Post image for Wings over Lord of the Rings

Wings over Lord of the Rings

by Michael on December 21, 2011

When Peter Jackson chose New Zealand to film his epic Lord of the Rings trilogy it wasn’t just because he’s a Kiwi. The scenery is truly spectacular. It’s the best of America’s national parks all crammed into a relatively compact area. Picture if Colorado had not only the Rocky Mountains but also Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Teton national parks; the glaciers of Alaska; a few Norwegian fjords; sixty-five volcanoes, rain forests, deserts plus almost 10,000 miles of coastline. And a lot of sheep.

We had the opportunity to ride in an open-cockpit biplane over some of the natural wonders along with the Pelennor battlefield from LOTR:The Return of the King. We were driving back from a glacier hike near Mt. Cook when we saw a gorgeous flame red biplane sitting there gleaming by the side of the road. It was more effective than any billboard in promoting the business of Red Cat Scenic Flights run by pilot Chris Rudge. We’re both airplane geeks (which helps explain the vintage DC-3 at the top of our web site) but neither of us had ever been in a biplane.

The Red Cat

The experience flying in the plane is like a trip back to the barnstorming days of the 1920s. We were outfitted in leather flight jackets and goggles for the full Snoopy fighting the Red Baron effect. One of the unique features of Chris’ biplane, which he has named Red Cat,  is that he can fit two passengers upfront, a rarity among biplanes. Michael hopped in (we use the term loosely) first and was quite comfortable until he realized Larissa would be squeezed into the confined space as well.

Pilot Chris explained that the captain of the New Zealand rugby team had recently taken a flight with his dad and if they could fit in so could we, Larissa’s hips be damned. We buckled ourselves in but, quite frankly, we were jammed in so tight that even if Chris threw in a few barrel rolls I doubt we could have fallen out anyway.

We took off using barely any runway and were airborne before we knew it. Red Cat circled the Takitumu Mountains and nearby glaciers before flying over the Pelennor Fields.  Now Michael hasn’t seen any of the films but Larissa’s seen all three so she’s the expert on this. The battle scene in the movie required over 1,200 cast and crew, the largest shoot of all three films. We had driven by the site the day before but nothing matched the thrill of seeing it from the air with the wind in our face.

The Pelennor battlefield from above with the Takitumu Mountains in the distance

Afterwards we wanted to keep the thrill going even longer but Chris made us give back the helmet and goggles. The experience helped us capture the thrill that the early aviators had in their flying machines. A few days later we were flying from Christchurch to Sydney inside a pressurized cabin eating salted peanuts. As we flew over the New Zealand mountains we looked out the window and wondered where Red Cat was flying today.

For fellow plane geeks here’s a view from the cockpit as we landed:

If you’re ever in New Zealand, which we highly recommend, here’s the link for Red Cat Scenic Flights.

Chris the pilot with Little Rocky

Click the link for more on our visit to New Zealand.


Pete December 22, 2011 at 12:36 am

Is it just me, or does he look a lot like Captain Sullenberger (of landing the plane in the Hudson River fame) minus the mustache?

Us December 22, 2011 at 1:30 am

Good observation Pete. I think it’s the “pilot” look.

John Discepoli December 22, 2011 at 10:53 pm

have I said before how much I loved New Zealand? Plane Geeks does not adequately describe Larissa’s family.

Us December 23, 2011 at 12:27 am

Fortunately for you, John, you are married to the only one of us who is NOT a plane geek! But just in case you’re curious, our last commercial flight was on a Boeing 737-800 🙂

this is Larissa talking, by the way. . . .

jerry December 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Supposedly Australia was settled by British prisoners, accounting for their rakish ways. How about New Zealand?

Us December 23, 2011 at 8:52 pm

The Kiwis were fond of telling us that before their forebears settled New Zealand they first dropped their convicts off in Australia, at least that’s their version.

Sam December 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Hi there! Im from the South Island In Central Otago, New Zealand, really hope your enjoying your fantastic trip around the world, thankyou for visiting New Zealand, We Hope you enjoyed our unique scenery and beautifull country!

Us December 25, 2011 at 8:29 pm

It truly is spectacular scenery around every bend in the road.

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