Warbirds over Wānaka founder Sir Tim Wallis dies aged 85

One of New Zealand's greatest aviation pioneers has died.

Sir Tim Wallis was famed for his involvement in the Warbirds over Wānaka airshow and passed away on Tuesday aged 85.

In a statement to media, his family described him as "an exceptional man who led a wonderful life".

Sir Tim built an aviation empire by combining helicopters, deer recovery and farming.

Using a helicopter to pluck deer from rugged terrain, Sir Tim developed a thriving deer industry in New Zealand, and forged valuable international trade relationships for which he was knighted in 1994.

In addition, Sir Tim turned his passion for tracking down, buying and restoring World War 2 fighter aircraft into the Warbirds over Wānaka airshow, which attracts 50,000 spectators every two years.

Warbirds Over Wānaka Community Trust chairman John Gilks said Sir Tim has left an amazing legacy.

"He was a real business entrepreneur and his legacy in this region goes way beyond the airshow," he said.

Warbirds Over Wānaka general manager Ed Taylor recalled fond memories of catching up with Sir Tim.

"Sir Tim was a regular out at his airport office and I loved nothing more than having chats with him which almost always were about the airshow," Taylor said.

"He loved nothing more than talking about aircraft and the airshow," he added.

"I might be talking to a relatively young Warbird display pilot in the US or Europe and they would ask after Sir Tim - they all knew him by name."