Masterton Nationals 2017

The NZ Aerobatic club has once again coagulated around the Masterton airfield and abused the structural integrity and aesthetic sensibilities of man and machine for the third time, shattering the previous record of two times at this venue. It was a collation of the usual suspects and by the narrowest of margins included a very recently returned to service ZK-NUT.

NUT was sporting a new lid and some fresh paint and accompanied by a good number of its supporting minions. The aerobatic club has a large number of pilots sharing this aircraft (including 4 in just intermediate, making up more than half the category) and before NUT they similarly shared ZK-MAD. It’s terrific having this machine back on line because the more challenging categories especially have been slim pickings for several years, with ‘intermediate’ a bit thin and ‘advanced’ not competed at all last year. Hopefully the new Warbirds Yak 52 will encourage a similar group to coalesce and participate next time. Under CIVA rules there is even a Yak 52 category (same complexity as intermediate) that can be flown as a single design comp that is your metaphorical level playing field. It would be beyond awesome to have to add an extra trophy to the lineup and we know you Yak guys are lurking out there.

The biggest surprise this year was that the contest director, Mike Slack, actually appeared. Previous years have seen him do all the prep and then be railroaded by work, forcing the glamorous job to fall on my shoulders. But not this time. Someone in Airways clearly did not get a memo and at the next performance review a frowny emoji is almost certain to appear. They take breeches like this seriously. Mike seemed oblivious to the fate of this nameless bureaucrat and instead concentrated on partying like it was 1999 (i.e. 18 years ago).

Weather-wise the week started out with the remnants of the system that obliterated the airshow of the preceding weekend hanging about and making Monday arrival more interesting than ideal. It would seem that losing a three day event in February is a pretty long-odds bet, but lose it they did. A huge shame for all those who worked hard to make it happen only to sit in the rain while the clock ran out. Then by Monday afternoon everything was back to flyable conditions.

Tuesday was hot and clear and super sticky. When you close the canopy in most aircraft you create a sauna, but often you have effective venting or even A/C to help make it tolerable. Aerobatic pilots are staunch apparently and need no such luxuries. Fortunately the time on the ground is brief and the aero club pool was divinely refreshing.

Wednesday was the first competition day and was similarly warm and fine. We quickly got the first flights all done and then with heaps of time in hand called it a day and retired to the pool. What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday dawned with a very low solid overcast that sometimes turned to drizzle. It cleared to provide a fine day … at about 6:15pm. Never mind, 7am briefing then first flight Friday at 8am. Heaps of time left.

Friday there was not a breath of wind as we struggled out to the club. What there was though was fog. Lots of fog that was just not moving. At 7am I know how it feels, but by 10am there was some movement and the fog departed. We had sun on the ground and blue skies above the clubrooms. The problem was the fog had not gone far and the box itself remained fogbound until yet another hour had passed. Now we were up against the clock. Saturday was an issue because many had Ohakea plans, so we applied shoulder to grindstone, pedal to metal and the lotion to its skin (so it wouldn’t get the hose again). Remarkably it did come together except for one dropped flight program from intermediate. At this stage we could award trophies so we retired to the pool once more and passed out the silverware and thanked people and stuff like that.

Warbirds members dominated the virtual podium, with Dave Cranna and Grant Benns first and second in Intermediate, myself first in Sports and Des Barry leading Recreational. Russell Bell convincingly stormed into first place in Advanced with Morris Tull in second. It’s been a fantastic week of fun flying; awesome venue, great people and excellent food – why weren’t you there?

-Terry Johnson