Honourable Company of Air Pilots awards: Bill Black
Bill Black (right) and Sir Tim Wallis go back a very long way.
Next month Bill Black MBE, a highly experienced Fiordland pilot, will travel to London to be awarded the prestigious Jean Batten Memorial Trophy for his outstanding contribution to New Zealand aviation. The award is one of several made annually by the Honourable Company of Air Pilots to recognise outstanding achievements in aviation.
Bill Black initially flew fixed wing aeroplanes before earning his helicopter licence, clocking up nearly 30,000 flying hours in total. He says he is especially honoured to receive the Jean Batten Memorial Trophy because the same trophy was awarded to Ian Ritchie in 2005. Ian taught Bill to fly Tiger Moths at Gore more than 50 years ago.
Bill Black was one of the pioneers of deer recovery in Fiordland, signing up with Tim (later Sir Tim) Wallis as pilot for Luggate Game Packers at the end of 1967. He also serviced the fishing industry, worked with muttonbirders, fought fires, salvaged aircraft and was involved in more than 500 search and rescue missions.
He was profiled in the July 2013 NZ Aviation News, and his book, Bill Black: I Did It My Way, compiled and edited by Merv Halliday, was published last year.
His citation from the New Zealand Region of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots reads in part: “Apart from initial type training, Bill has been basically self-taught. He was a pioneer in venison recovery and mountain flying, the days of which will never be seen again. He has been involved in saving a great many lives by day, by night, often in freezing temperatures, hazardous winds, low visibility and at high altitudes and in many cases been first at accident sites where grief and sadness prevailed. Many of these involved fellow pilots and friends. He was renowned for finding his own solace.
“In 25,572hr of helicopter flying he was involved in only one accident, in which no blame was attributed to him. Bill flew in over 500 search and rescue missions, including 313 mercy missions. He has earned numerous awards, the greatest being the MBE in 1977 that was awarded for meritorious achievements in mountain rescue and outstanding service to the industry and community.
“As well as lifting literally hundreds of thousands of feral deer from the most inhospitable and mountainous environments, he has lifted and recovered 108 aircraft and helicopters from similar terrain. The great majority of these achievements have been accomplished since the time of his MBE and for the large part have been unheralded.
“He is a paragon of experience in his environment, possessing exceptional aptitude and unrivalled flying skills, ever fostering good airmanship and always willing to mentor other pilots.”
The recently renamed Honourable Company of Air Pilots was established in 1929 as the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators in order to represent pilot and navigator interests within all areas of aviation. The majority of its members are, or have been, professional licence holders, operating aircraft in the airlines, corporate aviation and all branches of Her Majesty’s armed forces. Its membership also includes many private licence holders who are not full-time professionals, flying in every area of general aviation, sporting aviation and recreational flying.
For many members, the particular strength and attraction of the company is its diverse spread of members and interests in all the various areas of contemporary aviation. This, together with an entirely apolitical outlook and a constitution which forbids it from engaging in trade union activity, enables the Honourable Company of Air Pilots to form and to promote a truly unbiased, professional and experienced view on operational aviation matters.
The New Zealand Region of the Guild was formed in 1989 and in July 2014 formally changed its name to the Honourable Company of Air Pilots (New Zealand Region) in keeping with the name of the parent organisation.
Jean Batten was born on 15 September 1909 in Rotorua. She became famous in the 1930s in New Zealand and internationally for a number of record breaking solo flights, having become interested in flying as a child and further inspired by a flight with the famous Australian aviator, Charles Kingsford Smith.
Jean learned to fly in England and quickly set herself the goal of becoming the first person to fly from England to New Zealand. She achieved this record-setting flight in 1936, but only after she had already broken a number of flying records. In 1934 she broke the women’s record for flying from England to Australia, in a Gipsy Moth, and the following year she set several records in her flight from England to Brazil.
Then in 1936 she became the first person to fly solo from England to New Zealand, setting a record that remained unbroken for more than 40 years. The Percival Gull Six she flew on this and the Brazil flights is on permanent static display in the overseas terminal at Auckland International Airport.
During her flying career Jean Batten received a number of international trophies and medals for her achievements, including being the only non-royal to be awarded Brazil’s Officer of The Order of The Southern Cross. She received the Chevalier de Legion d’Honeur in France and a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in Britain. From the United States she was awarded the Women’s International Association of Aeronautics Challenge Cup three years running.
She mastered the art of blind flying, without radio navigation aids and using her own map reading skills, a watch and a simple compass to achieve her flying records.
She has been described as the world’s most famous New Zealander during the 1930s, but following WWII her celebrity diminished and she lived a quieter life. She continued to live primarily in Europe but returned to New Zealand a number of times. On one such visit, in 1977 at the age of 68, she was the guest of honour at the opening of MOTAT’s Pioneers of Aviation Building.
During her latter years Jean Batten lived in Palma, Majorca, where she died in 1982, aged 73, from an infected dog bite. Due to a communication mix-up, nobody in New Zealand learned of her death until 1987 and she was buried anonymously on 22 January 1983 in a paupers’ mass grave in Palma Cemetery.
- Report by John King, photography by John King and supplied from Bill Black's Collection.
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