60th birthday party for ZK-BNL
Andrew Love and Alex Ingrosso are about to take the birthday girl for a flight—a brief flight in the face of an approaching front.
The invitation went out to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Canterbury Aero Club’s ZK-BNL, the oldest one-owner Piper Super Cub in Australasia. Sunday 9 October was birthday day with friends, cake and barbecue lunch, plus some competitions.
The Canterbury Aero Club, established at Wigram in 1928 and currently residing on the western side of Christchurch International Airport, is New Zealand’s oldest aero club and as such has a long and rich history to share. ZK-BNL’s initial registration was on 19 October 1956 and so this one aeroplane spans more than two-thirds of that story, and it is quite amazing that, although in 1966 it was considered obsolete, it is still active today and flies between 120 and 180 hours per year.
BNL has done 23,700hr and has had 18 engines and 15 propellers, while its fabric has been replaced seven times. It was the first official aeroplane to land at Rangiora airfield’s official opening in June 1958, and today BNL is not usually flown during student training but is available for type ratings and taildragger experience for those with their licences.
With a long history it is well known to aviators all over New Zealand, and a fine collection of logbooks, photos and articles was displayed in the clubrooms at Rangiora for the day. With many tales to tell it would be interesting to know how many students, instructors, pilots, engineers and passengers have been involved in the journey across those 60 years.
Many of those present had a tale to add. David Chapple earned a rating in BNL on its first day of operational flying, and today his car sports the personalised number plate ZK-BNL. Arthur Tocher flew BNL in her second week, the aviation bug has remained ever since and he was able four years ago to go for a flight in BNL to celebrate his 80th birthday.
Sunday was just another day for BNL—out doing circuits, giving joyrides, needing to shelter as a brisk front passed through, listening to the wisdom of the older pilots and the enthusiasm of the younger admirers, and able not to shed a tear but share the joy of turning 60 with another flight. On her birthday BNL was joined by family members BNX, JLB, CXC, BVJ, KEZ, BPK, BNJ and PSC.
The Piper PA-18 Super Cub was introduced in 1949 with a direct lineage back through the Taylor E-2 and the Piper J-3 Cubs of the 1930s. More than 9000 were built during production of almost 40 years, and the 150hp variant, now regarded as the “standard” Super Cub, was first seen in 1954. It is a traditional rag-and-tube aeroplane renowned for its ability to take off and land in short distances.
The PA-18 has developed a dedicated following in the bush-flying community, and many modifications have been developed for it, to the point where it is rare to find an original, completely stock Super Cub. Walking down the line was about understanding the refinements, the most common being wingtip designs, vortex generators on the wing leading edge and “tundra tyres”, large, soft, low-pressure balloon tyres designed to absorb impacts from rocks and boulders, and not sink into sand or other soft surfaces, ideal for off-runway landings …
Happy Birthday ZK-BNL, a true classic, a teacher, a mentor and a friend of many.
- Report by Evan Belworthy, photographs by Bernice Hintz.
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