Warbird soars in new tourism venture
Vintage aeroplane rides over MarlboroughHAMISH CARDWELL
A World War II bi-plane took its first paying passengers through some tight turns, dives and climbs over the Omaka Aerodrome yesterday.
Pilot Kevin Wilkey took passengers Paul Maxfield and Phil Lawrence for a spin launching Marlborough's newest tourism operation - 20-minute flights over Marlborough in the vintage aircraft.
The men, joined by plane co-owners Graham and Jane Orphan, opened a bottle of Allan Scott blanc de blancs to celebrate the flight after landing.
The 1941 Boeing Stearman bi-plane was used in California to train pilots to fly combat planes such as Mustangs and Kitty Hawks during World War II. Its wings are a wooden frame covered in fabric and its fuselage is made from welded steel.
Management of the new venture is a collaborative affair.
The Orphans own the plane, Marlborough Aero Club manages its commercial operations and the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre sells tickets and takes bookings.
Mr Orphan, who bought the plane two years ago, said it would be good for tourism in Blenheim.
At 450 horsepower, the bi-plane is powerful but expensive to run - it burns through 90 litres of fuel an hour.
Mr Wilkey said the plane was heavy but not difficult to fly. Modified to carry two passengers, the plane has some quirks.
"When you land with two people [in front] you lose your view. You want to have a good look before you land," Mr Wilkey said.
Fairhall resident Phil Lawrence said he was lucky to be one of the first to take the trip.
It was a good thing to do with his friend Paul Maxfield on his last day in New Zealand before Mr Maxfield returned to the United Kingdom.
"There was a real sense of being in the air, with some good maneuvering," Mr Maxfield said.
The flights cost $295 for one passenger, and an additional $95 for a second passenger.
- The Marlborough Express