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Air Force Museum of New Zealand — Christchurch

17 February 2010

 

The Air Force Museum of New Zealand

43º 32′ 46″ S / 172º 32′ 52″ E 

North American Harvard blazing the way to Air Force Museum of New Zealand — photo by Joe May

North American Harvard blazing the way to Air Force Museum of New Zealand — photo by Joe May

After passing the North American Harvard which marks the main road turn off to historic Wigram Airfield, I pulled into the museum’s parking lot full of anticipation and curiosity. New Zealand has a population of about four million and they are known for creativity, effectiveness and friendliness. “How will this museum experience turn out?” — I optimistically thought to myself.

As you might imagine, this visit was a great one. The museum is not large, nonetheless it has over a dozen aircraft displayed (some in creative dioramas), as many undergoing restoration, artifacts, and extremely friendly staff. There is a small entry fee, complete facilities — no café is needed as this museum is located in Christchurch.

The main building is essentially one very large two storied room with smaller rooms around the perimeter on each floor. The center room has several aircraft on display. The two that most caught my attention were the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and the de Havilland Vampire. This Vampire is one of the more unusual displays since it is a single seat fighter version, most on exhibit in the world are of the side-by-side two seat trainer type. The Vampire was powered by a centrifugal flow turbojet engine which made for a more rounded and broader cross section than today’s common axial flow turbojet engine. Richard Bach wrote a novel about a Vampire pilot on a solo flight to the UK, who gets into serious trouble as most of his electrics went out and fog obscured the terrain. The reader gets to hear the inner voice of the, now very alone, aviator as he works out the situation — the title of the book is Flight of the Sheppard and I recommend it for a weekend’s reading. The upper floor of the main building has offices and exhibit rooms including one on Antarctic explorations.

de Havilland Vampire — photo by Joe May

de Havilland Vampire — photo by Joe May

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk — photo by Joe May

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk — photo by Joe May

Attached to the main building is a hangar where most of the aircraft are exhibited. Several are in dioramas — an Avro Anson being refueled, an English Electric Canberra under taxi, a de Havilland Beaver with snow skis on a glacier and more. There is another hangar but it was closed at the time of my visit but I wasn’t too disappointed since what I had seen was pleasing and knowing that I will return for another visit.

Avro 626 — photo by Joe May

Avro 626 — photo by Joe May

Avron Anson — photo by Joe May

Avro Anson — photo by Joe May

English Electric Canberra — photo by Joe May

English Electric Canberra — photo by Joe May

The museum is well worth visiting as is Christchurch. Flights to Christchurch International Airport are plentiful, the city has spectacular architecture and — as everywhere in New Zealand — is chock full of friendly people, art and great coffee.

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