Great air race on countdown
One of the best indicators that a big event has been truly successful is when participants, spectators and organisers are united in saying "we've got to do that again". And so they are with one of the greatest aviation adventures ever: the 2004 Around New Zealand Air Race will be contested in March and April.
Organisers are confident it will be even bigger and more successful than the inaugural race in 1991 which was notable for the support it drew from communities around the country.
Airways New Zealand is a major sponsor and several other companies and organisations are expected to be actively involved as sponsors.
There's already a very strong line-up of entries, according to race director Mat Wakelin. About 100 aircraft are expected to fly in the race, from both New Zealand and overseas.
But you'll need to hurry if you want to sign up. Competitors must register by December 21.
"It's much more than just a 'toys for boys' affair," said Wakelin. "People are entering for lots of different reasons. Some because they're competitive, others because they are proud of their flying skills and want another challenge. A few because they don't get many opportunities to experience the full potential of their aircraft.
"And quite a number have said they're going to be in it mainly because it's tremendous fun and camaraderie."
Wakelin said that as the organising committee has worked on the 2004 event one of the most heartening aspects has been the overwhelmingly positive feedback from pilots and passengers who took part last time.
"But it had an even more positive effect than that. We've heard from people who saw the race somewhere around the country and were inspired to learn to fly or to take their current flying skills a step further.
"It really is a community event and we're keen to involve as many people as possible right around the country. Anyone who is interested in aviation or sporting achievement."
Right around the country is a good description. The 2004 Around New Zealand Air Race starts at the Whenuapai Air Force Base in Auckland on March 29, heading north first to round Cape Reinga. The first night is in Tauranga, followed by other overnight or longer rest stops in Taupo, Gisborne, Blenheim, Nelson, Christchurch, Te Anau and Manapouri.
The finish line will be overhead Wanaka on Good Friday, followed by a landing in Cromwell and prizegiving in Queenstown.
Entrants will have time to enjoy some of the Warbirds Over Wanaka show, an Easter tradition.
As well as the overnight visits there will be lunch stops at towns around the country, including Kerikeri, New Plymouth, Hastings, Masterton, Rangiora, Hokitika, Omarama and Invercargill.
The race is open to anyone with at least a private pilot licence and an airworthy aircraft. Aircraft types expected to participate range from single-seaters through to two and four seat trainers, up to larger passenger transport aircraft.
Limited seats are available for passengers on some of the larger aircraft.
Wakelin explained that each aircraft is given a handicap based on its performance and placed in one of four classes. Prizes will be awarded to top aircraft overall in each class, with additional prizes for every leg of the race.
Entrants can choose to participate in the "speed" class where the fastest times win (taking into account the handicap) or the "precision" class where the pilot has to keep as close as possible to planned flight times.
Aircraft will be well scrutinised prior to and during the race. One definite no-no is the use of global positioning systems equipment which is allowed only for emergencies.
"The aims of the race are to hold an international aviation event that is accessible to New Zealand aviators, and to promote high standards of airmanship and sporting achievement," said Wakelin.
The race will also celebrate 100 years of flight in New Zealand and along the way will stop in Gisborne to join in the Royal New Zealand Aero Club national competitions and the Wings Trans Tasman Trophy.
Further information on the 2004 Around New Zealand Air Race, including entry details, is available on www.airrace.co.nz