02 October 2011

On the Journey to the Heavens and Great Barrier Island - The Auckland Aero Club

The Auckland Aero Club was established in 1928 and took as its motto, "Per Iter Coeli", literally, on the journey to the heavens. The committee selected and leased a paddock on Mr McRae Peacock's farm at Mangere. In 1930 the Club bought the land for £7200. Today the paddock can be seen right in front of Air New Zealand's engineering hangar.

The club's operations started with De Havilland 60 Moths, but in May 1937 the club added a high performance five-seat Beech C17L Staggerwing ZK-AEU to establish a charter and air ambulance operation. The aircraft was impressed by the RNZAF during the Second World War as NZ573. It was restored to the Club after the war and reregistered as ZK-AJS. The charter operation  grew with the addition of De Havilland DH83 Fox Moth ZK-AQB (c/n FM.49) in November 1947 and De Havilland DH89 Dominie ZK-BAU "City of Auckland" (c/n 6654) in April 1952.

The Beech Staggerwing ZK-AEU, before being impressed into the RNZAF during the War and below as ZK-AJS after being returned to the Auckland Aero Club. (Photo : Auckland International Airport Opening Souvenir Programme, 22 January 1966)

In the mid-1950s the Auckland Aero Club started to modernise its fleet and replace its De Havilland DH82 Tiger Moths, the Fox Moth and the Dominie. In late 1954 the Club acquired its first "cabin class, all metal" Cessna 170B, ZK-BGE (c/n 170-26455) and this was followed by a second Cessna 170, ZK-BGK, "C B Smith" (c/n 170-26456), which arrived in September 1955. A month earlier, in August 1955, the Auckland Star reported that the Club had ordered two Piper Cubs which would “bring the club’s modern fleet up to four.” The report stated that the order would be financed by sale of the Club’s De Havilland DH83 Fox Moth, ZK-AQB and De Havilland DH89 Dominie, ZK-BAU.

The Auckland Aero Club's De Havilland DH89 Dominie ZK-BAU, "City of Auckland"

During this time the Strongman Shipping Company announced the sale of the MV Coromel leaving Great Barrier Island without a shipping service. The newly airborne NZ Tourist Air Travel was quick to express an interest in providing an air service to the Barrier, however, it was the Auckland Aero Club who were the first to operate an air service between Auckland’s Mangere airfield and Great Barrier Island’s Claris airfield with a twice-weekly service beginning in August 1955. While the Club had been operating charter flights to Great Barrier for many years this was the birth of the regular air service that the Aero Club was to operate to the Barrier for 29 years.

By early October the regular shipping service had been withdrawn and the island was experiencing food shortages. The Aero Club offered to make a food air lift to Great Barrier Island using their Fox Moth with freight being carried to the island for 3d a pound on the proviso that a return load of crayfish was assured. The club’s senior pilot, Mr A Anthony, announced that the Club can “provide a daily service with our Fox Moth, which can carry a quarter of a ton.”

The Fox Moth Freighter ZK-AQB. 

The Cessna 170s were used on the regular services to Great Barrier Island and Tokoroa (Kinleith) as well as being extensively used by the Navy and for general charter. Jim Bergman, deputy Chief Flying Instructor for Club in 1960s and who later founded Great Barrier Airlines, writing in the Aero Club's 75th anniversary book described the Cessna 170 as "a delight to handle airborne but definitely a difficult aircraft both on take off and landings. With a poor payload for a four-seat aircraft they were often over-loaded which definitely compounded the take off problems, especially on uneven grass airfields. The 170s undercarriage was very springy and the elevators over-sensitive."

The Auckland Aero Club's first Cessna 170, ZK-BGE. (Photo : Auckland International Airport Opening Souvenir Programme, 22 January 1966)

Competition to the Aero Club service arrived on the 24th of October when NZ Tourist Air Travel began a weekly non-scheduled service from Mechanics Bay to Whangaparapara with stops at Tryphena and Port Fitzroy as required. Tourist Air Travel’s fare of £5 was considerably more expensive than the Auckland Aero Club’s £3 fare, and this price differential was always a feature of the difference between the amphibious based service and land-based service. 

Auckland Star 31 July 1956

The Cessna 170 provided the mainstay of the Aero Club’s early service to the Barrier. A further two Cessna 170s were purchased, ZK-BLS, "H M Buchanan" (c/n 170-26993) and ZK-BJS, (c/n 170-26351), and later, a Cessna 180, ZK-BUF "Sid Langston" (c/n 180-32935). The Auckland Star, carrying a promotional article on the Club’s activities, reported that “The Cessnas ‘fly themselves’ once they are at the required height and on a steady course. The pilot just relaxes and, if he wishes, smokes.” While regular flights were made, the Great Barrier service tended to operate on an air taxi basis.

The Auckland Aero Club's Cessna 180, ZK-BUF.

In early 1961, with the development of Mangere as Auckland’s new airport, the Aero Club moved to Ardmore. In 1970 a “shed” was built at Claris as a shelter for waiting passengers. The Aero Club carried a lot of people for the Ministry of Works and Forest Service as well as the locals and holiday makers and at this stage it was using its Cessna 172s and the Cessna 336 Skymaster. By 1971 the Club was flying some 1500 passengers a year between Ardmore and the two Great Barrier Island airfields at Claris and Okiwi. Five years later the Club reported to the Great Barrier County Council that in the year to the 31st of March 1976 they had operated 1465 flights to the island carrying 3438 people to the island and 2440 people from the island.

One of the Club's early Cessna 172s, ZK-CEY, taken at Ardmore.

The Club's Cessna 336 ZK-CGF was purchased with the help of NZ Forest Products Ltd. While mainly used on the Tokoroa service it was also used to Great Barrier Island

Nobody loves me, (except maybe Forest Products). Anyway, they are the only ones who fly me. Sure, I look peculiar, but who wouldn't with two engines going in different directions? I can stiII carry 6 people, 14 suitcases, 3 cats, and 2 kitchen sinks (together with full fuel). Now, couldn't some or you fun flyers use me, especially considering I can do all this at 160 mph? All I've been doing is getting up early, going to Kinleith and home again. I haven't done a steep turn or a stall or any fun flying for years. I'm easy to fly, just like my little sister 172, and I've got lots and lots of knobs and dials, which impress my passengers no end. So how about pulling me out of the hangar; get one of the Instructors to show you which buttons to press, and we'll shoot off into the blue and blow all our cobwebs away. By the way I like sightseeing, at places like the Bay of Islands, and I especially like picnics at the Barrier after a trip round the Gulf. Source : Tailspinner December 1968/January 1969

In 1969 the Club established a separate limited liability company, Auckland Air Charter Ltd., which was wholly owned by the Club. The company was established to provide twin-engined charter services for executive transport and the Club purchased Cessna 310 ZK-CFG. Despite good initial utilisation the promised support of a large company did not eventuate and the company was defunct by 1972. (See http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2010/07/pre-history-of-akarana-air.html).

Passenger numbers increased on the Barrier run continued to increase and in 1975 the Club established New Zealand Air Charter as the commercial division of the Auckland Aero Club. Next week's post will feature on NZ Air Charter's Great Barrier Service... see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/10/great-barrier-islands-professional-aero.html

For a post on the Auckland Aero Club's service to Tokoroa see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2010/06/forestry-towns-businessliners.html

Other nice shots of the Club's Cessna 170s can be found at;

ZK-BGE - http://www.edcoatescollection.com/ac2/NZBA/ZK-BGE.html
ZK-BJS - http://www.edcoatescollection.com/ac2/NZBA/ZK-BJS.html
ZK-BLS - http://www.edcoatescollection.com/ac2/NZBA/ZK-BLS.html

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