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Ohakea pilot buzzing ahead of Warbirds debut

Flying a helicopter at the Southern Hemisphere’s largest airshow will be a “big deal” for Ohakea-based Flying Officer Callum McNally.

27 March, 2024

Originally from south Auckland, the 22-year-old graduated his pilot training last year and will co-pilot an A109 helicopter with the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s (RNZAF) No. 3 Squadron at Warbirds Over Wanaka this Easter weekend.

“Warbirds is my first big event with No. 3 Squadron. I feel pretty lucky to get the opportunity to take on a display like this so early in my career,” Flying Officer McNally said.

He will fly an A109 aircraft in a two-ship handling display before teaming up with a SH-2G (I) Seasprite and NH90 helicopters for a combined winch display.

“The synchronised display is essentially two helicopters moving simultaneously. The A109 is really manoeuvrable, it’s great for learning on and from a training perspective it’s fantastic, it’s got everything we need”.

While it will be his first taste of flying in an airshow, Flying Officer McNally already has plenty of experience in the air alongside the aircraft’s captain.

“He was my instructor when I was on my course and he did a lot of my training flights. We also flew a formation flight together while I was training on the Texan aircraft, so it’s really cool to fly with him at Warbirds. 

“I’ve found it really rewarding to go from flying the Texan on Wings course - which is all single pilot - to flying in a team dynamic on the A109s,” Flying Officer McNally said.

He’s hoping to gain captaincy on the A109 aircraft in the future.  

Squadron Leader Jim Rankin is the RNZAF Air Display Director and said it’s exciting for the Air Force to be back at the airshow after a six-year break following Covid-19 disruptions.

“The demonstrations and handling displays are a chance to practise and sharpen the flying skills required to operate our aircraft across the range of outputs we deliver for the New Zealand Government.

Whenever an aircraft got airborne it requires more than just aircrew to fly them – it required technical staff to maintain the airframes, logisticians, refuellers, security forces and firefighters, he said.

“Everyone has a part to play in delivering our military air operations and a deployment such as Wānaka is just like any other military exercise,” Squadron Leader Rankin said.

Every current RNZAF aircraft type will be seen at the airshow, subject to availability.

Some will carry out flying displays, while others will be on static display for the public to get up close to. Some will be working to provide transport support to the biennial event.

The Air Force Heritage Flight will also be at Wānaka, including a recently restored P-51 Mustang in its first public flying display.

Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Darryn Webb, said airshows like this support the preservation of New Zealand’s aviation past and present.

“Events such as Warbirds Over Wanaka provide an opportunity for the RNZAF to display its aircraft capability, showing how it can support the people of New Zealand. Domestic airshows and display activities enable RNZAF to inspire, educate and engage with the communities they serve.”

A new RNZAF P-8A Poseidon will also be seen in action for the first time, demonstrating a simulated raft drop with a low pass down the airfield.

It will also be the final airshow for the retiring fleet of C-130H Hercules transport aircraft, which will be celebrated with a Formation Thunder flypast, handling display, the RNZAF’s Kiwi Blue parachute display and a lakefront flare drop that promises to be spectacular.