Daunting terrain—great conditions
The great Vintage Kiwi Taumarunui rally
View of the towing Foxbat from inside a Schempp-Hirth Ventus Classic class sailplane.
Having discussed many times over the past few years the possibility of holding a Vintage Kiwi rally at Taumarunui, the Vintage Kiwi team thought that it was now time—and just go ahead and do it.
And so we did. The date was set for 14–21 February.
The King Country topography is not known for its flat paddocks and benign landscape. It is made up of steep high rising hills and narrow valley floors to large areas of high rolling wasteland making up a major part of the North Island’s Volcanic Plateau.
Nobody had operated gliders/sailplanes from Taumarunui for some 45 years, so for the Vintage Kiwi supporters that were going, it was likely to be an adventure into the unknown and live up to the VK motto of “Come Join The Adventure”.
To the west we have Mt Egmont, to the east Lake Taupo and to the southeast there are the three big mountains of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. Taumarunui airfield itself is situated in a valley floor on the northern edge of town and is the home of the local aero club whose club house and facilities were kindly loaned to us during our stay.
The grass airfield is 650ft above sea level and is some 1250m long with a single runway vector of 01/19—certainly more than ample space and length for the mighty Wilga tow plane that we were to be using, but in the blink of an eye all of our Vintage Kiwi planning was sorely tested.
The Wilga had aero towed a Grob Twin Astir to Taumarunui the day before, returning to its home base at Inglewood with a return trip planned the following day towing an ASW15, then commencing its towing duties for the Vintage Kiwi week. For some reason the aeroplane would not climb above 3000ft on the initial trip, and after leaving the glider, the return trip over the same rather inhospitable landscape found the engine was well down on power.
An initial diagnostic once safely back on the ground found a cylinder was badly oiled up and was obviously “out”. Certainly the Wilga was now going to be u/s, less than a day out from the start of our rally and with everyone due to arrive the following day.
To compound matters, the oil company had removed the avgas bunker from the airfield a few years earlier due to low volumes being sold. The local but very small aero club members now have to fly off site to another airfield to fuel up.
The Wilga support crew was to bring (by a 3hr road trip) a mini tanker with enough fuel to support the Wilga, but with that option now gone we all decided to go to a plan B and use a light sport aircraft able to run on 98 octane car fuel (mogas).
One was available from Auckland, and after a few frantic phone calls a deal was made with its owner/distributor to fly it down so it could be used for the week. Luckily all the gliders were of sufficiently light weight and were able to be successfully launched, but we had to make sure that we operated it within its performance parameters as there was no real give or take as one can get away with using the much more powerful tow planes such as the big Piper Pawnees.
The LSA we used was a Foxbat A22LS powered by a 100hp Rotax. It did the job well, giving the towing combination around 400–500ft/min climb rate. The aerodrome had a ground temperature of 28–30degC with no wind for the whole week. It was utterly reliable.
The rally turned out to be a great success with some 14 gliders (a combination of both vintage and classic), plus a single-seat Jodel arriving to discover the area’s hidden secrets. Intimidating—a little; exciting—yes; scenic wise—amazingly so.
What a week it turned out to be! The weather gods were very kind and gave us six days of pristine hot dry weather with cloud base as high as 8000ft. The thermals were amazingly strong, as one had expected, but a number of climbs really had you blinking as the variometer hit its upper stop, trying to bend the needle.
Vintage Kiwi supports a syndicated KA8 which is getting something of a reputation for achieving some real performance flights. The week before at a regional contest, Vintage Kiwi member Rae Kerr did a thermal cross-country flight of some 320km. Elle, as she is affectionately known, did not disappoint when, with Russell Jones in command, she flew all the way from Taumarunui to Mt Ngauruhoe and back over some very rough volcanic wasteland, using a lake “sea breeze” from Lake Taupo.
The pilot of a late model SH Ventus that had flown down from Auckland on an extended cross-country could not believe his eyes as he flashed past the KA8 on his way to the same mountain turn point. “Thought it was the Wright brothers” may well have been the comment. Everyone certainly stretched their own limits investigating this rather unique area to achieve some really great individual flights.
Taumarunui is a famous railway town, not big but very hospitable. A local service club opened its doors to Vintage Kiwi which then became an easy after-hours HQ for us all. Although the restaurant serves only on specific days, they made an exception for us one Tuesday night for a rally dinner. Cheap food, cheap beer and great company really set the tone for the rest of the week.
Breakfast in the clubhouse was another favourite pre-flying ritual for some, with plenty of bacon and eggs, an energising and social way to start your day.
Shall we return? Apparently so, according to the unanimous vote of those present. Mark your soaring calendars for January 2017.
However, it’s Taupo next year and that, no doubt, will be another story. An around-the-lake flight accompanying Elle, anyone?
- Report and photographs by Roger Brown.
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» Woodville’s even dozen
» 60th birthday party for ZK-BNL
» New airline MRO facility
» Hands across the Southern Alps
» Praise earned in tough place