Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Famous fighter planes stars of New Zealand museum

Picture the scene: The famous World War I fighter ace, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. the Red Baron, has just crashed his equally famous dreidekker (triple-winged) red Fokker Dr1 aeroplane.

He lies dead alongside the wreck. Aussie soldiers gather around it and start ripping souvenirs from it.

You don’t have to imagine: You can see it, just as it really was on 21 April, 1918, in a dramatic diorama at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Museum, about 5 minutes from the centre of Blenheim in Marlborough, New Zealand.

The museum, opened in 2006 by a couple of aircraft enthusiasts, Jane and Graham Orphan, has 21 World War I fighters on display. Some of them are replicas built for various movies, others are original and include some that are the last remaining examples of their type in the world.

They are on loan from film director Peter Jackson's own air armada - believed to be the largest private collection in the world. He chairs the 14-18 Aviation Heritage Trust that manages the collection. His team of set-builders, who were responsible for Academy-award winning films Lord of the Rings and King Kong, built dramatic museum dioramas so realistic you expect to see the figures move at any moment.

It’s not just the aircraft that are on show. Among other treasures is a cloth cross cut from the starboard (right) side of von Richthofen’s plane by those same scavenging Aussies, a napkin ring made from fuel intake pipes on his plane and silver trophies he kept as souvenirs of his 80 kills.

Many of the aircraft at the museum are in flying condition and are the stars of the Classic Fighters airshow set for Easter Weekend 2009, April 10-12.

Learn more about the Omaka Aviation Heritage Museum at

For more information on Blenheim and Marlborough go to

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