Tuesday, April 24, 2012

RNZAF 75th Part 1: Good and Bad

Listening to: The NZ Breakers taking out a back to back championship win in the ANBL. Yeah!
So still playing catch-up with the blogging, mostly due to a heavy dose of REAL LIFE TM last week. So where were we? About three weeks back I think.

So three weeks ago, as March turned to April we all went up to Palmerston North for the weekend to go to the RNZAF 75th Annivesary Air Show at nearby RNZAF Base Ohakea. It was a fun trip.

Firstly though, since it probably needs addressing (and everyone I know who has asked me about the show mentions it), and to get it out of the way, the bad. A big part of the media coverage of the event was The Traffic.

It is a bit sad and disappointing that what should have been a great occasion (and was for those who got to attend) was spoiled for many by The Traffic. It was so bad that many didn’t get to the airfield, even those who had left ample time for the journey. The traffic management for getting to the show was a debacle, no other word for it. If there was a plan, there was no evidence of it, or it was executed incompetently. Certainly the flow was much worse than any other show I have been to at Ohakea. The arrival routes and detours were reasonably well advised in advance publicity (even if some of them made no sense at all, like routing traffic through choke points rather than around them), but at the time we arrived at least on the day there was no signposting or off-base direction whatsoever for air show traffic. Since I know the roads around there reasonably well I knew where to go anyway, but most of the people arriving didn’t know (and shouldn’t be expected to). Hence lots of traffic going where it wasn’t planned to, not helped by an accident on one of the inbound routes.

Compounding the problems was an apparent expectation from the Air Force that most show-goers would have pre-purchased tickets on-line (as a pre-show announcement that gate sales would in theory be limited suggests). Having a pre-bought ticket made for a very speedy entry; buying a ticket at the gate from the car window not so much. When we arrived the road to the entry was split into ticket holders and sales; the ticket holder queue was short to non-existent, while most vehicles were going into the purchase line. This would have further added to delays up the queue. Combining this with the Air Force possibly under-anticipating the number of people who wanted to attend, and some of those people (not all) naively assuming that they could plan to arrive just before the flying was scheduled to start, and the jam became inevitable. It got so epicly bad that the Air Force is not only refunding tickets, but formally reviewing what happened.

Experienced show goers know to get there as early as practical, as some traffic delay is part of the game, it just isn’t usually this fouled up. We left later than I had planned, sped past one already gridlocked road, and were only in slow moving traffic for half an hour or so, getting on site later than anticipated, but still before the show started. I griped about the traffic at the time, but in hindsight for us it was about average. We luckily missed the worst delays, and only heard about how bad it was getting as the day progressed. As it happens some members of a web forum I post on flew into the show while we were still on the road, and one of them took a picture of the queue. I remembered seeing the aircraft they were on, and had a closer look, and lo, there we were!
(Mumbles is my forum name, original image by P. Lewis)
 Adding to the the traffic issues was the parking direction on the field. The route to the carpark area crossed a closed runway where the food vendors and retailers were located, and no crowd control meant distracted pedestrians were often unaware of and moving in front of the still arriving cars, meaning more delays as cars had to stop. The filling of the carpark itself didn't help either. At every other airshow I can think of, the carparks are filled from the far side from the entry point first. This works; incoming cars have a clear idea of where to go, making the drive in easier, and it is safer since no-one has to drive past an unloading car to get to a park. Instead, the park was filled from the entry in, meaning more reliance on marshals to know where to go, driving down long lines of cars unloading people and gear, and because of that creating an unnecessary hazard. People getting out of cars, especially children, want to move around and stretch their legs, and at one point we came to a complete halt with young children moving about blocking the way, while their parents obliviously unloaded the car. You could argue that’s just bad parenting, but back-filling the carpark properly would have pretty much eliminated this kind of occurrence, which added up to even more delays for those still to arrive.

The programme for the show itself also caused a few gripes, mainly in that there wasn’t one published. No programme survives contact with the day generally, but it would have been nice to have some clue about what was flying when, so I could plan forays to the ground displays when things I wasn’t that interested in were flying. Not have a lunch break didn't help, so I missed out on seeing some things on the ground. The running order was also a bit weird, lacking continuity and focus even while the actual displays were cool. There were times when it seemed that the commentary team didn’t always know what was going on either.

Most disappointing though was the decision of display organisers to cancel the Ohakea based Spitfire's display for timing reasons after it was already airborne. Seeing it and the other Spitfire present in the air together was going to be one of the highlights of the day for me, and found it staggering that at an air show dedicated to celebrating the 75th anniversary of the RNZAF, someone thought it appropriate to drop the display of one of the most historically significant aircraft there, while other gap-filling displays with nothing to do with the show's central theme went ahead. It was especially disappointing since I and some other members of the forum mentioned above had been privileged to enjoy an invite-only inspection of the Spitfire by it's owner the night before the show.

As a veteran show goer, while I had a great day, it was flawed by a definite lack of polish and things that have been done better by the same organisation in the past. At times there was a slightly puzzling feeling of inexperience on the part of the organisers, puzzling because usually they are pretty good. There was a sense of wheels perhaps being re-invented.

Anyway, these are the at length ramblings of someone who has been to a lot of air shows. We had a great time.The weather was good, the flying was great, and my girls had fun, including Sophie making her air show debut:

My memories of air shows at an early age are dominated by hating the noise (I love the noise now), so I made sure I got earmuffs for the babes. They came in handy for moments like this (FA/18 right over our heads in full afterburner. Niiice):
And while a lot of the media focus was negative, there were some good unintentional lols as well. This is a Spitfire (you can trust me on this):
 According to the NZ Herald Website though, these are Spitfires:
That gem pales though in comparison to the gold that was The Sunday Star Times' take on the show (notes mine):

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