50th anniversary fly-in breaks records
Bridge Pa, with ample room and clear of controlled airspace, is being promoted as a major sport and recreational airfield. The resounding success of the SAA’s 50th anniversary fly-in suggests a return is likely.
ttendance records were broken during the weekend of 8–9 March when the Sport Aircraft Association of New Zealand held its 2014 annual fly-in, hosted at Bridge Pa aerodrome jointly by the Hawke’s Bay and East Coast Aero Club and the Hawke’s Bay Chapter of the SAANZ.
The occasion marked 40 years since the SAANZ had last visited Hawke’s Bay, and 50 years since it was formed (as the AACA) by a group of flyers wanting to build their own aircraft. The movement has grown to nearly 600 members throughout New Zealand and some overseas, and Saturday evening’s awards dinner at the Hastings Golf Club had almost 200 sitting down to a buffet dinner.
Fifty years ago the choice of aircraft to build was limited to just a few wooden types of one- and two-seater designs from drawings. Today the choice is almost unlimited, as is the scope of materials available — wood-and-fabric, steel tube, all-metal and composite construction of fibreglass and carbon fibre.
Some aircraft are still built from plans, but most are constructed from kits supplied by a large number of manufacturers, while some at Bridge Pa last weekend were even designed from the start by their builders and pilots, starting with an idea and a sketch on the back of the proverbial envelope.
More than 70 aeroplanes lining up on the aerodrome had been made in sheds, garages, basements and hangars throughout the country, and other factory-built recreational and sport aircraft, including a good array of vintage types, brought the total to a record-breaking 100-plus.
Such was the fine weather around the country that for the first time anybody could remember, all members who had registered to attend flew to Bridge Pa on schedule. Light aircraft are susceptible to vagaries of weather — and New Zealand can provide plenty of those — and pilots who have built and cherish their own aircraft tend to be more than usually cautious about flying in bad conditions.
All those aeroplanes were seldom to be found on the ground all at once, however. A flying programme taking visiting pilots around Napier and on cross-country flights to Lake Waikaremoana and from the Ruataniwha Dam site all the way down the Waipawa and Tukituki Rivers to the coast, with a pause at Kowai for tea and scones, resulted in plenty of vacant spaces on the grass at times.
While the usual flying competitions were not held this year, to give SAANZ members time to relax and greet old friends, aircraft judging took place. Grand Champion 2014 was Chris Schoen of Kaponga, Taranaki, who had built his Van’s RV-7 over a period of six years and was attending his first annual fly-in.
Whether it was the occasion of the SAANZ’s 50th anniversary celebration or just the attractions of Bridge Pa aerodrome’s large expanse of grass, hospitable aero club and lack of controlled airspace, the 2014 fly-in attracted record numbers of members and, helped by perfect conditions, was judged an overwhelming success.
-Report by John King, photographs by John King and Gavin Magill
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