Wanaka: Visitors to the Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow next Easter will be treated to a display which has never been performed at any other airshow in the world.
Auckland-based pilot Liz Needham will be at the controls of a P-40 Kittyhawk aircraft as she strafes the airfield with six x .50 calibre machine guns.
The display was first performed at Warbirds Over Wanaka by Garth Hogan in 2008 followed by Frank Parker. Liz Needham, who is married to Frank, then performed the display in 2012.
The P-40 aircraft was restored some years earlier by Garth Hogan and Charles Darby and the guns were later fitted by Paul McSweeny and his team from Pioneer Aero.
Paul says all they had to do was fit the guns and connect them electrically and they worked, all of the cockpit detail and plumbing and wiring for them was already fitted.
“This just shows the lengths that Garth and Charles had gone to, to have the aircraft restored as close as possible to original specification,” says Paul.
Liz says the act is unique to Wanaka. “There is no other airshow in the world to have a P-40 firing guns. From the pilot’s point of view, firing the guns is a separate display to flying the aircraft. Gunner Ashford briefed me on how to fire the guns and the time to hold the trigger down for each burst. He also briefed me on the safety aspects of firing on the ground and in the air. We had a special ‘live firing’ of the guns on the ground for the Gold Pass stand for Sir Tim Wallis in 2012 which went down a treat,” says Liz.
Liz says the first time she fired the guns was an experience she will never forget.
“From the cockpit the sound of the guns going off is unexpectedly loud and harsh and the first time it actually gave me a fright. But you soon get stuck into the firing. It’s a powerful feeling to be the most heavily armed girl in a P-40 in the world.”
Along with flying the P-40 Liz is one of only two female Spitfire pilots in the world. When she is not indulging her passion for all things Warbirds, Liz is a captain with Air New Zealand flying the B767-300W on the South Pacific routes.
Warbirds Over Wanaka General Manager, Ed Taylor says they owe a debt of gratitude to the New Zealand Warbirds Association for making the P-40 guns a reality for the 2016 show.
“There’s a lot of work and cost involved in organising and fitting the guns to the aircraft and sourcing the ammunition and the Warbirds Association has generously sponsored this for our airshow,” says Ed.
The spent shells will be collected and signed by Liz and Frank and will then be offered for sale to airshow visitors raising funds for the Warbirds Association and the Warbirds Over Wanaka Community Trust.
In another first at Warbirds Over Wanaka, Bill and Robyn Reid’s Avro Anson aircraft will perform a bomb drop as part of its display.
Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow is being held at Easter 2016 (March 25th, 26th, 27th with Rides Day on March 28th).