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Air Force 2 takes to the water

Alpine Jet Thrills launched an airboat in the Waimakariri last Saturday as the first step in attracting locals to this unique adventure.

Set to open for the summer, the ride of a lifetime in the modified airboat will take passengers in places where even jet boats can’t go.

Air Force 2 ready for service

Paul Mullan took seven lucky volunteers up-river on its first trip from under the motorway bridge in the Waimakariri Regional Park, for a few thrilling breathtaking passes over river shallows and all agreed that it had the pucker factor.

A term used by an American he took for a ride once, Paul thinks it’s an accurate description of the tension felt in your rear end when danger presents itself.

Paul Mullen with Air Force 2

Modelled on the original Florida Everglades airboats, made memorable for older TV watchers of the Gentle Ben series, the boats are also used in Alaska which shares the shallow braided rivers that are the playground of jet boaters in Canterbury.

It was after an expedition in Alaskan airboats that planted an idea in Paul’s head to do something similar here.

He bought an airboat in Florida and tried it out on the Ashburton River. 

“It was fibreglass and I knew it wouldn’t survive our rivers so I set about building one in Ashburton with an aluminium hull.”

After three years of testing and modifications they finally found the right shape and size. The hull of Airforce Two is 6 inches wider and 18 inches longer than the original, Airforce One, and it can hold an extra row of seats, two at the back and then two rows of three in front.

Business partner, Paul Vernel, says that Alpine Jet Thrills has faced a devastating loss of business since the Covid pandemic saw the cruise ship business come to an end.

It decimated their livelihood and they realised they have to attract locals now. 

“We were business as usual in February and looking forward to the rest of the season when everything just stopped. 

Our market now is the locals and staycationers and we knew we had to get moving on the airboat.”

“It’s harder to get kiwis out in jetboats but this will have great appeal. “

That’s not all Alpine Jet Thrills has to offer either with a jet boat museum nearing completion in Springfield.

Paul Vernel says Hamilton Jets are famous all over the world but little mention is made of the fact they started here in the Waimakariri so he has created the only jet boat museum in the country with a breathtaking view of the river at their base in Springfield.

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