Strike Wing Flypast for the RNZAF 50th Anniversary Parade, Wigram, 1st April 1987

Strike Wing Flypast for the RNZAF 50th Anniversary Parade, Wigram, 1st April 1987

The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) became a standalone air force on 1st April 1937, and on 1st April 1987 the RNZAF’s 50th birthday celebrations began, starting with a parade at RNZAF Base Wigram. At the parade, RNZAF Strike Wing aircraft from RNZAF Base Ohakea provided a flypast timed for the arrival of the Reviewing Officer, H.E. The Governor General of New Zealand, Sir Paul Reeves. Sir Paul was escorted by Chief of Air Staff, RNZAF, Air Vice-Marshal Pat Neville.

 

As the then OC Strike Wing, I led the flypast comprising nine Skyhawks and nine Strikemaster jet aircraft – and in April 2024, some 37 years later, I have jotted down my thoughts about the flypast. Here goes.

 

Strike Wing aircraft approaching Wigram airfield from the North East, and the parade to mark the 50th Anniversary of the RNZAF – 1st April 1987 – photo RNZAF PF130-R5-18-87
Strike Wing aircraft approaching Wigram airfield from the North East, and the parade to mark the 50th Anniversary of the RNZAF – 1st April 1987 – photo RNZAF PF130-R5-18-87

Preparation

 

Before 1987, in my earlier 19 years of flying in the RNZAF, I’d been party to the ‘inexact art’ around the timing of some flypasts; the timing problem nearly always stemmed from the apparent inability of getting a VIP onto the official dais a few seconds before the time the flypast aircraft were to be overhead. I have to say that most problems came from those on the ground not appreciating that once a formation of aircraft have started their run-in for the flypast over the dais, they can’t simply stop and hold in the air while a VIP Reviewing Officer makes their way to the dais.  In short, it’s much easier, and with a much greater chance of achieving timing success, to modulate the progress of the VIP than it is to try to do that to the flypast aircraft.

 

In order to try and pre-empt any foreseeable timing problem, I’d met earlier with the Base Commander RNZAF Base Wigram, Group Captain Ross Donaldson, who was to be the Parade Commander for the RNZAF’s 50th Anniversary parade on 1st April 1987. I proposed, and we agreed, to a two-way contract – I would lead the RNZAFs 50th Anniversary flypast to be overhead the dais within two seconds of the nominated time, and he would guarantee to have the Reviewing Officer mount the dais and take the ‘Royal Salute’ just seconds before the agreed time. A deal, I thought, that had every chance of success. 

 

I undertook to carry out enough practice flypasts to ensure I got the jets overhead on time, and Group Captain Donaldson agreed to ensure enough practices were undertaken with the designated driver of the official car to guarantee the Reviewing Officer arrived at the dais on time. 

 

Planning  

 

The first issue for me to address was that even with wing drop tanks fitted, the Strikemaster aircraft had much less range than the Skyhawk – so without refueling ‘somewhere’, the Strikemasters would be unable to fly from Ohakea to the Christchurch area, hold for some 15 minutes at low level, carry out the flypast in close formation, and return to Ohakea.  Accordingly, it was decided to route the nine Strikemasters via RNZAF Base Woodbourne to refuel enroute to the flypast at Wigram. Also, the cruise airspeed of the Strikemaster was slower than the normal 360 knots of the Skyhawk, so we compromised on speeds such that I believe we flew at 300 knots – or 5 nautical miles per minute.

 

The parade at Wigram was to be formed up on the tarmac facing towards No 3 Hangar. The flypast formation was to come from the north east being behind the parade that was facing towards the dais. This meant the flypast aircraft would need to fly at lower level over the eastern suburbs of the City of Christchurch, and after the flypast to exit towards the south-east before turning northward to return to Ohakea.

 

In order that we would have a relatively straight run-in for the flypast, I decided to initially position the Skyhawk formation over the sea to the north of the Sumner coastline, and so I planned a left hand orbit based on a timing anchor point of land on the northern end of the Lyttleton Harbour entrance on Banks Peninsula. And, after refueling at Woodbourne, the nine-aircraft Strikemaster formation would join with the Skyhawks in that left-hand orbit before I started the run-in towards Wigram for the flypast.  Accurate timing was the only sticking point, and as there were no fixed references in the sea, a good deal of TLAR (that looks about right) would need to be employed in order to make the required 1100 hours TOT (time over target) overhead the dais.

 

Practice flights to check planning, procedures and timing   

 

I guess I thought at the time that the precision of the flypast timing for the RNZAF 50th parade would be a ‘big deal’, and as such it would relate directly to the standing and credibility of Strike Wing within the RNZAF; so, I decided to undertake a number of prior flights to test and refine the whole flypast process in order that we jet-jocks would ‘nail it.’ Accordingly, my Pilots Logbook records, I flew four flights in the days leading up to ‘the day’. The flights were as follows:-

 

19 Mar 87 – I flew Skyhawk TA4G NZ6256 Ohakea-Wigram-Ohakea in 1.7 hours. Thinking back some 37 years on, I think I would have checked the suitability the anchor point on Banks Peninsula, the confines of the left hand orbit, and the run-in track over the City of Christchurch to Wigram.  

24 Mar 87 – I flew Skyhawk TA4K NZ6252 with Aircraftman Stewart as passenger. The flight Ohakea- Wigram-Ohakea took 2.1 hours.

 

26 Mar 87 – I flew Skyhawk TA4G NZ6255 with Flt Lt ‘Flail’ Lloyd of 14 Sqn as passenger. My flight time Ohakea-Wigram-Ohakea was 1.8 hours including a linkup in the holding orbit and a subsequent flypast timing practice with Strikemaster NZ6363 flown by CO 14 Sqn, Sqn Ldr ‘Iggy’ Wood.

 

31 Mar 87 – This flight was a full dress rehearsal before the main event the next day and the flight comprised of nine Skyhawks and nine Strikemasters. I flew Skyhawk TA4K NZ6252 for 2.0 hours with 75 Sqn Skyhawk pilot, Fg Off John Benfell, in the rear seat – his role was to monitor my navigation, positioning and timing. I have to say that the timing of the flypast to be overhead the dais within two seconds on this parade dress rehearsal worked perfectly! I was #1 of 9 Skyhawks, with 9 x Strikemasters following close behind – and they had routed from Ohakea to Woodbourne for refueling, before joining up with the Skyhawks off Banks Peninsula for the flypast over Wigram. We were ready to ‘nail it.’ Game On!

 

‘Double Diamond Nines’ - nine A4K Skyhawks and nine Strikemasters for a dress rehearsal flypast on 31 Mar 87 in preparation for the RNZAF 50th Anniversary Parade flypast to be held at RNZAF Base Wigram on 1 Apr 87. Photo RNZAF C225/87
‘Double Diamond Nines’ - nine A4K Skyhawks and nine Strikemasters for a dress rehearsal flypast on 31 Mar 87 in preparation for the RNZAF 50th Anniversary Parade flypast to be held at RNZAF Base Wigram on 1 Apr 87. Photo RNZAF C225/87

Now to the Flypast that counted

 

On 1 Apr 87 I flew Skyhawk TA4K NZ6252 for 2.0 hours, as #1 of 9 Skyhawks, again with Fg Off John Benfell to monitor my navigation/positioning/timing – and with 9 x Strikemasters in the 18-aircraft flypast formation.  We nailed the timing for the 50th Anniversary flypast to be overhead the dais within the agreed 2-second window, but ….. read-on.

 

Flight Details – Strikemaster Black comprising 9 aircraft briefed at 0650 hours at Ohakea on 1 Apr 87 for takeoff for Woodbourne at 0740 hours.

Skyhawk Red briefed at 0830 for takeoff at 1000 – and arrived at the rendezvous point (R/V) off Banks Peninsula at 1035.

After refueling at Woodbourne, Strikemaster Black were airborne again at 1010, and they made the R/V at 1043.

 

Skyhawk Red – aircraft and pilots

                                                                           NZ6252 Wg Cdr Jim Barclay/F/O John Benfell

                                             6217 Ricky Smits                             6210 Sqn Ldr Jim Jennings

               6203 Sqn Ldr Colin Rippey            6204 Phil Wilson                             6206 Glenn Todd

                                             6207 Craig Symmans                                     6201 Gordon Snow

                                                                           6208 Pete Turvey

 

[Spares – NZ6212, 6214, 6216. 6202 Wg Cdr Frank Sharp (Alt Leader), 6251 Fg Off Chris Hutchinson]

Skyhawk Diamond Nine formation heading back to Ohakea after the Dress Rehearsal flypast on 31 Mar 87 for the RNZAF 50th Anniversary Parade and flypast to be held at Wigram on 1 Apr 87. Photo RNZAF C227/87
Skyhawk Diamond Nine formation heading back to Ohakea after the Dress Rehearsal flypast on 31 Mar 87 for the RNZAF 50th Anniversary Parade and flypast to be held at Wigram on 1 Apr 87. Photo RNZAF C227/87

Strikemaster Black – pilots

                                                                           Sqn Ldr IG Wood

                                             Tanner                                                              Hughan

               Alexander                                          JC Mathewson                                                Frost RAF

                                             Nelson                                                              Lloyd

                                                                           Scott

RNZAF Strike Wing flypast comprising 9 Skyhawks and 9 Strikemasters for the RNZAF 50th Anniversary Parade, Wigram. Photo RNZAF PF130-R5-17-87
RNZAF Strike Wing flypast comprising 9 Skyhawks and 9 Strikemasters for the RNZAF 50th Anniversary Parade, Wigram. Photo RNZAF PF130-R5-17-87

And the Outcome?

 

We were on time, but ………… onlookers would have thought we were early!

 

As we approached the airfield boundary on the run-in to the dais, I could see the official car arriving on the parade ground, and I knew then that the car would be late by some 10 seconds in getting to the dais. But at this very late stage on the run-in, and with only mere seconds remaining until the 18 aircraft were overhead the dais, there was nothing I could do – sky-hooks for 18 aircraft don’t work.

 

Soon after we landed back at Ohakea, Gp Capt Donaldson phoned me to say that the official car carrying the Reviewing Officer, Sir Paul Reeves, and the CAS RNZAF, AVM Pat Neville, was late and he offered his apologies. So, after a perfect ‘on-time’ dress rehearsal the day before, why was the car late on the ‘big day’?

Some years later I happened to meet the driver of the official car; he said they were proceeding ‘on time’ along the roadway behind the Numbers 2 and 3 Hangars heading towards the parade ground when suddenly AVM Neville said they seemed to be running early, so ‘slow down’. The driver did as he was told, knowing this would result in them being late – and they were.

 

Yet another example of the ‘inexact art around the timing of some flypasts’.   But, I still wish that together we’d nailed this one!

My Pilots kneeboard card for the 50th Anniversary flypast at Wigram 1 Apr 87
My Pilots kneeboard card for the 50th Anniversary flypast at Wigram 1 Apr 87

By Air Commodore Jim Barclay AFC RNZAF (Retired) – April 2024

3 Comments
  • John Grieve
    Posted at 09:48h, 28 May Reply

    Great story and effort Jim

    Timing as you say is very elusive in these circumstances.

    Thanks for the insight

    • Jim Barclay
      Posted at 16:46h, 12 June Reply

      Thanks John! There were other fly-pasts that had similar shabby outcomes. But one that did work was flown by four Vampires led by Gavin Trethewey over a Charter Parade in the Square at Palmerston North; prefect timing because Gavin and I planned it beforehand and did a practice run the day before. We then gave the Escort Officer (Mike Callanan) the exact time to tell the Mayor to move forward on the dais so the Parade Commander could give the command for ‘General Salute’…… and as the rifles were crisply snapped into position by the troops on parade, ‘woosh’ went the Vampires overhead. Perfect!! The exact timing brought tears the eyes of the Base Adj (Keith Outrim). We nailed that one! Cheers, Jim

  • Rick Smits
    Posted at 23:35h, 10 June Reply

    Cheers Sir. Lots of great RNZAF memories. Being in this formation was one of them. Regards. Rick Smits.

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