Exhilarating displays as weather bullet dodged

The Yak 52 team perform a starburst move. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.At 7am on day one of the Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow, Jurgis Kairys and his aerobatics plane were in Blenheim.

Six hours later Kairys was still at the controls of his Sukhoi 29 aircraft but this time upside down, racing Greg Murphy in a Lamborghini Superleggera along the runway of Wanaka Airport.

A storm or two was not going to keep the ebullient Lithuanian from making his fifth appearance at the Wanaka show.

''You have perfect bad weather, and then I am fighting with that ...'' he told the Otago Daily Times as he recounted a difficult trip from Auckland.

The airshow's main weather casualty was the Harvard aerobatic team, which was stuck in Auckland. The plane park reserved for 80 to 90 light aircraft had just 12, the rest held up around the country.

Those who did make it to the show, including close to 50,000 spectators, were treated to high cloud, low cloud, full sun, part sun, warm breezes, cool breezes ... a typically changeable array of weather but nothing severe enough to affect the programme.

Show general manager Ed Taylor said the show had ''dodged a bullet'' by being handed comparatively fine weather.

Kairys' race with Murphy was one of the feature events of the programme - Kairys upsetting his chances with some seat-of the pants aerobatics just a metre or two from the ground.

At times it appeared likely he would put a wingtip or propeller blade into the side of the Lamborghini.

Murphy: ''I think he was just screwing with me.

''There's this propeller that doesn't seem to be that far away from the window.''

Murphy was enthusiastic about another of the feature events on the programme - the Reno-style round-the-pylons jet racing.

''It's got to rate right up there as the most crazy, exhilarating thing that could be done.

''I love it. I love every part of it,'' Murphy said.

In contrast to the noise and speed of the jets, two gliders from Omarama showed how it was possible to be spectacular without burning a drop of fossil fuels (tow plane aside).

With All Black captain and glider pilot Richie McCaw in the commentary box, pilots Darren Smith and Gavin Wills gave a seemingly faultless aerobatic display.

McCaw suggested the best way to watch was to simply listen to the music and enjoy the serenity.

There was not too much serenity attached to most of the other displays - from a modern Royal New Zealand Air Force Seasprite helicopter taking off backwards to Mustangs, Spitfires and Kittyhawks ''bombing'' and ''strafing'' the runway in traditional airshow fashion.

Air show founder Sir Tim Wallis welcomed the crowd to one of the most scenic airports in the world and said he was always confident the weather would be up to scratch.

Instead of a Spitfire solo to finish, the 25th anniversary show ended with a flypast of a Sopwith Camel, in acknowledgement of the centenary of the beginning of World War 1.

-mark.price@odt.co.nz