Gerald W. Brown’s Diary of the Delivery of the Flying Boat “AOTEAROA”
from Southghampton, England to Auckland, New Zealand.
AUGUST 16TH TO AUGUST 1939
EVE OF THE FLIGHT AUGUST 15TH
All day long doing countless necessary jobs, Passports, Visas, collecting technical literature and special tools for “George” . As I cross out the items on the list I realise that after all we are actually going to make this flight.
So many times during the past few weeks word came that we were due to start and so any times we had found that postponement was necessary and I had not seriously thought much of what was ahead.
Now this damp drizzly evening I had arrived at the South Western Hotel,
Southampton, there was no sign of any of Aotearoa’s complement and I found out the
time for our very early call and decided to try to get some sleep.
THE ADVENTURE STARTS AUGUST 16TH
Woken by the night porter at 3 a.m. after what seems like 5 minutes sleep, tea and rolls.
After the flights ‘down the line’ in R.M.A. Australia, I am getting used to this early rising, and I still dislike it. Shaving at 3.15 a.m. is a poor way to start a day.
Down in the Hotel lounge I meet Bill Peek with his wife, who is to bid him farewell for some time. Bill is Flight Engineer with Mac Namara his fellow New Zealander.
Bradshaw the Instrument Engineer is here with his wife and relations, it seems that he
has not been to bed at all, perhaps a good idea.
The pilots arrive. Burgess, the Skipper, and First Officer Craig. The clerks and porters have been piling our luggage into the bus and we pile in after it. It looks to be a rotten morning, cold and still drizzling with rain in the darkness, and the docksides
of Southampton could hardly look more dreary.
At Berth 108 near the Queen Mary’s berth, a launch is waiting at the pontoon and off we go to Hythe through a slight sea mist which would not help the take-off. However, it seemed to be clearing as we came alongside “Aotearoa” at her moorings, she looks somewhat sinister in this gloomy light.
The Imperial Airways engineers finish their checking, report the ship O.K. and depart, our considerable pile of luggage is loaded aboard and then all depart in the launch wishing us “bon voyage.”
Considerable activity on the top deck and at the bow hatch indicates that the long awaited moment draws near, somebody below sings out “all doors and hatches closed”, the starting up patter commences, the lights in the cabin go out, and one by one the
props revolve, catch and then all four motors are running, we are free of the buoy and the warming up taxiing starts.
We strap in, the last “S” turn brings us into wind and with scarcely a pause, the four engines bellow up to take off boost, a matter of seconds and we are off the water and heading round we climb away still in darkness, towards France.
After about ten minutes I climb aloft to see that “George” the autorpilot engages alright, it does and as the control columns and rudder pedals start to move with a mind of their own, the pilots watch warily and then slide back their seats to start their other duties.
Up on the upper deck the noise is pretty considerable and the engines at night are an amazing sight, the pipes running into the exhaust collector rings are ruby red and the main exhaust stacks are blasting out solid sheets of blue white flame and I can’t help reflecting, morbidly, how close these flames are to our 1750 gallon tankage, and so below once more to doze.
Thus we settle down, two wakeful Pilots and Radio Operator Paddy Cussans aloft, Flight Steward Phillips, a Tasmanian checking around his pantry, Engineers Peek and Mac Namara in the rear smokers cabin and in the midships ‘spar’ cabin Bert Knee and Brad, who are to be Tasman Airways Chief Engine Inspector, and Instrument Engineer respectively and myself, we let down our chairs to reclining and follow the example of Mr. Kerr our Supernumerary First Officer and try to doze. Our friend the Supernumerary was for passage as far as Singapore and was destined to cause us great amusement
before he left us.
The weather was good and the mist cleared away with the arrival of dawn and breakfast. In bright morning sunlight we land at Marignane, the marine aiport of Marseilles. Time to
stretch our legs ashore while the tanks are topped up, and we watch “Carpentaria” depart, she is a Quantas boat and preceded us out of Hythe.
We take off soon after, our next stop to be Athens, over 1000 miles away. In beautiful Meditteranian weather we leave the French Riviera to port, strike across Corsica and I soon recognize Civitavecchia on the Italian coast and soon we pass over Rome and near Tivoli I can see Italy’s Experimental Air Force Establishment, Guidonia where I spent so much time working and flying with the Regia Aeronautica, no doubt a long time will pass
before I see these familiar places again.
Then we realise that all is not going well, the aircraft is climbing sluggishly and the engine revs are not steady, if “George” is flying then ‘he’ is not doing well, and Bert Knee
and I go up to the flight deck. There we find two worried pilots having all sorts of trouble with the new Exactor type engine controls, and the ship wallowing along at 5,000 ft. with mixtures all running too rich and the 7,000 ft. Appenines coming up ahead of us.
The autopilot had been cut out since it was no help like this, and Bert Knee squatted down between the two pilots and engine by engine got the mixtures back towards normal while easing the revs up and gradually to everyone’s relief the motors gave their usual healthy note and the pilots were able to ease the ship up to a steady rate of climb and in a short time the rocky crests of the Appenines were sliding a few hundred feet below us.
“George” was put back in control and I went below after a while to watch Italy, the Adriatic and the beautiful sunlit Gulf of Corinth move steadily past below us until at 4 p.m. the
harbour of Athens appears below us, and once more the “Aotearoa” touches down to a beautiful landing.
Again the locals are stirred up to get us away in a great hurry, we have covered some 1600 miles today already and after 15 minutes ashore to stretch our legs we are off again for another 5 or 600 miles to Egypt, alas the best laid plans go wrong and over the island of Milo about 100 miles on our way, we turn back, and going aloft to investigate we find everyone furious because Alexandria control has ordered us back, the R.A.F. are doing night flying, air raid practice over Alexandria, and they apparently do not want us arriving in the middle of it. Its a pity because we were reeling off the miles very nicely, and it is obvious that the remarks heard before we started, about not hurrying on this flight are not really panning out like that, we are evidently going to N.Z. as rapidly as possible.
At just before 6 p.m. we were debarking at Athens for the night and as we were preparing to go to the Hotel a roar overhead announces the arrival of “Carpentaria”, she had done the usual hops, Rome, Brindisi and she was still with us, but that was not our fault.
TO PALESTINE AND THE MIDDLE EAST 7 AUGUST 17TH
After a few hours sleep in the marvellously appointed but sweltering Hotel Grande Bretagne we were away again in the dark climbing out over the Meditteranean towards Alexandria this time the flight was uneventful in beautiful weather and then the launches
were marking our landing path and we were touching down amidst a host of Royal Navy ships of the Meditteranean fleet, we finished our landing run close to the bows of an aircraft carrier, I think the H.M.S. “Glorious”.
Rapid refuel and then off towards Palestine where we land on the Sea of Galilee at Tiberius, and here the skipper fills a special bottle with Galilee water to take to New Zealand for the christening of his new baby.
From Tiberius until we pass down into the Persian Gulf this next stretch is invariably hot and bumpy and the pipe line desert below never looks inviting especially when in a flying
boat, and on my previous trial flights on R.M.A. “Australia” I found that keeping busy was a good thing, and. sure enough before we get to Baghdad a particularly large bump causes “George” to cut out and nearly puts us on our ear.
Up to now the auto-pilot has given little trouble, but its evident that some adjustments are needed. We land on Lake Habbraniyeh at Baghdad and then in the late afternoon ahead of us is Basra and we touch down on the Shattrel~Arab river just off shore from the big international hotel.
Nearby is our damaged sister ship “Australia”, she hit a sandbank on her take off run, I manage to get taken over to her to check that her “George” installation is alright, which
it is. After several trial route runs in her I feel sad to see her like this, but she will be repaired and flown back to Hythe.
Sure enough a few hours later along comes friend “Carpentaria” we have had an easier day today a mere 1400 miles, the Alexandria delay last night messed up our schedule I’m afraid.
FROM MIDDLE EAST TO INDIA AUGUST 18TH
We have quite a late start (for us), its almost dawn as we take off, Carpentaria left an hour ago, we don’t mind the extra hour’s sleep, although I doubt it did us much good in these air
conditioned bedrooms, this well meaning and necessary feature at the ShattrelrArab hotel, always leaves me with the symptoms of a cold for a few hours.
Seven hours flying brings us to Jiwani, but during this time I have been busy, for we were not too pleased with the accuracy of George’s flying so the skipper and Bill Craig took over while I clambered down into the noisy draughty bow compartment to George’s
gyro equipment and after some time testing, adjusting and tuning returned aloft while we re-engaged the auto-pilot which to the surprise of all (including me) was quite faultless.
We watch the rugged, sunbaked coastline of Baluchistan pass by our port side and then the busy river of Karachi appears and we land carefully amongst the many craft.
While mooring,a native sailing barge came careering down the river just clear of us, it had the wind abeam and a small Indian boy was squatting at the extreme end of a long pole laid athwartships. The idea of course was an outrigger but the boy himself was the outrigger ‘float’ and from time to time only his head and shoulders were above water, we hoped he got recompensed for discomfort and danger. This is to be our night stop which
means a modest 1100 miles only today, and we find that one of our oil tanks is split which will probably delay us at Singapore.
Once again “Carpentaria” arrives in the evening, we had passed her somewhere en route, it irks us a trifle to be followed into every night stop by this standard short range Empire boat, however we should miss the crew’s smiling faces at evening dinner if she did drop back.
ACROSS INDIA :AUGUST 19TH
We have the doubtful honour of starting first this morning, and it is still early morning when there is a change in the steady rhythm of our progress as we dive low over Raj Samand, going aloft I find the pilots delighted to have woken someone else up, it is decided that I should stay on deck and do a spot of supernumerary First Officer. This does not involve anything more than keeping the logs of petrol, airspeed altitude etc., George does the flying
and Bill Craig attends to the navigation.
Its beginning to get bumpy, we are flying 500 to 1000 ft. and we are taking quite a bit of movement off the ground contours, the ground is very irregular across this part of India and right ahead of us there is a sheer cliff that drops away some hundred feet or more, Bill Craig and I take a firm grip on the seats and watch George warily, for at this altitude it does not do to trust even the best auto-pilot,as we expect the bottom drops out of the sky, but we sail on with George not batting an eyelid, this sort of thing is exciting and good fun up here, but uncomfortable if you’re below.
Soon after this I finish my stint and go below as the skipper comes aloft and I miss one of the high spots of the journey, it happened like this. Supernumerary First Officer Kerr was in the starboard pilot’s seat and he had occasion to bend down to pick up a message from the deck, now in these bulbous nosed flying boats, if the side front windows of the cockpit are slid partly open there is quite a suction near the opening, due to the bow
wave effect of the aircraft’s nose, well in this case the side window was open, there was a flick and a shout of dismay and Kerr’s smart gold braided uniform cap disappeared off his head. This misfortune to one of the crew caused great merriment for all the others. As I came aloft to hear all about this, the merriment changed to alarm as a large bird coming up at a relative velocity of about 200 m.p.h. hit the upper windscreen with a terrific bang
and ricoched off.
There was considerable conjecture as to the species of bird and the reason for its attack, one doubtful estimate was that it was “several feet between the eyes” and that it was bringing back the gold braided hat that had gone overboard only a few minutes before. Later we thanked our lucky stars for the heavy curved windscreen which had deflected the Vulture (which it doubtless was), for if it had come inboard there could have been serious
Soon our next stop Gwalior was approaching and we strapped in once more for a good landing on the rather swollen river (Monsoon time) it was raining steadily and we all stayed aboard while refuelling was done and we were glad to be off on our way to Calcutta.
The weather was deteriorating and visibility was fast becoming pretty poor, and for the next few hours, the ground, when we could see it was a desolate sight, floods everywhere, not much sign of life and odd roof tops showing above water. The outlook was
not at all promising and we were being forced lower than we liked but a really excellent job of navigation saved us from what might have been a very unpleasant time and with our E.T.A. approaching I could see both pilots peering ahead for a landmark, when sure
enough out of the murk showed a clearly defined river, and banking sharply we were off down river at about 100 ft. and in 5 minutes thankfully doing our circuit and landing at Calcutta on the Hooghly river.
Fourteen hundred miles today and it seemed from the front to the back door of India, for Calcutta does its best to dispel the romance of the East; it has millions of inhabitants and it
seems doubtful if half have homes. As we saw the city with floods everywhere the cattle seemed to have a more comfortable life than many people.
On our way down to dinner we spied a vision in highly coloured pyjamas, our Supernumerary Mr. Kerr, who was wandering about the corridor having locked himself out of his room. After dinner we find that “Carpentaria” has also arrived, they had a very dirty
trip which didn’t surprise us.
THROUGH BURMA, SIAM, TO SINGAPORE :AUGUST 20TH
This day broke all our records for early rising, when we assembled in the hotel vestibule at 2 a.m. everybody seemed a little on edge, Paddy Cussans our Radio Operator was missing and the Skipper threatened to leave without him, however at the last minute, down rushed Paddy still dressing and off we went.
At 2.30 a.m. we are headed out towards Rangoon over the Bay of Bengal in darkness and dirty weather, and before dawn broke we were a few hundred miles on our way, and in improving weather we land and refuel on the river at Rangoon. Quickly away again
o.ver the Gulf of Martaban, gaining height rapidly to climb over the mountainous boundaries of Siam, and then easing down to land on a beautiful river, cutting its way through thick jungle, and we were at Bangkok. We are able to go ashore here for passport checking. Back aboard we had for the first time some difficulty taking off, the river was running very fast and forced us to have a second shot at the take off run, the aircraft was difficult
to get into the right position for starting the take off.
Penang is to be our next stop some 600 miles south and after almost 5 hours run down the Gulf of Siam we wondered if it was to be the night stop. However the Skipper was in a hurry and we refuel smartly at Penang and off we go for Singapore, and this, when we get there will bring us to 2000 miles today. As we flew into the dusk I for one was not sorry for moving down the Malayan coast the forests and plantations below were shadowy but quite
beautiful, with here and there large bonfires glowing; what these were I don’t know but at dusk they made an impressive sight.
The sea was smooth and everything seemed very peaceful, this may sound strange with 4 900 h.p. engines roaring away, but the steady drone of these engines had by now become almost unnoticed by us. As we near Singapore things begin to wake up, lights are on everywhere and as we circled we peered into this maze of light for signs of our landing area, as we lost height we saw the tiny flare path looking ridiculously inadequate for our needs, our final circuit brings us across the centre of the city and watching from the side windows the mass of lights rush by, throttles come back, a ship’s mast seems to flash by below the wing, the smear of orange light as we enter the flare path and then the welcome swishing noise as we touch, increasing to the harsh drumming and thumping of the water as the keel dips in, and we’ve arrived at Singapore.
This day’s flying amounting to 15 hours is certainly the longest I have ever done, and we will not see “Carpentaria” tonight for, with her normal schedule she will no doubt be at Penang.
Tonight we have a farewell drink with Supernumerary First Officer Kerr for he will return to England on the next northbound flight. A pity because he is a most amiable character and has been the cause of quite a lot of fun during the flight.
REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE DAY T AUGUST 21ST
No flying today, we are stuck here until our defective oil tank has been repaired. This morning coming down to breakfast found Brad and Bert very disgruntled, they had been told that in future they must wear ties for breakfast. I happened to be wearing one so was not troubled, but they were fuming both of them having spent considerable time in the hotter climates and they seemed to think this an unusual rule for breakfast.
However more serious troubles are to come, for one of Aotearoa’s engines has to be swung out to get at the split oil tank and the intention had been to start on it early. Unfortunately Bi 11 Peek was a semi casualty having had a fall down the companionway
in flight yesterday and he and Mac Namara were a bit late getting out to the airbase. Aotearoa meanwhile had been hauled up the slipway, the Skipper was up and about early and unfortunately the local engineers not being familiar with our Perseus engines,
were awaiting Bill and Mac to supervise the engine work. Things were a bit tense for a while, but soon all cooled down and went about the job.
Small incidents tend to ‘blow up’ as a result of little sleep and a continual hurried schedule, because we must get down this route without interfering with the routine work on the regular service Empire Boats.
All went well with the job and we were able to have a quick look round Singapore which, considering it is so close to the Equator has a very pleasant climate. For colour and interest this busy city would be hard to beat, but our stay can only be the one day.
ACROSS THE “LINE” AND ON SOUTH -AUGUST 23RD
Once more Aotearoa is 100% fit, her oil tank now repaired. We get away to a fairly early take off and about an hour later we cross the Equator, no ceremony marks the event and the Southern Hemisphere looks just like the Northern. Our course, which by-passed Batavia is taking us between Sumatra and Borneo across the Java Sea over the part of the Far East much loved by Joseph Conrad, strange coincidence .. I met and talked to Conrad’s son some months ago, he is an aircraft design draughtsman at Short
Bros., Rochester :the makers of this Flying Boat.
A mere 6 hours flying and we are touching down at Sourabuya in the Dutch East Indies island of Java, this is our night stop, a pleasant spot and we use our free afternoon ashore to do some swimming. Very late getting to bed which didn’t matter because its most difficult to sleep in the heat.
DESTINATION DARWIN :AUGUST 24TH
I was the cause of minor consternation, for on the way to the Airbase Icould not find my port folio with all my technical papers, I had visions of being left behind but fortunately one
of the hotel staff to whom I am truly grateful had sent it in the other car.
Koepang was our destination 800 miles away, and everybody except Brad who was asleep saw the island of Bali an hour after departure. Bali had been the subject of discussion because it and its girl inhabitants are reputed to be most attractive, we
passed over Bali at 3000 ft., but later when Brad woke up we all vowed that we had been along the beach at zero altitude.
We refuelled at Koepang and in the afternoon headed out over the stretch of water beloved by the newspapers and named the “shark infested Timor Sea”, to us this should not present a problem, 24 tons of metal Flying Boat round us is a comforting thought. We make good time and in three hours we see the shores of Australia and circle and land in Darwin Harbour.
It was here that I thought I might have trouble with the medical people, for before leaving England I was vaccinated but had no time for innoculation against Typhoid, hearing this
the other blokes had decided with apparent relish that Darwin was as far as I would get, fortunately vaccination was all that interested the Darwin doctor, and we were taken in a couple of cars through what was to our eyes a ‘Shanty Town’ to our hotel, which was a large wooden building standing on a platform, in evidently, the Australian outback style. We were warned by all that the mosquitoes were very bad, and how true, as we found later.
After dinner, there being little else to do we retired to bed, however the heat was so stifling that none of us slept well.
DARWIN TO THE PACIFIC :AUGUST 25TH
It was still dark when we embarked once more and we are well on our way heading almost westwards when dawn appears, we are flying in good conditions over the Australian bush, hour after hour over a landscape of incredible ‘sameness’, 400 miles or so and then water comes into sight, the Gulf of Carpentaria and we land at Groote Eylandt.
During refuelling, pretty well a11 the population come out to have a look at us, perhaps it is our odd registration ZK-AMA or the strange name that causes interest. The entire
staff of the refuelling base and Radio Station seems to consist of eight or nine men, typically tough looking Australians tanned to a mahogany hue, we got out of the ship for a few minutes to have a chat with them. Refuelling completed the barge chugs away, hatches closed, engines started and off again, the next stop will be Townsville our night stop.
The Skipper is not well today he seems to have a touch of fever, but in the afternoon he appears a little better, but things don’t look too promising, for fever will hardly be improved
by flying. Five hours after leaving Groote we arrive over Townsville and it looks very pleasant from the air, the town is on the coast inside the Great Barrier Reef and this is my first view of the Pacific. We circle low over the town and land in the river estuary.
Ashore, we have the opportunity to see a little of the town before dark. I find a telegram from my Brisbane Aunt and Uncle welcoming me to Australia, how they know I’m aboard I’m not sure, I suppose my parents let them know. They say they hope to see us at Brisbane, this will be tomorrow, that is if we stop there, and its possible because the Skipper has a letter from Captain Don Bennett his Australian Flying Boat colleague
in Imperial Airways to Bennett’s Mother who lives in Brisbane.
We had news at Darwin that the Pan American Clipper was on her way from San Francisco destined also for Auckland and we do not know how many days out she is, and one thing is certain, fever or no fever, Skipper Burgess is going to do his utmost to
get us into Auckland ahead of the Boeing.
So only tomorrow will show whether we touch down on the Brisbane river or go straight through to Sydney.
SOUTH TO SYDNEY AND SOME FUN ON THE WAY :AUGUST 26TH
Today we have 1200 miles ahead of us to Sydney and we start fairly early, the Skipper unfortunately looks far from well and soon after take off he goes below to rest on the bunk. We all do our best to make him comfortable and he asks me if I will do First Officer to Bill Craig, naturally I am pleased to, and go aloft to tell Bill.
There is no great amount to do, George is engaged and an occasional correction keeps us on course while Bill checks the navigation, incidentally I am very happy that the auto:pilot
has given no trouble at all since the re~adjustments done near India. Naturally Brad and I do a daily checking routine on it but that doesn’t take long.
The weather is good and we continue our 150 m.p.h. progress down the coast until we reach a small coastal town named Mackay, Craig tells me that we can have a little fun here for the authorities of the town wired the Skipper last night telling him they were
celebrating the opening of some new harbour facility and could we show them the Aotearoa. So George is disengaged and for the next 5 minutes the even tempo of our flight is broken.
Bill pulls her into a steep turn round the town at 1000 ft. and we see the official ship decorated and moored in the harbour, Bill points and says that’ll do for a start, and puts the nose down, and down goes Aotearoa with quite a lot of engine on straight for the ship which has two tall masts and a lot of bunting strung between them.
With the A.S.I. climbing through 200 m.p.h. we swept very low right across the ship, I can’t recall just how close we were for we had a bit of alarm and confusion going on, we had all forgotten our trailing aerial and late in the dive Paddy Cussans started frantically to wind it in, but Bill Craig was already heaving her nose up and as we shot up I was craning my neck to see if the bunting was still there, it was but I will never know why, for we were plumb across the two masts and as we pulled up the aerial must have swung down. A tight turn and Bill lined her up and dived towards the main street of the town.
This time, with plenty of airspeed we shot up the street, and I may be guilty of a little exaggeration but from the 2nd pilot’s seat it seemed that Aotearoa’s wing just cleared the tops of the buildings on either side while our fairly deep hull “came up the street”, we were clocking 170 m.p.h. and I will never forget watching a cyclist, at first unaware, right ahead of us, turning his head, no doubt to find out what the noise was, then seeing a large Flying Boat apparently following him, was unable to take his eyes off us, swerved and fell to the ground bike and all (fortunately at low speed!) as Bill pulled us up and climbed away to 2,000 ft. We circled back onto course, put George back in control and continued on our way.
In sunny but bumpy conditions we travelled down the Queensland coast, until Brisbane came into sight, the Skipper came aloft and I departed below, we had a good view of the city and very pleasant it looked and so down to a typically perfect landing on the river. The banks were lined with people and as we moored and boarded the launch I tried to pick out my Aunt and Uncle, as we stepped ashore it was evident that it was a real official welcome, and the Skipper was able to deliver the letter to Mrs. Bennett and I greeted my very excited Aunt and Uncle and introduced the others.
Somehow its only now that I seem to realise that I’m in Australia and these are my relatives whom I last saw in England when I was 7 years old. The local press was taking interviews and photos, I was given a great bunch of flowers and a pineapple by my Aunt.
All too soon ‘Phil ‘ our Flight Steward is telling us we are due aboard and we go out in the launch and embark once again, the Aotearoa taxis to warm up, swings into wind and as we leave the water the crowd are waving us goodbye and we settle down to routine again, and to our last section in Australia, to Sydney.
Three hours of steady conditions down the Australian coast in bright afternoon sunlight and here ahead of us the large spread of Sydney, and as we circle we see what we have read about, the great Sydney Harbour bridge looking every bit as impressive as
Lower now, we strap in early for we are getting some pretty large bumps as we follow down the slope of the hill over a large cemetery (from the air cemeteries always stand out very clearly) and flattening out we touch down in the rather choppy waters of Rose Bay. As we taxy to the moorings in a very stiff wind we see once again that a big crowd lines the waterfront, Australia is certainly giving us a welcome, there is no whistle from the Skipper this time to indicate that drogues, our sea anchors are needed for the mooring, the wind is stiff enough to slow us up.
The Qantas launch takes us ashore and a semi official welcome takes place, everybody’s having their photograph taken, the agents of my firm Smiths Aircraft Instruments, meet me and Mr. Rees the manager has some (advertising) photos taken of the welcome and then kindly offers to show those of us who wish, the sights of
So we finally take our leave and depart to the hotel to tidy up. This evening we find that we shall stay tomorrow in Sydney, and we leave on our final hop across the Tasman to New
Zealand on Monday morning and, what’s more important, we should beat the Clipper into Auckland by the odd day.
REST DAY BEFORE THE ‘LAST LAP’ :AUGUST 27TH
Through the hospitality of our friend Rees, we are lavishly entertained today and we see quite a lot of the city and its beautiful harbour. In the afternoon we go down to Rose Bay to have a look over Aotearoa which is on the moorings being thoroughly checked over for her big day tomorrow, she is fully fuelled and low in the water, for tomorrow she starts the flight for which she was specially designed . . .. 1400 miles of unbroken ocean crossing
where the weather and the winds can be quite adverse.
Our Australian friends offer to come down and see us off tomorrow but we thank them and point out that we do not expect anyone to get up hours before dawn, unless, like us they have good reason and we bid them farewell.
“THE LAST LAP” : AUGUST 28TH
We are all assembled at Rose Bay long before dawn, the Skipper is asked to say a few words to the Australian and New Zealand public through a microphone labelled 2GB. By now we are all accustomed to seeing the other members of our party each of us
in our ‘pre-dawn state of mind’, but today everyone seems keyed up and keen ‘to be off on this, the final leg, the Skipper looks decidedly better, the short rest in Sydney has helped him shake off his fever.
We board the launch and then we are climbing through that familiar door under the trailing edge, with the dark water lapping much closer to the threshold.
As the starting up procedure goes on, we peer out at the surroundings and remark how steeply the surrounding hills seem to rise all round, we shall need a longer run today, then the warming up taxiing complete, flaps to take off position, lining up with the path and the four Perseus roar out and the lights of the harbour move by faster and faster and in 20 seconds the rumbling hull leaves the water and the long climb onto course
and we glimpse the lights of Sydney receding in the distance.
I climb aloft sit down between the pilots and in goes the auto-pilot and everybody settles down watchfully for the 1400 miles of Tasman Sea that is to be crossed before we see New Zealand. Radio Operator Paddy Cussans gets busy contacting stations and
ships, for on his bearings and information may depend success in getting our landfall or even the failure of missing it altogether and finishing up somewhere in the Pacific. Skipper Burgess goes aft from the controls to the chart table already prepared for today’s flight and starts plotting, for we’ll be getting no landmarks for at least 8 hours. George is doing the flying O.K. carefully supervised by Bill Craig, and as I don’t wish to be in the way I go below and leave them to it.
When dawn breaks we are droning steadily along at 6,000 feet over unbroken cloud, and find that although we haven’t the promised tailwind, we seem to be doing a respectable 130 m.p.h. ground (water) speed. Breakfast relieves the monotony and we get an occasional brief glimpse of the Tasman below as the clouds show a few breaks, but not surprisingly, never a ship do we see. Phillips, our untiring Flight Steward, serves us Sydney oysters at lunchtime, up here above the cloud layer it is sunny and the weather is doing its best for navigation by clearing and as it is about 2 p.m. I go aloft to have a look.
Soon a thin slightly darker line appears on the horizon, we peer at it and decide that it is indeed New Zealand and I hurry down the ladder to tell everybody below and in a flash everybody comes to life. Up aloft again, for there’s no forward view from the cabins and the skyline ahead has changed to a mass of cloud hanging over a now obvious coast, the navigators report that we are somewhat south of a direct course and Mt. Egmont which we can’t see will be a bit south of us.
We are being forced lower to retain visibility as we cross the coast for the cloud base is rather low, as we come in over the land someone says “its just like England”, and so it seems, for we are gradually losing height and beneath us is the first really green countryside since leaving England and France. Cows and sheep are everywhere and as we are down to below 1000 ft.We can see quite frequent stampedes as we roar over, we glimpse people waving at us, but with the low cloud base the Skipper pulls her up to 3000 ft. and we continue in the clouds until there is a break and then we come down lower and there ahead is Auckland. Down in the cabin a great burst of activity, for everything
has got into a most untidy state and we get busy removing the dust covers from the unused seating, and we start packing our clothes, most of which are hung around as if the ship were a second hand shop. Brad goes into the pantry to help Phillips with the dishes and to tidy up, and while all this is going on the ship has climbed to the north of the city, and the Skipper and Bill do a low level high speed ‘beat up’ across the airbase, and as
the ‘pull out’ comes some of the ‘tidying up gang’ fall to the floor.
Outside we can see its raining fairly steadily, and then we are completing our circuit, into wind, letting down with the high pitched scream of the electric motors shoving the flaps out
and down, throttles coming back, we strap in, all of us a bit excited for somehow this being the last landing it seems more important, levelling off, the noise dies, a hush and we can imagine the Skipper easing her down so carefully, and we are all as anxious as he will be that this will be a perfect one, almost on, and then the slight continuous swish as the keel feathers onto the water and behold another of the Skipper’s faultless landings, this time for the benefit of so many of his fellow New Zealanders watching out there.
Engines partly opened and we taxi round a breakwater at a fair clip, up to the buoy, and Paddy, bless him, leaning out of the bow hatch gets it first grab, engines shut off, airscrews trimmed (top blade must be vertical) and we have arrived. As we passed over the city we could see hundred of cars and now we can see thousands of waving people lining the waterfront. In a few more minutes we are ‘tailed’ into the Braby pontoon, and there seems to be quite a lot of noise as we step ashore, then come the photographs, the handshakes etc. and we suddenly realise that we are in before the Clipper.
Looking back, there is Aotearoa as peaceful and quiet as if she had never seen Europe, Egypt, India and all those far away places, somehow as she lies in her pontoon she seems to belong here …..and after all, she does.
Gerald W. Brown
THE DELIVERY CREW
“Aotearoa” ZM-AMA, flagship of the newly formed ~Tasman Empire Airways fleet of three
Short S30 long range flying boats, the others “Australia” ZK-AMB and “Awarua”
ZK-AMC. All equipped with four of the latest Bristol Perseus -C 900 h.p. sleeve
‘The Skipper’ :Captain John Burgess, Tasman Empire Airways Chief Pilot : New Zealander
with considerable experience with Imperial Airways on the Empire route.
1st Officer ; Bill Craig, -New Zealander also with many hours on Imperial Airways
Radio Officer : Paddy Cussans, seconded from Imperial Airways for this delivery
Flight Engineer T Bill Peek T New Zealander previously with Imperial Airways on engines
Flight Engineer -Mac Namara :New Zealander also previously with ‘ Imperials’ on engines
Flight Steward Ray Phillips Tasmanian previously with ‘Imperials’, to be first
Catering Superintendent of Tasmans.
Bert Knee an aircraft engine man of long experience (since the World War), an expert
on Bristol engines, to become Tasrnans’ Chief Engine Inspector.
Sid Bradshaw :ex Imperial Airways Instrument Engineer, experienced ‘on station’ in Middle
East and South Africa, to be Tasmans’ Chief Instrument Engineer.
Gerald Brown auto-pilot specialist on loan from Smiths Aircraft Instruments for the
familiarisation of Tasmans aircrew and engineers with the new British Smith MK 1A
“George” (all other Imperial Airways and Quantas flying boats being equipped with
American ‘Sperry gyropilots. )
The Boeing Clipper arrived in Auckland two days after “Aotearoa”.
“Awarua” ZK-AMC arrived Auckland April 3rd 1940 flown by Captain Oscar Garden and 1st Officer Chris. Griffiths from England bringing further Tasman Airways staff.
The Inaugural Trans Tasman service started April 1940, and was operated through
the war by these two Flying Boats.
“Australia” ZK-AMB never arrived, for while on wartime duties, as “Clare” of Imperial
Airways, she was destroyed at Lisbon.