Friday, March 1, 2024

Dazzling aerial display

Dave Brown flying the Harvard.
Dave Brown enjoys viewing the world upside-down. From expertly manoeuvring barrel rolls to front flips and soaring on top of diamond loops, the daring aviation expert will lead the gravity-defying Roaring Forties Harvard Aerobatics team, at the upcoming Warbirds over Wanaka 2024 – the biggest international airshow in the Southern Hemisphere. FARIDA MASTER zooms in on the sky high, aerobatic pilot.

Dave Brown thrives on pushing boundaries and taking calculated risks. The chief flying instructor and flight examiner for New Zealand Warbirds understand the gravity of extreme precision, aerial coordination, and meticulous attention to detail, as he leads the high energy Roaring 40s Harvard Formation team to showcase awe-inspiring aerobatic feats. The commercial and aerobatic pilot has been a part of jaw-dropping aviation moments over the last 50 years but doesn’t allow himself to get complacent.

“There is a lot of trust and training involved,” says Brown who trains pilots in aerobatic, and airshow displays. “Everyone must be at the right speed, altitude, angle, and as the pilots are formatting off me in the lead, I need to be extremely precise throughout the display. There is a lot of responsibility, trust factor on both sides, time commitment, and strict regulations to be followed.”

The Roaring Forties Display team are known to be the flag-bearers of New Zealand Warbirds. Flying ex-RNZAF Harvard trainers promises to be a captivating, visual spectacle as the highly skilled, precision formation team pay a tribute to those who served in the armed forces by their stunning display.

The Harvard has been synonymous with the thrilling international airshow since the very first event in 1988.

The flying display at the Warbirds Over Wanaka 2024 are expected to draw around 50,000 spectators.

“Wanaka is the most picturesque part of the country, which is amazing for the aviation enthusiasts and visitors alike, that fly in from different parts of the world for the airshow,” says Brown, also an investigator for aviation accidents and safety incidents. “But in terms of the terrain, the mountains around Wanaka, do pose a challenge. We use the visual horizon a lot and so must take many factors into account. Also, in display flying, no two days are the same with direction of the wind and weather conditions that keeps changing.”

Taking after his father, who served on bombers in the Pacific during WW2, Brown was barely 18 when he joined the Air Force.

The Half Moon Bay resident joined the RNZAF in 1978 and took to the skies with No. 75 Squadron where he operated Skyhawks. He notably served as the Strikemaster display pilot in 1988 and 1989.

“By the age of 23, I started flying the Skyhawk. Now, when I think of it, we were twenty-something and bullet- proof! We’d fly halfway across the world with not much fuel and a planeload of weapons. The average age was 25. What possibly could go wrong?” he laughs.

“These days the training takes longer,” says Brown whose son Alastair is also a former transport pilot in the Air Force.

Talking about the adrenalin-fuelled days, he acknowledges that while his dad made it a point to attend all his display airshows, his mum chose not to witness them.

“She was not a big fan of it. Mum used to say I was crazy and would kill myself doing it,” Brown reflects.

The father of three, has also been an airline pilot with Cathay Pacific. He took an early retirement after 28 years of flying the big passenger aircrafts across the globe, to avoid the constant jetlag and lack of sleep which has also enabled some longer holidays with his wife.

From piloting Warbirds to commanding Airbus A350 and jumbo jets, Brown also does test flying to check the airworthiness of newly refurbished/rebuilt aircrafts. Nothing frazzles this seasoned aviation instructor and flight examiner who believes that it’s not about the risk involved as there is a proper process to everything.

Ask him to compare flying Warbirds to airline flying, and he says, “The Harvards are 80 years old and still going! They have a lot of personality! Its main appeal is the lack of technology. It’s a pilot’s aeroplane. Many pilots have learnt their flying skills on it. There are no gadgets. It’s also a part of history as World War 2 pilots flew the Harvards. They have stories which must not be forgotten.

“Now with the number of people at the ANZAC Day Parades there is renewed interest in New Zealand’s military history, so it is an absolute pleasure to share them with the people. A lot of young people who have grown up with technology now want to be taken for a ride in this very special piece of history.”

Warbirds over Wanaka 2024, the fourth largest airshow in the world will be held on March 29, 30 and 31. To watch action at Ardmore most weekends, as well as museum displays, go to

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