Story: Aviation

Page 2. Early flying feats

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The immediate post-war years were active and optimistic times for the emerging aviation industry. The more robust wartime and post-war aircraft that became available after 1918 proved the feasibility of long-distance flying. Around the country, crowds of spectators were thrilled by itinerant aviators offering joyrides from parks, racecourses, paddocks and beaches. The improving technology brought a spate of flying ‘firsts’ that would continue for decades in New Zealand. Pioneering flights were made from both ends of the country.

North Island firsts

The New Zealand Flying School’s chief pilot, George Bolt, used its new Boeing floatplanes to reach into Northland. His flight of 233 kilometres from Auckland to Russell in 1919 was a record distance for the time. The next year Jimmy Woods, also from the school, made the first flight from Auckland to Hamilton. Continuing on a joyriding tour of the East Coast and Wairarapa, he became the first to fly into Wellington since 1914.

Connecting the islands

In August 1920 Captain Euan Dickson of the Canterbury Aviation Company, with two passengers and some mail, left Christchurch. Flying via Kaikōura and Blenheim they landed on the Trentham Racecourse in the Hutt Valley, having made a historic first crossing of Cook Strait. Shortly after, Captains Tom Wilkes and Leonard Isitt were the first to fly over Mt Cook, and early in 1921 Stewart Islanders heard an aircraft overhead for the first time. Pilot Maurice Buckley dropped copies of the Southland Times before heading back to Invercargill.

Longer flights

In the North Island on 4 October 1921, George Bolt, flying a floatplane, achieved the first one-day flight from Auckland to Wellington, via Kāwhia and Whanganui. This feat was surpassed later that month by a spectacular flight from Invercargill to Auckland, piloted for most of the way by J. C. ‘Bert’ Mercer, with aviation entrepreneur Rodolph Wigley as a passenger. Bad weather forced them to put down in Timaru on 24 October, but they continued the next day, landing in Auckland’s Cornwall Park in the evening. The total flight time was under nine hours. Compared to the much longer and more demanding excursion by car and boat, this was an extraordinary accomplishment, and a portent of the transport revolution to come.

How to cite this page:

Peter Aimer, 'Aviation - Early flying feats', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/aviation/page-2 (accessed 15 November 2018)

Story by Peter Aimer, published 12 Jun 2006