High-flying life recalled in memoir

Dunedin author Tom Enright holds a copy of his memoir Many A Close Run Thing, about his life as...
Dunedin author Tom Enright holds a copy of his memoir Many A Close Run Thing, about his life as an aviator, being launched this week. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

Tales of high-flying aerobatics, near misses, and exciting landings at some of the world's busiest airports, are revealed in a new memoir by Kiwi aviator Tom Enright.

Now living in retirement in Mosgiel, after 45 years of flying, Enright's memoir Many A Close Run Thing will be released this weekend.

Growing up in Ranfurly in the 1940s, where passing planes were cause for great excitement, Enright developed a fascination with the skies that led him to a 20-year Air Force career, followed by 25 years as an airline pilot.

Enright joined the RNZAF as an engineer in 1951, and travelled to England as a 16-year-old to attend the Royal Air Force college in Cranwell.

"It was there that I qualified as a pilot, and had marvellous experiences flying piston prop planes and Vampire jets,'' he said.

"Every flight was a thrill in itself.''

After a happy, adventure-filled time at Cranwell, Enright was delighted that his passing-out parade was reviewed by then Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Mountbatten and Lady Mountbatten.

Returning home to New Zealand, Enright joined the Vampire fighter squadron at Ohakea, and became a member of the RNZAF aerobatic team.

Acrobatic flying, both solo and in squads, led to some extraordinary experiences, including one very "close run thing'' - an engine failure resulting in a crash landing in rural fields, taking out several fences along the way.

"I was thankful to have walked away from that lot,'' he said.

Another strong memory from Enright's aerobatics career was the chaotic Wellington airport opening in 1959.

A large contingent of aircraft from around the world, including a massive Vulcan bomber, battled high winds, low cloud and poor visibility to create displays that were at the edge of disaster.

Finding themselves far too low, the aerobatics team, including Enright, pulled high Gs to avoid crashing into the ground, ending the display "badly shaken''.

After all this excitement, becoming a flying commander at Wigram air base, before captaining a Sunderland flying boat to isolated communities in the South Pacific, was an interesting change.

Leaving his illustrious 20-year military career, Enright became a pilot with Air New Zealand, flying Electra, DC8, DC10, and finally 747 passenger aircraft.

"Flying the DC10 was a great experience- they were beautifully well-balanced planes to fly.

"After that, the 747 was like flying a giant truck.''

At the age of 55, Enright left Air New Zealand and went to Singapore Airlines, continuing to fly all over the world.

"Flying big planes into places like the old Hong Kong airport, where you were flying through great skyscrapers, was an amazing experience.

"I was very pleased to be able to meet such a huge variety of people and to fly to so many incredible places.''

Along with his many adventures, Enright has also lived a full life as a husband to the late June, father to five sons, and grandfather of nine.

"Being away so much as a pilot, it was good to have properties at home in Auckland to care for, and the family to enjoy.

"June had a lot to take care of with five boys to deal with - she was a very good manager.''

• Many A Close Run Thing, by Tom Enright, is published by HarperCollins was released on Saturday.

BRENDA.HARWOOD @thestar.co.nz

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