USAF F-16 pilots cautioned by New Zealand authorities for flying “close to tree level” over Fox Glacier

USAF F-16 pilots cautioned by New Zealand authorities for flying “close to tree level” over Fox Glacier

By Dario Leone
Apr 10 2018
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The incident took place during a pre-Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow training session, during which the F-16s approached the area from the south, flying close to tree level as they neared Fox Glacier

U.S. Air Force (USAF) F-16 pilots who took part in the Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow in New Zealand have been cautioned by the local authorities after complaints that they flew “close to tree level” over Fox Glacier.

The incident is said to have taken place during a pre-show training session, during which the F-16s approached the area from the south, flying close to tree level as they neared Fox Glacier.

New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority said “no further incidents occurred” after “the Royal New Zealand Air Force reminded the pilots of New Zealand’s aviation rules.”

As reported by NZ Herald, Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow general manager Ed Taylor said he had been contacted by tourism operators who “expressed concern,” and he passed that on to USAF personnel in Christchurch, where the two F-16s were based the week before the air show.

The tourism operators, who were concerned about safety issues, told him the jets were “flying low in our airspace.”

When he contacted USAF personnel, they said they would talk to their air crews.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) would also have “shown them where they could and couldn’t go and do that sort of flying”.

F-16 pilot Richard Smeeding said before the show the jet would “let me pull minus 3 to 9.0gs, 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.”

Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow is a biennial centre piece of Central Otago’s tourist attractions. The airshow was conceived in 1988 by aviation entrepreneur Sir Tim Wallis who wanted to share his passion for Warbirds and Classic Aircraft with the public.

The first airshow and country fair attracted 14,000 visitors to Wanaka Airport.

Delighted with this success, he decided to expand on the theme and hold a biennial event over the long Easter weekend. As the show grew so did its support and now around 50,000 people make the pilgrimage to Wanaka for their weekend of excitement.

Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow that celebrated its 30th anniversary this year is acclaimed as the largest Warbird Airshow in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the world’s top four Warbird airshows.

F-16D print
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.  F-16D Fighting Falcon 19th Air Force, 56th Fighter Wing, 310th Fighter Squadron “Tophats”, LF/88-0175 – Luke AFB, AZ – 2011

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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