Contributed by Bill Beard and the book, 'Taking Off,' by Richard Waugh.
Some history - Mercury Bay AeroClub Inaugural Flight Whitianga - Auckland return
Mercury Bay Aero Club was formed in 1948, a year after the first aircraft visited from the Auckland Aero Club, landed on Buffalo beach and spent the night parked in a nearby paddock. In three weeks , the Aero Club in Whitianga will celebrate a 75 year birthday.
On Saturday, 22 October 1955, John Stokes piloted the inaugural flight from Whitianga to Mangere airfields and return. His passengers were Fred Kelsey, the Manager of the Mercury Bay Co-operative Dairy Company and local identity, Joan Gaskell.
This flight was recorded as the inaugural (commercial) flight by Midland Air Services out of Whitianga. Mercury Bay’s isolation was dramatically reduced with the beginning of this air service.
The flight was in a Cessna 180ZK-BJU from the original Whitianga Airfield on Mr N.A. ‘Boy’ Wells farm near the north end of Buffalo Beach.
Th return flight took one hour and thirty-five minutes, including morning tea at the Auckland Aero Club.
Then on Sunday, 23 October, the official opening of the airfield took place with an Air Pageant. On Sunday, 22 October 2023, there is going to be a wonderful AIR SHOW above Buffalo Beach.
Joan Gaskell and a special flight
On 29 November 2003, Joan Gaskell was requested to open the road bearing her name. With this in mind and wanting to give Joan a ’bit’ of a pre-opening media exposure to prevent her hearing, “who is this old lady?” MBAC pilot Des Gyde offered Joan a flight to Auckland Aero Club on 22 October 2003 to re-enact the first inaugural flight. Joan accepted, and with Des Russell’s son, Walter Russell and another founding member, Alan Watson, Des Gyde flew them in his Cessna -180 ZK-DFG to Ardmore. A phone call on the return flight on the aircraft’s headset was from a radio station wanting to interview Joan live on the Whitianga Radio Station (pre-organised by Des).
On arrival, all of Whitianga was there to welcome Joan and honour her. She was 81 and had made so much possible. On that day, she walked the whole length of her road unaided.
This coming October long weekend with its 75th Jubilee celebration of the Aero Club will create many more memories and some of that adventurous teams are still with us and busy at the Aero Club - to mention Walter Russell and Des Gyde.
Keep Sunday 22 October free to be in Whitianga on Buffalo Beach for the 75TH birthday Whitianga AIRSHOW with Aero Club Open Day to follow.
Caption: Aero Day over the Bay - Sunday 22nd October - Labor Weekend 2023.