By: Christopher Cookson
The Wairau Plain has played host to aviation related activities for a considerable period of time, in part due to the establishment of an Air Force base at Woodburne as a training base during World War Two. In addition to military and commercial activities, there are a number of opportunities for recreation aviators.
Marlborough Aero Club
Marlborough Aero Club is based at Omaka Aerodrome, and owns a number of light aircraft including Piper Tomahawks for training and a Dynamic microlight. The club is fairly unique in that it is one of the few clubs in New Zealand that owns its own airfield. The club provides pilot training for both general aviation and microlight categories. A highlight of the club year is the Healthy Bastards bush pilot competition where pilots from around New Zealand compete in precision flying activities including STOL.
Vintage Aircraft and Warbirds
A number of Warbird enthusiasts exist in Marlborough, and collectively own a number of classic aircraft. Featured in the vintage aircraft collection based at Omaka are a number of rare World War One replicas including a Fokker Triplane of the 'Red Baron' fame, and a Sopwith Camel owned by Oscar winning film director, Peter Jackson. Among World War Two aircraft present, a Yak, Spitfire, and Avro Anson are some of the types based at Omaka.
The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre provides exhibits originally with a focus on aviation during World War I, but with expansion, the centre is expanding to include World War II displays. The centre makes extensive use of theatrical effects to help recreate the events that made names like Manfred von Richthoven, Sopwith, and Fokker famous.
The highlight of the aviation calendar is the biennial 'Classic Fighters' airshow held at Easter, with a world class program that attracts aviation enthusiasts from all over the world. At the 2007 show, one of the key attractions was the first flight, since the end of World War I, of a full squadron of seven Fokker Triplanes, in the authentic markings of von Richthoven's unit.
Although not currently airworthy, one of the last surviving Bristol Freighters, once a mainstay of inter-island freight operations, is located at Omaka, and owned by Friends of the Bristol Society.
Other Recreational Aviation in Marlborough
Also based at Omaka is the Marlborough Gliding Club. The club owns several single, and dual seat aircraft, and has had among its members former world champion, Ray Lynsky.
Other recreational aviation activities in the region includes paragliding, and skydiving.