New Zealand Aviation

Essay by samstart October 2002

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In just 100 years, aviation in New Zealand has been transformed from fairground curiosity to a large and dynamic industry touching the lives of most people.

Aviation got off to an early start in NZ with Richard Pearse of Canterbury getting a home-made aircraft aloft for 150 yards on 31 March at Waitohi, near Temuka, (This is the sixth powered take-off in the world). Vivian Walsh achieving the first documented, controlled flight in a locally built Howard Wright biplane, with the plane rising to 60 feet and staying aloft to cover a distance of 400 yards on 5 February 1911. Walsh and his brother, Leo designed and built a seaplane and their NZ School at Mission Bay in Auckland trained pilots for Aviation Company at Sockburn, near Christchurch, also trained pilots for war service

The first airmail was carried from Auckland to Dargaville and return in 1919 but there was surprisingly little interest in aviation during the decade following.

This was mainly because of a number of fatal accidents. In 1936 a 26-year-old Auckland woman, Jean Batten, astonished the world with a record-breaking solo flight from England to Sydney, and continued on home across the Tasmand Sea in her single-engine plane.

The first real sign that commercial aviation might soon end NZ's isolation at the bottom of the world came in March 1937 with the arrival in Auckland of a Pan American World Airways flying-boat under the command of Captain Edwin Musick at the end of a survey flight from San Francisco. The Honolulu-Auckland route used Boeing 314s which can carry an unprecedented 74 passengers.

By 1940 Pan Am had an international airline. Tasman Empire Airways Ltd grew out of the first commercial trans-Tasmand crossing by an Imperial Airways flying-boat in December 1937. Enormous advances were made in aviation...