Wanaka: Fresh from their record-breaking heroics at the world famous Reno air races, New Zealand pilot Graeme Frew and his V-12 powered Yak-3 aircraft have been confirmed for next Easter’s Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow.
Graeme and his WWII fighter aircraft “Full Noise” became the first New Zealand team to reach the Gold Unlimited final at the National Championship Air Races at Reno in the United States in September. On the way to the Gold final Graeme notched up a couple of stunning results against some tough competition.
“I went from seventh to first in my first ever race as a Rookie on the Thursday and from fifth to first in the Silver heat on Saturday, against five Mustangs.” Graeme has returned to New Zealand still buzzing from the experience.
“It’s right up there in terms of the most satisfying things I’ve done in aviation. The racing was very intense but also really enjoyable and dare I say it, I actually had fun!”
“I’m normally a nervous pilot before a big event but to be honest I enjoyed the Gold final immensely. To put the racing into perspective, you get to do things that would put you in jail any other time. Yes, it requires intense concentration and is physically tiring, especially in the Yak. I flew most of the time with both hands on the stick as the Yak, being small in size, is very susceptible to the wake turbulence of other aircraft. The solution of course was to try to be out front!”
“You feel totally in tune with your machine and with the elements you are flying in and do get into a zone. If you then factor in that you are trying to fly a good race line, not cut inside any pylons or bust crowd lines AND pass other aircraft…well, you get the idea!”
While Graeme didn’t place in the Gold final, just getting there was a huge achievement in itself. In the final he was up against some of the legends of Reno including ‘Voodoo’ and the eventual 2017 champion ‘Strega’.
It wasn’t all plain sailing getting to the start line. A new ‘race engine’ was fitted to the Yak-3 when it arrived in the US. However, mechanical problems meant this had to be pulled out and Graeme’s stock engine put back in during a marathon all-night session just before qualifying started. This has made Graeme’s results even more outstanding.
And it wasn’t just Graeme. There was a team of sponsors and supporters behind him who bought into the Burt Munro-like dream of taking on the best in the world on the world’s biggest stage. Graeme even went as far as using Burt Munro’s famous number 35 on his aircraft.
“The support I enjoyed was amazing right from the start when Jay McIntyre from JEM Aviation agreed to back me. It was truly a team effort that got me into the Gold final.” That team effort even extended to Graeme’s race helmet which was a prototype helmet designed and built by fellow Blenheim pilot and Warbirds Over Wanaka Flying Scholarship winner, Ryan Southam. “The highest praise I can give the helmet is that I actually forgot I was wearing it. Another innovative Kiwi we can be proud of,” says Graeme.
Now he’s been bitten by the bug, Graeme is already plotting how he can put together another Reno challenge for 2018. “I am absolutely convinced that we can go faster. We are very keen to meet with potential sponsors to discuss how we can connect them with a huge base of potential customers. If anyone wants to talk through the options then I’m more than happy to hear from them directly on 021 141 0099.”
Before then Graeme has his sights set on bringing “Full Noise” South to the 30th Anniversary Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow next Easter. “It will be the aircraft’s first big public display since Reno and I’m looking forward to showing her off to the crowd. Plus our team will be on hand to chat with Airshow goers about the whole Reno experience.”
And if you’ve always hankered after flying in a legitimate Gold Unlimited class Reno racer you can book a ride with Graeme at Wanaka. Bookings are already open at www.warbirdsoverwanaka.com Rides Day or www.fighterflights.co.nz or you can call Graeme directly on 021 141 0099. There’s also more information about Graeme’s Reno experience on the same website or you can follow them on Instagram at Fullnoise35 and on Facebook at Fighter Flights.
The 30th anniversary Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow is being held on March 30th, March 31st and April 1st. Information and tickets are available from www.warbirdsoverwanaka.com
Photo Credit: Harry Measures Photography (Supplied)