01 September 2011

NAC's last De Havilland DH89 Dominie Service

While researching the current series of posts to Great Barrier Island at the Whangarei Library I came across some newspaper accounts of the end of the De Havilland DH89 Dominie service to Whangarei and the end of the type in NAC service... they make an interesting read...

Last Dominie Flight from Whangarei Tomorrow
- Northern Advocate 18 December 1963

An era in New Zealand aviation comes to an end tomorrow with the last Dominie flight out of Whangarei. Onerahi airport is being closed for runway reconstruction to allow DC3 aircraft to use it in the future, and with this goes the last of the six-seater bi-planes that have it been a distinctive feature of the New Zealand airways for many years. The National Airways Corporation had six Dominies. They-served on many routes: Dunedin-Invercargill; the South Island West Coast; Auckland-Rotorua; Auckland-Hamilton-Rotorua: across Cook Strait and (under charter) Hokitika-Milford Sound; Whangarei-Auckland. The last of the six, ZK–AKY "Tui”, will make her last scheduled flight from Whangarei to Auckland tomorrow afternoon. Dominies were far from welcome they first began the Whangarei run in March 1950. Since 1948, Whangarei had enjoyed a twice-daily Electra service and a daily allocation of 19 to 22 passengers in the Northland network. But with the retirement of the 10-seater Electras, Onerahi airport was too small for the replacement Lodestars and news that Whangarei would have to be happy with the Dominie came as something of a shock. There was a further shock in store when in July of that same year the then Minister for Civil Aviation, Mr W. S. Goosman, indicated that the Dominie itself might be out of service within two years.

Kept on Flying

The alternatives offered replacement aircraft or enlargement of Onerahi airport to Lodestar standards, sparked off a series of meetings and demands for a larger airport, intermingled with pessimistic forecasts of a "humiliated” Whangarei left without an air service of any kind inside two years. In spite of the most gloomy forebodings, however, and in-spite of the minister’s statement: "We are not keen to continue their use beyond the next two years," the Dominie has kept on flying. "Tui", the aircraft that will make the last scheduled flight tomorrow and is the last of the original six, has flown a total of 16,700 hours. Since they commenced service in 1950, the Dominies have carried a total of 121,670 passengers in and out of Whangarei. In the first year they carried 10,148 people and in the first quarter of their last year up to November 30, 1963, they carried 5164. During the year of operations from Whangarei, Dominies extended their flights to provide a feeder service between Kaikohe and Whangarei. Their record is without blemish - never a mishap; never a passenger injured. At busy periods up to six return flights, a day have been flown, using two aircraft. In contrast to the Dominie, which was referred to with contempt as a "baby plane" when introduced in 1950, the Douglas DC-3 Skyliner which will replace it when the airport is reopened next year has the dimensions of a giant. Comparative figures for the Douglas with those of the Dominie in parentheses, are: Length 64ft 5½in (34ft 6in); wing span 95ft (48ft); maximum permissible weight 26,900 lbs (5500lbs) cruising speed 160mph (115mph); top speed 231mph (157mph); fuel consumption 65 gal/hr (17 gal/hr); fuel tank capacity 668 gals (76,gals). De Havilland aircraft hold a proud place in the history of both military and civil aviation. In New Zealand the Dominies have surrounded themselves with history, some of it true, some of it almost legend. Tales are told by veteran pilots of the easy-going days when they dropped newspapers to isolated lighthouses, when cases of fruit were used as ballast; of unscheduled calls at remote farms for a friendly cup of tea and lengthy, hospitality-filled disruption periods on the West Coast. The amazingly rapid development of the Dominie family began in England in 1932 with an urgent need for practical, one-pilot, twin-engine transport aircraft. Drawings were started early in the year and the first three aircraft in the noble De Havilland line took the air only four months later. This aircraft, the DH Dragon, was soon flying on United Kingdom and Channel routes and it was an immediate and continued success with both pilots and public. As father of the De Havilland's transport fleet, the Dragon contributed a great deal to the growing prestige of British aviation. One historic flight, the 3300 mile, 39-hour North Atlantic crossing made by the Mollisons, ranks among the great journeys of all times. From the Dragon, De Havilland developed the first of their four-.engined aircraft, the DH 86, three of which flew with Union Airways, in New Zealand. Another two-engined aircraft which grew from the original Dragon line was the Raplde DH89 which first flew in April 1934. The main changes between the Dragon and the Rapide were higher-powered engines; metal propellers, faired under-carriage and tapered wings. Like its predecessor, the Rapide was an immediate favourite and even before World War II, De Havilland had built 200 of this type. During the war the main manufacturer's built a further 200 While no less than 275 were manufactured in - of all places - a furniture factory. Production finally ended, somewhat reluctantly, in 1945. The RAF gave the Rapide new engines and a new name: Dominie. In service life it flew various missions: - navigational and radio training, bombing practice, communications, ambulance work and photography. In civilian role the little aircraft filled some of these tasks, and added others as well.

Flying Doctor

In Australia it was part of the famous Flying Doctor service; in Northern Canada the wheels were replaced with floats and it became a seaplane. From time to time further modifications were made: better engines, larger luggage space; but throughout the years the Dominie kept all the nostalgic aspects of early flying days: struts, wires, fabrics, low-octane fuel (73) - and its petrol tank tops were conveniently locked with a safety-pin.

De Havilland Dominie ZK-AKY "Tui" at Whangarei's Onerahi Airport in May 1963. Photographer Unknown - S Lowe Collection

Last Plane until Runway Extended
- Northern Advocate, 20 December 1963

An informal afternoon – tea in the terminal lounge at Onerahi airport – yesterday marked the last NAC passenger air service to Whangarei until runway extensions are completed. It was also intended to mark the withdrawal from service of NAC’s last Dominie, ZK-AKY “Tui” and was timed to coincide with the last scheduled flight from Onerahi at Onerahi at 4.30pm. However, the Dominie was grounded by poor visibility at Whenuapai which cancelled the two afternoon flights and the last take off from Onerahi was about 11:30 a.m. four and a half hours before the function commenced. Arranged for NAC by Mr T. R.

Roseman, the NAC agent here, the function was attended by members of the Whangarei Airport Committee, Chamber of Commerce and local body representatives. Mr Roseman also welcomed Messrs A. Marsden-Woods and W J Court as veteran patrons of the early passenger service to Whangarei and Mr P. R. Going as one of the first airmail pilots.

'Wonderful Job'

The mayor and chairman of the Whangarei Airport Committee (Mr J. F. Johnson) said services in the future were likely to be less frequent because of the increased capacity of DC3 aircraft. The Dominie had done a wonderful job, he said. Mr Johnson said he hoped the Minister in charge of Civil Aviation’s (Mr McAlpine) would announce, the acceptance of McBreen Jenkins' tender for the airport re-construction today. This would mean machinery could move in on the job immediately. Mr Johnson also read a message from the general manager of NAC (Mr D. A.Patterson) who commented on the withdrawal of the Dominie service as the passing of an historic link in New Zealand aviation network, but added that the corporation looked forward to the day when Whangarei would again enter the NAC flying pattern. Mr Johnson said increased costs of the runway extensions would mean a considerably larger burden on the ratepayers of the district and he hoped the service would be used sufficiently to warrant this. He added, however, that although he could not give any further detail he “could see something better looming up for Whangarei."

Assurance Asked

Asked later; if his remarks referred to the possibility of Friendship aircraft being used, on the Whangarei run, Mr Johnson said, there had to be a replacement to the DC3 and the Friendship was the only one he knew of at the moment. The Whangarei Borough Council has asked for an assurance that suitable replacement aircraft will be provided to give continued full service when DC3's were withdrawn, added Mr Johnson. Other speakers were Mr Court. Mr T. H. Busck for the Chamber of Commerce and Mr Going. On behalf of NAC Mr Roseman thanked the pilots, CAA staff and Ministry of Works officials who had worked to keep the Dominie service operating over the years. The distinction of piloting the last scheduled passenger flight in a Dominie came unexpectedly to Captain S. Trounce, a senior pilot with the National Airways Corporation. His flight which left Onerahi about 11.30 a.m. with three passengers proved to be the last when the Dominie was grounded at Whenuapai due to poor visibility cancelling the remaining two flights in the afternoon. Captain on the 4.40 p.m. flight for which a special function had been organised at Onerahi, would have been another senior NAC pilot, Captain D. Barnston.

‘Beautiful Aircraft’

Because Dominies were soon be withdrawn no new pilots had been given training on them in recent years said Captain Trounce. As a result Whangarei had enjoyed a service manned exclusively by NAC's 10 senior captains. To Captain Trounce the Dominie is a "beautiful aircraft", and he says it has been a pleasure to fly it and this Whangarei route. However, he believed Whangarei will benefit from an improved, if less frequent service, with the introduction of DC3 aircraft when runway extensions are completed. Dominies are only cleared for visual flying range and there have been times when Onerahi has been closed because of surface conditions, he said. A stabilised strip and suitable radio aids would overcame these problems. The three passengers on what finally proved to be the last flight were all Whangarei people. They were Mr B. J. Binnie of Nixon St., who works at Whakatane: Kathleeen Farnbam, 11, of Ruakaka, who was travelling to New Plymouth; .and Mr J. O. L. Blake, Mangapai, heading for Dunedin. Only two people missed out on what was to have been the last flight and they included the wife of an NAC pilot, Mrs J Crooks who with her infant daughter was due to fly home to Wellington. The other passenger was a Miss M Dainty, also of Wellington. They travelled to Auckland by road.

Northern Advocate 20 December 1963

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