Flying to Milford

Friday Flashback

M_Queenstown airport-2

This is New Zealand’s Queenstown airport in August 1979, ten years before the first jet aircraft arrived. Much of the business then relied on tourist flights in small ‘planes like these. I had something bigger for my flight to Milford Sound

M_Britten-Norman Islander-3

but not by much. I was lucky enough to get a seat beside the pilot after the Britten-Norman Islander had been refueled at a mobile Mobil station.

Milford flight 1-4

Queenstown is a mountain resort so the views of the Southern Alps are spectacular if you fly there. I don’t know about you but when I’m faced with a magnificent scene like this, with the natural environment stretching away to the horizon in all its awe-inspiring grandeur, I can’t ignore the little voice inside that says …..
“If anything goes wrong with this aircraft, there’s nowhere to land”.

Milford flight 6-2

A view to the left from the cockpit.

MacKinnon Pass

Approaching MacKinnon Pass on the Milford Track. It’s the little snow covered ridge in the foreground. Once over the pass, turn left.

M_Sutherland Falls-3

Fly directly at Sutherland Falls – the highest in the country with a 580 metre (1908 feet) vertical drop – until the cliff face ahead completely fills your windshield then pull up for a glimpse of Lake Quill, flick the ‘plane on a wingtip to execute a 180 degree turn, and continue to Milford Sound.

M_Mitre

Images of Mitre Peak have become something of a tourist cliché but you can’t fail to be impressed when you stand in its presence. It dominates the landscape and demands your attention.

Unfortunately my visit was cut short. I barely had time to fire off a couple of cliché’s and get bitten by the infamous sandflies when the pilot called us back to the aircraft. A nasty weather front was heading our way from the Tasman Sea and it would be best if we got out ahead of it. You should expect this in Fiordland where conditions can change rapidly, especially in winter.

We piled back into the Islander and he flew us to the seaward end of the Sound. It was part of the flight plan we’d already paid for, and maybe he wanted to prove there really was a nasty front out there. And there really was. Dark cloud, rain and, no doubt, turbulence rolling towards us. Time for another one of those 180 degree wingtip turns.

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Big Bird

Friday Flashback gets airborne.

Air New Zealand took delivery of its first Boeing 747 in May 1981. Two more arrived in June. I flew up to Hawaii in one of them in August. It still had that ‘new car smell.’

Air NZ 747 4

 In showroom condition at Honolulu airport.

As luck would have it, a distant cousin was a flight attendant on board. She might have been called a stewardess or hostess back then, before the word police neutered the language. When the safety drills had been drilled and we were all safely in the air, she dropped by for a chat.

Air NZ 747 3Would I like to visit the flight deck?
You could do that in ’81 if you knew the right people. They hadn’t yet seen a need to fortify the cockpit to protect pilots from crazy passengers. And they certainly hadn’t foreseen a day when passengers might sometimes need protection from crazy pilots. Simpler times. She didn’t have to ask twice so Distant Cousin went off to have a word with the Captain, promising she would give me the nod later in the flight.

She came back an hour later looking disappointed. The Captain sent his apologies but he would have to cancel my visit. One of the engines was surging periodically and he needed to concentrate on that with no distractions. I suspect this isn’t the kind of information cabin crew normally share with passengers. I said nothing but tried to fake an expression that showed I was totally cool with a malfunctioning engine at 35,000 feet over the Pacific on a dark night. D.C. could see through that.

“Oh, don’t worry,” she said reassuringly, “we’ve got three more.”

That was the closest I ever got to a ‘Jumbo Jet’ flight deck. And now they’re gone. Air New Zealand retired its last 747 in 2014.

Air NZ 747 2

This was my ride home, ZK-NZW, the second Boeing 747 to join Air New Zealand’s fleet – on 9th June 1981 to be exact. It was sold to Virgin Atlantic after eighteen years service.

 

 

The Tui tops up.

Friday Flashback 3.

DH Dominie

 Filling the fuel tank of a DH 89 at Hood Aerodrome, Masterton, New Zealand in 1985.

De Havilland’s DH 89 first appeared in 1934 and quickly became a popular short-haul aircraft with airlines around the world, seeing service from the ’30s to the ’50s and even into the early 1960s.

DH 89“The D.H. Dragon-Rapide is a medium-sized eight-passenger air liner resembling a twin-engined version of the D.H. 86. It has the same general features, including tapered wings, undercarriage faired into the engine nacelles, and is of the same type of construction. It is fitted with two 200 h.p. D.H. “Gypsy-Six” engines, which give it a cruising speed of 140 m.p.h.”

A military version, called the Dominie, was developed for navigator training and, after World War Two, many were sold to civilian operators – like the one in the top picture. This was delivered to the R.N.Z.A.F. in 1943, bought by the National Airways Corporation for its Northland (north of Auckland) service three years later, christened Tui*, and was retired at the end of 1962.

DH 89B

When these photographs were taken at Hood in 1985, it was locally owned and had just emerged from a two-year major rebuild.

The Tui now lives at Mandeville aircraft museum in the South Island and is still available for tourist flights. Watch a video here.

*A tui is a New Zealand native bird.

The start of an era

DH.4A

“This machine is fitted with a special covered in saloon comfortably furnished, with sliding windows, and is used as a passenger machine by the Communication Squadrons of the Royal Air Force. It has also been in constant use between London and Paris for conveying Cabinet Ministers, &c., to and from the Peace Conference. This machine designed and built by The Aircraft Manufacturing Co. Ltd., [Air-Co] Hendon, London, N.W. 9.”
Postcard caption, 1919.

Described as a passenger carrying biplane for one pilot and two passengers – or 360 lbs of freight in a 47 cubic foot space, the 4A had been adapted from a WWI light bomber. The rear gunner’s position had been removed and a small cabin fitted, giving the plane a humped back look. When the conference concluded in mid-1919, some of these aircraft were sold to private companies and, on 25th August, one of them had the honour of opening “the world’s first daily aeroplane service for passengers and goods between London and Paris”.

Claustrophobia Airways.
The “comfortably furnished saloon” image was encouraged by the manufacturers and operators to give the impression of a luxury air taxi where an executive and his secretary could continue to work during their 2½ hour flight. The reality, of course, was a little different. You will have noticed a ladder on the side of the plane – but no door. That was on the top of the cabin. Air correspondent Harry Harper gives an eye witness account.

“I remember, quite clearly, seeing a couple of passengers, resigned but still somewhat apprehensive, being packed into one of these small aeroplanes like sardines in a tin. There seemed barely room for them to sit in the tiny cabin facing each other. And then when they had been tucked into their places, and seemed incapable of doing more than moving their heads slightly, a sort of metal lid was shut down with a clang and fastened into position above their heads. And so they flew to Paris. Not more than a few feet in front of them was the big engine, and the noise it made was so terrific, combined with the shriek of the propeller, that even if you put your head close to a fellow passenger’s ear, and shouted with all your might, it was doubtful whether he would hear you, and the best thing to do was to scribble a message on a piece of paper and pass it across the table.
‘The Romance of a Modern Airway’, Harry Harper, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd. 1930.

The hatch was “unscrewed” by ground crew at their destination. I wonder if they knew the petrol tank was conveniently located between the cabin and the pilot? Or if they thought about what might happen to them in a crash landing?

The 4A deserves its place in aviation history but its career as a passenger carrier was mercifully short. Comparitively bigger aircraft, adapted from bigger bombers, replaced it. The aircraft in the picture, F5764, was sold to Handley Page Ltd in April 1921 and scrapped the following year.

 

The Future of Aviation

British journalist Harry Harper (1880-1960) claimed to be the “World’s First Air Correspondent.” He was in France to see Blériot take off for that historic crossing of the English Channel and lived long enough to write about the Viking rocket and satellites. His enthusiasm made him an evangelist for the aviation industry at times. Almost ninety years ago, he wrote this about his vision of the future.

Flying will grow cheaper and cheaper. Already we have our air excursions to Paris and to the sea-coast, and to big race-meetings and football matches. And what I see dawning, now, is an even more wonderful era than that.

HP42I can see the day coming when, thanks to this magic carpet of the airway, we shall live a wider, fuller life than we do to-day. ….. Picture to yourself the day when great oceans as well as continents are spanned regularly and safely by huge air machines. And then imagine the wonderful scope which you will have when the time comes for you to take a well-earned holiday. With business pressure what it is to-day, none of us can spend much time on our vacations. But all of us like to go to new places and see new scenes. And here it is that the all-embracing airway will unfold such fresh vistas before us.

ScyllaNo longer shall we be pinned, say, to a trip down to the seaside, or a rush across to the Continent. Embarking in some great air express, and paying a fare well within our means, we shall sweep high above land and sea, flying thousands of miles where formerly we only travelled hundreds, and being able to reach distant beauty spots which, were it not for the speed of the air machine, it would be impossible for us to visit in the time at our disposal.

HP.42colour

But the world at large needs to be reminded again and again that there is this new facility of aerial transport. …. We want to tell the public, and particularly the business world, to fly when they are in a hurry, to send their letters by air when the time factor is important, and to transmit by airway any parcels or merchandise which are required urgently by those to whom they are despatched. And we want to tell them this, time after time, until an air habit has been acquired, and the use of the airway has become a matter of ordinary routine.

Our aerial future, in fact, lies before us as a future of immense and widespread progress. …. We must now go forward without hesitation into our great universal era of the air.
‘The Romance of a Modern Airway’, Harry Harper, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd. 1930.

Lieutenant Grider’s New Machine

John McGavock Grider was an American pilot attached to the Royal Air Force in World War One. After months of training, and impatient for action, he was finally given orders to fly to France. He collected his brand-new S.E.5a fighter from the Brooklands depot and wrote in his diary “it certainly is a beauty.”

SE5_ground

May 14 1918. I gave my new plane a work-out in the air to-day. It flies hands off; I put it level just off the ground and it did 130 [m.p.h.]. Then I went up high and did a spinning tail slide. Nothing broke so I have perfect confidence in it. I’ve been cleaning and oiling the machine-guns, tuning up the motor and testing the rigging. The best part of it is that it’s mine – no one else has flown it and no one else ever will. It’s painted green and I have named it the Julep and am having one painted on the side of the fusilage.

SE5_flight

To-morrow, I’ve got to synchronize my gun-gear, set my sights, swing my compass and then I’m ready. Death bring on your sting, oh, grave hoist your gold star!
The bus certainly is plentifully supplied with gadgets. The cockpit looks like the inside of a locomotive cab.

SE5_cockpit

It has two guns: one Vickers and one Lewis. The Vickers is mounted on the fuselage in front of your face and fires through the propeller with a C.C. gear to keep from hitting it. The Lewis is mounted on the top wing and fires over the top of the propeller. It has two sights: a ring sight and an Aldis telescopic sight. I set both sights and both guns so that they will all converge at a spot two hundred yards in front of the line of flight. When you aim, what you really do is to aim the plane and the guns take care of themselves. The Vickers has a belt of four hundred rounds and the Lewis has a drum of one hundred and we carry three spare drums.

SE5_Lewis gunTo change drums you have to pull the gun down on the track with your hand and then take off the empty drum and put on the full one. It’s not hard to do unless you let the wind get against the flat side of the drum, then it will nearly break your wrist. We’ve practised changing until we can do it in our sleep. The Vickers is the best gun by far.
‘War Birds’, Cornstalk Publishing Company, Sydney, Australia, 1928.

Grider was well aware that the life of a fighter pilot at the Front could be short. He mentions the possibilty of death several times. Training could be almost as dangerous. His diary is a catalogue of dead and injured pilots who never made it to the fight. He arrived in France on 25th May – “Here’s where we sober up and get down to real serious work.” John Grider was reported missing in action on 18th June.

The photographs show S.E.5a aircraft built by the Vintage Aviator in New Zealand. These are “reproductions”, made to original specifications, not “replicas” which may have modern components under the skin.

Out of Action

Today’s image comes from a WWI postcard.

Image from WWI postcard of captured German Pfalz DIII aircraft.

The original is a very dark sepia with almost no detail in the shadows so although this isn’t perfect, it’s an improvement, believe me. It shows a group of British military personnel gathered round what is left of a German aircraft. I think we can see a mixture of army and Royal Flying Corps uniforms there.

The wreck on the trailer used to be a Pfalz DIII, probably a DIIIa which dates the photograph to sometime between November 1917 – when the type was introduced – and the end of the war twelve months later. The shape of the cross on the fuselage suggests it might have been prior to April 1918. Two R.F.C. men are standing in front of the aircraft’s number which makes it difficult to be any more specific.

Although over a thousand of both variants were made, no originals have survived. There are only two replicas to show what the DIII would have looked like in one piece. This is one of them.

A replica Pfalz D.III German WWI fighter aircraft.

ca_flight2

It was made in 1965 for the movie ‘The Blue Max’ so, at 53 years old, it’s edging towards veteran status.