The hottest spot in the Waikato winter is right here at our house. We are fizzing with energy, having taken delivery of “Iggy’s Air Force Tales”.
“Iggy’s Air Force Tales” started life as “Some of these stories are based on fact” – a great title, which says it all really, but which wasn’t Google friendly.
With both of us working from home, we have morning tea together. Each day Iggy told me another story, which I transcribed, typed up and edited. Having served for three decades in the RNZAF, Iggy could tell stories which spanned the Vampire, Harvard, Devon, Strikemaster, Skyhawk and Macchi. Even though (or because?) I grew up in a family where the men were (and are) fanatical about flying, I thought that collecting stories about aeroplanes would be terminally dull. However, Iggy is an engaging raconteur, and his phenomenal memory (and extraordinary ability to embellish the ordinary) meant the stories were more about the thrills and challenges of the people who flew than the bits of metal they flew in. We flew close to a range of emotions along the way.
Iggy started off with the stories he loved best – those that made us laugh. Boys really will be boys, to the extent that one of our proof readers commented “Boys are weird”. You’ll know what I mean if you read the story of Iggy doing a low pass over a frigate, of which his friend was captain.
We then tackled some of the more serious aviation topics – and I ruthlessly removed any stories that you needed post graduate qualifications in aerodynamics to be understood. We left in some of Iggy’s aeronautical explanations though. He was a qualified and respected instructor, after all – and this book is chiefly for pilots or people who ever dreamed of flying.
Finally, we tackled the tough stuff. We huffed and puffed our way through a story of betrayal. We cried our way through the story of the fatal accident of a close friend.
When we had a couple of hundred stories, we spread them out all over the floor and put them in some kind of sequence. I then put them into a book format. But something was missing.
Iggy spent a couple of days at the RNZAF Museum in Christchurch where Matthew O’Sullivan, Keeper of Photographs, did an amazing job of finding images to match and illustrate particular stories. These were the days of wet film, and quite major events (such as a survival camp avalanche which took four lives) were simply not recorded photographically, it seems. John Bates’ memorabilia and personal collection of photographs provided the finishing touches. “Iggy’s Air Force Tales” had come to life.
What we were not prepared for was the wild ride generated by even a small amount of publicity. Today’s massive thrill was taking an order for 15 copies – and we haven’t even officially launched yet! In addition, catching up with so many awesome people from our past has been a magical trip in a time machine.
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Everyone (of a certain age) to whom I have spoken today can tell you their memories of hearing about the loss of the DC3 and 23 lives in New Zealand’s biggest domestic aviation crash, when DC3 ZK-AYZ on Flight 441 from Auckland to Tauranga, was caught in a downdraft and crashed into the Kaimai Ranges, 50 years ago today. It was a poignant time in our home, as Dad was a senior NAC pilot who worked closely with Captain Len Enchmarch and his Co-pilot Pete Kissel. Len and I shared a birthday.
Air New Zealand, the airline which took over NAC (the domestic airline of the time), hosted a service at the site of a memorial stone on the Old Te Aroha Road. Rev Dr Richard Waugh QSM, who is also the author of numerous books on aircraft and aviation, led the service. The Roll of Honour was read by Wing Commander Gordon Ragg AFC JP, who was senior to Iggy in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The service ended with a flypast by the DC3 operated by Fly DC3 – owned by a syndicate and flown and staffed by enthusiasts who describe themselves as “unpaid workers” rather than as volunteers.
Iggy and I reached Waharoa Airfield at a time when I would more usually be trying to awaken from hibernation. The Piako Gliding Club was hosting television crews, the crew of the Fly DC3 aircraft, and passengers who were taken up on 20 minute flights in the DC3 to fly over the crash site. The sausage rolls, scones and hot tea and coffee seemed to be pretty popular among the passengers as they waited in the Gliding Club Rooms, temporarily redesignated as the Fly DC3 departure lounge.
The reputation of the tea must have spread fast, as my brother Rob flew down from Ardmore in his Yak to have his breakfast brew.
Passengers had many and varied reasons for wanting to take a flight on the DC3. For some, it was a trip in memory of people close to them who died shortly after 9am on 3 July 1963. Others wanted to take a flight in an aircraft in which they had never flown before. Last time I went in a DC3 I lost my rather expensive lunch, so I gave it a miss today. While not being crazy about flying, I do have special memories of my first flight, which was in a DC 3,when I was five. I went with Dad from Auckland to Hamilton. Mum dressed me up for the flight, with my hair in two shiny blonde plaits. I wore my best blue coat with a black velvet collar. Surely, everyone who has ever flown can recall the magic of watching life-sized buildings turn into a perfect model village, with little Matchbox cars running along miniature roads. Those who stepped off the Fly DC3 flights today looked as though they, too, had captured some of that old-time flying magic.
It had to happen. I am a feet firmly on the ground woman, but with my late father having flown 19,500 hours, two of my brothers heavily involved in recreational flying and my husband Iggy completely obsessed with aviation, there has to be the occasional post with a flying flavour.
It’s breath-taking how quickly Iggy can swing around all manner of topics into “that reminds me of a story” to do with flying. An invitation to the Piako Gliding Club’s Awards Night conjured up visions of a room packed full of Iggies, arms waving to demonstrate the phenomenal lift that came from a particularly good swathe of lenticular alto cumulus over the Kaimai Ranges or the death-defying speed with which they brought their gliders in to land at Matamata Airfield. Still, Kiwicommunicator must do what she must, so it was on with the lippie on a particularly inclement night, into the trusty Corolla, and over the swamps and plains to the Matamata Soaring Centre.
We had an excellent night out. Jan and Bill Mace can be credited with encouraging the club’s culture of hospitality and welcome. Newbies were pulled into conversations with old hands and – unusually for this part of the world – partners were included in genuine dialogue with the blokes. I especially enjoyed the company of Geoff, who ended up sitting alongside me. We shared an interest in cooking, art and jewellery. Geoff and I exchanged info on where you can buy tiny containers of coconut milk so that you don’t have to throw out the remaining half can (tins of Trident stocked by New World and tetra packs of Dole stocked by Countdown). A manufacturing jeweller based in Cambridge, Geoff cast the beautiful bronze award that was sitting at our table. It does not represent any bird in particular, but flight in general. I could almost be persuaded to take up gliding to have that trophy gracing my living room for a year.
Jan and Bill spent the afternoon putting together the dinner for nearly 50 guests – roast meat and lots of vegetables (I think the kumara and beans were most likely home-grown by the Maces). It’s such a treat, as roast dinners don’t feature on the menu for just the two of us. It wasn’t just the predictable dishes, either. I went back for seconds of Jan’s tomato and aubergines with a crumble topping. A big thumbs up to the gliding club members who rolled up their sleeves to help carve the meat and clear away after the dinner. It was like a big, happy family occasion – a wide range of age-groups and the warmest buzz of conversation.
Congratulations to the award winners – and to the crew who helped them get there: the instructors, those who prepare the briefings, the tow pilots, and those who crunch the numbers and show such good stewardship of club funds.
Tim Bromhead was successful in Australia – the first New Zealander to defend his place as winner of the prestigious Trans-Tasman Trophy.