09 May 2021

Midland Air Services - the Coromandel Peninsula's Pioneer Air Service

With Barrier Air's announcement this week that they are introducing a new IFR air service between Auckland and Whitianga it seems apt to revisit the story of Whitianga's first air service.

It is doubly apt that the story is told by Bruce Gavin who passed away this week... Bruce wrote this piece 23 years ago for the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand's Journal. I had asked him if I could plagiarise it and sent it off to him some weeks ago with the photos added and he wrote,  Plagiarise all you wish on anything of mine. Actually glancing at it I am very happy about it and how it looks. Love the photo of AKV at Te Kuiti at the beginning. 

A full list of the airlines that have served Whitianga may be found here : https://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2019/01/whitianga-index-of-posts-and-history-of.html

The Beginnings

In 1952 John Worthington was Chief Flying Instructor for the Piako Aero Club based at Matamata Aerodrome. On 19 October 1952 he purchased Percival P.10 Vega Gull ZK-AKV from the Hauraki Aero Club, based at Thames, at a cost of £700. Mr Fred Sawyer, at that time Chief Flying Instructor for the Hauraki Aero Club, conducted the negotiations. John Worthington flew the aircraft to Matamata later that same day. From there local flying was carried out, and the aircraft was checked out by Wally Christopherson, who was both an aircraft engineer and a pilot. John Worthington checked him out for flying the Vega Gull on 30 November 1952. In the meantime, in conjunction with a local photographer, he was spending his off­ duty hours contacting farmers and arranging for aerial photographs of their farms to be taken. Then, with the photographer aboard, and either John or Wally as pilot, the photos would be taken, processed, and sold to the farmers. This became a fairly good source of income for the Gull.

It was decided to form a Company, and the name Midland Air Services Ltd was chosen because the operation was to be based in the middle of the North Island. An Air Services Licence was applied for, to operate non­-scheduled air services from Te Kuiti, Matamata, Raglan, Thames, Hamilton and Taupo. The Company didn't really want to serve all these centres but had been advised to apply for more, as it was usual for the Air Services Licensing Authority to knock back at least part of the application. The Directors were elated when, on Tuesday 2 December 1952, the Authority granted the full list of places applied for.

Three days after the Company won its Air Service Licence, an editorial in the King Country Chronicle of Friday 5 December 1952 proclaimed the starting of air services at Te Kuiti as important for the development of the Northern King Country region. In an associated article accompanying the editorial, the Chairman of the Air Services Licensing Authority, Mr E. D. Blundell, was quoted as saying, when he granted the application, "This is typical of the type of aviation development which should be encouraged, as it should be a great boon to the area concerned."

Percival P.10 Vega Gull ZK-AKV at Te Kuiti. Photographer unknown - S Lowe Collection

At Christmas 1952, the Gull was flown to Raglan for the holiday period. From 26 December 1952 to 14 January 1953, the two pilots had a very successful time carrying passengers on local scenic flights at 10 shillings ($1) for adults and 5 shillings (50 cents) for children. John and Wally spent the nights sleeping under the wing of the aircraft with a tarpaulin over the top. The good trade over this period allowed them to recoup many of the Company's establishment costs.

About this time other events were happening which were influencing the direction of the Company and its principals. One of these, which came to nought, was a proposal to fly freight between Auckland and Norfolk Island using a Bristol Freighter. Contact was made with business people on the Island who would guarantee economic loads twice a week, and a Bristol Freighter was located in England, all subject to the successful gaining of a licence. The Air Services Licensing Authority turned the application down after strong pressure from the New Zealand National Airways Corporation.

The second influence was a developing interest in aerial topdressing. The pair had purchased a Tiger Moth, removed the front seat, installed a hopper with a lid operated by the pilot, and readied a truck as a loader. This was a 1936 Chevrolet 5-tonner with a 44-gallon drum shaped to take a butterfly valve and sugar bag for loading. Topdressing Licence No 5 was purchased from Stewart McCulleon, who was in financial difficulties, along with the name Northern Air Services. Te Kuiti baker and flying enthusiast, Jack Gardiner, became a shareholder and director in this operation. Northern operated Tiger Moths initially, followed later by Cessna 180 aircraft, on aerial topdressing services throughout the King Country. Later the development of the unique Bennett Airtruck topdressing aircraft became a focus. John Worthington was Managing Director and Wally Christopherson a Director and Chief Engineer of both companies, which were based at Te Kuiti.

Wally Christopherson did most of the Vega Gull flying for Midland, with John Worthington concentrating on the topdressing business of Northern Air Services. They also helped out with the instructing side of the locally based Waitomo Aero Club.

In the early stages a regular service between Taumarunui, Te Kuiti, Hamilton, and Auckland was proposed using the Vega Gull, possibly building into a twin-engine operation later. This did not progress far, however, and air charter and air taxi services were concentrated on. This was supported by a substantial aerial photography business.

Following on from the beginnings at Matamata, the Company purchased an ex RNZAF F.24 camera from the War Surplus Stores. This was installed in the floor of the Vega Gull. Te Kuiti photographer Basil Desgranges operated the camera with Wally Christopherson doing the flying. Extensive map survey and also farm photography was done. Many of the farm photos were used by Northern Air Services as aerial topdressing maps. The farmer gave the Company the tonnage required and located on the map where exactly it was to be spread. The Company then ordered the fertiliser, arranged its transport to the airstrip, spread it on the nominated paddocks, and then sent the farmer the bill for the complete service.

Both companies flew and grew, and the Directors were very busy in their various roles. For this reason Howard Monk was employed to fly the Vega Gull for Midland Air Services.

The state of Te Kumi Aerodrome at Te Kuiti was a cause of concern. At an address to the Te Kuiti Rotary Club in August 1953, John Worthington discussed plans to develop locally based air services, but that winter wet conditions had meant that the airfield had been unusable, except for Tiger Moths, for the previous three months. Later that year, however, the Company advertised for passengers to fly to Christchurch to see the conclusion of the London ­Christchurch Air Race. Other advertisements in the King Country Chronicle at that time stated that the Vega Gull was available for charter and could fly 3 passengers or 700 pounds of freight for 1 shilling and sixpence (15 cents) an air mile.

By 1954 the developing aerial topdressing business of Northern Air Services had included the introduction of the first Cessna 180 aircraft (in January) and the opening of a new four­ aircraft hangar. Midland was finding the upkeep of the Vega Gull to be fairly expensive, and its operation from a wet Te Kuiti airfield had to be curtailed at times. The decision was made to sell Midland Air Services, along with its licence and the Vega Gull, to concentrate on the topdressing and engineering operations. When negotiations were concluded during 1954, the new Directors moved the operation away from Te Kuiti.

After the sale of Midland, Northern Air Services later purchased Taylorcraft 20 ZK-BQM to operate air charter services from Te Kuiti, with Les Keane as pilot. He later took over the operation in his own right, operating as Central Air Taxis, before fading from the scene.

New Directions

The new shareholders included aircraft engineer Donald E. Andrews, Ron White, Rex Boulton, Allan Mills, William Titter, and John Stokes. Don Andrews was the Managing Director and Chief Engineer and John Stokes the Chief Pilot. After purchase from the previous owners, Vega Gull ZK-AKV was flown to New Plymouth so that John Stokes could convert onto it, and Don Andrews could complete the necessary engineering checks and organise the paperwork for the Air Department.

Commercial operations under the new ownership began with charter and joy riding from Raglan on 8 December 1954, and continued until 20 January 1955. At this time it became apparent that considerable structural work was needed on the aircraft. Don Andrews, assisted in his spare time by John Stokes, did this work over the next 21 months.

Another aircraft was needed to continue services, and a Cessna 180 aircraft, ZK-BJU, duly arrived. It was assembled at New Plymouth by Don Andrews, assisted by John Stokes in his spare time. In the interim, John Stokes kept himself afloat financially by working as a loader driver for Taranaki-based aerial topdressing company McCready Aviation Ltd, as well as helping to ready Midland's aircraft for service.

When flying did restart, in September 1955, the operation was moved to Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula. On Saturday 24 September 1955, ZK-BJU with Don Andrews, John Stokes and passenger Mr L Taylor on board, arrived at Whitianga for the first time, after a flight from New Plymouth via Thames. Poor weather over the Peninsula forced the cancellation of a survey flight to Mangere, but the aircraft created interest with local people. Don Andrews said that it was hoped to start commercial operations by the end of October.

The aircraft was back at Whitianga by the end of October 1955. On Saturday 22 October 1955 the survey flight to Mangere did take place, in ideal conditions. Travelling as guests were Mrs Gaskell, who was Secretary of a local branch of Federated Farmers, and Mr F.Kelsey, Manager of the Mercury Bay Co-operative Dairy Company. The flight took 30 minutes to reach Mangere and returned in 25 minutes, after morning tea.

The following day, Sunday 23 October 1955, the aircraft took part in the first air pageant staged by the Mercury Bay Aero Club. This was to open officially the Club's operation at the Whitianga airstrip. The Category 3 airstrip was on land owned by Mr N. A. 'Boy' Wells. Aircraft attending were three Cessna 180s, Midland's ZK-BJU, one from the Thames Aerial Topdressing Company in which Mr Fred Sawyer gave a spraying demonstration, and the third flown by Mr K. McCready of McCready Aviation, New Plymouth, who gave a topdressing demonstration. Also from New Plymouth was an Auster J/I B Aiglet of the New Plymouth Aero Club. Three aircraft flew in from Matamata. These were a Miles M.14A Magister of the Piako Aero Club, the privately owned Auster J/5F, ZK-BDW, of Mr W A.Vallis, and Ryan STM-S2, ZK-BEM, owned by Mr Alex Blechynden, Chief Flying Instructor of the Piako Aero Club, who gave an aerobatics demonstration.

On Saturday 22 October 1955 a survey flight was flown from Whitianga to Mangere. John Stokes, Chief Pilot for Midland Aviation, flew guests Joan Gaskell, Les Russell, and Fred Kelsey, Manager of Mercury Bay Co-operative Dairy Company. For Joan it was a last minute decision to go, which she almost turned down. John Stokes phoned and said “We’re doing this flight to Auckland, do you want to come?” “Sorry, I can’t.” said Joan. “I’ve just stoked the copper to boil the washing water.” Stokes replied, “Chuck another couple of logs on. We’ll be back in half an hour.” Joan said if he hadn’t told the fib she never would have gone. F B Gavin Collection

A major objective of the move to Whitianga was to operate a tourist-based air service in conjunction with the Whitianga Hotel. In addition, the townships of Whangamata and Whitianga on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula would be linked to Thames and Auckland by a regular non-scheduled air service.

At this time the roads on the Peninsula were narrow, hilly, tortuous and very rutted. At times the weather caused slips and floods that cut settlements off from the outside world, sometimes for days. These factors, plus the unspoiled beauty of the region which made it very attractive to holidaymakers for fishing, water sports, beaches and bush, pointed to the potential of the air service.

Midland Air Services' Cessna 180 ZK-BJU in its original colour scheme at Mangere in 1957.

In an advertisement, which was carried in the Thames Star of 11 November 1955, the initial timetable was pronounced as up and running. This was for Friday evening and Monday morning return services from Whitianga to Thames and Auckland. Times were as follows.

Depart Whitianga
4:45 pm
7:30 am
Depart Thames
5:05 pm
7:50 am
Arrive Mangere
5:30 pm
8:15 am
Depart Mangere
5:45 pm
8:30 am
Arrive Thames
6:15 pm
9:00 am
Arrive Whitianga
6:30 pm
9:15 am

The fares to Auckland included travel between Mangere and the city. L. D. Russell was the Agent at Whitianga.

Although non-scheduled, in December 1955 the air service to Auckland became a regular twice-daily return on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and Whangamata was added as an extra intermediate stop if required. The northward morning flight left Whitianga at 7:30 am and Mangere on return about 9:30 am over the reverse route. In the afternoon the northward flight left Whitianga at 3:00 pm and on return from Mangere at 5 :00 pm in summer, earlier in winter. At busy periods many more flights were flown, and on all days of the week if required. The airport used at Auckland, until it was closed for reconstruction, was Mangere. At this time it was still the grass airfield established by the Auckland Aero Club in the early 1930s. Flights were extended to Whenuapai if there were passengers wishing to connect to or from major airline services to other centres, As mentioned earlier, the airfield at Whitianga was on land near Buffalo Beach, privately owned by Mr N. A. Wells and leased to the Mercury Bay Aero Club. It was also used for aerial topdressing aircraft. When a hangar was built, it was used to house Midland's aircraft, as well as those ofthe Aero Club. The Whangamata airstrip was beside the Whangamata Hotel.

In between the regular runs, the Company flew air charter services to anywhere people wished to fly and did aerial farm photography. Freight was an important revenue earner for the Company, particularly over the busy summer period, when the population of the Coromandel Peninsula was swelled by thousands of holidaymakers.

One operation was to carry Auckland's afternoon newspaper, The Auckland Star, from Mangere to beach holiday spots on the Peninsula. In the early years, when based at Whitianga, this extended as far as Tauranga. On occasion, particularly on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the size of the newspapers was much larger, often three times the weight, and so two aircraft were used. On these days Don Andrews flying the Vega Gull, and John Stokes flying the Cessna 180, would fly in formation from Mangere to Thames and Tauranga carrying The Star.

The Tauranga newspaper run was taken over by Tauranga Air Services, formed by Alf Bartlett. This became Bay of Plenty Airways Ltd in 1958, and Midland concentrated on the Coromandel Peninsula.

When John Stokes was flying for the Company, the paper run would often fly from Mangere to Thames. Here a landing was made and some of the papers unloaded. Airdrops were made at Waihi, Waihi Beach, and Tairua before heading for Whitianga. The Cessna was fitted with wing racks for dropping purposes. When George Richardson flew for the Company over the Christmas/New Year period in 1960/61, airdrops out the door were made at Coromandel and Hahei. Also, papers were delivered to Pauanui and Whangamata. At Whangamata the papers were dropped at a topdressing strip (the Company having lost rights to use the Hotel's airstrip at that time). He lost one lot of papers there due to a wing-rack malfunction. They released late, rolled off the end of the strip and ended up in the creek. He also lost a load at Tairua when, on approach to drop, severe downdraughts just off shore forced him to jettison the load into the sea. He then had to fly back to Whenuapai to pick up more papers.

Heat and cold featured strongly in some of the other types of freight carried. Chief Pilot John Stokes can still recall, over 40 years later, the tremendous amount of heat generated by 700 freshly baked loaves of bread, straight from the bakery ovens in Thames, filling the small Cessna cabin while bound for the other side of the Peninsula. At the opposite extreme of the temperature scale, the Company flew 10 percent of the total production of the Meadow Gold Ice Cream Company from Auckland to the Coromandel Peninsula year round. As well they carried other freight, including foodstuffs, which were packed around the passengers.

Ambulance flights were flown both day and night. Of necessity these operated off beaches, roads, or the nearest piece of suitable flat land. The three examples, which follow, are just a small sample of the valuable work done.

On Saturday 14 January 1956, Janet Wells of Whitianga fell from her horse. She was flown to Thames to have a wrist injury examined, x-­rayed, and set in plaster. After leaving Whitianga at 3 pm they were back again from Thames by 5 pm. Local Whitianga medical practitioner, Dr D. C. Logan, was quoted in the Thames Star of Tuesday 17 January 1956 as saying that history had been made the previous Friday (13 January 1956), when a patient of his was in bed in an Auckland hospital one hour after leaving Whitianga, compared to at least four hours that it would have taken by road.

On Saturday 19 May of the same year, John Matheson suffered a broken leg at a rugby match at Whenuakite. He was flown to Thames in the Cessna by Bruce Packer in just 20 minutes. There an ambulance was waiting to take him to Thames Hospital.

In times of natural crisis the service the Company provided was invaluable. Although an idyllic part of New Zealand, with an excellent climate most of the time, storms do at times occur, with torrential rains and high winds causing roads to be cut by slips or floods. In the 1950s and 60s helicopters were not available so on occasion ZK-BJU kept Whitianga in food, sometimes for several days at a time. An example of this was a storm in April 1956. The headline in the Thames Star of Tuesday 10 April was, "Whitianga Isolated All Yesterday: Long Detours Only Links Today". In the accompanying article were included the following, "Slips make the Tapu-Whitianga Road impassable. Midland Air Services was Whitianga's only link with the outside world yesterday, and it flew urgent passengers in and out yesterday and today. This is the first time in its long history that the Thames Star has been delivered by air." High seas could make travel to outlying islands impossible. People isolated in this way were supplied by the Cessna dropping essentials in military kitbags, released from the wing racks.

Repainted, Midland Air Services' Cessna 180 ZK-BJU at Whanganui 

A major blow to the Company, soon after its move to Whitianga, was the burning out of the recently renovated Whitianga Hotel on the night of 22 March 1956. The 1958 'Black Budget' of Finance Minister Arnold Nordmeyer also had an effect in frightening off some potential investors in the Company. So it was the goodwill of the local populace and the continuing enterprise of the operators which kept the Company flying. Early on, thoughts were to include Coromandel township, on the western side of the Peninsula, in the service. In June 1956, at an address to the Coromandel Chamber of Commerce, Don Andrews stated that the Whitianga-Auckland service had carried 120 passengers in the previous month of May. He had also been inspecting airstrips around Coromandel. In the event no landplane service eventuated in this regard until long after Midland had left the scene.

Managing Director Don Andrews ran the Company from the Office of Petersen Travel Ltd in Newmarket, Auckland. In addition, he did engineering work on the aircraft and flew when required. He travelled out to Mangere with passengers and freight to meet flights. When Mangere closed for reconstruction into Auckland International Airport in October 1960, Whenuapai, the base of major national and international airlines serving Auckland, became the main airport for Midland's Auckland passengers. Ardmore, to the south of Auckland, was included as a stop if required.

Up to the beginning of 1960, John Stokes, as Chief Pilot, organised the Whitianga end of the operation. He was assisted on occasion by pilots Bruce Packer, L. 'Banger' Martin, and Murray Sanderson.

The Final Years

When John Stokes left the Company in January 1960, he was replaced as Chief Pilot by David Simpson. He flew for the Company until the end of that year, when he left to fly for a major airline. His replacement was George Richardson, who was hired by Don Andrews from among a number of candidates. He was checked out on a type rating by Vic J. Donnolly for Midland on 20 December 1960. John Munroe acted as relief pilot as required. George Richardson only flew for Midland for one month, but during that time flew over 100 hours. He recalls heavy loads of freight and that Cessna 180 ZK-BJU had good speed but could be difficult to start, particularly if cold. When he left, John Munroe took over as Chief Pilot.

After the summer of 1960/61, the servicing of Whitianga and the Coromandel by the Company became less continuous. The highly seasonal nature of the business, with a very busy but short peak in summer, followed by a long off­ season with much lower utilisation and income, was a continuing difficulty for the Company. The closing of Mangere made the Auckland service less appealing to passengers, unless they were connecting to another airline. Passengers had to fly right over Auckland City to Whenuapai, and then make the long journey back into the city by road. In September 1962, the Mercury Bay Chamber of Commerce discussed the lack of an air service into the area. The Chamber decided to write to the Civil Aviation Department to have the position of the Licence clarified. Three months later the Thames Star reported that by Christmas 1962, Midland Air Services would again be in operation, and that the service was a great boon to residents and visitors alike. This summer though, was to be the last for Midland and the Coromandel.

In a letter to the Chamber of Commerce, as reported in the Thames Star of Monday 9 March 1963, Mr H. Rees of Cooks Beach advised that the present service to and from Whitianga was unsatisfactory. He reported having to wait two hours at Whenuapai for road transport into Auckland. He supported the Auckland Aero Club taking up the service and flying to Ardmore in 15 minutes, with onward road transport as part of the fare. Following discussion, the Chamber felt that Midland Air Services had done a very good job so far, particularly in the holiday period, when they had flown as many as seven trips a day. One member also stated that the aircraft would call at Ardmore on request, if the pilot was informed. The Chamber felt that, as Midland Air Services had pioneered the service and had always given a satisfactory service when needed, no action be taken over the letter from Mr Rees.

By November of that year, three operators, the Mercury Bay Aero Club, the Auckland Aero Club and Peninsula Air Travel Service Ltd were all applying to the Air Services Licensing Authority for Licences to operate various types of services from Whitianga and other points on the Coromandel Peninsula. Peninsula Air Travel won rights to operate non-scheduled air services to Auckland (Whenuapai) from Whitianga, calling at Whangamata, Thames and Ardmore on demand, using a six-seat Cessna 205.

The Mercury Bay Aero Club won the right to operate a four-seat Cessna 172 on scenic flights and joy rides from Whitianga. The Club's aircraft was also supposed to be used for backup when required by Peninsula Air TraveI. Both operators were operating their new services by Christmas 1963. From the middle of 1963, ZK-BJU was mostly to be found at Matamata, often tethered in the open. Midland Air Services retained ownership of ZK-BJU until December 1964.

Midland Air Services may have passed on, but it can be proud of its record of service, a pioneer, particularly on the Coromandel, and a testament to dedicated human effort and that of two small aircraft.

Midland People

Donald Eric Andrews
Don Andrews was an aircraft engineer and pilot. He was instrumental in leading the group, which purchased Midland Air Services Ltd, from the original shareholders in 1954. He had eight years with the De Havilland Aircraft Company at Rongotai, followed by two years each at the New Plymouth and Tauranga Aero Clubs before joining Rural Aviation in 1950. In 1954 he became Managing Director and Chief Engineer of Midland Air Services. During this time he rebuilt Vega Gull ZK-AKV and assembled and maintained Cessna 180 ZK­-BJU, as well as running the Company. After Midland, he became Chief Engineer for NZ Tourist Air Travel and Mount Cook Airlines at their amphibian base at Mechanics Bay in Auckland.

Waiter 'Wally' E. Christopherson
Wally Christopherson formed Midland Air Services Ltd along with John Worthington. He was an aircraft engineer, commercial pilot and flying instructor. Prior to Midland, he had worked for James Aviation. He flew and serviced the Vega Gull for Midland. As well, he was a Director of both this Company and Northern Air Services, and Chief Engineer for both. He later began aerial topdressing flying with Northern. When he left Northern, he joined the Tauranga Aero Club as Manager and Chief Flying Instructor. He formed the Pegasus Flying School, also based at Tauranga, which built into a substantial flying school and air charter firm.  When this was sold he moved to Australia for a time before retiring to Whangarei, and later Tauranga. He passed away in 1998.

L. 'Banger' Martin
Martin was an ex RNZAF transport pilot, who flew on a part time basis for Midland prior to 1960 from Whitianga, when John Stokes was on leave.

Howard Monk
Howard Monk was employed by Midland Air Services at Te Kuiti to fly the Vega Gull. He later flew on aerial topdressing work for Northern Air Services. Later still he became an air traffic controller, an area he worked in for many years.

John Munroe
John Munroe was a commercial pilot who flew part-time for Midland from 1960. After George Richardson left in January 1961, he became Chief Pilot for Midland. When Midland pulled out of Whitianga in 1963, he began seeking support for a replacement operation. This Company, known as Peninsula Air Travel Service Ltd, was formed with G. McCallum and Bob Ross as Directors. John Munroe was Chief Pilot for Peninsula, which operated from December 1963 to mid 1964. He was later killed, along with a passenger, in a Piper Super Cub at Kaipara Flats.

Bruce H. Packer
Bruce Packer was the Flying Instructor at the Mercury Bay Aero Club in the 1950s as well as being the proprietor of a local garage. He flew as required for Midland as relief pilot. He later joined NZ Tourist Air Travel at Mechanics Bay in Auckland as a pilot flying Grumman G.44 Widgeon amphibian aircraft throughout the Hauraki Gulf region and beyond. When Mount Cook took over' the operation he became Manager of the amphibian operations of the Company. He built up an enviable reputation of service to the isolated places the Company served, and he was involved in many ambulance and rescue flights, often in adverse conditions. On retirement from flying he moved to Northland. In the mid 1990s he rekindled an interest in flying, this time in gliding. He was tragically killed in a winch-launch accident.

George Richardson
George Richardson was appointed Chief Pilot for Midland Air Services in December 1960. He flew for the Company over the busy holiday period and left in January 1961. He joined Air Traffic Control, then later TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Ltd) as a pilot. He flew for them, and its successor, Air New Zealand, for many years.

Murray Sanderson
Murray Sanderson was an ex RNZAF pilot, who later joined Rural Aviation of New Plymouth on aerial topdressing flying. He relieved John Stokes as required up to 1960.

David Simpson
David Simpson took over from John Stokes as Chief Pilot for Midland Air Services early in 1960 and flew for them for most of that year. He joined TEAL as a pilot and flew for them and Air New Zealand for many years. On leaving Air New Zealand he has flown for Eva Air, based in Taiwan.

John Stokes.
John Stokes was Chief Pilot of Midland Air Services from 1954 until January 1960. As well he assisted Don Andrews in maintaining and repainting the aircraft and establishing and running the Whitianga end of the operation. While at Whitianga he completed a set of line drawings of local scenery that were later, in 1963, used as the basis of the artwork for the first tourist brochure on Mercury Bay, of which 20,000 copies were printed. He left Midland to attend Auckland Teachers Training College but continued to fly at weekends and holiday periods, particularly for Rent-A-Plane Services (NZ) Ltd, on charters, and their Northland Airways non-scheduled operation. He joined the Mount Cook and Southern Lakes Tourist Company and worked for this Company as a ski-plane pilot, based for some time at Fox Glacier, where as well as flying tourists he was involved in a number of mountain rescues and ambulance flights. He later joined the Airline Division of the Company as a pilot and also worked in engineering until retiring in 1988.

John Worthington, DFC
John Worthington joined the RNZAF during World War Two as a pilot. He spent two years in Canada as a flying instructor. This was followed by a further two years with No 605 Squadron RAF, flying De Havilland Mosquito night intruders over Europe. In 1950 he joined James Aviation, and in 1951 he was appointed Chief Flying Instructor of the Piako Aero Club, based at Matamata. During the latter part of 1952 he was instrumental, along with his partner, Wally Christopherson, in forming Midland Air Services Ltd, purchasing Northern Air Services Ltd, and establishing and expanding both operations at Te Kuiti. He was Managing Director of both Companies. As well he was a Director of Waitomo Aircraft Ltd, which developed the unique Airtruck topdressing aircraft, two of which were built at Te Kuiti. He retired from aerial topdressing in 1970 when Northern Air Services was sold to Rural Aviation. He then sold real estate in Auckland and Mount Maunganui until retiring to Katikati in 1995.

Midland Aircraft

Vega Gull ZK-AKV
The Company only owned two aircraft during its operation. The first of these was Percival P. 10 Vega Gull (c/n K63) which had been imported before World War Two and registered ZK-AFI. 

When used by Midland Air Services prior to its rebuild by Don Andrews in 1955-56, the aircraft was silver overall, with registration lettering in a dark colour. It also had a dark coloured anti­dazzle strip painted on top of the engine cowling. After the rebuild this strip was removed, but a small coloured strip surrounded the silver centre of the wheel covers. John Stokes recalls the aircraft being about 10 knots slower after the rebuild as the new paint was so thin on the fabric, the wings ballooned and spoiled the aerofoil section shape of the wings. After the rebuild and until its sale, the Vega Gull was the spare aircraft. It was used as a replacement for ZK-BJU on occasion, particularly in the summer of 1956/57, when the Cessna was not available.

Cessna 180, ZK-BJU
The second aircraft owned by Midland Air Services was a Cessna 180 (c/n 180-31451). This was given an initial United States registration of N4552B. When shipped to New Zealand, assembled, and registered it was given the registration of ZK-BJU. 

The aircraft was imported, and assembled in 1955 by Don Andrews, with assistance from John Stokes, at New Plymouth, the base of Cessna agents Rural Aviation Ltd. It made its first commercial services for Midland in September 1955. During its time with Midland it wore four colour schemes, although the last change was simply the replacement of one colour.

The first colour scheme was of natural metal with dark green flashing in the standard Cessna style of the 1950s. Under the front of the cockpit was the Midland logo of a stylised 'flying chook', with Company titles above, and to the rear the words, "Air Taxi", "Freight", "Photography", and "Ambulance" one below the other. The registration was in small lettering near the top of the fin and also under the left wing. Sometime about 1957, John Stokes repainted the aircraft in a cream colour scheme with dark green flashing. The Company title was in cream (on dark green), the other wording in green (on cream), and the logo and registration lettering in red, in similar positions as with the initial colour scheme.

By 1962 the aircraft was wearing a new colour scheme with a considerable amount of script applied in large lettering. Wings, centre fuselage, fin and rudder were cream, the upper fuselage and wheel covers were dark green, and the lower fuselage was dark brown. The logo had disappeared. The Company title was in large brown lettering, with the word "Whitianga" underneath on the forward fuselage. In black lettering in the mid fuselage were the words, "Non Schedule Passenger", "Regular Freight", and "Airline Feeder Service", one below the other. Behind this, on the rear fuselage were the words "The Auckland Star Paper Drop", accompanied by a red star. "Meadow Gold Frozen Freight Lines" was written in black, underneath the red registration letters on the fin. Red registration letters also appeared underneath the left wing.

Cessna 180 ZK-BJU at Whitianga

At a later time all the brown lettering was replaced by black, and the brown under-fuselage was repainted dark green.

Since passing out of Midland Air Services ownership, the aircraft has had a number of private owners and has spent time hauling whitebait and deer out of remote South Island airstrips. In the process it has had a number of incidents and has been rebuilt, at least once.

In June 1998, and now over 43 years old, ZK­-BJU is the proud possession of John Goddard of Rotorua. Since purchasing it in September 1995, he has flown 400 hours in the aircraft. He has flown into many remote airstrips and is very impressed with its performance and load ­carrying capacity. Unfortunately the early logbooks, prior to December 1983, are not in his possession. The aircraft now has new wings, has had a 'c' Model firewall conversion, and is powered by a Continental 0-470-R engine of 230 horsepower, previously installed in ZK­-BFU. The fuselage and interior are still original. The aircraft now flies in an attractive red and white colour scheme. He maintains the aircraft himself and is determined to make her fly well into the future.

Other Aircraft
To fill in for ZK-BJU during 1956, the Company hired Cessna 172 ZK-BQG (c/n 172-28480) during July, and Cessna 180 ZK-BQI (c/n 180­32373) during November and December.

Other aircraft may have been used at other times.

I would like to thank a number of people who assisted me, over 30 years later, in attempting to tell the Midland Air Services story. In particular my thanks to John Worthington and John Stokes, who both provided much of the detail, based on their direct involvement during the period up to 1960. They willingly wrote very full notes and answered many questions, as well as waiting over two years before anything came to fruition. Owen Whiting, long-time member of the Mercury Bay Aero Club, patiently searched out the details of the Coromandel's air services over the period from 1955 to the present day. George Richardson provided a detailed account of his short stay with Midland. Don Noble willingly provided photographs from his renowned collection. Bob Kerr, who via Stephen Lowe, provided the histories of the two aircraft owned by Midland. And finally to John Goddard, who in 1998 is the proud owner of ZK-BJU, and provided recent history of the aircraft. Others I tried to contact without success. I hope I have done everyone justice in this account. Once again my thanks to you all. 

F. B. Gavin, June 1998.

  • Aerolog: Bimonthly or quarterly publication of the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand, 1982-97, various issues.
  • Goddard, John A.: Notes on the ownership of Cessna 180, ZK-BJU, December 1983 to June 1998.
  • Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand, 1958-97, various issues.
  • King Country Chronicle newspaper, 1952-54, various issues.
  • Richardson, George: Notes on his experiences with Midland Air Services, 1960-61.
  • Stokes, John: Notes on his experiences with Midland Air Services, 1954-60.
  • Thames Star newspaper, 1955-65, various issues.
  • White, Leo L: Whites Air Directory and Who's Who in New Zealand and South Pacific Aviation, annual publication, 1961-65.
  • Whiting, O.: Notes on Whitianga's air services, 1955-97. .
  • Worthington, J.C.: Notes on Midland Air Services Ltd, the formation of, and the years 1952-54.

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