Classic Fighters Omaka air show is held over three days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday every alternate year, as a major fundraising event for the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre.
The main show days are Saturday and Sunday, with the programme running from approx. 10am – 4.00pm.
Classic Fighters is designed to be more than an airshow, our philosophy being to provide visitors with a weekend of family entertainment in an event that is distinctly different and with a unique Marlborough flavour. Certainly the aviation theme dominates, but the flying is combined with ground theatre, vehicles, pyrotechnics and set pieces to create a spectacle that all will enjoy.
Back from the display line, visitors can take a break from the action and seek out a bargain in the trade stalls or be tempted with a glass of Marlborough wine and sample the delicious food on offer, while the children explore the playground attractions.
Throughout the show there is a strong sense of fun and humour. To that end, each show is themed to not only give direction and meaning to the air show scenarios, but also to include the public and connect with them across a broad range of interests. Past airshows have included ‘locating’ the action in North Africa, France and Italy, as well as one year’s ‘Aviation and the Movies’ theme which offered a broad spectrum of entertaining options. This always keep the props team busy, as they have cheerfully taken on such ambitious projects as a pyramid and sphinx, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumphe, a section of the Forum, gondolas and even the monastery at Monte Cassino on a nearby hilltop! One show managed a full-scale V2 rocket! What will they get up to next?
The Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre is the museum that the film director, Peter Jackson, has had a bit to do with! He has had his specials effects people involved. So much so that this museum will be absorbing to a non aviation enthused partner – this writer can confirm this fact! An example is the display related to the famous WW1 pilot Keith Caldwell.
On one occasion in September 1918, Keith’s quick thinking and resourceful nature saved him from certain death. Whilst on a patrol, another S.E.5a struck his aircraft, catastrophically damaging his wing struts and altering the aircraft’s aerodynamics. Instantly his fighter plummeted 1000 feet and went into a flat spin. Keith knew he was doomed if he didn’t attempt something radical. So he stepped his left leg out onto the port wing, and grabbed hold of the strut with his left hand. Attempting to balance the aircraft by changing the centre of gravity, Keith continued to try to fly the aircraft with his right hand on the joystick.
With only 500 feet of altitude left he realised it was hopeless, but this activity had allowed him to guide the aircraft away from enemy territory and over the British lines. Just as the plane was about to impact with the ground Keith jumped, clearing the wreck and getting up to find he’d landed in front of a British infantry dugout. Astonished soldiers saw him get up, dust himself off and walk towards them as if nothing had happened. Escaping the flat spin, guiding the plane away from enemy lines and then jumping clear at the last minute and walking away from the crash is nothing short of a miracle.
Like all amazing tales of heroism such as this, there are different versions. The above was related from a June 1945 article by H.H. Russell in Contact. But the book By Such Deeds by Colin Hanson records the altitudes slightly differently, stating:
“WWI history records that: “in Sep 1918 when attacking German aircraft over the Cambrai sector a member of his formation collided with him buckling his starboard upper wing and forcing him into a dive. After his aircraft had lost about 2000 feet of height the dive gradually developed into a right-handed semi-flat spin. At about 5000 feet Caldwell climbed out of his cockpit, placed his left foot on the lower port mainplane and, grasping the port centre strut with his left hand endeavoured to balance his aircraft, flying it with his right hand and foot. Displaying skill and resource of the highest order he succeeded in guiding his crippled aircraft so that it just cleared the front line trenches and, just as it was about to crash, he jumped off and turned a few somersaults on the ground. He then stood up, brushed himself off and walked to the nearest trench asking to use the telephone.”
Regardless of the discrepancies of height, it was an incredible feat of quick thinking, courage and sheer will, and has to count as one of the most amazing last minute escapes from a crashing aircraft there ever was. The event has been depicted faithfully in the Aviation Heritage Centre at Omaka, Blenheim, New Zealand. This incredible museum has displayed a full sized replica SE5a with a dummy of Keith Caldwell above a trench, poised to step off seconds before impact.
Marlborough stretches across the north-east corner of the South Island of New Zealand. The region is easily accessible by inter-island ferry, air, train or road. Its commercial hub is Blenheim, which has a population of some 27,000. Originally a provincial service town to the farming community, it is increasingly geared towards the wine industry, offering a relaxed and cosmopolitan ambience for visitors. North of Blenheim is Picton, the seaport gateway to the stunning Marlborough Sounds and entry point for the inter-island ferry services.
The region is internationally renowned for its award winning wines and offers a multitude of options for sipping and sampling or wining and dining. The year-round sunshine, mild climate and diverse landscape – which encompasses native forests, trout-filled rivers, coastal tracks, sheltered bays for cruising and fishing, mountains and high backcountry – offers visitors an exceptional range of recreational activities on land and on the water.
Classic Wings Airshow Gallery