‘Who can resist the throb of a Harvard or the sheer romance of a Tiger Moth, the roar of a Mustang or the rush of a jet?’ 1 With these words an enthusiast sums up the appeal of researching, restoring and flying vintage aircraft. The formation of the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand in 1958 was a rallying call to those fascinated by aviation history and particular types of aircraft. The society’s regular research publications sparked wider interest. The establishment in 1964 of the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, with its displays of aircraft associated with pioneer aviators such as Richard Pearse and Jean Batten, raised awareness about New Zealand’s aviation heritage. So did exhibitions at other museums around the country.
The New Zealand Sport and Vintage Aviation Society was established in 1974 out of concern that many notable old aircraft were disappearing. In 1978 the society held its first air pageant, the forerunner of the biennial air show Wings Over Wairarapa. Based at the Hood Aerodrome at Masterton, the society now has a collection of vintage aircraft in flying condition, and runs the George Hood Museum of Aviation and Transport.
The sale of a privately owned Mustang P-1 to an overseas buyer in the 1970s, despite an offer from a local group, prompted the formation of the New Zealand Warbirds Association in 1978. Gradually purchasing former service aeroplanes, particularly those used by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the association acquired a hangar and clubrooms in Auckland. It now operates over 60 aircraft, which are owned by syndicates of members. The skills required to fly older aircraft are specialised, but members with private pilot’s licences can study to obtain the necessary ratings.
The association is involved with the biennial Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow. Started by aviation entrepreneur Sir Tim Wallis in 1988, the show has become the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere, attracting crowds of around 100,000.
The Boeing seaplane mystery
The fate of two 1916 Boeing seaplanes that once flew New Zealand skies has long puzzled aviation historians. The first two planes to come out of the Boeing factory during the First World War, Bluebird and Mallard, were imported by the Auckland-based New Zealand Flying School. After the school’s demise they were rumoured to be stored in old defence tunnels under Auckland’s North Head, but investigation disproved this theory. If found, the planes would now have exceptional historical and monetary value.
Clubs dedicated to the preservation and flying of vintage aircraft include regional groups such as the Gisborne Aviation Preservation Society, and societies focused on particular types of aircraft such as the Tiger Moth Club of New Zealand. Vintage Kiwi is the association for those interested in classic and vintage gliders. Commercial companies also restore and display old aircraft and offer flights to tourists. Air shows and rallies enable the public to appreciate aviation history in action.