By Dave O’Malley
I have never been to New Zealand, that nation of two islands on the far side of my world, but I have this dreamlike image that runs in my head when that adventurous nation comes to mind. It is not the Middle Earth fantasy world created by Peter Jackson or tourist professionals, but it is just as beautiful... maybe more so.
I see the blue green waters of the Tasman Sea breaking on a stony beach, foaming white. I see that beach scalloping from point to point in either direction for miles and miles. Rising from the edge of the beach, thickly forested cliffs and hills and ridges rumble off to the east, while verdant river valleys finger their way to the sea, spilling icy glacial water into the salted Tasman. I see farmlands forming like crystals along these valleys as they sweep up to the mountain spine that rises to the east. And those mountains! Those blue green mountains shoulder their way out of the island like giants and heave upwards in folds of evergreen velvet ending in brilliant snowy peaks. The snow on these peaks is so white that one can hardly look at it against a cerulean sky, bereft of cloud from horizon to horizon. And across this breath-stealing landscape, chatters a single, tiny, almost insignificant aircraft.
With elegant, bright orange fuselage and flashing silver wings, it churns its way southwest at 2,000 feet along the coast, rising and falling on the invisible swells of air that sweep in from the sea. Her orange colour snaps against the snow white and burning blue, like a tropical bird from the exotic land of her habitat. She is a thing of almost indescribable beauty—an Art Deco masterpiece, where function and form no longer fight for ascendancy, but live in harmony. She is Geoffrey de Havilland meets René Lalique meets Henry Royce. She is the diminutive, seemingly delicate, definitely rugged, de Havilland DH-83 Fox Moth and she is the aircraft that symbolizes for me this jewel-like land, these industrious and adventurous people, these rugged conditions and the very spirit of that magic land that lies at the very antipodes of my cold Canadian home.
The little aircraft works her way down that nearly uninhabited coastline, her three passengers and pilot marvelling not only at the landscape, but at the very fact they can hop to a town that once took days to get to when the coastal steamer finally made it to their community. The bright orange aircraft busily climbs her industrious way up and down and up and down that coast, from Westport to Greymouth to Hokitika to Waiho to Haast to Okuru and back again. Working hard, but free as a bush wren. That is my image of New Zealand.
At Vintage Wings of Canada’s hangar today, as I write this, one of those historic and well-travelled New Zealand Fox Moths is sleeping quietly inside, warmed by the pale winter sun that falls from the hangar windows. She waits for her pilot and new owner Blake Reid to come home from 747 flying in Taiwan. Because Vintage Wings of Canada once owned this classic beauty, and because he had seen in the Canadian aircraft registry that we had de-registered her, we were contacted by New Zealand aviation historian and writer Paul Sheehan for an update on her status. Paul stated, “I’m currently writing a history of Air New Zealand and NZ National Airways Corporation aircraft and the above named Fox Moth was once part of NZNAC’s fleet (16 July 1948 to 1953) and am looking for some help with information on this aircraft. I hope you can help me.”
My answer to him was: “The Fox Moth was sold to one of our pilots, Blake Reid. It did not fit our mandate to tell a Canadian story. While many Fox Moths operated in Canada, this one, as you know, has a history that cannot (should not) be painted over with new markings... it was just too important to even consider repainting as a Canadian Fox Moth. Blake, a 747 First officer with EVA (Taiwan) flies our Cornell, Tiger Moth and Finch and loves the Fox Moth. He will operate it from our hangar and it still is housed here. We are just completing final inspection and some other maintenance on it for him, before completion of sale and Blake will take final receipt shortly. As Blake spends so much time in Taipei, there has been no rush to get this done fast.”
Following this email conversation, Paul sent me a few spectacular photographs of ZK-AEK and ZK-ADI while they were with Air Travel NZ and National Airways Corporation. Seeing these, I knew right away I just had to do a pictorial tribute to this magnificent aircraft, those courageous aviators of New Zealand, that tiny nascent airline and that breathtakingly beautiful sapphire of a country.
What follows is one of our classic photo essay tributes to a great nation and one of the early aircraft that helped open up internal national air routes and scheduled service and helped New Zealanders at the bottom of the planet stay in touch in a fast moving world. The focus will be on the three Fox Moths that laboured up and down the coast of New Zealand in the livery of Air Travel NZ and National Airways Corp., but the story is much wider than that.
Here, for your viewing pleasure, are the photos Paul Sheehan sent me and a whole lot more I managed to find on the World Wide Web. Enjoy your flight, it’s a beautiful country.
Fox Moth ZK-ADI (also registered as RNZAF NZ566, G-ADHA and ZK-ASP)
A wonderfully evocative and beautifully framed shot of Air Travel NZ’s Fox Moth ZK-ADI flying past mountain ranges on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Below them are the littoral regions of the Tasman Sea coast, while in the distance on the right stands magnificent Mount Cook, at 12,349 ft above sea level, New Zealand’s highest peak. The date is September 1938, four years after this aircraft was built at the de Havilland Aircraft Company factory at Stag Lane, England. The diminutive yet hardy aircraft arrived by ship at Christchurch in 1934. It was registered in January of 1935 to Tourist Air Travel & Transport Service N.Z. Company Limited of Christchurch. That same month, the company moved its base of operations to the small town of Hokitika on the West Coast (150 km northeast of where this shot was taken) and changed the corporate name to Air Travel (N.Z.) Limited. Photo: Leo White
With such a magnificent photograph as the previous shot, it was impossible not to zoom in to see the faces of the passengers as they gazed toward the photographer’s aircraft and the beauty of the Tasman Sea on a bright sunny day. The wording on the nose of the aircraft reads: Air Travel N.Z. Ltd – Hokitika, Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers Service. Franz Josef Glacier lies between this Fox Moth and the slopes of Mount Cook (to the north of the peak in the heart of Westland National Park) while Fox Glacier streams down right in front of Cook. Photo: Leo White
Pulling back we see the waters of the Tasman Sea below and quite possibly the Franz Josef Glacier beneath her wings. Photo: Leo White
Paul Sheehan tells us that this is perhaps the most famous aircraft photo in all New Zealand and we can see why. While most of New Zealand’s population resides in the coastal regions, back in the 1930s, they were not all connected by road—especially remote sheep farms. This image captures the simplicity of the aviation promise—land on a beach near the farm or community, load up the passengers and be off in a few minutes, flying to business centres in minutes and hours as opposed to days. As if to underline the dawn of a new age, a NZ government coastal steamer, S.S. Matai, labours slowly in the distance. Its commander was Captain John Burgess Sr., whose son, John Jr., was the command pilot of the Short S.30 Empire Class Flying Boat named Centaurus, which opened the scheduled flying service from Southampton, England to Auckland in 1937. Burgess later became Chief Pilot of Tasman Empire Airways Limited, which changed its name to Air New Zealand in 1965.
“From left: Jack Condon with young daughter Fay riding Fairy, the horse, Alex McEwan with suitcases, Pat Mahuika, Jimmy McLaren, Cyril McEwan, Letti McEwan and her youngest child Margaret, Captain Bert Mercer, unidentified small girl and Iris Wilson. Off shore, the Government steamer S.S. Matai has arrived from Bluff with supplies, including stud Hereford bulls for the Condons. Jack Condon has his dogs ready to muster the bulls away from the aircraft when they swim ashore from the steamer.” Photo: Whites Aviation via National Library of New Zealand
Again, the photo begs zooming in. We see Captain Bert Mercer, chief pilot, managing director and chief engineer of Air Travel NZ, beaming at the adulation of the children after he has just landed on the beach at Bruce Bay, just a short distance from the spot where the opening photograph was shot. The Mahitahi River empties into the bay, and its valley is home to farmlands and sheep grazing. This spot is remote today, but in 1935 when this image was taken, it was the back of beyond... but a fairy tale land for these children to grow up in. Though the aircraft looks darker in this image, it is likely the same orange and the contrast is due to the type of orthographic film used. Photo: Whites Aviation via National Library of New Zealand
ZK-ADI had been working with Air Travel NZ since its arrival and registration in December of 1934, except for one short period only a month into its service when it was out of action, having been damaged after a collision with a bull at Waheka, near the Fox Glacier—a clear testament to the dangers of operating from farm fields, beaches and rough, open land. Here we see her in these very kinds of conditions at Nolan’s Farm, Okuru, West Coast, South Island in September of 1935 after being repaired. Captain Bert Mercer, among other things, Chief Pilot of Air Travel NZ Limited is in the flying helmet. Note the omnipresent spectacular mountain backdrop and border collie sheepdog. The Fox Moth again looks very dark in this shot, likely due to the type of film used. Photo: Whites Aviation Limited
Pulling back from the previous shot, we see one of the best job benefits Bert Mercer and his fellow pilots enjoyed—spectacular scenery to fly over every day! Photo: Whites Aviation Limited
When ZK-ADI was down for repair following the collision with the bull, Air Travel NZ maintained service by leasing another Fox Moth from the Canterbury (New Zealand) Aero Club. That aircraft was ZK-ADH (above) and it kept up service from February until it was returned in June of 1935. The Canterbury Aero Club Fox Moth (ZK-ADH) was fitted by them as an aerial ambulance, complete with attendant. Sadly, it crashed the following year and was written off, after just two years of service. It met this end when it crashed on landing in the fog at Sockburn, near Wigram on 7 June 1935. The wreck was sold to Owen Templeton, an engineer with Air Travel NZ Ltd., and rebuilt by them using a new fuselage built-up by DH Technical School, Rongotai. That newly restored aircraft was then registered as ZK-AGM. Its career would last almost 30 years, but it too would crash in 1963, killing its passenger. Photo via Kitchener.Lord at Flickr.com
The Air Travel NZ Fox Moths were used to ship “whitebait” fishermen and equipment in and product out of the coastal estuaries along the Tasman Sea coast of the South Island. Whitebait is a New Zealand delicacy—a tiny fish about the size of a matchstick that makes a great meal when mixed with egg and parsley and fried like fritters. Here ZK-ADI lands on a gravel bar next to the Paringa River in South Westland, NZ—pilot Jim Hewitt stands at right. Photo: Whites Aviation Limited
The Paringa River feeds into the Tasman Sea at Bruce Bay. Here, in the 1930s, whitebait abounded and bringing out the catch by air made economic sense. Whitebait in New Zealand is very much a delicacy and commands high prices to the extent that it is the most costly fish on the market, if available. New Zealand whitebait are caught in the lower reaches of the rivers using small open-mouthed hand-held nets, like the ones seen here, although in some parts of the country where whitebait are more plentiful, larger set nets may be used adjacent to river banks. Whitebaiters constantly attend the nets in order to lift them as soon as a school of fish enters the net. Photo: Whites Aviation Limited
During the Second World War, Air Travel NZ’s Fox Moth ZK-ADI was requisitioned and pressed into military service with the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Here, at the de Havilland factory at Rongotai, Wellington we see a number of de Havilland products including Dragon Rapides, a Moth Minor (monoplane), Tiger Moth, Puss Moth and on the left, a camouflaged Fox Moth which could only be ZK-ADI in its military markings as NZ566 as it served with the Rongotai Communications Flight and 42 Squadron RNZAF. ZK-ADI was the only Fox Moth to fly with the RNZAF. Photo: The Wings over New Zealand Aviation Forum
A great shot of the former Air Travel NZ ZK-ADI in roundels and what may appear like an overall silver finish—perhaps postwar. It was purchased from Air Travel NZ for 1,300 New Zealand pounds in April 1943. After the war, it continued to serve at Rotorua on fire watching duties until it was sold to NZ National Airways Corporation for 1,200 pounds. Photo: The Wings over New Zealand Aviation Forum
A shot of the former Fox Moth ZK-ADI, which re-entered the civilian registration lists as ZK-ASP after the Royal New Zealand Air Force struck her from service as NZ566. She was purchased by the New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NAC). I believe this is shortly after she received her new registration as she appears to be still painted in the overall light colour (silver/aluminum) of her military service, but with a red colour accent on her nose and a darker colour (likely red too) on her struts. Photo via shu-aero.com
Another photograph of ZK-ASP, seemingly still in her overall light coloured paint scheme but with a scalloped design on her nose, different registration font on the tail and under the wings, plus red hub caps. When it was registered with NAC, it was given a name—Mimiro (for the Miromiro Bird—a small tropical bird from New Zealand), which was written on the cowling in this photograph. Photo via the Ed Coates Collection
Later, ZK-ASP would receive a much more elaborate paint scheme of bright orange and black (with silver paint on the empennage) as seen here at the Christchurch Airport, South Island in March of 1964. At that time, she was owned and operated by John Switzer. Photo via Paul Sheehan
In this close-up of ZK-ASP (former ZK-ADI) at Christchurch in 1964, we see a towheaded young boy, perhaps at the moment he was inspired to become a pilot. Photo via Paul Sheehan
An absolutely lovely shot of ZK-ASP, in a new paint scheme, flying through wisps of cloud over Canterbury in March of 1964. At this time, the former NAC Mimiro was owned by John Switzer of Christchurch. Photo: V.C. Browne
A photo as beautiful as the previous one begs to be zoomed into. Here we see an immaculately turned out de Havilland DH-83 Fox Moth ZK-ASP with possibly its new owner, John Switzer, at the controls, overflying a tidy town in Canterbury, New Zealand. Photo: V.C. Browne
On 11 November 1970, Fox Moth ZK-ASP force-landed on a beach on Great Barrier Island with engine problems. The situation was such that it could not take off again. It was below high tide level and an urgent call from the crew brought out a Royal New Zealand Air Force UH-1H Huey and its crew. The crew managed to get it hoisted off the beach and home after folding its wings. Here we see members of the Huey crew that saved her. Photo via topbirdsandeveryfing blog
Here is a sharp colour image of Fox Moth ZK-ASP (formerly ZK-ADI) on the beach at Pukutuaro, South Westland, in July 1972. It was making re-enactment flight tour down the West Coast with owner David Lilico and passengers Alister Barry and John King (this was NAC’s 25th anniversary tour). Note the contrast of snow-capped mountains, tropical forest and the Tasman Sea lapping the black sand beach. Photo: John King
After ZK-ASP was purchased by Myles Robertson, he packed her up in 1974 and had her shipped to the United States, where he embarked upon a flying tour of the country. His voyage to North America was epic, starting on the West Coast. Here we see Myles Robertson taxiing his Fox Moth ZK-ASP on the grass at Aero Plaza in Olympia, Washington for a flying gathering before a big air show at McChord Air Force Base in 1975. According to “Tony” of COPA, “Myles Robertson’s New Zealand–registered DH Fox Moth was charmingly English. The type evolved in 1932 using the wings, tail, undercarriage, and engine of the classic Tiger Moth. The pilot was stuck out in the weather à la hansom cab, whilst facing pairs of rather thin passengers sat in soft leather luxury… And, reminiscent of Brit 1930’s First Class rail, a grand string bag luggage rack hung above. Amazingly, this venerable Moth could haul five ‘flapper’ sized people! And, per Bramson & Birch’s ‘The Tiger Moth Story’… “Inserted in the pilot’s panel was a Victorian-looking oval window through which he could wave reassurance to his passengers!” Naturally everyone wanted to “ ’ave a go” …and genial pipe smoking Myles happily obliged, tucking us in before cheerfully clambering into his perch. The ride was wonderfully romantic, passengers agog as the world drifted by through a comforting matrix of struts and bracing wires. A broad goggled smile peered down at us through the little oval window, and the ride was amazingly quiet… Sigh, those were the days! ” Photo: Tony, COPA
Young Myles Robertson brought ZK-ASP to several air shows on his 1974–75 North American tour. Here we see him at Oshkosh that year. Note that the aircraft, which once had a black cheatline down her side, now wears a green one and that Robertson has added the Air Travel NZ Hokitika lettering. Photo: Dave Welch, Air Britain Photographic Images Collection
In 1974, Myles Robertson took ZK-ASP across America, making one very important stop at Oshkosh’s AirVenture in Wisconsin. Here we see her on the grass at Whitman Regional Airport sporting a New Zealand flag on her rudder. Image via shu-aero.com
Another photo of ZK-ASP tied down at Oshkosh 1974, brought there by the youthful Myles Robertson. Photo: Jim Thompson
After her visit to Oshkosh, ZK-ASP was sold in New York. Nigel Hitchman takes it from here: “When ZK-ASP/ADI arrived in the UK from Hamburg, NY, it was a basket case in need of a total restoration, this was done by Ron Souch and his company Aero Antiques and the completed aircraft was painted as G-ADHA in the King’s flight colours. Ron also obtained a DH89A Dragon Rapide in Hamburg, NY at the same time, this was rebuilt as G-ACZE and painted in the same colours, this aircraft remained in the UK until recently when it was purchased by Gerry Yeagan, not to be confused with G-ADDD/N89DH which Yeagan used to own which was restored for him by Avspecs in NZ and sold to Rod Lewis last summer, and then eventually to a Brian Woodford of Dorset who brought her home to Great Britain for the first time in decades.” Here she was registered as G-ADHA and painted in Royal Marines livery. Photo: Dave Welch, Air Britain Photographic Images Collection
Gerald Grocott purchased the aircraft from Wessex Aviation and Transport Ltd and returned the aircraft to New Zealand in 1997 to be restored to the original orange and silver paint scheme and re-registered once again as ZK-ADI. Since then, she has flown at air shows and fly-ins throughout New Zealand with Croydon Aircraft Company out of Mandeville Airport at Gore, in the far south of New Zealand. Here she is photographed in 2010. Photo: Gavin Conroy, Classic Aircraft Photography
The bright orange of Air Travel’s livery stands out in colourful contrast to the hazy blue hills surrounding the airfield at Wanaka, New Zealand in 2006 during the Wings over Wanaka air show. Photo: George Canciani
Croydon’s beautifully restored ZK-ADI looks right at home on the dry infield grass at Wanaka in 2010. Photo: Jonathan Rankin
Fox Moth ZK-AEK (also registered as G-ACDD, VQ-FAT, and C-FYPM)
Fox Moth ZK-AEK takes a relaxing break from operations, again on the beach at Bruce Bay on the West Coast near Mount Cook, in 1936. While the ladies take the sun, the kids build sand castles, dogs play and Captain Bert Mercer, Chief Pilot of Air Travel New Zealand (kneeling) relaxes with his friends. The Fox Moth appears to retain the dark blue and silver paint from its previous owners. She was built at de Havilland’s Stag Lane factory in 1932 and that year was registered as G-ACDD to a Flight Lieutenant Edward Hedley Fielden, a Royal Air Force officer acting on behalf of HRH, the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII. This Fox Moth became the first aircraft of what would become the Royal Flight. But its regal career did not last long. It was sold within months to a Belgian named Guy Hansez and registered as OO-ENC on the Belgian register. Hansez operated the little aircraft extensively throughout Belgium and Europe, even flying it to the Belgian Congo in Africa. By the time he returned in 1935, Hansez sold the aircraft back to England and it was registered again as G-ACDD. Shortly after that, it was sold to Air Travel NZ and was shipped to New Zealand, where it was registered as ZK-AEK. Photo via Paul Sheehan
Fox Moth G-ACDD (the future ZK-AEK) photographed at de Havilland’s Stag Lane factory in 1932. She was purchased on behalf of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales and used briefly as the first official aircraft of the Royal Flight. This Fox Moth originally sported a wooden propeller, but here we see it has been replaced by a metal one. One of our readers, John Adams, tells the story of the one part that did not make it to New Zealand from ZK-AEK:
“When this aeroplane was first delivered to HRH the Duke of Windsor it was fitted with a wooden propeller which would appear to have been quickly replaced with a Fairey Reed type metal propeller. I acquired this original wooden propeller some 35 years ago. I was a Sgt engineer on No.1(F) Sqn RAF at RAF Wittering. When during an Air Officer Commanding’s inspection annual clear out, this prop was discovered in a locker in the disp Sgt’s office. It was scheduled for the dump. The then Wingo the late W/C Eric Smith gave me permission to take it. I then found out it had been given to the airmens crew room tea bar by a young F/O member of the Sqn, and had been displayed in there. I traced the previous owner to the OCU at Wittering and he was happy for me to keep it. It was he who told me that his father had been a Scout leader in Sunningdale and the prop had been given to the Scout troop many years before as "jumble". For years I was under the impression my prop was possibly off a Puss Moth (a favourite aircraft) as it was marked Gipsy III, but only recently I matched the propeller drawing number up to a Gipsy III off a Fox Moth.
When I acquired the prop the fabric covering was in very ravaged and poor condition and filthy with years of grime so it initially looked a very dirty matt Black. I had been looking for, and believed I had found a Tiger Moth prop which I wanted to finish in natural wood with the brass leading edges polished for display.
It was only when the remaining fabric had peeled away did I realise it had been painted a Royal Blue and not Black. The tips had been daubed at some time during its sojourn in the tea bar with bright Red and White equal bands (No.1 Sqn colours) but underneath these I found the broad dark Red tip and thin White dividing line (the Brigade of Guards colours), a livery which all the Royal aeroplanes were painted. (I have retained the original Blue paint on the back of the boss).
It was only when cleaning it up that I found a tightly wound tiny piece of paper in one of the bolt holes which just said "Off the Dukes Moth". Things started to click, with the colours and the place. Sunningdales was where the Duke of Windsor had a house and landing strip. This is where the prop had been given to a local Scout group as clearance "jumble" at the closure of the property, on HRH’s accession to the Throne as HRH King Edward VIII and his subsequent abdication. HRH only had one Fox, so it’s got to be off G-ACDD.
It would seem that my prop was the only bit of the Fox Moth not to go on the aeroplane’s later travels and yet strange to relate it will eventually go to my son... who lives in New Zealand.” Photo via de Havilland.
After its career as a Royal, G-ACDD was sold to Belgian Guy Hansez and registered as OO-ENC. The little biplane made a lengthy flight from Belgium to the Congo and back during that time. This was during a period when pilots throughout the world were attempting long distance flights, breaking records and making history. No doubt, this was a huge event in Belgium at the time. Photo via Vintage Wings website
Guy Hansez and Fox Moth OO-ENC having a little fun with a friend and his donkey over Deurne, Belgium near Antwerp. Photo: Archive French Of Humbeek
Camille Huysmans, the Prime Minister of Belgium, greets fellow countryman Guy Hansez and his wife Marie-Louise Fester-Hansez after their flight to the Congo and back. In the background we see Fox Moth OO-ENC, the future ZK-AEK. Photo: Archive French Of Humbeek
After flying from Europe to the Belgian Congo and back to England in 1935, the Fox Moth was sold and shipped to New Zealand, to begin life as ZK-AEK with Air Travel NZ. Here we see her at the Hokitika base of Air Travel NZ, still in the markings she wore in Europe. Photo via Vintage Wings website
ZK-AEK ran into misfortune on the Franz Josef Glacier. In 1943, Fox Moth ZK-AEK, piloted by Ozzie Openshaw, crashed while taking four passengers for a scenic flight over the glacier, although none of the passengers nor Openshaw was injured. A crew was put together and the wreckage was dismantled and carried by hand down the glacier and was rebuilt at Rongotai. Photo via Vintage Wings website
A close-up of the wreckage of ZK-AEK on the Franz Josef Glacier at the foot of Mount Cook. It was a miracle that Ozzie Openshaw and his passengers escaped relatively unscathed. Openshaw’s passengers, four WAAF women, tumbled from the torn open passenger cabin after the Gipsy engine folded to the left. Passengers had to spend the night on the glacier before being rescued. For more on the removal of the aircraft from the glacier, click here. Photo via Des Nolan Collection
A rebuilt ZK-AEK rests in April of 1947 at Hokitika’s airfield outside what was once the Air Travel NZ hangars. The aircraft, which started its life so auspiciously and which recently had nearly been written off, is here being transferred to a newly formed New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NAC), Air Travel having been absorbed into NAC. Photo via Paul Sheehan
A few months later, ZK-AEK is seen again, this time resting at Omaka Air Field near the city of Blenheim, New Zealand. This city along the coast of Cook Strait and its historic airfield are today the home of the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre and very fine air shows. At this date, ZK-AEK was fully in the employ of New Zealand National Airways Corporation. Photo via Paul Sheehan
With its pilot now on board, Fox Moth ZK-AEK is set to take off at Omaka Airfield in 1947. This photo was taken moments after the previous image. Omaka Airfield is in the small city of Blenheim in the heart of the Marlborough region of New Zealand... and if that doesn’t ring a bell, then you don’t drink a lot of fine New Zealand wine. Photo via Paul Sheehan
For the next six years, ZK-AEK was in the employ of NAC, but she would soon be repainted in the plain markings of that new airline. The scheme was a simple all-over silver/aluminium paint, with just one tapered nose graphic in red and her new name—Mohua—which means Yellowhead in Maori—a small bird indigenous to the South Island of New Zealand. We can just make out this avian sobriquet on her nose where the red cheatline tapers to a point. This photo dates to the early 1950s. Photo: Ken Meeham, via edcoatescollection.com
After her six years operating largely along the West Coast of the South Island, NAC sold ZK-AEK to W. “Keith” Wakeman’s Aerial Sowing Limited as an aerial topdressing aircraft, applying granular superphosphate to hill country grass pasture. Here we see ZK-AEK, still wearing her NAC markings with Mohua still on her nose. Wakeman purchased her on 1 October 1953, and then sold her the following August 1954. The exact date of this photo appears to be on or around 9 October 1953, at Harewood International Airport, Christchurch, or on the 19th of that month. The Canberras in the background give us a time-stamp. Though two squadrons of the Royal New Zealand Air Force operated British Electric Canberra bombers, they did not do so until 1958. The serial number—WE139—on the closest aircraft tells the story. Canberra WE139, an RAF Canberra with 540 Squadron, entered and won the United Kingdom–New Zealand International Air Race on 9 October 1953 with an elapsed time of 29 hours and 51 minutes from Heathrow to Harewood. WE139 beat the second place aircraft—a Royal Australian Air Force Canberra—by only one minute! The other Canberra, the all-metal one in the background, is likely the runner-up. Canberra WE139 flew demonstration flights in New Zealand for the next week and returned to Christchurch on 19 October, but knowing that the actual race ended in heavy rain and cloud, this looks to be the weather of that day. As Wakeman had purchased ZK-AEK just the week before, this is likely the delivery flight. Photo: V.C. Browne
A close-up of the photo helps us identify much. We see Keith Wakeman, second from left. Wakeman learned to fly with the RNZAF on ground-based Corsairs in the South Pacific theatre. We see Mohua written under her tapered nose paint. We see WE139 on the side of the Canberra that won the United Kingdom–New Zealand Air Race. We see the cold and wet weather. We also see the man on the left with a pair of binoculars, perhaps there to witness the arrival of the 5 Recce Canberras that took part in the race. Canberra WE139 can still be seen today. Accomplishments like the one she made on this day made her a candidate for preservation and she can be seen up close at the RAF Museum at Hendon. Photo: V.C. Browne
ZK-AEK, still with the colours of NAC and her Mohua title, but in the employ of Wakeman’s Aerial Sowing Limited at Christchurch. Photo via aerohub.co.nz
In 1954, Aerial Sowing sold off ZK-AEK to a C.A. Wornall and it was entered into the Fijian aircraft registry as VQ-FAT. It was in the employ of Air Viti Limited in Fiji as an aerial freighter. It did not do well there, and soon the registration was cancelled and the aircraft languished in derelict condition near Suva, the island nation’s capital. In fact, the fuselage was burned in a fire practice at Nausori Airport. The remnants of this once-important and beautiful aircraft were salvaged from utter dereliction at Nausori and returned to New Zealand. These parts, as well as a new fuselage (built by Myles Robertson), were combined into a full restoration of the aircraft by Croydon Aviation Heritage—with the kit and colours it had while in the employ of the Royal Flight. It was re-registered in this kit as ZK-AEK for Englishman Roger Fiennes. The aircraft was allowed to wear its original British registration of G-ACDD along with a smaller New Zealand registration on its rudder. Here we see the freshly completed restoration at Ardmore before it was shipped to Oshkosh in 1993 and then to England. From England, it was quickly sold back to Sir Timothy Wallis at Wanaka, whose father had been a passenger on ZK-AEK many times in the 1930s and 40s. Photo: Bruce Cooke
I put out an all points bulletin on a New Zealand aviation history forum called the Wings Over New Zealand Aviation Forum and received wonderful support from some of their members. New Zealander Peter Lewis (also one of our Vintage News subscribers) sent several photos, including this beauty of a gorgeous looking ZK-AEK at Ardmore (near Auckland) awaiting disassembly for shipping to Oshkosh in May 1993. I have to say that the all-blue fuselage and empennage looks far sexier than the blue fuselage and silver empennage she now sports. Photo: Peter Lewis
ZK-EAK’s debut would be at Oshkosh in 1993. To get there, she had to be packaged up for shipping by sea. Bruce Cooke, who assisted in readying ZK-AEK for shipment, remembers that day: “These [photos] were taken when I was working at Gulf Aeronautics, Ardmore in the early 1990s and were AEK’s first trip to the USA. The aircraft had flown up from Gore and we helped pack it for shipping. Was quite an exercise as we were running out of time, the Dept of Internal Affairs put an embargo on it as a heritage item, and someone threatened to damage it whilst it sat on the pallet outside overnight. In the end it was trucked to the Port of Auckland in rush hour and only arrived just in time to make the loading schedule.” Photo: Bruce Cooke
ZK-AEK parked in a shady paddock at Oshkosh’s Whitman Airport in August of 1993. This beautiful aircraft, with its exotic double registration and Royal pedigree, must have caught the eye of every passerby. Photo: Ken Videan
A photo by George Canciani of ZK-AEK with its old New Zealand registration back on its side, but still in the Royal Flight configuration and making a splash back home at Wanaka in April of 1994. Photo: George Canciani
After being apart and around the world, ZK-ADI (background) and ZK-AEK were back together again in 1997 at Westport, just like the old Air Travel NZ days at Hokitika... see next photo. Photo: Peter Lewis
A rare photo of ZK-ADI and ZK-AEK together prior to AEK’s unfortunate accident on the Franz Josef Glacier. This photo of the two together was taken 60 years before the previous photo by Peter Lewis. Photo: D.E. Theomin via Hockin Collections, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
Here we see ZK-AEK, nearly 73 years after she was built at Stag Lane, still in New Zealand as ZK-AEK at Wanaka in April 2005. Photo: John Rankin
There is another de Havilland Fox Moth at the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland which wears the identity of ZK-AEK. This aircraft, built from condemned fuselage from Stan Smith’s restoration of ZK-APT and the museum’s surplus de Havilland parts from their own stock, was painted up in a red/black/orange Air Travel NZ scheme to represent ZK-AEK back in her early life. Photo: Peter Lewis
A fine shot of the replica of ZK-AEK with wings folded at the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland. Photo: reader John Park
Perhaps the world’s most travelled Fox Moth, the former ZK-AEK, has been around the world a few times by air and by ship. When it was purchased by Mike Potter for his Vintage Wings of Canada collection, it took the Canadian registration C-FYPM, the last two letters for Poppa Mike, the call letters for Potter, a proud father and aviator. Here we see her flying over the Upstate New York landscape near Geneseo. Photo: Eric Dumigan
Eric Dumigan frames C-FYPM in the struts and bracing of a Stearman biplane. Though not as spectacular as the rugged landscapes of the Congo or New Zealand, it’s still beautiful flying country. Photo: Eric Dumigan
Dave Hadfield brings C-FYPM in for a close-up over Geneseo. Hadfield, more than anyone at Vintage Wings, understands the pride that New Zealanders have in this historic aircraft. While our P-40N Kittyhawk was being built by the talented Pioneer Aero, Hadfield oversaw its progress on Vintage Wings’ behalf. He was able to witness firsthand the passionate approach to aviation history that so many Kiwis have. Last year, while his brother Chris Hadfield the astronaut was orbiting the planet, Dave was flying vintage aircraft like the Fox Moth at a much lower altitude. Photo: Gilles Auillard
Guaranteed to be the most up-to-date images of the de Havilland Fox Moth ZK-AEK, now registered as C-FYPM. These three images were taken on 11 February 2014. Here the storied aircraft rests in the Vintage Wings hangar with wings folded like her big sister, the Fairey Swordfish in the background. Photo: Dave O’Malley
Nice and warm inside, but it’s -20ºC outside. The former ZK-AEK’s cowling reflects a snowy Québec landscape outside the hangar windows in the February depths of winter. Photo: Dave O’Malley
While all of our aircraft have been painted and marked to celebrate Canadian heroes and Canadian aviation, the Vintage Wings of Canada Fox Moth had a unique pedigree which is so powerful that to paint it as a Canadian would be a travesty. Being the first aircraft of the Royal Flight and having been so lovingly restored by New Zealanders, we could not bring ourselves to repaint her to tell a Canadian story, even though many early Canuck bush fliers operated them, including Max Ward’s Wardair and Arthur Fecteau’s Fecteau Air Services. Instead, we put it up for sale and it was purchased by one of our own pilots, Blake Reid, a first officer on 747s with Eva Airlines out of Taiwan. Today, she awaits better weather, a few snag fixes and her pilot to come home. When we tell the history of this remarkable airplane, we take people on a trip to the other side of the world, to a time when commercial aviation in New Zealand was just getting off the ground. We salute all those New Zealanders that made this history and all of you who continue today to keep it alive. Pound for pound, there is no greater warbird country on the planet, and that’s a fact. Photo: Dave O’Malley
Fox Moth ZK-AGM (also once registered as ZK-ADH)
The third of the Air Travel NZ/NAC Fox Moths was ZK-AGM. She was constructed at Stag Lane as well in 1934 and arrived at Christchurch by ship in March of the same year. She was entered into the New Zealand aircraft registry as ZK-ADH and, as previously mentioned, she belonged to the Canterbury Aero Club. After the damage to ZK-ADI, caused when it and a prize bull attempted to occupy the same space, ZK-ADH was leased temporarily to Air Travel NZ to help keep their flying commitments going. Here we see ZK-ADH in the temporary livery of Air Travel NZ at the Nolan homestead near Upper Okuru. Photo: Westland National Park Board.
Fox Moth ZK-AGM. The airframe of ZK-ADH was damaged beyond repair in a foggy landing at Wigram (Christchurch) and it was de-registered and later cannibalized for usable parts. The wings, undercart and empennage were used with a newly constructed fuselage from the de Havilland Technical School in the UK, where it had been constructed as a student. The new machine was registered as ZK-AGM in 1938. In the NZ government-run amalgamation of Air Travel NZ with other commercial flying entities that begat New Zealand National Airways, ZK-AGM was absorbed and painted as others in the fleet, all-over silver with red nose design and, like the others, was given an avian-inspired nickname—Matuhi—the Green Wren (also known as the South Island Bush Wren). Here we see her pilot swinging her around with passengers on board. Photo via edcoatescollection.com
A beautiful colour photo of National Airways Corporation’s Matuhi at Christchurch, showing how NAC’s aircraft were painted... and patched (rudder). Matuhi spent most of her NAC career flying up and down the picturesque West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Photo: R. Killick via 3rdlevelnz.blogspot.ca
Another good shot of Matuhi/ZK-AGM at Christchurch, New Zealand. This photo was taken for New Zealand National Airways Corporation by K E Niven and Co, commercial photographers of Wellington. Looking at this image and the previous one, there is no doubt in my mind that they were taken at the same place and time. Photo via New Zealand National Library.
Matuhi’s pilot warms up her Gipsy Major engine on an impeccably groomed ramp. Matuhi operated with NAC until February 1954, when it was sold to Wanganui Aero Work, Wanganui, North Island. Wanganui Aero Work is the progenitor of today’s Ravensdown Aerowork, an aerial top dresser on the North Island of New Zealand. In this photo, we see that she now sports a diamond motif on her nose design. Photo: D. Walker Collection
Another close-up of de Havilland DH-83 Fox Moth ZK-AGM, likely at Greymouth, South Island. Her registration letters, ZK-AGM, which were previously small and on the rudder, are now painted large on her sides. Photo: D. Walker Collection via 3rdlevelnz.blogspot.ca
Fox Moth ZK-AGM awaits passengers and luggage at Greymouth, New Zealand, about 40 kilometres north of Hokitika on the South Island Tasman Sea coast. Photo: D. Walker Collection via 3rdlevelnz.blogspot.ca
Baggage and mail is stowed aboard ZK-AGM, Matuhi, at Greymouth. In April 1963, when owned and registered to T.A. Garner, ZK-AGM crashed at Freezing Flat, near Minaret Creek, West Wanaka. Matuhi’s pilot Terry Garnier was injured while his passenger, Myrven Ernest Reid, died in crash. The Flight Safety Foundation’s accident report states: “The Fox Moth took off on a pleasure flight over the surrounding mountain country. The weather was fine and the visibility was unlimited. The wind was light and the air smooth. When flying in a narrow valley above Minaret Creek at height of 1,500 feet and confined by high hills the pilot found that his aircraft would apparently not maintain height and airspeed, despite cruising and at times full power being demanded from the engine. The pilot said he could not prevent the aircraft from losing height rapidly. The plane crashed on a dry shingle bank in a moderate dive and burst into flames. Despite his burns and shock the pilot made a resolute attempt to rescue his friend from the fire but was unsuccessful. The crash investigation found that pilot had suffered spatial disorientation induced by the lack of a true horizon and had mushed the biplane into the ground in a semi-stalled condition.” The remains of the aircraft were held in storage in New Zealand pending a full rebuild of the aircraft. Photo: D. Walker Collection via 3rdlevelnz.blogspot.ca
and Fox Moth ZK-APT (whose DNA is part of the ZK-AEK replica in Auckland)
Of the Fox Moths that were registered in New Zealand, there were four that were built in Canada. These carried a slightly different designation—de Havilland DH-83c Fox Moths to be exact. Fox Moth ZK-APT was one of the Canadian-built types. She arrived in New Zealand in 1947 and was officially registered to the Marlborough Aero Club. The Club was also in business and used it for freight and charter work. A few months into her career, she was damaged at Bluff Station, when a gust of wind carried her off the airfield and over a cliff. The wrecked Fox Moth was then disassembled and rafted down the Clarence River and shipped to Wellington. It wasn’t until January 1949 before it was flying again, only to be damaged once again in March of 1951, and made flyable again by July of that year. It then went through three different owners and operators. In 1958, it had its third accident when it struck a tree stump. It was finally grounded by the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand in 1962. Photo via Wings over New Zealand aviation forum
The remains of ZK-APT were acquired by Stan Smith for restoration, but he gave the condemned fuselage section to the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland for their replica of ZK-AEK. In the mid-1970s a group in the Auckland area built five new fuselages; one of these went to Stan Smith for the ZK-APT rebuild. Today, this aircraft runs commercially available sightseeing and historic rides at various air shows around NZ during the season. To see the restoration of this aircraft process visit the 3rd Level New Zealand Blog. Photo: Gavin Conroy, Classic Aircraft Photography
Other Kiwi Fox Moths
ZK-AQM from edcoatescollection.com
ZK-AQB from edcoatescollection.com
Paul Sheehan’s first book, The Aircraft of Air New Zealand and affiliates since 1940, was published in New Zealand by Transpress on 17 December 2003 (the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers flight). As more than 10 years have now passed since he was first published, and as Air New Zealand will be 75 years of age in April 2015, Paul decided last year that he would completely re-write the book, giving an account of every airframe operated by Tasman Empire Airways which in 1965 became Air New Zealand, NZNAC which was merged with Air NZ in April 1978, Mount Cook Airlines, Air Nelson and Eagle Airways, which were all purchased by Air NZ, and SafeAir which had been bought by NZNAC before the merger with Air NZ. If you wish to provide Paul with additional photos and information, or if you wish to be on a list to purchase a copy, contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org
The author would like to thank New Zealanders Paul Sheehan, Peter Lewis, Bruce Cooke, and Gavin Conroy for their assistance in compiling this tribute.