History recreated

Murray Bowes (left) and Greymouth Aeroclub president Dave McMillan flank pilot Tom Williams on...
Murray Bowes (left) and Greymouth Aeroclub president Dave McMillan flank pilot Tom Williams on Tuesday just before they recreated the first flight over the Southern Alps, which happened 100 years ago. The plane used was a Cessna 177 Cardinal. A Cherokee Arrow plane met the Greymouth flight before it arrived at West Melton — just like a century ago. PHOTO: GREYMOUTH STAR
Talk about exquisite timing.

On Tuesday this week, just after 2pm, a Cessna Cardinal plane took off from the Greymouth aerodrome and recreated the first flight over the Southern Alps 100 years to the day — and the hour.

The plane, piloted by Greymouth man Tom Williams and assisted by Murray Bowes, followed the route of the pioneering Blazing Arrow a century ago.

It took off from South Beach, went up the Taramakau River and past Mt Rolleston before descending over the Canterbury plains.

Landing at Sockburn (Wigram) is not possible these days so Tuesday’s flight touched down at West Melton, where the Canterbury Aeroclub put up a plane to meet the Greymouth flight.

On the ground, there was cake and speeches before the flight home — which took just 46 minutes as the sun dipped low.

In 1924, the flight took one hour and 45 minutes, and the men arrived half frozen.

Aviation historian the Rev Richard Waugh said Air NZ announced the historic day on its flights in and out of Hokitika on Tuesday.

Dr Waugh, who was at West Melton to greet the flight, said the plane used on Tuesday was 51 years old.

He paid tribute to the pioneering pilot of a century ago, Captain Maurice Buckley, and mechanic Bill Harrington, who flew Blazing Arrow (Avro 504K) over the mountains in winter with neither modern navigational aides or even a heater.

The original flight took off from the beach at South Beach.

"It took a bit of courage," Dr Waugh said.

"If there was an engine failure there was not much they could do.

"The anniversary really needed to be acknowledged, and to acknowledge the thousands and millions of flights since."

Mr Williams said the flight rose to 5000ft, "as they did that day", and ascended to 7500ft as it passed Mt Rolleston, the highest peak on the route.

Canterbury Aero Club patron Pat Scotter and president Jeff Brodie were at West Melton, where they accepted a gift of carbon extracted from West Coast coal on behalf of the Christchurch mayor from Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson.

This gesture repeated the mayors on the west writing to those on the east 100 years ago, in the first Greymouth-Christchurch airmail.

Also at West Melton was Annette Campbell (nee Williams), who used to be flown to and from school in Hokitika in a Dominie by Dr Waugh’s father, Brian.