16 December 2012

By Boeing to Dargaville

The following is an article from the Northern Advocate recounting George Bolt and Leo Walsh's first air mail trial flight to Dargaville that was flown 93 years ago today on the 16th of December 1919. 
Mails By Seaplane - Dargaville Experiment

Quite A Success
Reference has been made to the pioneer aerial Royal mail of New Zealand, which was carried from Auckland to Dargaville last Tuesday. The whole arrangements, including a return mail, were carried out without a hitch. Further details are hereby submitted. The Postal Department has entered into a contract with Messrs Walsh Bros, and Dexter, of the New Zealand Flying School, Kohimarama, for a trial run to and from Dargaville Northern Wairoa, in one of their seaplanes, carrying a mail of about 50lb, the average weight of the ordinary mails sent to that district by train. At 10 a.m. the mailbags were waiting on the man-of-war steps opposite the end of Albert Street. The contents consisted of 825 letters, weight 22lb, and also 22lb of newspapers, including a bundle of Heralds, which the post office authorities courteously offered to convey to the Dargaville agent for the paper, the mail bag making up the difference in weight. The seaplane, a twin-float, of 125 horse-power, with the words "Royal Mail" emblazoned on her side, lay floating on the surface of mid-harbour opposite the steps. Her crew consisted of Mr George Bolt as pilot, and Mr Leo Walsh, director of the Flying School, who was in charge of the experimental run. To her was conveyed the mail in the Flying School's launch, some 2000 spectators being assembled at the waterfront to witness the first stage of the new departure in postal despatch. Among those who went out on the launch were the chief postmaster Mr W. Gee; the superintendent of mails, Mr G. W. Rudd; the Mayor and Mayoress of Dargaville; Mr and Mrs R. E. Hornblow; the head of the Dominion Wireless School, Mr G. Macdonald; Messrs Selwyn Mays and E. Earl. The wind came lightly from the south-west, the air was clear, and the sun bright—ideal conditions in every respect for the experiment.

The Journey North
The aircraft started at 10.15 a.m. and gradually gained elevation, passing the North Head at about 1000 ft above the sea. Following the Rangitoto Channel she made for the Whangapararoa Peninsula, crossing it at 1820 ft. Opposite Kawau she had made 2300 ft, and at Leigh 3200 ft. Shortly after passing Leigh the pilot bore inland, and when near Mangawai 3900 ft had been gained. When near her westernmost point, over the Wairoa River, she was at her utmost height for the trip, 4200 ft, and thenceforward she descended by degrees, finally volplaning to her landing place on the river, opposite Dargaville, sharp at 11.50 a.m.—an hour and 35 minutes from the time of departure from Auckland. Advices of the sighting of the mail-plane were received by the Postal Department as she proceeded, giving the times as follows:—Hobsonville 10.27 a.m., Mullet Point 10.45, Leigh 10.48, Pakiri 10.55, Mangawai 11.10, Kaiwaka 11.13, Bickerstaffe 11.20, Pahi 11.34. Huketere 11.35, Ruawai 11.36, Raupo 11.39, Tokatoka 11.42 Te Kopuru 11.40, and Dargaville 11.50 a.m.

Mr Alf Randall towing the Boeing "F" with the Royal Mail on board from mid stream, Northern Wairoa River, Dargaville, on December 16th 1919. Photo : Dargaville Aero Club archives

Letters carried on the first flights... Photos : Dargaville Aero Club Archives

Entertained At Dargaville
The greater part of Dargaville's population had turned out to welcome the unaccustomed visitor, and with them was the Postmaster-General, the Hon. J. G. Coates. After the mails have been delivered aboard the launch sent out by the post office authorities, the two aerial travellers and leading inhabitants of the town were entertained at a luncheon. Responding to the toast of his health, Mr Coates dwelt upon the possibilities of aerial mail carriage not only to the Auckland district but to other parts of the Dominion and spoke in praise of the work done by the New Zealand Flying School in connection with the war. The seaplane's crew were also toasted. Mr Leo Walsh spoke in acknowledgment of the hospitality of the people of Dargaville. Soon after mails for Auckland were received on the seaplane which had meanwhile been made ready for the return journey. For this the mail consisted of 1220 letters, weighing 27lb, 17 book packets, weight 20lb, and nine newspapers 4lb—51lb in all. Again the seaplane took the air, the time being 3 p.m. Cheered by the populace as she lifted from the river surface, she rose steadily and set a more direct course for Auckland than that followed in the morning. At Te Kopuru she had risen to 1000 ft, and at Pouto to 2800 ft. Thence she made for Helensville, which was crossed at a height of 4500 ft. In passing the vicinity of the town a small bag was dropped, containing a message from the Postmaster-General for the people of the district. Word was received by Mr Walsh last evening that the bag had been received safely. From Helensville the course was direct to Riverhead, still at 4500 ft elevation, and then the course of the Waitemata was followed. Just after 4.15 p.m. the seaplane was descried from the city heading for her starting point of the morning, and at 4.23 p.m. she gently dropped into the water opposite the Harbour Board's office — an hour and 23 minutes from Dargaville. Telegraphic advices as to her appearance in the several districts were received by the Chief Postmaster, giving the times as follows:—Te Kopuru 3.5 p.m., Raupo 3.12, Ruawai 3.15, Pouto 3.30. The distance flown by the seaplane in the journey to Dargaville, via the East Coast, was approximately 112 miles. On the return journey the distance, via Kaipara Harbour and Helensville worked out at about 80 miles.

Extension of System Intended                     
Mr Walsh expressed himself as more than satisfied with his experiences in the expedition. The machinery of the seaplane worked with the utmost smoothness throughout both stages of the trip, and there were no thrilling moments. The landscape of the Northern peninsula, he said, looked magnificent from his aerial perch. The sea was visible throughout the journey, and even when following the line of the Wairoa River the Little Barrier was in view. The route followed by the voyagers proved to be admirably adapted for an air service, and the seaplane was found an ideal machine for the work on such a route. The success of the experiment having been established, it is the intention of the Postal Department to provide for regular mail services to Dargaville, Whangarei, and Thames early in the New Year. For this purpose a contract has been entered into with the proprietary of the Flying School to carry on the preliminary service. The present machines at the school will be used until experience determines what class of more powerful fliers are required for permanent services. Upon all mail matter carried to Dargaville the ordinary rates of postage were charged, but when the regular lines are in operation there will be a special rate, the tariff for, which has yet to be determined.

Source : Northern Advocate, 19 December 1919

The New Zealand Flying School's Boeing floatplane taking off from Mission Bay, Auckland, ca. 1920. Photo : Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries
During 1920 George Bolt made three more experimental flights in the Boeing from Auckland to Dargaville and back, on the 8th, 11th and 31st of March 1920. On the last flight Bob Going, who wanted to see something of the Kaipara country from the air, was a passenger. George Bolt recalled this flight saying, We were above the river at Dargaville, "when the engine cut out. I was too low to make a turn into wind and during the landing we hit a log which badly holed one float. In a vicious swing, the wingtips and tail were damaged and Going and 1 had to climb on to one wing to stop the Boeing from rolling over. When the mail launch came alongside, a line was secured to the aeroplane and its other end taken ashore at a point where the railway line runs close to the riverbank. A locomotive with steam up stood nearby and we passed the rope to the engine driver, who evidently knew what to do with it. He then opened his throttle and the loco pulled us out of the water on to thick mud where the Boeing was reasonably safe. After making her fast. I telephoned Kohimarama for help." With a spare float, Bob Johnson left Auckland by coastal steamer and reached Dargaville at 5.30 next morning. He explained how repairs were made: "After stripping off as many clothes as possible, we ploughed out in the soft mud to slacken the retaining bolts of the damaged float. It was then necessary to prop the machine up and some wide planks and a timber jack were procured. After a lift to the required height, props were fitted. The hardest job then was to draw out the damaged float, which was full of mud and being sucked down outside. While we were considering plans, a local carrier appeared with a horse and cart and offered an ingenious suggestion. This entailed removing the horse from the cart, facing the shafts toward the machine and then propping up one wheel. A rope was attached to the float and a turn taken round the hub. With one person heaving on the rim of the wheel and another taking up the rope at the hub, a steady strain was applied and the float came out without trouble." Ten guy ropes prevented the aeroplane from slewing off the props and the replacement float was fitted just before the tide came up the river. The Boeing was then taken alongside a barge for repairs to the wing tips and tail. By 11 o'clock on 3 April the work was finished and Bolt left for Auckland at 1 o'clock, the return flight taking an hour and 20 minutes. Alighting on the Northern Wairoa River at Dargaville sometimes invited risk of damage, for after heavy rains or flooding up-country, kauri logs, stumps and other debris brought down by the muddy water were hard to see from the air.
Source : Dargaville Aero Club archives 
The Boeing after the forced landing on 31 March 1920. Photos : Dargaville Aero Club Archives


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