Flying history recounted

December 8, 2015
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A Passion for Flight: New Zealand aviation Before the Great War Volume Two,

by Errol Martyn (Volplane Press, RRP $55):

Meticulous Errol Martyn continues the rich history of innovation, imagination and daring of early New Zealand aviation.

This slice titled Passion for Flight: New Zealand aviation Before the Great War Volume Two: New Zealand Aviation Before the Great War still includes a few of the fanciful feathered contraptions, gliders, balloons and parachutes of volume one, but now also the real flight attempts with feasible but problematic machines, and from 1913 the first practical powered flights and achievements feeding into the mainstream development of aviation services.

This gives a context for appreciating the exploits of individuals, such as Invercargill’s Herbert Pither, the engineer who gave a self-report of a flight test on a Fouveax Strait beach in 1910.

He gets a chapter practically to himself, along with Francis Potter of Kelso, Otatara’s James Paskell and later Dave Cross of Otama.

In fact, Southland again features strongly, with Will Scotland and his crosscountry flights (the first from Invercargill to Gore) in 1914 also getting a definitive chapter.

The miscellany section includes a reference to Olga Sanson’s (unfortunately undated) account of Stewart Islander Gibbie Thomson flight-testing a big-wing apparatus.

Martyn’s sophisticated trawling of Papers Past and wide connections have elicited all kinds of sidelights making the book a good read even for those whose eyes gloss over technicalities: Mita Taupopoki as the first Maori recorded in flight (as a passenger during his visit to England) in 1911; Damer Allen, the first person with a New Zealand connection to lose his life in an aeroplane accident (attempting to cross the Irish Sea) in 1912; a new candidate for the first aero club at Cobden in 1909, and even a racehorse named Monoplane.

Another southern gem to send local historians searching is the discovery of Nellie Mitchell of Balclutha, the first New Zealand woman to pilot a flying machine (a glider) in Dunedin in 1911.

And, of course, there are the Walsh brothers of Auckland, the official “first flight” achievers, whose on-going aviation achievements merit the recognition they hold.

Martyn is fearless in his opinions, berating the enthusiasm for vaunting “no hopers” ( such as Richard Pearse, who has an airport named after him) while neglecting real achievers such as Will Scotland (who has no significant memorial), but he is also generous in crediting his sources.

Rosemarie Smith

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