05 January 2023

(9) Cliff Lewis' Air Travel Memoirs


Part 9 of a twelve part memoir written by Cliff Lewis, an Air Travel (NZ) pilot... 

This memoir relates to my my larger post on Air Travel (NZ) Ltd which can be found here -


Chapter 9 - Fuelling Up

One of our biggest problems in this remote region of course were fuel supplies. At Hokitika the problem was easy, we had a 200 gallon tank alongside the hangar but at Franz Josef we were dependent upon road transport deliveries with 44 gallon drums. At the Haast we first had all our drums bought from Greymouth by the coastal vessel Gael and they were brought ashore by dinghy and then carried to the Cron homestead by sledge. Later, when the Jacksons Bay wharf was established a road was was through to Okuru and the Haast, this became a slightly easier matter of transportation. 

Both at Franz Josef and the Haast we had our problems. We had to have a wooden ramp built to roll these heavy drums onto. This was no trouble to West Coasters; they organised it in no time. Okay, we had our fuel where we wanted it, but how to get it into our aircraft? 

Our petrol tanks were located in our upper wings so a smaller container was required to manage this. We used 4 gallon drums, then with the use of a ladder we could climb up to the top wing to insert the contents. But we heard a very serious problem, the possibility of any condensation in the 44 gallon drum causing water to become involved with the petrol. So we used a very large funnel which had a gauze filter at its outlet. This did not satisfy Bert Mercer and so for a safety precaution we always used a very large chamois as well. 

Just imagine it, you are in a hurry to carry on to the next landing place, but, you know that you need more fuel. Take your 4 gallon can to the 44 gallon drum, fill it, get your ladder out, climb up the ladder, and pour it into your aircraft petrol tank. Try this when it was raining and you had to cover everything as well as getting this precious petrol into your aircraft. 

Fuelling in the far south was only one of our problems, we also had to keep up with Civil Aviation standards, that an aircraft had to have a daily inspection as laid down by the Department. All three of us had to have our Commercial Licences endorsed by the Civil Aviation authorities that we were capable to carry out this operation both upon engines and airframes. This all added to the anxious desire to get on our way. We all met this requirement to the satisfaction of the Department. How? I just do not know, but we did.

Then, when we returned from the south, we had to hose down the aeroplane to get rid of any sand or salt spray before we handed it over to Owen Templeton to carry out the necessary maintenance. When you were a pilot on the Coast you had to be very versatile!!!

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