Pilot ready to honour father

When pilot Fay Emeny takes to the skies at Warbirds Over Wanaka this weekend, she will be doing more than simply making her debut at the world-renowned airshow.

As a member of the New Zealand Red Stars YAK-52 aerobatic team, she will be joining 11 of her team-mates in a display paying tribute to her late father and the team’s founder, Brett Emeny.

Over two decades, Mr Emeny’s aerobatic displays became a mainstay of the Wānaka airshow, and Ms Emeny said she had joined him at practically every one, watching and assisting from the ground.

"It’s been a big part of our family, coming to Warbirds. It’s always been a big event.

"Growing up in Dad’s shadow, helping him with the Vampire, then the Catalina ... and then the Yak team, I was always chomping at the bit thinking ‘oh, maybe I could do this myself’."

She said acquiring her pilot’s licence at the same time as her father was forming the Yak team about 24 years ago had given her the opportunity to get plenty of flight time, and gradually she joined her father in the air.

"Next thing he’s got me ferrying the Yak to the airshows for him because he had a few aircraft to get here.

"And then next thing I’m into the formation training and yeah, I’ve not looked back."

Ms Emeny said she had been set to make her debut alongside her father at the 2022 show, but it had been cancelled due to the pandemic.

New Zealand Red Stars YAK-52 aerobatic team member Fay Emeny stands in front of one of her late...
New Zealand Red Stars YAK-52 aerobatic team member Fay Emeny stands in front of one of her late father Brett Emeny’s Yakovlev Yak-52 aircraft, which she is flying at the Warbirds Over Wanaka 2024 airshow this Easter. PHOTO: REGAN HARRIS

It had been his vision to do 12 airshows, but he died in May last year.

After his death, "we said ‘right, we’ve really got to make this happen for real now’.

"So that’s been the goal for the last year, so I’m really stoked that we’ve brought it together."

Ms Emeny said the team, a mixture of ex-military, commercial and general aviation pilots hailing from locations such as New Plymouth, Auckland and Pauanui, had become like a family over the years, and were eager to honour the memory of the man who had brought them all together.

"All the 12 that are in the team are trained and brought through by Brett, basically, so we’ve all said ‘yep, we’re going to get in the air and get up there for him’."

Ms Emeny said it had been "quite humbling" for the team to witness the number of tributes to her father over the past year, particularly from Wānaka’s aviation community.

"We’ve had countless emails, phone calls ... and everyone wanting to put on a real tribute for dad has been hugely appreciated by everybody. So that’s been really quite amazing."

She said their focus would be on preserving her father’s legacy by continuing to share his story and the many lessons he taught them.

"It’s our turn to pass that on and to teach the next generation to do this stuff so they can keep coming along to Warbirds."

The Yak 52 Aerobatic Team’s tribute display will take place at noon both today and tomorrow.