ATFA Part 28: Aero club variety
The DC3 was one of Jim’s favourite mounts. A3-AWP ex (ZK-AWP) is seen here when operating in Tonga.
At the Auckland Aero Club I was back instructing with Sel Goldsworthy who later flew for several start-up/go-broke charter and early commuter third-level carriers. He eventually joined Mt Cook Airlines and flew for many years as a Hawker Siddeley 748 turboprop captain and might even have made it into the ATR 72s before retiring.
On 8 April 1963 I was on my way south with two of my commercial pilot trainees, Rod Hutchinson and John Grocock. These two guys, building hours for their commercial licences, decided to have a go at breaking the light aircraft record from North Cape, New Zealand’s most northern mainland point, to Bluff at the extreme opposite end of the mainland.
This record had been set by Ted Harvie back in December 1933 flying Gipsy Moth ZK-ABP, the first time both ends of the country had been connected in a single day and taking 16hr.
For a reason I can’t remember, these two guys asked me to come along with them on this flight. As a great deal of the flying was to be out to sea I organised a life raft and of course we had life jackets. In 1963 there were no rescue helicopters—or in fact, other than a couple of short-range Bell or Hiller piston machines—no helicopters at all in New Zealand. This of course meant that if we ditched it would take quite some time to be rescued, hence the life raft.
They elected to fly Cessna 172 ZK-CCF. With only standard tanks this meant a refuelling stop up north and two enroute. We departed Ardmore at first light on a flight north to Kaikohe where we refuelled. Flying north we rounded North Cape and then flew out to sea direct to New Plymouth to refuel.
From New Plymouth direct to Christchurch in the South Island meant a long, well out to sea, overwater flight with the second half of the leg at around 10,000 ft to cross the Southern Alps, excellent experience for these budding commercial pilots. After refuelling in Christchurch we flew direct to Bluff and then back to Invercargill.
We broke the record with an elapsed time of 9hr 29min which included 30min on the ground refuelling, and as we had to fly from Ardmore to North Cape to start the record flight and from Bluff to Invercargill, our total flying that day was over 11hr.
We rounded North Cape at 8.26am and Bluff at 6.03pm, close to dark on this autumn evening. The return trip next day was Invercargill–Dunedin–Christchurch–Wellington–Wanganui and home to Ardmore, with total flying time for the two days 20hr 10min. Rod and John shared the flying and basically I was there only in an advisory capacity.
Rod Hutchinson became a commercial pilot and flew for many years with the RAF in England before returning to join Air NZ as a DC-8 first officer. As is often the way in aviation, Rod renewed his NZ licence and instrument rating with me and joined Air NZ on a course before me and so ended up senior to me in this airline. John Grocock also obtained his CPL and left New Zealand.
On 26 April I was back wearing my airline pilot’s hat, flying SPANZ DC-3 ZK-BYE with a great captain, Bill Pattie, Auckland–Hamilton–New Plymouth–Nelson, over the Alps to Christchurch and the reverse route back to Auckland in 6hr 20min with half the time command practice—that is, with me flying .
Back in my charter pilot’s hat on 29 May I was assigned to fly Cessna 172 CCF, Ardmore to Whitianga with Auckland lawyer Norm Thomb. Due to the appalling weather encountered prior to rounding Cape Colville, there was no possibility of a direct flight over the ranges, so I returned to Auckland.
Norm immediately approached the club’s manager and complained, saying that he was an ex-wartime, I think DH Mosquito, pilot and in his opinion I should not have returned. After a discussion with the manager, who was not a pilot, it was agreed that I would try again, but this time I insisted I was to fly the Cessna 180 which was better equipped, with IFR equipment. I was still doubtful of getting there but would give it a go.
Ardmore to the cape, even down to 200–300ft in almost zero visibility, was not too bad a problem, but once rounding the cape, with only high ranges right down to the coast on the right and islands here and there, one had to keep out to sea. We made it, but I think even this overconfident lawyer was a little worried.
In late June one of our commercial pilot ground school courses finished and we were inundated with trainees. Some of my students were Alan Roberts, now a retired airline captain, and Ritchie De Montalk who later instructed for me at my Auckland Flying School and flew in South Africa. Ritchie also worked for our unCivil Aviation Administration, and in that capacity he once gave me a 180-day training check when I was operations manager and captain on Twin Otters flying for Cook Island Air Services. As an instructor, Ritchie holds a senior position with Massey University School of Aviation in Palmerston North.
Fred Douglas had a long airline career and is now a retired B747 captain and ex-Air NZ international operations manager. Laurie Darington went ag flying, and Kelvin Stark owned and operated for many years Ardmore Flying School, later flying helicopters and fixed wing for a mining company in Noumea as well as spending some time with Fiji Air. Kelvin became a well-known ferry pilot and lost his life in December 2003 when he had to ditch off the California coast in a turboprop PAC 750XL.
Noel Mangham flew for SAFE Air as a Bristol Freighter and Argosy captain, and Mark Simich, who went into the air force, is now flying the big jets for Air NZ.
On 29 July I was assigned to fly in the Cessna 180 a group of reporters up to the NAC DC-3 crash site in the Kaimai Range east of Matamata. The DC-3 had crashed a few days earlier in extremely bad weather when enroute Auckland to Tauranga. All that remained was the very tail end of the fuselage and a complete tailplane, and all passengers and crew lost their lives.
In August came another CAA testing officer/mutual instructing/standardisation(?) check flight, this time with flight testing officer Clarrie Berryman who mentioned, as I always suspected, that soon these annual flights would become pass/fail checks. Don’t ever trust the unCivil Aviation people.
With the continuing difficulty we were having, operating the training Cubs on runways in nearly always crosswind conditions, and my general dissatisfaction with the club’s lack of forward planning and the odd unjustified run-in with the club management, I decided to fast track starting my own flying school. The biggest hurdle at this time was that I didn’t have much money, and it would be high risk, considering that my wife Ngaire, with two young children, Lynaire and newly born Gary, wouldn’t be able to help out by working.
Over the 1963 winter months I spent a considerable amount of time studying the viability of starting a flying school and felt it could be done.
To be continued
- Report by Jim Bergman, photograph by John King.
» Summer success at the Walsh
» The luxury of living in the Ivory Tower
» Comper moves swiftly
» UAV usefulness increasing
» Woodville’s even dozen
» 60th birthday party for ZK-BNL
» New airline MRO facility
» Hands across the Southern Alps
» Praise earned in tough place