, Squadron Leader Hayden Sheard, Flight Lieutenant Dan Pezaro, Squadron Leader Brett Clayton, Flight Lieutenant Stu Anderson and Squadron Leader Sean Perrett make up the Black Falcon aerobatic team.

Not this year. Event organises promise it will be different.

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The Ohakea Air Tattoo is on February 25 and 26.

Event organiser Renee Barbour, who was seconded to Defence from the Palmerston North City Council to help out, says the air force realised after the 2012 event they needed help. 

"They learnt from 2012 they are great at flying planes. They are not so great at putting on large events."

She says they knew they wanted to put on another airshow, but there was also the desire to get it right. 

"They knew they had to change things.

"Everyone was like 'this is awesome', it was just a lot of people didn't get here until two thirds of the way through."

Barber says the first thing she did was work out what the constraints were and how many people the roads and venue could handle. 

It was decided they could not take beyond 50,000, so the ticket sales are restricted to this number.

"Then it was, what else do we need to do?' The gate sales last time were a nightmare ... so it was how do we mitigate this risk? That was done through presales."

Everyone wanting to attend the event has to pre-purchase tickets and parking passes, which will stop being sold a week before the event. 

If you don't have a parking pass, you will not be allowed to park near the base. You will instead have to catch the free buses put on from Manfeild, Feilding, and the Rangitikei Polo Club in Bulls. 

Several roads will be closed over the weekend, with access limited to residents and guests or business operators and their pre-arranged customers.

Group Captain Nick Olney, commander of RNZAF Base Ohakea, says he was away for the last air show, but was well aware of the issues. 

So when they decided to hold another one in 2017, he knew they had to get it right. 

"The first thing the local mayor said was 'the traffic'." 

Olney is confident the measures they have in place will reduce this risk. 

"Last time having ticket sales at the gate was what slowed everything down, so we have removed that.

"We really think this time it should go really, really well."

They expect the public to arrive between 7am and 9am with flying displays commencing at 10am. 

Olney says it has also been a priority to ensure those who live in the area are not affected. 

"It's not just about people getting in the gate. It's also about making sure those who aren't interested can still get about their daily business."

This includes working with nearby bridal parties to make sure their days can go off without a hitch. 

"We've facilitated a couple of weddings, where we can we are trying to accommodate.

"We still want emergency services to be able to respond in the region. 

"It's been the air force working with community and with regional and local authorities to make sure we're all on board." 

Olney says the only factor they are not in control of is the weather. 

"But even then, the open day will occur anyway. You can get out and talk to the crews that fly [the aircrafts] and fix them.

"[But] it would need to be pretty horrible for us to not fly."

The man charged with ensuring planes get off the ground is air display director Squadron Leader Jim Rankin.

He says part of the reason they put on air shows is to engage with people.

"The public don't get to see what we do. It's showing the people and sometimes the politicians what their tax money is buying."

Rankin is a seasoned professional at organising air shows, having done it for 20 years. 

"I've said on quite a few occasions 'someone else can do this one' and they have said 'no'." 

Eighty-four aircrafts will be at the air tattoo. It's a considerable logistical challenge just co-ordinating their arrivals and departures, Rankin says. 

Then there is the actual show itself. 

"Our aim is to entertain, while at the same time educating the public as to what the air force can do.

"So we are engaging with the public by telling them what they are seeing.

"There is an adrenalin buzz in making it work, so as long as it works I will be really, really happy."

Helping to pump that adrenalin will be the newly formed Black Falcons aerobatic team. 

The team got together  in August last year in readiness for the 2017 display season. It includes five flying instructors, with two support staff from the Central Flying School.

The Air Tattoo will be the team's second performance on the big blue stage.

Squadron Leaders Hayden Sheard and Sean Perrett have previously flown with the Red Checkers, the former RNZAF aerobatic team, prior to the Black Falcons. 

That team flew in the CT-4E aircraft, but they have now been replaced by the Beechcraft T-6C Texan II. 

Sheard says there are a number of differences between the aircraft. 

"It's a lot more powerful. It has some fairly nice handling characteristics. It's a little heavier and it's particularly well suited for things like formation aerobatics.

"It sounds a bit different and it looks a bit different, so we think we have developed a routine that plays to the aeroplane's strengths." 

They have been busy juggling their day-to-day tasks at the flight school with their involvement in the Black Falcons.  

However, it is worth it.

"It's lots and lots of fun," Sheard says. "It's quite different to the other flying that we do in the air force. 

"Another big part I enjoy is getting around the country and meeting a whole lot of other people and getting people enthusiastic about the air force and maybe joining the air force one day."

Squadron Leader Brett Clayton will be leading the team.

"It's something I've always been interested in doing and it's an absolute privilege to be involved."

Flight Lieutenant Dan Pezaro and Flight Lieutenant Stu Anderson make up the remainder of the five-man team.

Perrett has previously flown in an aerobatic team in England, as a full-time job.

"So we trained for eight months and then [it was] display season. [Here] we don't have that luxury."

Clayton says the team are preparing to bring their best to the show and they are looking forward to being on display. 

"There's been a lot of hype about the air tattoo and the Falcon involvement, so it will be nice to get it under way."

 - Stuff

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