12 March 2023

East Coast Aviation

My post on Air Ruatoria, which was largely prepared some time ago, piqued my interest on early aviation in Gisborne and up to Ruatoria and the East Cape. With the benefit of Papers Past I was able to glean a certain amount. In the light of the recent cyclone events the importance of air travel and having airport infrastructure has been highlighted again and so this is what I had been working on dusted off and updated. As always I always like to get corrections, additions etc...

On the 6th of May 1920 the first aeroplane to visit Gisborne arrived, not in the air, but by sea. The Poverty Bay Herald of that day reported that The aeroplane which is to be used and give a display at the Park racecourse on May 13, 14, and 15, arrived by the Flora this morning from the New Zealand flying school at Auckland. Mr. R. J. Johnson, acting manager for Walsh Bros., Lieut. J. Woods, pilot, and Mr. W. Ross, mechanic, also came to Gisborne by the Mapourika this morning, in connection with the forthcoming flights. The machine, which was brought ashore today, is in half-a-dozen packages. It will be taken to the Park racecourse tomorrow, and there will be assembled. These days will be occupied putting the plane together, so that it will be ready well before the advertised date. Mr. Johnson today told a reporter that the machine is a de Havilland Six, and is not, a stunting plane, but one exceptionally well suited for civil aviation. It has a low landing speed, thus necessitating a small space to land. Recently this plane gave exhibitions at Hamilton, and all who availed themselves of a trip in the air were well pleased. The average heights they were taken up was from 1000 to 2000 feet. The plane, however, could attain a height of about 10,000 feet. The average speed while m the air was 55 miles per hour. Many people fear that once a plane had left the ground and risen a few hundred feet, they would, if they looked over the side, experience the same uncomfortable feeling as if looking over a high cliff or precipice. This, however, is not the case, and it has been found that the most nervous people have thoroughly enjoyed the novel sensation of a trip in the air. The aeroplane has flown with people, both ladies and gentlemen, varying in ages from 14 years to 80 years. Fully 50 per cent, of the passengers, have been ladles. Some people, imagine that accompanying flying there is a feeling of sickness akin to sea sickness, but that is not so except when "stunting." There are business men in Auckland who are availing themselves of this mode of travel in preference to all other ways. Bishop Cleary, who is an elderly man, is a great enthusiast, and does a lot of his work in this way. He calls flying his tonic. There is an entire absence of any jerky motion, and one who would be the poorest "sailor" at sea can safely? fly without having the slightest fear that, any ill effects will be felt. The programme of flights will be as follows: The machine will taxi along the ground until a speed of 40 miles an hour is reached. This will be attained in about 150 yards. It will then gradually rise, and the passenger will see the ground slowly left behind. The pilot will circle the machine around the course until a safe altitude is reached, and then lead off, giving the passenger a fine bird's eye view of Gisborne. After ten minutes flying at a speed of about 65 miles an hour the plane will volplane down, and make a straight landing along the course. In all cases the machine will take off against the wind and land against the wind.

Poverty Bay Herald, 11 May 1920

The Poverty Bay Herald of the 14th of May 1920 reported the first flights of an aeroplane in Gisborne that happened the day before on the 13th of May 1920.

Great excitement prevailed at the Park racecourse yesterday afternoon, when Mr. R. Fisken, who had bought the honor to be the first gentleman to fly over Gisborne, donned the leather-coat and hat, climbed into the aeroplane, and buckled the seat belt around himself, The plane was soon in motion, and was loudly cheered as it passed the grandstand, rapidly gathering, speed. It perilously rose above the trees at the end of the straight and circled gracefully to attain height. It then flew towards town still going upwards and then swept around over the direction of Mangapapa at an altitude of over 2000 feet. After about twenty minutes flying, the plane was seen, to be slowly descending, and a graceful landing was made at the eastern end of the course. Mr. Fisken was delighted with his experience, and said that he had enjoyed every minute of the trip. The plane had been wonderfully steady and as comfortable as a motor car. The highest point of the flight was 2300 feet. The next to go up were Misses Pauline and Barbara Murphy, daughters of Mr, and Mrs. J. R. Murphy. They were photographed with the pilot, Mr. J. Woods, in front of the machine, and then set out. After circling the course the pilot set out for Repongaere. where the little girls' home is situated. All the way the passengers were throwing out different colored posters, which fluttered slowly down to earth. As the plane got some distance away from the course the sunlight was reflected from it and gave it the appearance of a large silver-coloured bird. The girls, on their return, expressed themselves as very pleased with their trip. They had not been at all nervous. 

These superb photos from the Tairawhiti Museum record the first day of flying at Gisborne on 13 May 1920 

The 13th of May 1920 also was the date of the first aviation mishap in Gisborne. The Poverty Herald coverage continues...

Mrs. A. M. Puflett had secured the third flight, but as she postponed her, trip until another day, Mr. Otto Hansen set out. The machine was rising, steadily and was just turning at a height of between 100 and 200 feet when the noise of the engine ceased and the aeroplane was seen to glide gently towards the ground, making a good landing in the rough area in the centre of the park. A crowd quickly rushed towards the plane which was found to be somewhat damaged. The undercarriage supporting the wheels had broken, and the lower wings were strained. The passenger was smiling, and neither he nor the pilot was hurt. Mr. Hansen wanted to get men to work at once to repair the damage, so that he could complete his flight today. Mr. Johnson, the manager for Walsh Bros. stated that the cause of the accident was the petrol pipe giving way where it joined the tank. The machine had not attained a sufficient height to enable a good landing to be made but the pilot had done well to bring it down as he did. A new under-carriage was immediately being sent down from Auckland and he would take the wing there to have them repaired. There was a public holiday on June 3, and he hoped to be back in time to carry on his contract on that date. They always had to be prepared for small accidents, he said, but this was the first time the petrol pipe had carried away with this machine. Mr. C. W. Cameron, to-day stated that a great number of people had expresses their sorrow at the bad luck of, the society and the aviators. Many country people had telephoned him to the same effect and expressed the hop.that the machine would be soon repaired and the flights gone on with. The Waikanae Beach Improvement Society have decided to cancel their programme for today and Saturday, and would carry it out on June 3 if the 'plane was available. 

More misfortune was to follow... Mr W. Ross, the mechanic from the New Zealand Flying School, who came to Gisborne with the aeroplane, was admitted to the hospital on Thursday suffering from pneumonic influenza and while the big case in which the aeroplane wings are being shipped to Auckland for repairs, was being lifted into a lorry, the hoisting gear collapsed and one end of the case fell on Mr. Johnson, Walsh Bros' manager. He suffered severe injuries to one of his legs, but fortunately no bones were broken. Mr. Johnson was able to proceed to Auckland today, taking the wings with him, but he is far from well and could not put his foot to the ground.  

Flights resumed on the 3rd of June 1920 the Makaraka racecourse. The machine, at rest, was inspected with great interest by those present, the various cables and levers eliciting many enquiries as to their uses. The pilot, Mr. G, B. Bolt, and Mr. V. C Walsh, of the firm of Walsh Bros. and Dexter, courteously demonstrated the action of the control, the joystick, being the object of wondering admiration. At 11 a.m. the pilot gave an exhibition of skill in the air taking off in great style. Amidst the applause of the audience. After attaining a height of approximately 1400 feet, the machine was veered, banked, lifted, and turned in every possible direction, under the complete mastery of the pilot. After the trial flight had been conducted the series of passenger flights was commenced. Mr. Otto Hansen has intimated his intention of completing his flight, which it will be recalled, was suddenly terminated by the mishap on the previous occasion. A Herald representative learned that the de Havilland aeroplane will remain in Gisborne under the control of Mr. Walsh and Pilot Bolt, and it is proposed to carry out passenger flights during next week. After that the machine and staff will proceed on a flying tour of Hawke's Bay, Palmerston North, and the Wanganui districts... The pilot went up with Mr. Hansen at ll.00 a.m. and everything was proceeding satisfactorily Pilot Bolt, in concluding the trial flight, landed in a masterly manner, displaying absolute control of the machine.

The first flight up the East Coast was on the 12th of June 1920 with the de Havilland Six overflying Tolaga Bay. The Poverty Bay Herald reports, The first aeroplane flight to Tolaga Bay and back was accomplished this morning by Messrs. Walsh Bros, and Dexter's de Havilland aeroplane. The machine was piloted by Captain Russell, of Gore, a pupil of the New Zealand Flying School, who saw service overseas and gained the Flying Cross and the Croix de Guerre. He carried with him as passenger Mr. T. Utting, of Tolaga Bay. Seen by a Herald representative on his return after the trip, Mr. Utting said he had desired to return for the first race, and did in fact see the race from the air. They left the Park at 10.15 a.m. and journeyed to Tolaga Bay, encountering a heavy fog over Loisel's, but which did not last long. At Tolaga Bay the machine came down to an altitude of about 600 ft and dropped a parcel m the main street. The machine then rose to an altitude of 1000 ft. and circled round the town for ten minutes to enable the school children, who were assembled, to view the flying machine. The aeroplane then returned to Gisborne. While crossing the Park racecourse to the landing place at Makaraka about 11.35 a.m., Mr. Utting said he witnessed Cymer just winning the race and ahead of his intended favorite. He enjoyed every minute of the flight, and the only time he felt the slightest bit nervous was when the fog was encountered over Loisel's. He would do the trip again tomorrow, so far as the experience went, and felt as safe the whole time as being in a motor car.

On the 17th of June 1920 the de Havilland flew and landed at Tokomaru Bay. The Poverty Bay Herald reported Beautiful weather prevailed, with scarcely a breath of wind. The arrival of the flying machine was witnessed with considerable interest and enthusiasm, practically all the residents of the township turning out for the occasion. A fire was lighted on the beach so that the smoke should afford an indication to the pilot of the direction of the air currents, but in view of the ideal conditions prevailing this was hardly necessary. The enthusiasm was almost unbounded, especially amongst the school children assembled, when the machine made its appearance over the hills on the southern side of the bay. Sweeping round the bay Pilot Russell made a splendid landing on the beach between Morse's timber mm and the hotel. The tide being out, the beach provided an excellent landing place. The aviators were accorded a hearty welcome. - and Mr. , W. Oates, senr., on behalf of the residents, congratulated the visitors upon the successful flight, hearty cheers being given. Residents of the township were delighted, with the prospect of seeing the flying and numerous applications for flights were received. Up till 2 o'clock about a dozen successful flights had been made. Pilot Russell circled the machine round the bay and back over the inland country to inspect localities desired by the aerial passengers. Captain Plummer harbormaster, made an inspection of the harbour from the air. 

Today's aeroplane mail delivered at Tokomaru Bay comprised about 10lbs weight of mail matter, including a number of last evening's Heralds. The aeroplane mail comprised letters not only for Tokomaru Bay but for northern Waiapu. These latter will go forward by tomorrow's outgoing mail from Tokomaru Bay, instead of on, Tuesday next in the ordinary course. 

The de Havilland departed Gisborne on the 19th of June 1920 on the first flight between Gisborne and Napier. As the plane left Gisborne it was reported that, in connection with the proposal to establish, an aerial service between Napier and Gisborne, several more test flights between the two towns will probably be made, in order to demonstrate the mechanical possibilities of the aeroplane and the practicability of a regular service being maintained.

The aeroplane left the Makaraka racecourse on the commencement of the "voyage" to Napier, at 11.30 a.m. today. The machine circled over the course for about fifteen minutes, m order to gain tho necessary altitude, and then took direction southwards. The aeroplane was piloted by Pilot G. B. Bolt, of the Kohimarama Flying School. Mr E. M. Hutchinson. of Waihuka, was carried as passenger. A novel part of the machine's equipment was a cage containing two homing pigeons, one of which it was proposed to release when above Wairoa, and the other on arrival at Napier. The pigeons belong to Mr Sachs, the mechanic who has been retained by the aeroplane management while the machine was in Gisborne. Prior to leaving on the long flight, the machine was taken up at 9.15 by Pilot Bolt, with Capt. Russell, D.F.C, C. de G., in the passenger's seat, to test the conditions for flying. The atmosphere was found to be perfect for the purpose of aviation... The machine ascended to an altitude of 1500 feet, and circled over the Poverty Bay flats for about 15 minutes. The conditions for photography were not found to be quite as good, but it was thought probable that once the machine got a few miles out, it might obtain a better light for this purpose. The engine was running perfectly, and the pilot expressed his absolute confidence in the power of the 'plane. A small crowd of interested spectators assembled to witness the start of the Gisborne-Napier flight. The Chief Postmaster, Mr Kelly, arrived from Gisborne shortly after 11 a.m. with a bag containing the Napier mails, and a little later pilot and passenger stepped into the machine, and at 11.30 took off. A cheer was given by the spectators as the machine cleared the ground, and rose steadily, circling to the necessary altitude, At about 3000 feet the pilot levelled the aeroplane, and headed south. When the machine left Gisborne it was intended to circle over Wairoa, in response to the request of residents of that town, but telegraphic advice received later from Wairoa stated that the aeroplane had passed over Wairoa at 12.20 p.m., but had not circled the town... 

However, the plane did not make it all the way to its destination having to make a forced landing  at Waikare, about half-way between Wairoa and Napier, owing to a mechanical defect. The forced landing was effected in a paddock near Mr Tait's homestead about thirty miles from Napier. Mr Hutchinson got into telephonic communication with Gisborne and stated that he had enjoyed the trip very much, although it was unfortunate that a landing should have been necessary only a quarter of an hour's flight from their destination. The altitude of the machine for most of the distance had been 4000 feet and he had obtained splendid views of the country passed over, including the town of Wairoa. Advice received from Mt Bolt during the afternoon intimated that the trouble had been due to a seizure of the rocker arm of the magneto. The following day the aircraft continued its journey and after circling for about a quarter of an hour, headed for Napier. The 'plane is reported to have arrived shortly after 10 a.m. at Tomoana (near Hastings), where an enthusiastic greeting was accorded by a very large crowd. 

During 1921 Les Brake flew Avro 504, "High Jinks" on an extensive joy riding tour of the North Island. The Poverty Bay Herald of the 22nd of May 1922 reported on him flying the first flight around the East Cape. A remarkable aerial tour has just been accomplished by Captain L. H. Brake, who returned on Saturday afternoon to Gisborne with the Canterbury Aviation Company’s Avro aeroplane “High Jinks." Captain Brake left Gisborne some weeks ago with the object of visiting a. number of tho Bay of Plenty centres to give passenger flights. He first visited Whakatnne, where the machine did excellent business. Subsequently Matata, To Puke, and Opotiki were visited for the same purpose. The popular little machine and its capable pilot have earned a great reputation in the Bay of Plenty, and the reliability of the machine has been demonstrated by its numerous flights since it first came to the district just before Christmas. After his flying at Opotiki was concluded Captain Brake decided to leave for Gisborne, but instead of coming back over Motu, the route which he has followed on his previous trips to and from the Bay of Plenty, he resolved to return by following the East Coast round via Hicks Bay. This a somewhat remarkable opportunity for a flight which was, distinctly out of the ordinary. To the residents of the townships over which the machine had to pass, an aeroplane was a distinct novelty. This flight is the first, that has been made round that inaccessible part of New Zealand, and the ease and speed with which the journey was accomplished, serves as another example of the possibilities of aerial transport. The first stop was made at Raukokore, a small settlement between Opotiki and Cape Runaway, and here tho machine received a splendid ‘hearing,’’ 30 passengers being carried during its stay there. The journey was then resumed, and a landing made at Hicks Bay, on the beach. Here again, passenger flights were in popular vogue, the flights being made from the river bed. Owing, however, to a rising of the river, a forced stay was made here for four days. The machine got away safely, and then came round the coast to Tokomaru Bay, a distance of about 60 miles, flying low all the way, and keeping over the beach as much as possible. Tokomaru was reached on Thursday, after a most interesting trip. Tokomaru had long been promised a visit of the machine, and the best advantage was taken of the arrival. Many passengers were carried at Tokomaru on Friday. The following day Captain Brake went back upon bis course, and landed at Waipiro Bay. Here a record was probably put up with regard to passenger carrying, 35 passengers being taken for flights in an hour and a half. The beach was used as a landing place, and the residents of Waipiro Bay turned out in great force to see the first aeroplane which has yet visited their pretty little bay. More passengers would have been carried, but the rising tide prevented operations, and the machine had to leave for Gisborne, It cleared Waipiro at 4 p.m., and at 4 45 p.m. had landed on the Waikanae Beach, Gisborne. The flight round Cape Runaway and the East Coast was in many respects a remarkable one, and must do much to foster the increasing faith which is now being shown in aviation as a means of travel.

A little more detail was reported on 27th of May... It was quite a red-letter day for Hicks Bay when the Avro aeroplane, piloted by Captain Brake, landed on the beach on the 13th. The machine was weather-bound for about five days, and during its stay twenty-four people took their first ride in an aeroplane, among them an old Maori lady of 70. The, only fault she found with aeroplaning is that "it was too cold." Being the first aeroplane to visit this part, of the Dominion a great deal of interest was shown in the visit.

Canterbury Aviation Co's Avro 504M High Jinks on Waikanae Beach, Gisborne, 1921. Photo Tairawhiti Museum

The Poverty Bay Herald of the 1st of April 1922 reported on a flight that Captain Brake had made from Rotorua to Gisborne on the 30th of March 1922, a flight the newspaper described as a creditable performance. A non-stop flight which is believed to be one of the best yet made in New Zealand was carried out on Thursday by Capt. L. H. Brake, of the Canterbury Aviation Company, in the company’s Avro machine, “High Jinks.” Captain Brake flew from Rotorua to Gisborne, by route distance of about 140 miles, in a smart time of 1¼  hours, reaching Gisborne about 5.45 p.m. This flight is the best yet made by Capt. Brake, and was in much letter time than his first flight to Gisborne from Hastings, 100 miles, in exactly one hour. He flew from Rotorua to above Opotiki, a distance which occupies eight hour’s by car, in half an hour, and then headed for Gisborne. That route was followed in order to avoid the ranges. The maximum height he attained was 8000 ft. He did a considerable amount of flying in the Bay of Plenty, but for the past fortnight has been at Rotorua, where he was delayed by bad weather and was able during that time to carry only 120 passengers. He has returned to Gisborne in order to change the engine of his machine, but he has to return to the Bay of Plenty, where he has still to visit Whakatane and Tauranga to give passenger flights. While in this district he will also visit the Coast, but a definite programme has not yet been drawn up. As a result of his observations of the country, Capt, Brake is satisfied that there would be no difficulty in running, a service between Gisborne and Auckland. There were some good landing places, although there was also some rough country. Between Gisborne and Opotiki was the worst stretch, but ho thought that a landing could, if necessary, be effected at Toatoa, while between Gisborne and Motu there were places which would do for landing. Along the Bay of Plenty coast there were many suitable landing places. A trip to Auckland is contemplated by Capt. Buckley in the D.H.9 limousine, as advice has been received of a man in Auckland, who is very anxious to return to Gisborne by air. It is also possible that a passenger will be secured here. Nothing final has been arranged, but Monday has been suggested as the date for the flight to Auckland.

The de Havilland DH9 "limousine's" flight finally took to the air on the 4th of April 1922. The Poverty Bay Herald of the day reported that "With flying conditions at their best, the long-projected flight to Auckland was set out upon this morning by the Canterbury Aviation Company's D.H. 9 limousine the “Firefly." The machine, with Captain Buckley as pilot, rose from the Waikanae Beach at 6.20 a.m., and after circling the town, it gained altitude over Mangapapa and then headed for Opotiki. The passengers seats were occupied by Captain L. H. Brake, and Messrs J. E. Brosnahan (Puha) and Lt. Barker. The “Firefly" was therefore a “full ship." The party was hurriedly made up at a fairly late hour last evening, but the machine was in perfect flying order, having been subjected to a thorough overhaul and testing during the past week or two. The recent altitude tests gave the machine a thorough trying out, an altitude of 13,290 feet being reached. Captain Buckley was perfectly satisfied with the running of the engine. Those who saw the machine this morning state that it was flying splendidly, getting out of sight in about fifteen minutes. It also attracted some attention when flying over To Karaka, where it passed at a great height. The pilot’s intention was to fly via Opotiki, along the Bay of Plenty coast, across the Coromandel Peninsula to Thames and over the Waitemata harbor into Auckland. A landing would probably be made in Cornwall Park. The air line for this route is about 220 miles, and the non stop flight, was expected to be accompanied in about 2½ hours. Captain Buckley has made several long-distance non-stop flights in the “Firefly," notably from Nelson to Christchurch, a distance of 160 miles by air. A considerable amount of importance was attached to the project of making a non-stop flight to Auckland from Gisborne, as showing the practicability of commercial aviation. Some of the country, particularly between Gisborne and Opotiki, is of a very rough nature, but in the Bay of Plenty there are numerous places which would be suitable for landing on in cases of necessity. 

The first intimation of tho aviators was a telegram received shortly after mid-day by Mr. Geo. Nicholl, of Ormonds Motors Ltd., from Captain Brake, stating: “Arrived O.K. three hours, heavy head wind.” Mr. Nicholl, who is a qualified aviator, states that the flying conditions when the ’plane took off this morning were perfect, and they could not have had a better day. The machine was running perfectly, and from the beach it was observed how quickly the ’plane rose, soon reaching an altitude of 5000 ft. The aviators had expected to reach Auckland in hours, and the extra half-hour was doubtless accounted for by the heavy head wind referred to in the telegram. It is understood that it is the aviator's intention to return early on Thursday morning. Mr. J. E. Brosnahan, of Puha, who was amongst the passengers, was anxious to earn the distinction of making the first direct flight from Gisborne to Auckland. 

This Canterbury Aviation Company's De Havilland DH9 aircraft shows its passenger accommodation. The photo was taken on the 18th of November 1921, as it was about to leave Nelson for Wellington the Mayor of Nelson Mr W Locke, J Ruff, and Mr H J Harris. The pilot is Herbert Nelson Hawker. Photograph taken by F N Jones. Photo : Ref: 1/2-070840-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23200947

On the 6th of April 1922 the newspaper reported on the return flight. That aviation can overcome isolation has been remarkably demonstrated this week by Captain Buckley, of the Canterbury Aviation Company, with the DH9 limousine, “Firefly.” By means of this form of conveyance, a resident of this district, Mr. J. E. Brosnahan, of Puha, was able to go to and from Auckland, spending two days there, and being absent from here only 2½ days. The “Firefly” returned to Gisborne today at 10.30 a.m., having made another non-stop flight, which should do much to establish the practicability of aviation in New Zealand. The machine left Auckland in dull weather about 7.50 this morning, and with a tight head wind accomplished the trip through to Gisborne, over a distance of 240 miles, in 2 hours 25 minutes, the average speed being therefore just on 100 miles an hour. The first, intimation of the machine's approach was a telephone message from the stationmaster at Motuhora, who reported that the machine passed over there at 10.12 a.m. Shortly afterwards it came into sight in Gisborne, passing the signal station at 10.30. The tide was too high to permit a landing on the Waikanae Beach, and after circling the town the machine set off for Makaraka, landing on the racecourse a few minutes later. Captain Brake returned with Captain Buckley, while the passengers were Messrs T. E. Brosnahan, of Puha, and Mr. R. Fisken, of Gisborne, who was in Auckland when the machine arrived there. Mr. Brosnahan was one of the passengers who journeyed to Auckland in the machine on Tuesday. The pilots and the passengers are greatly pleased with the flight, conditions todav being even more favorable than on Tuesday. The weather was dull in Auckland this morning, with a number of low clouds, but the machine climbed above these and made for the Bay of Plenty, where the visibility was soon found to be excellent. The clouds were few and the light splendid, the land and seascape spreading out all round in a marvellous manner, with some wonderful cloud effects. The machine flew along the coast, climbing gradually until over Opotiki the maximum height of the trip, 11,000 feet, was reached. All the way along the Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, with its chain of lakes and springs, was in plain view, a fine sight, of Mount Tarawera being obtained. Projecting through the sunlit water of the bay, about 80 miles off shore, could be seen the sulphurous White Island in the midst of a line steam display, while straight ahead loomed Cape Runaway and the coast extending to East Cape. Copies of the Auckland Herald were delivered at all the towns by the way, while at Te Aroha Captain Buckley saluted one of Walsh Bros.’ machines, piloted by Captain Fowler, by circling round it. This was the only incident of the trip, which was not altogether to the liking of one of the passengers. From Opotiki the machine flew high over the ranges to Motu, where a gradual descent was commenced. Over Motu there were some fine cloud effects produced by the tops of the higher hills projecting through the low-lying-clouds. From the height, the cloud-filled valleys resembled placid lakes, a deception which would not have been detected by anyone not knowing the district. Mr. Brosnnhan was particularly pleased with his two aerial experiences, and stated that when he got into the machine this morning for the return trip, he did so with the same confidence with which he would have stepped into a tram-car. He paid a very high tribute to Captain Buckley’s capabilities, and to the way in which lie piloted the machine. One incident, however, which he thought called for some special reference, was the somewhat hostile reception which was accorded the pilot on landing in Auckland, The landing place, was Cornwall Park, a public reserve of about 40 acres, and when the pilot descended from the machine he had to submit to a considerable amount of adverse comment from some lessees of the reserve, who objected very strongly to the machine landing there. They claimed that it had frightened their stock. This reserve, however, it was pointed out by Captain Buckley, was the only place in Auckland suitable for a landing place for the DH9. Mr. Brosnahan compared this unpleasant incident with the reception accorded the aviators at Gisborne this morning, when Mr. A. Cox, a local garage proprietor, motored to the racecourse to meet them and drive them into town. Mr. Brosnahan stated that at Auckland the argument with the lessees had lasted about an hour, and he was anxious that some publicity should be given to it. Commenting upon the trip, Captain Buckley stated that the machine was flying splendidly, and though the times were not specially remarkable, the flights were excellent tests of reliability. The trip to Auckland was made against a heavy head wind, and occupied 3hours 15mins but the wind was much lighter today. The machine, he said, was capable of making a nonstop flight of 5½ hours. The Auckland trip was not the longest he had made, for he had also made a non-stop flight from Invercargill to Christchurch, a journey which occupied 3 3/4 check hours. He was well satisfied with this week’s performances. He added that it was possible that he would make a trip to Christchurch at the end of this week, but future arrangements had not definitely been drawn up.

On Tuesday the 26th of February 1924 High Jinks became the first aircraft to visit Ruatoria (or Ruatorea as it was known as in 1924) as recorded by the Poverty Bay Herald of the 29th of February. Forty-five minutes to Tokomaru Bay from Gisborne is rather faster than it can be done by motor car. This was the time taken by Captain Brake on his journey up from Gisborne on Sunday, Tokomaru Bay being reached at 4 p.m. A landing was made on the beach, and it was only on Tuesday that any passenger flights were made. On Tuesday afternoon Captain Brake took the aeroplane "High Jinks" on to Ruatorea, the time from Tokomaru Bay occupying only 17 minutes. A fairly good landing ground had been secured at Mangakino, Ruatorea, adjacent to where, the dog trials were held. Yesterday a number of flights were made, magnificent views being obtained' of the back country and of Mount Hikurangi. The new 110 horse power Le Rhone engine, which was installed at Gisborne, has increased the speed and climbing power of the machine considerably. After finishing up at Ruatorea Captain Brake intends to go to Waipiro Bay about Saturday, and may later pay a visit to Tolaga Bay. He subsequently goes on to Hicks Bay, Ruakokore, and then Opotiki, before returning to Gisborne.

Gisborne received its first air service in late 1922 when Dominion Airlines started a service to Hastings with a Desoutter, see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2013/02/dominion-airlines-east-coasts-first-air.html. This service was in turn succeeded by air services operated by Gisborne Air Transport, see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2013/03/81-years-ago-today-gisborne-air.html, the Hawke's Bay and East Coast Aero Club, see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2011/01/wairoas-sunday-paper-service.html, and East Coast Airways, see https://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2019/07/flying-dragons-east-coast-airways.html.

Despite the success of Captain Buckley's 1922 flight to Auckland it was going to be another 17 years before Gisborne received an air service to Auckland. On the 20th of March 1939 Union Airways started a Gisborne-Opotiki-Tauranga-Auckland service. A direct service to Auckland, emulating the Firefly's flight, began on the 6th of April 1948 when the National Airways Corporation (NAC) started a Lockheed Lodestar service between the two cities, see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2021/09/union-airways-gisborne-air-service.html

Meanwhile, over the years a number of operators have operated air transport operations from Gisborne up the East Coast. The first recorded visits were in 1931 when Gisborne-based airline, Gisborne Air Transport visited the coast. The Poverty Bay Herald of the 12th of December 1931 reported that the district had another glimpse of the outer world when an aeroplane piloted by Captain Lett, Gisborne, arrived at Mr R. Wicksteed’s farm, bringing a man to obtain photographs of the large bush burn which was commenced in the Poroporo block on Thursday. This bush was felled during the winter and the fire was one of the biggest ever seen in the district. Miss Joy Wicksteed was a passenger on the return trip of the plane to Gisborne. The following month the same newspaper reported on a 29th of January 1932 flight. Mr. A. B. Williams, who made a special flight to Morrinsville yesterday in one of the Gisborne Air Transport Company’s machines piloted by Flight-Lieutenant Lett, returned to Ruatoria at 3.45 p.m. yesterday; and the plane reached Gisborne at 5.30 p.m. Mr. Williams was enthusiastic over the comfort of the trip and the saving in time, air travel having enabled him to visit Morrinsville to see his sheep sold and return early the same afternoon.

In August 1937 it was reported that East Coast Airways has under consideration a periodical service from Gisborne, north up the East Coast, probably on a bi-weekly basis, the terminal being at Ruatoria. Details of the scheme have been submitted to the Public Works Department and inspections of areas suitable for use as a landing ground have been made, with the object of selecting a site which could be made into an aerodrome with the least interference with levels and fences. Nothing ever came of this scheme.

On the 15th of February 1957 Noel Marshall appeared before the Air Licensing Authority to hear his application for a licence to operate non-scheduled air passenger and freight services from Gisborne to anywhere in New Zealand using a Cessna 180. He told the authority he proposed to use the Gisborne eleven aerodrome and various topdressing strips up the East Coast which had been approved by the Civil Aviation Department, including the first at Ruatoria. The licence was subsequently granted and Noel formed Marshall’s Air Transport Ltd, see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2013/04/rural-east-coast-flyer-marshalls-air.html. The Gisborne Herald reported that “Co-operation with land-owners in the preparation of operating strips has been a feature of Mr Marshall's organising efforts to date. He has found keen interest developing in the possibilities of his service as it affects people living in remote areas, and also in the alternative use of his aircraft for speedy freight deliveries.” By July 1959 Marshall’s Air Transport Ltd was in liquidation. The company's assests were purchased by Poverty Bay Airways Ltd, a new company established by Gerard Oman, another Fieldair employee. Poverty Bay Air began operations in August 1959.

Mewanhile The Ruatoria Aero Club was established in 1958. With a membership of over 70 the Club offered flight training, regular fly-ins and social events. In the 1960s, one of the members and local shop owner Theo Meredith, used a bulldozer to level a paddock for the aerodrome on Neil Thatchers property. Theo later dragged the club-house across the river to the aerodrome site. Theo owned Auster J-5Q Alpine ZK-BLW. The Ruatoria Aero Club was an associate member of the Rotorua Aero Club. One of the instructors from Rotorua was Ian Palmer who was involved in Geyserland Airways and went on to form Air North.

On the 19th of February 1973 Piper PA-22-108 Colt ZK-CEG was registered to Air Ruatoria. The following year, on the 11th of September 1974 the ownership was changed to Air Services Ruatoria Ltd of Ruatoria. On the 14th of May 1976 he ownership was changed to  J. M. J. Scammell of Te Araroa. The Colt stayed in the East Coast until August 1980 when it was sold to a Wellington owner. The Colt was replaced by Piper PA28-235 Cherokee ZK-DDV and it was registered to Air Services Ruatoria Ltd. from the 13th of April 1976  to the 21st of February 1984. 

Piper Colt ZK-CEG with Air Ruatoria titles

In the 1970s Des Williams, Neil Thatcher and Eric Preston made an application to the Transport Department to undertake charter operations using their newly acquired Cherokee 235, ZK-DDV. They were declined on the basis that none of the applicants held a commercial pilot licence. Air Services Ruatoria Ltd was struck off the companies register 14 March 1985. The Ruatoria Aero Club Inc was dissolved as an incorporated society on the 5th day of February 1991.

Air Gisborne (Margaret and John Reid) flew regular charters to Ruatoria and Te Araroa from the 1970s,
initially with a Cessna 337. Management from Ormond Motors would fly to Ruatoria to meet with local Ormond Motors staff members.

For a time in 1980s Wairoa-based Cookson Airspread extended their service north from Gisborne to Ruatoria but this was unsuccessful.

In 1997 the elders of the Ruatoria community approached Aotearoa Airlines seeking a regular air service to their area On the 4th of August 1997 Aotearoa Airlines introduced a morning and afternoon return service between Gisborne and Ruatoria on weekdays using Cessna 206 Stationair ZK-JCB, see : http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.com/2012/02/gisbornes-aotearoa-airlines.html.

In mid-2009 Air Discovery introduced an unscheduled, on demand, East Cape air service linking Tauranga and Whakatane to Opotiki, Waihau Bay, Ruatoria, Tolaga Bay and Gisborne. Prices began from $199 per person with flights requiring a minimum of two passengers. The company was hopeful of eventually operating a daily service, however, the service failed to generate much traffic and was soon withdrawn. With the focus on Tauranga the bases at Rotorua and Whakatane were closed.

Now Air Ruatoria continues in the footsteps of pioneer flyers offering air services to such a beautiful and isolated part of Aoteroa New Zealand.

1 comment:

  1. Cue sharp, excited intake breath from me at the sight of hitherto-unseen-by-me DH.6 photos - what a fantastic way to start a Sunday!!