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Brett Emeny And His Last Warbird Display

By Allan Udy

It is with great sadness that we have to report the passing of Brett Emeny, a veritable 'warbird' legend in New Zealand. An active pilot until his last couple of weeks, Brett has unfortunately succumbed to complications following recent surgery.

Brett Emeny in his North American T-28 Trojan prior to a display at the Wings Over Wairarapa 2021 airshow in Masterton, New Zealand.  Photo Copyright © 2021 Historical Aviation Film Unit

With a father who had flown the de Havilland Mosquito in Burma during the Second World War it was not surprising that Brett would eventually spend many years becoming a highly skilled and respected warbird pilot.

Having started flying gliders when he was 15 years old, Brett gained his full PPL by age 19, and by the age of 21 he was a fully fledged commercial pilot. Later the formed and built up a very successful agri-helicopter business with clients based the length and breadth of New Zealand.

Brett first dipped his toe into the world of warbird flying when he purchased a share in North American T-28 Trojan '563', the very aircraft that he is shown with here, and which he subsequently purchased outright from the other shareholders. His next step in 1994, was to purchase an ex-Swiss Air Force de Havilland Vampire jet, which he spent decades displaying at various airshows around New Zealand—a fact that has always been greatly appreciated by NZ's warbird enthusiasts, given that the Vampire was the first jet aircraft operated by the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

When the New Zealand Catalina Preservation Society was formed in the early 1990s, and subsequently imported an example of the large amphibious aircraft into the country, Brett was once again up for the challenge of learning to fly the lumbering aircraft. He did this to the extent that in recent years he has held the role of Chief Pilot for the society.

Brett, with throttles in hand, taxis the Catalina PBY-5a on Lake Taupo following one of the aircraft's water landings on the lake.   Photo Copyright © 2019 Historical Aviation Film Unit

More recently in the early 2000's, as a number of Yak-52 aerobatic aircraft were imported into the country, Brett decided to become involved in formation flying with a group of other Yak owners, and over the past decade and a half the formation team have flown at just about every airshow in New Zealand, more often than not with Brett as the lead pilot in the group.

Having flown a vast array of other warbirds in New Zealand, including the Harvard, P-51 Mustang, P-40 Kittyhawk, plus the L-29 Delphin jet and its big brother the L-39 Albatros, Brett had built up a huge store of experience and wealth of knowledge that his colleagues, friends, and family will sorely miss.

Brett in ZK-YAK, his distinctive blue Yak-52, preparing for a formation display at Warbirds Over Wanaka.   Photo Copyright © 2018 Historical Aviation Film Unit

During the Classic Fighters 2023 airshow held at Omaka (Blenheim, New Zealand) over Easter weekend, Brett was flying as lead for the Yak-52 formation team, and also as part of the T-28 Trojan pair display with Peter Vause. On Saturday afternoon after their display slot, Brett was overheard saying to Peter that "...we can't do much better than that, Pete" -- indicating he thought the pair had flown a good display.

It's Peter's contention that on Sunday, the final day of the show, they did indeed fly an even better display, and it is that routine that's captured on this video below.

This display of Brett's North American T-28 Trojan flying an awesome pairs routine along with the T-28 of Brett's long time aviation friend a 'co-conspirator' Peter Vause, was the last public display performance that Brett made, only a couple of weeks prior to his passing on 3rd May 2023.

Immediately following Brett and Pete's T-28 Trojan pair display, just as I had completed the filming, another highly experienced warbird pilot remarked to me that the display was extremely good, and that for a couple of 'non-military trained pilots', Brett and Peter did an exemplary job with their display. Fine words of praise indeed, and well justified.

As always Brett and Peter flew a tight formation in their two aircraft at Classic Fighters 2023. The pair have been flying together for years, in the Trojans, Yak-52s, and in their respective jet aircraft.   Photo Copyright © 2023 Historical Aviation Film Unit

Over the past two decades I have had the privilege of working with, and alongside Brett on many occasions, filming his activities in a number of aircraft, including the Trojan, the Vampire, Yak-52 and Catalina. Each time I found him to be an extremely likeable and good natured bloke, very easy to work with, and very cooperative with the things that I was trying to achieve from a video perspective. It has only been in recent years that I've understood exactly why that was...

Several years ago while we were in Taupo with the Catalina Preservation Society, I was on the tarmac filming the aircraft, while everyone else was in the local aero club having lunch. As I was going about my business, Brett came out and walked toward the aircraft and then slightly deviated to approach me more directly. As he came up to me he said "... I really appreciate what you're doing, you must have filmed just about every Vampire display I've done at airshows, and it's great to have a record of them..."

As it turns out we have filmed many of Brett's displays, but certainly not all of them. I'm very glad that we do have a relatively extensive visual record of his activities over the past two decades (some of which are yet to see the light of day), and I'm more than a little saddened that we'll not get to work together again, and that he himself won't actually get to sit back and enjoy this visual record of his career in his dotage.

However, I'm grateful to have been able to know Brett, and even more so to learn that he not only grasped what it was/is that HAFU have been trying to do over the years (record a visual history of warbird activities and personalities), but that he also appreciated it.

Our sincere condolences go to the Emeny family, and Brett's extensive list of close friends and colleagues in the aviation community.

Brett was an integral part of the New Zealand Yak-52 display team and his presence at future NZ airshows will be missed by many who either knew him, or appreciated the displays he flew, no matter which aircraft he was flying..   Photo Copyright © Historical Aviation Film Unit

An Extra Note From Peter Vause

Formation pilots will appreciate that the accurate flying in that Omaka display, thankfully recorded by HAFU, was down to Brett's superb leading. Sharing the limited, safe power range in those big engines with his wing man, accurately using the energy and rolling in at just the right rate of turn and at just the right time enabled such a tight routine to performed successfully. There is a big hole in the sky to fill without him. Thanks for the lovely tribute, Allan. '73.

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