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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 8 (November 1, 1938)

Wings of Empire — In New Zealand — A Romance of the New Zealand Royal Air Force

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Wings of Empire
In New Zealand
A Romance of the New Zealand Royal Air Force

The war bird is the natural defence warden of New Zealand. With an efficient air force, our land can be made into a veritable hornet's nest for any enemy, however imposing in strength, however resolute in attack. But there is a difficulty; it takes eight men on the ground to keep one aeroplane aloft. At present, as we stand to-day our eighty or a hundred pilots, and fifty to sixty planes require a total Air Force personnel of approximately seven hundred and fifty. Peace loving countries naturally only want to maintain their Air Forces at a strength that would just meet a sudden emergency. But as the recent flurry in “Insanity Fair” has just shown us, there is need for planning. In short, the Royal New Zealand Air Force is seeking to create a Civil Reserve of 5,000 New Zealanders; the men wanted are those whose trades or professions have given them the basic knowledge needed in building up a larger Air Force. Here is an opportunity for the skilled craftsman and the expert technician of all ages, to help in the best of all national causes, the defence of our hard won blessings of comfort, humanitarianism, and cultural progress.

(Photo., Chas. E. Brown.) Spitfire” wings along the Coast.

(Photo., Chas. E. Brown.)
Spitfire” wings along the Coast.

Of all the achievements of mankind in the last quarter of a century, the most awe-inspiring is the conquest of the air. It is a pitiful testament to human weakness that this newly-won mastery has been put to the crazy business of killing the sons and daughters of men, but when world-madness passes away, there will remain the shining marvel of man's ingenuity, daring, and endless patience.

The romance of flying goes a long way back in New Zealand, and it is surprising, to use an old-fashioned phrase “how time flies.” I can remember going into a tent at the Palmerston Winter Show in June, 1912, to see the Bleriot monoplane, the first machine that had ever actually flown. Mr. Reginald White, of Wellington, flew a locally built machine designed by Mr. Percy Fisher in May, 1913. The flights consisted of long hops of about 200 yards each and Pigeon Bush provided the flying ground. Before that again, Messrs. Schaeff and Fisher had got as far as some stray leaps in the air with an aeroplane built in 1910.

In 1907, Mr. B. Ogilvie had constructed a model triplane which was taken to England, and the “Winchester Aeroplane” created great interest, and was entered for the Baron de Forest Prize for the Channel flight. However, finances ran out, and this New Zealand design suffered the fate so common in those early pioneering days.

The first people to make an actual flying machine that flew in New Zealand were the Walsh Brothers, who built a Farman biplane, carrying out a good flight at Papakura in February, 1911.

These good New Zealanders, Messrs. L. & V. Walsh will go down in New Zealand flying history, for they went steadily ahead and formed the first flying school, training pilots for the Royal Flying Corps away back in 1915. It is interesting to remember that while they were on the job of building their first aeroplane they read of Bleriot's flight across the Channel.

I can remember the arrival home in New Zealand of Mr. J. J. Hammond, after winning fame in Northern Africa and England as an aviator.
Baffins of the Wellington (Territorial) Squadron, R.N.Z.A.F., flying over Wellington Harbour. (Photo Stevart & White Ltd.)

Baffins of the Wellington (Territorial) Squadron, R.N.Z.A.F., flying over Wellington Harbour.
(Photo Stevart & White Ltd.)

This was in 1914, and “Joe” Hammond, a blue-eyed Feilding boy, took up the first passenger in the Government's Bleriot machine, “Britannia,” and was asked awkward questions by the authorities. He had characteristically overlooked the necessity for obtaining permission for such a hazardous experiment.

Contemporaneous with him was that pioneer pilot, J. W. H. Scotland, who assembled a row of records in his Caudron biplane which he brought out in January, 1914.

He flew this machine in an epoch making journey from Invercargill to Gore, leaving at 6.50 p.m. and arriving at 7.38, thus attaining the terrific speed of 60 miles an hour. An interested spectator was the present Controller of Civil Aviation, Group Captain T. M. Wilkes.

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(Photo. Stewart & White, Ltd.) Aircraft engineers carry out regular inspection and overhaul.

(Photo. Stewart & White, Ltd.)
Aircraft engineers carry out regular inspection and overhaul.

The story of these doughty heralds of the new dawn in transport methods would fill many volumes. The fine fact remains that New Zealanders were abreast of the world in this gesture of man's empire in every realm of nature. The Great War crashed all progress in aviation in New Zealand, as it crashed progress everywhere in so many other avenues of human endeavour. Even the modest “Britannia” Bleriot machine was shipped back to the Motherland, and our fliers did their deeds of daring in France and Mesopotamia. The fame of the late Squadron Leader M. C. McGregor, “Mad Mac” of “War Birds,” will never die. Great as were his war exploits, the real memorial to this great airman is the establishment of the present splendid system of commercial aviation, and, of course, his extraordinary achievement in the Melbourne Centenary Air Race.

After the war, New Zealanders who had gained their wings came back full of burning enthusiasm to make New Zealanders air-minded. Once again the scenic beauties of our “pocket world” interfered with the development of the new transport arm.

The clear but constant winds, the diversity of mountain and plain, and a hundred and one other possessions of our land which delight the tourist and bedevil the technician, conspired to slow up all progress. We must not forget Wigram aerodrome, the first to be constructed in New Zealand by that enterprising pioneer, The Canterbury Aviation Company. Nor must we forget R. L. Wigley's formation of the “New Zealand Aero-Transport Company,” in 1920. In a D.H.9 ‘plane with a Siddeley Puma engine, he and his pilot established a record flight from Invercargill to Auckland in a flying time of 8 hours 53 minutes.

(Photo. Stewart & White, Ltd.) Vildebeeste torpedo bombers of the R.N.Z.A.F.

(Photo. Stewart & White, Ltd.)
Vildebeeste torpedo bombers of the R.N.Z.A.F.

But New Zealand did not become really “air-minded” until that great figure “Smithy,” the deathless Australian, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, flew the Tasman. His missionary work up and down New Zealand set the fashion, and aero clubs sprang up in every centre. Please be reminded that New Zealand has provided its share of world aviation figures.

The list is long, but the Blenheim-born Flying Officer Clouston, and the dazzling figure of Jean Batten, give us high rank in the countries who have produced “aces.”

From 1928 onwards, development in New Zealand was so rapid as to be exciting.

We have now over 600 pilots, and 55 licensed aerodromes. The Aero Clubs flying year ended with 1,805,138 miles flown.

It is claimed, moreover, that to-day, in proportion to population, New Zealanders are the greatest users on earth of passenger ‘planes.

The Serious Side.

This article commenced with the statement that war birds were the best form of defence craft for our country. In other words, we are compelled to consider the military value of this instrument of high romance, this proof of man's intellectual greatness.

Our island country with its tremendous coastline, its mountainous terrain, and its diversity of configuration, is an ideal subject for defence page break
(Photo. Stewart & White, Ltd.) J. W. H. Scotland's “Caudron” flying at Christchurch.

(Photo. Stewart & White, Ltd.)
J. W. H. Scotland's “Caudron” flying at Christchurch.

by aeroplane. We rejoice in the possession of an almost inexhaustible supply of young men who make exceptional pilots. This has been demonstrated by the outstanding successes gained by our lads who have gone overseas for training. But there is the residual difficulty; the men on the ground. When we feel proud of the man at the controls on a swooping and darting Baffin or Vildebeeste, we must remember that he is kept in the blue sky by eight hard-working experts who are doing a work of national value without capturing any spectacular glory.

If a struggle starts again between major countries, it will obviously be long drawn out, and call for a great increase in the numerical strength of all arms of our air defence.

The gist of the matter is—where are the extra men to come from and how are they to be trained? Now, here is the opportunity to fit yourself into a position of value to your country in its time of need.

The method of handling the problem in New Zealand is simple and straight-forward. An Air Force register is being compiled, the idea being to ascertain who, among our population are specially fitted for this arm of the service. Naturally the men wanted are those whose lives have been spent in some trade or profession which gives them the basic technical or administrative knowledge which will be helpful in building up a larger New Zealand Air Force.

The step taken by the citizen is to join the Royal N.Z. Air Force Civil Reserve. As usual, this means signing a form, and these are obtainable at any Post Office, or from the Air Department, Wellington.

The form itself is clear, easily understood, quite unambiguous, and therefore good journalism.

There is this to remember, in peace time, members of the Reserve will not be asked to carry out any training, nor is it proposed to provide uniforms or pay.

The broad principles as to who are the folks who should join, are plain. The main jobs relate to engineering, mechanics, signals, wireless, photography, and so on.

The mechanical construction of an aeroplane is the highest development of complicated structural design known in engineering achievement.
Gun turret of an Airspeed “Oxford.” (Photo. Stewart & White, Ltd.)

Gun turret of an Airspeed “Oxford.”
(Photo. Stewart & White, Ltd.)

Actually, to-day, a modern aero engine weighs only a little more than one pound for every one horse-power; this is a feat of concentration which makes even the world-famous “A.B” locomotive look cumbrous by comparison.

Therefore, the greatest precision, and the highest grades of technical proficiency are needed for the handling of the repair, upkeep and running of aeroplane mechanisms.

The real idea at the moment is to get a full register of all New Zealand-ers who are specially suited for participation in this work.

The first group required has five subdivisions: Engineering; Armament; Navigation; Signals; Photography.

Men with professional qualifications, in any of these avenues of expert knowledge, will be welcomed, and from these would be filled the vacancies for officers.

The second group consists of the skilled tradesmen. I take at random some of the sub-headings: precision-machine worker; locksmith; blue-print maker; watchmaker; electrician; sail maker; upholsterer; and all the grades of fitters—tool-fitter, constructional fitter, turner, motor mechanic, and so on. Coppersmiths and metal workers are also wanted, as well as carpenters, wireless operators, panel beaters and packers. It seems to me that every craftsman, every “man of his hands” can fill some niche in this national task.

After the ranks of those who know about machines and scientific apparatus, there remains the force who must attend to the administration of finance and supplies.

These will require men with warehouse experience, store controllers and storemen, despatch men, and indeed all those who have had experience in factory, workshop or warehouse, particularly in the handling and distribution of goods; in this case, goods are articles of special equipment.

In particular it is to be remembered page break
An Airspeed “Oxford” in flight.

An Airspeed “Oxford” in flight.

that age is no bar; in fact, a man of over fifty with sound experience is probably the most valued type.

It is clear that here is a golden opportunity for men of experience and hard won skill, to be useful in the time of our country's need. We have them here; in the Railways Department alone, there is a self-contained industrial world. Looking through the list of occupations contained in the Air Force form, I could not find an occupation which is not followed by some member of the mighty railways brotherhood.

The sad truth is that if we are to be able to defend our country, we must prepare beforehand. The last few weeks have proved in tragic fashion that the world is still a patch-work of panic and passion, and that the vast madness called war may blaze into flame and fury at any time.

It is ground for just pride that our air development has progressed so rapidly in the last decade. It is a greater thought still that an efficient air force for all purposes can be created swiftly in New Zealand; and it is warmly comforting that it can become so strong as a weapon of defence that we could feel secure from attack. Our very position as “a far-flung outpost of Empire”; our very isolation;
A modern machine for N.Z.—the speedy and efficient Vickers “Wellington 1” Bomher.

A modern machine for N.Z.—the speedy and efficient Vickers “Wellington 1” Bomher.

our distance from the old world populous countries; all these become advantages if our air forces are soundly based and sufficiently implemented. It seems that the formation of this Civil Reserve on the lines set out, is an indispensable preliminary to the inescapable task of making ourselves safe. In a sane world there would be no need for this momevent; as the outlook appears, now the necessity is urgent. The democracies are simply put to the proof nowadays as to their right of survival.

Joining the Royal N.Z. Air Force Civil Reserve is not a patriotic gesture, or a warlike move; it is a common sense act of social service.

One of the gratifying developments in the aircraft arena in New Zealand has been the rapid expansion of the Aero Club Movement. Dunedin led off in January, 1927, and was followed by Auckland and Christchurch in the next year, and now the whole Dominion is covered at all important points.

This movement has entailed a great advance in the number of trained pilots. For the year ending 31st March, 1938, the figures are almost exciting.

The miles flown were 1,805,138, and flying hours came to 19,295. Over eight thousand passengers were carried, and pupils under training at the end of the year amounted to the imposing total of 361.

There were no less than 55 licensed aerodromes, and licensed pilots numbered 546 with “A” licenses and 74 with “B” licenses.

The aero club movement is a healthy one. Apart from the acquisition of practical skill in flying an aeroplane, there is a wealth of social endeavour, and no quantity of actual transport is effected.

By generous subsidies and in other ways, the Government assists the growth of these clubs, and they form to-day an integral part of New Zealand's panorama of everyday life.

Air travel has become a common-place here, and it acts as a subsidiary and valued “feeder” to rail and road transport. The measure of open-air life, and the general “handiness” of the average New Zealander gives him advantages over many citizens of older lands, in the matter of physical and mental suitability for this new method of getting from one place to another. We have already a heritage of air exploits, both civil and military, which is astonishing for such a small population. I believe that the heritage is in safe hands, and that New Zealand as an air-minded land, will take its place among the leaders.

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