31 March 2013

Petersen Aviation - Wairoa's First Air Service

Petersen Aviation was founded by Vern Petersen in late 1957 and it was this company that gave Wairoa its first air service. 

In September 1957 Vern took delivery of a Mooney Mk20 ZK-BUN. The Christchurch Press of the 14th of September reported on its arrival. The fastest four-passenger aircraft in New Zealand and the first single-engine aircraft with a retractable undercarriage to be imported, a Mooney Mark 20 monoplane has been assembled at the Christchurch airport this week, and will be test flown for the first time this morning. The aircraft will be used initially for charter flights, and will be based at Hastings. Provided test flights are successful the Mooney will leave Harewood for the north this afternoon. With a top speed of more than 170 miles an hour, the aircraft has exceptional performance for its type, and is the only aircraft in New Zealand which has a cruising speed which numerically exceeds its horse-power. Its special performance is made possible by the laminar flow wing design, as in the Mosquito bomber, and its retractable wheels, including a nose wheel imported by a newly-formed company, Petersen Aviation, Ltd„ the aircraft is expected to be one of a number to be imported as a general-purpose plane. The retractable undercarriage made the aircraft very stable in the air, said the test pilot (Mr Peter Wolff) yesterday. He said the aircraft had a range of about 900 miles, a top speed of 170 miles an hour, and a landing speed of about 57 miles an hour. It was specially suited as a fast air-taxi and was used in the United States as an executive plane. 

On the 17th of December 1957 the Civil Aviation Division granted Petersen Aviation a non-scheduled passenger and freight service licence to operate from Napier to airfields throughout New Zealand with Mooney Mk 20 ZK-BUN (c/n 1130) and Cessna 172 ZK-BUZ (c/n 28138).

About the same time Petersen Aviation was granted its licence Jim Bergman was engaged as the company’s pilot, though at that stage he hadn’t sat his commercial pilot’s flight test due to the unavailability of a flight testing officer. On the 15th of December 1957 he had his first flight in a Cessna 172, ZK-BUZ (c/n 28138). He recounts that flight saying, I had never ever flown a tricycle undercarriage aircraft before. My first flight in the Cessna 172 was on a three hour charter flight as Pilot in Command.  It never occurred to me or anyone else that we needed a separate rating from the Cessna 170 which I was type rated on so I never ever obtained that 172 rating. Incidentally, four years later ZK-BUZ was part of the fleet of Jim’s own company the Auckland Flying School. A few days later on the 19th of December 1957 a topdressing pilot, Peter Wolfe who must have held an instructor rating, gave me a one hour dual conversion on the Mooney. I undertook and passed my CPL flight test with Eric Ormansen on the 22nd of January 1958 in Wellington in Tiger Moth ZK-AOY. My Flying for Petersen was now legal!

Cessna 172 ZK-BUZ at a Wellington on a very wet day. Petersen Aviation were able to use the 172 as a back up to the Mooney. On the runway behind the 172 you can pick out on of the RNZAF's Handley Page Hastings.

During my employment up to starting the newspaper run in March I did a surprising amount of charter flying for Petersen and instructing for the Napier Aero Club. I obtained an Instructors rating on the 28th of January, just 6 days after my CPL and with no additional training… a bit different from today!    

The Dominion run was first flown on the 16th of March 1958 in Cessna 170B ZK-BJS (c/n 20351) which was later sold to the Auckland Aero Club. Vern Petersen was my passenger on this flight which I now know was grossly overloaded… we never weighed anything in those days! The service was direct from Napier to Gisborne and return and took 45 minutes each way.

Cessna 170 ZK-BJS was the first aircraft to operate Petersen Aviation's service. It was registered to the Central Hawkes Bay Aero Club from the 7th of June 1955 to the 1st of November 1960.

I commenced operating the Mooney on the service from the 20th of March 1958. The Mooney cut the flying time down to 35 minutes unless one had to fly around the coast due to bad weather. I was nearly always overloaded and even at times carried a passenger! I often flew the Mooney from the right seat as loading the newspapers I had to use the pilot’s seat for papers as the only door was on the right hand side and it was impossible to climb over them to get in. The Mooney was not really very suitable for the run but a delight to fly. I last flew this service on April 7th so I guess that’s when Bill Cookson bought the run and the service was flown by the far more suitable Cessna 180 and also included Bill Cookson's base at Wairoa. Wairoa was still closed to commercial operations due to the wet soft surface but this didn’t worry Bill or, it appears, CAA. He also used to pick up passengers from topdressing strips. I continued flying charters for Petersen and instructing at the Napier Aero Club until the following year when I joined the Hawkes Bay and East Coast Aero Club as CFI on the 17th of March 1959. In 1961 I again flew the service for a couple of weeks in a Cessna 185 when Bill Cookson wanted some time off. At that time I was a co-pilot for NAC on DC3s.

The newspaper ship - Mooney ZK-BUN

On the 18th of March 1958, a few weeks before Jim Bergman flew his last Dominion service, Cessna 180 ZK-BVQ (c/n 31342) was registered to Petersen Aviation. The inclusion of Wairoa in the air service was advertised in the Wairoa Star on the 5th of May 1958. A few days later the Star reported that the new service “is already proving very popular” indicating that the Cessna had already started flying into Wairoa, possibly from the 8th of April 1958. The Wairoa Star report said “The morning flight begins at Napier at 7.15 arriving at Wairoa at 7.35. It departs from here at 7.40 and reaches Gisborne at eight o’clock, carrying passengers, air mail, NAC freight and one passenger from Napier to Wairoa and one from Wairoa to Gisborne. Arriving at Gisborne at 8 am enables the flight to connect with quite a number of road and air services. The return flight from Gisborne starts at 8.30 am arriving at Wairoa at 8.45 and Napier at 9.10 am. On this flight air-mail, air freight parcels, NAC freight and three passengers may be carried. It is proposed to introduce an afternoon flight from Napier which will leave Napier at 3.45 and reach Gisborne at 4.30.” 

Ooops... the Wairoa Star had a typo, in the ad and the article a few days later... Petersen is spelt with an "e" not an "o"... Wairoa Star, 5 May 1958.

The Wairoa Star of the 23rd of July 1958 carried the news that Cookson Airspread Ltd., had taken over the Dominion contract. The Cessna 180’s registration was transferred to Cookson Airspread on the 22nd of July 1958 and ZK-BVQ and subsequent aircraft continued the Dominion contract, offering a passenger and freight service to and from Wairoa until 1995.

There are a final couple of postscripts to the brief story of Petersen Aviation. The first was found in the Wairoa Star of the 16th of September 1960 which reported, “A Mooney M20 aircraft crashed four miles from Taihape at 9 am today killing the pilot... The aircraft which is believed to be owned at Napier, struck a tree before crashing. There was low cloud and drizzle at the time.” While Petersen’s aircraft came to a sand end, Jim Bergman, Petersen’s first pilot, rose through the ranks of New Zealand aviation becoming an Air New Zealand Boeing 747 captain as well as founding one of New Zealand’s more successful third level airlines, Great Barrier Airlines.

1 comment:

  1. I remember Jim Bergman flying ZK-BUF C180A for the Auckland Aero Club out of Ardmore Aerodrome during the late fifties or early sixties. We all knew it was he flying the aircraft from the very harsh sudden sound of the engine management Jim practiced, without any need to do so given the available lengths of Ardmore. He punched the throttle on take-off rather than easing it into a more engine-saving gradual opening up into wide open throttle. The repetitious screaming abuse of that poor aircraft by Jim used to make me wince.