Kapiti Skies AgainBy Alan Tristram March 15, 2010
Fifty years after the last NAC DC-3’s flew out of Paraparaumu Airport, one of the legendary airliners flew back into Kapiti Coast skies today.
She’s a 66-year-old grandmother called Amy – ZK-Amy – and she is one of only two DC’3’s still flying in New Zealand.
The twin-engined DC-3, also known as Dakota, was here to raise funds for the Southern DC-3 Trust.
Unique low-flying views of Kapiti Island
She made several flights with 29 paying passengers aboard, flying up to Otaki, around Kapiti Island, then south to Paekakariki and back to base, flying low at 1500 feet or less to give passengers some unique views of the Coast.
It was old-time, seat-of-the pants, non-pressurized flying – the aviation equivalent of slow cooking.
And the passengers’ verdict? Well, for Denise Jordan, of Raumati, and Sandra and Trevor Smith, of Lower Hutt, is was, to quote Sandra, “absolutely wonderful – and we got so close to Kapiti Island!”
All three seniors have fond memories of the DC-3 in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Two into Three by DC3
One of the most amazing personal stories revealed during the day came from a Sandra & Kevin Bly who flew from Paraparaumu to Nelson on a DC3 back in 1966, May 13th to attend a friend’s wedding.
Sandra & Kevin were themselves just good friend’s at the time and through the time spent attending their friend’s wedding inspired a romantic atmosphere, so much so that when they boarded the DC3 to return home a few days later, they realized that the airline had only charged them for two tickets instead of three.
They reflected back on this time with some laughter and Kevin also kept the ticket for that flight saying, “it only cost us £3.3shillings.
From Hokitika to Wellington by DC-3
Denise recalls flying in one from Hokitika to Wellington at the age of 11.
Sandra remembers a special school trip from Lower Hutt to Paraparaumu Airport so the children could go aboard and look through a DC-3.
One of the plane’s pilots, Rodney Hall, gives it top marks for safety. He says the huge wings, the two 1200-horsepower radial engines and the fully-feathering propellers, mean the plane is quite safe to fly with one engine out.
And he says ZK-Amy, with only 18,000 hours on the clock, is young in airliner terms, because planes age as hours are flown and not as years pass.
The Southern DC-3 Trust bought the plane three years ago to ensure it stays in New Zealand – and has gifted it to the Ashburton Aviation Museum.
44-day tour of heartland New Zealand
Paraparaumu Airport was the 35th and last stopover on the plane’s 44-day tour of New Zealand; carrying some 4000 paying passengers.
When the DC-3 flew into some of the smaller centres the welcome was overwhelming.
In Ranfurly, says Trust chair Dave Horsburgh, the town closed down for the visit and 200 people – 10 per cent of the population – went up for a flight.
Story began in WWII in California
But ZK-Amy’s logbook begins long before all this – in 1944, when it was built in the Douglas Aircraft Company’s factory at Longbeach, near Los Angeles, in California.
Later that year, the plane saw war service in the Battle of the Philippines, dropping Australian paratroopers to fight the Japanese occupying forces.
After the war, the DC-3 entered civilian life in Australia, gradually moving south in a variety of flying roles between 1947 and 1994.
Then it moved to New Zealand, where after the Trust bought it, two new Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp engines were fitted at a total cost of $250,000.
The visit to Paraparaumu and other airports will help pay for some of this. But the historic aircraft has also been used to raise money for other charities like the Canteen Child Cancer organisation.
It’s certainly a unique plane. So here are some other facts about the DC-3 and the Southern DC-3 Trust:
Key facts about the Veteran of the Skies
• Each 1200 hp engine has 14 large cylinders – the equivalent of 14 Toyota Corolla engines on one motor!
• DC-3’s were used extensively on NAC routes and for topdressing in New Zealand ( they could take 6-ton payloads of fertilizer)
• For a long time, it was the only airliner suitable for grass airstrips in the smaller centres
• NAC used to have 30 DC-3’s and Paraparaumu was the hub for the Wellington Region before the new Wellington Airport was opened.
• The DC-3 was the first plane to land at the South Pole
• The Trust’s patron is All Black captain Richie McCaw
And the final verdict on the historic visit to Kapiti?
“What a great finish to our NZ tour,” says Dave Horsburgh, chair of the Southern DC-3 Trust.
“We made five flights with a full load of 29 passengers on board – and we also took up several Canteen children (child cancer sufferers). For some of them it was their first flight.
“We want to thank Kapiti people for their amazing support.”