The New Zealand Herald

Low-flying US fighter pilots anger locals


United States F-16 jet-fighter pilots were “reminded of New Zealand’s aviation rules” after low flights over the Fox Glacier sparked safety concerns from helicopter operators.

The pilots raised the hackles of locals during their visit for the Warbirds Over Wanaka air show.

The Otago Daily Times understand­s they flew close to tree level as they flew towards the glacier.

The Civil Aviation Authority said yesterday it received complaints from tourism operators in the Fox Glacier and Franz Josef areas about low-flying F-16s: “We understand the Royal New Zealand Air Force reminded the pilots of New Zealand’s aviation rules, after which no further incidents occurred.”

Warbirds Over Wanaka general manager Ed Taylor said he had been contacted by tourism operators who “expressed concern”, and he passed that on to United States Air Force personnel in Christchur­ch, where the jets were based for a week before the air show.

Taylor understood the pilots carried out training flying and that was when the incident occurred.

The tourism operators had told him the jets were “flying low in our airspace”, and were concerned enough about safety issues to ring him.

When he rang US personnel, they said they would talk to the air crews.

The RNZAF would also have “shown them where they could and couldn’t go and do that sort of flying”.

F-16s can reach speeds of nearly 2500km/h.

US Air Force F-16 pilot Richard Smeeding said before the show his jet would “let me pull minus-3 to 9.9 Gs, go twice the speed of sound, rage through the mountains at 100ft fully loaded for war and all the time flying like an extension of my body”.

Fox Glacier helicopter pilots contacted yesterday declined to talk on the record.

— Otago Daily Times

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