CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand --
The Pacific Air Forces’ F-16 Fighting Falcon and C-17 Globemaster III demonstration teams depart Canterbury after a week of training and flying for the Warbirds Over Wanaka (WOW) International Airshow 2018 at Wanaka, New Zealand, April 3, 2018.
“New Zealanders are very professional, they did a great job,” said Maj. Richard Smeeding, Pacific Air Forces F-16 demonstration pilot. “They were very accommodating for us, especially since fighter jets haven't been on the south island since 1984.”
The F-16s drew a larger crowd than usual for the WOW International Airshow. According to Ed Taylor, the WOW International Airshow 2018 General Manager, this year's show attracted 55,000 attendees – in large part to the F-16s’ appearance.
“We were just thrilled to have it,” Taylor said. “When the F-16 was performing over Wanaka, there was not one person doing anything else but watching it. Everyone stopped and looked skyward. Everybody had a huge grin on their face, and that's when I knew we hit the nail on the head.”
The show originated in 1988 and has grown to become the largest Warbird airshow in the southern hemisphere. Taylor says, the U.S. Air Force demonstration teams left a lasting mark on the show's attendees.
“One of our vision statements for the airshow is to educate and inspire,” Taylor siad. “We really did that because we reached out to a different audience with this year's show. The Supermarine Spitfires, Hawker Hurricanes and Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks are from another era and we'll always be enchanted by those aircraft; to a lot of younger people, an F-16 is the Spitfire of their generation.”
The demonstration teams operated out of Christchurch International Airport, almost 260 miles from where the show was held. Even in Christchurch, enthusiasts would line the perimeter fence for a chance to talk with the pilots.
“After a day of flying, we would go walk the fence and meet everybody,” Smeeding said. “We'd hand out stickers, sign stuff, shake hands and just interact with the local populous. It was very humbling.”
The amount of fervor locals displayed reverberated throughout the entire trip, Smeeding said.
“It's unlike anything I've ever seen before,” Smeeding said. “I've seen people who are very excited about aviation and the people here just blew me away with their hospitality.”
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the WOW International Airshow and featured the fourth appearance by the U.S. Air Force.