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After a successful public showing at Warbirds Over Wanaka ’24, Nick Rowe reports on the weekend activities of the WASSI team

Thursday morning before Easter dawned in Ashburton as a squally low overcast day, complete with the dreaded easterly that Canterbury despises. All the Yak team, the Harvard folks, and the lone Tomahawk pilot descended upon adjacent breakfast establishments to check the weather and to fill tanks. The weather was forecast to improve so the decision was made to the push on to the airfield for more standing around, albeit with different scenery. It was after lunch and behind the front that the token Tomahawk pilot was dispatched in JRS to lead the charge to Wanaka. The weather improved rapidly to blue skies, tremendous scenery, but with a pesky headwind.

View from Tomahawk JRS as in neared stunning Lake Pukaki

Arrival at Wanaka was captured by the big cameras of airshow enthusiasts, and JRS was picketed outside the hanger it would guard for the long weekend. It would spend the weekend overlooking the jet apron with its noisy participants, and in the company of the homebuilt aircraft contingent and modellers.

Friday dawned with perfect airshow weather, and the people started meandering past the little white Tomahawk with its candy apple extremities, and with that Amit’s sales patter reverberating off the hanger. Like a call-centre pro he soon had people informed of the Walsh, its goals, and then how the WASSI supported the school with its own aims and progress.

The well populated stand hosted by the WASSI team

The WASSI team for the weekend was Amit Dhiman, Breanna Coffey, Jessie Fothergill and Kieran, Rachel Mackie, Andrew Sims, Nick Rowe, with guest appearances from several Walsh students, Hunter Rowe, plus Phil Craig and Scott Cowley dragging all Airways employees over from the tower for a chat, and to sell them a hat (when they weren’t stopping the flying tin from bad touching).

Carlton Campbell had instigated the opportunity to showcase WASSI at Wanaka, but balanced the planet out by disappearing to the UK for Easter. As usual Woody was making things happen in the background.

The goal for the weekend was to raise awareness of the WASSI as a registered charity, the way it supports the Walsh Scout Flying School, and the way that it supports the future of aviation while giving excellent skills to the next generation year after year. We aren’t well known in the South Island or overseas, and this was the perfect event to improve that.

The Tomahawk drew the crowd over, inviting kids to sit in it held the adults in place, and the team started conversations and handed out brochures in front of the fantastic new banners and posters that Woody had produced. Nothing like kids sitting in a plane for free attracts more kids, so it was a cycle that repeated all weekend.

We had boxes of hats to sell, an EFTPOS machine, and a cash box to assist the brochures in gathering revenue. Lucky for us the weather was perfect, and the display line was looking into the fiery orb which encouraged hat sales. There were a few generous folks who made a small donation on the spot, and one past Walsh student who’s now a very successful engineer kicked off bank transfers with a substantial donation, thank you Alex! Hopefully the brochures do their work over time and more donations present themselves in various forms.

We also had plenty of folks who had solo’d in Tomahawks just wander over to reacquaint themselves, as did a previous owner of JRS, and needless to say everyone was impressed with the quality of aircraft we present to the training industry. Everyone appreciated that the background philosophy of WASSI is presenting a safer aircraft to the training environment.

It was a long weekend on our feet, a lot of dry throats from the amount of talking all day, but needless to say the South Island and the aviation community know we exist. Here’s hoping an invigorated online presence will fire a few synapses from those who visited Wanaka, and our support will improve both financially, and personally.

As a bonus those manning the stand got to appreciate an F-16 pulling max rate turns in full afterburner in an echoing valley, 4 L39’s flown by ex Thunderbirds and Blue Angels pilots in tight formations, the newest Mosquito in the world flown expertly by the worlds most experienced Mosquito pilot, and numerous other superb displays by sensational warbirds and aerobatic wizards.

A Mosquito stands proudly in the morning sunlight.

Come Monday the cloud again wrapped up the mountains, but Breanna and Amit did a great job hurdling the passes back to Tekapo and then Ashburton where JRS resumed normal duties.

I’ll catch you at Warbirds over Wanaka 2026!


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