Dreaming of vintage flight in the magical age of aviation

In this era of carbon-fibre jets and everyday commuter air travel I often lament the passing of the Golden Age of aviation – those heroic days of the 1920s and 1930s when passengers boarded canvas-and-wood biplanes and then picnicked, aloft, on potted ham and champagne stored aboard in wicker hampers. It was an age when barnstorming airmen ruled the skies and ‘air races’ were all the rage, and when Amelia Erhart and Kingsford Smith were household names.

"I say, Carstairs, jolly nice day for a bit of an aerial jaunt, eh, what!' De Havilland Fox Moth at Napier airport, 2015.
De Havilland Fox Moth at Napier airport, 2015.

Luckily my home country, New Zealand, has one of the most interesting collections of operational vintage aircraft in the Southern Hemisphere. Including, thanks to Sir Peter Jackson, several Fokker Dr.1’s, neatly finished to 3/4 scale. And there’s an aerobatic team, the ‘Roaring Forties’, equipped with North American T-6 Texans (Harvards).

Former RNZAF Harvard at Napier airport, part of the 'Roaring Forties;' aerobatic team, February 2015.
Former RNZAF Harvard at Napier airport, part of the ‘Roaring Forties;’ aerobatic team, February 2015.

I photographed this one at Napier airport. The type was the Allied advanced trainer of the Second World War, and remained in that role with the Royal New Zealand Air Force until the 1970s. Today the ‘Roaring Forties’ put on tremendous displays – taking off together in formation, then swooping and circling with absolute precision.

And if you want to learn more about the RNZAF and their Harvards, among other aircraft – well, the story’s in my book Kiwi Air Power, available from Amazon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


13 thoughts on “Dreaming of vintage flight in the magical age of aviation

  1. A bit unrelated, I always get a little uncomfortable when people mention Fokker aircraft, as their name is a very rude word in Afrikaans (the direct translation of the noun form of an English four-letter verb). Strange that, how a totally innocuous word in one language (or in this case what I’d consider a very unfortunate Dutchman’s surname) can be a word that can land you in serious trouble in another language. Likewise the Zulu word for “yes” (yebo) is, I’m given to understand, a very strong invective in Serbian. One Serbian exchange student was very shocked some years ago when we were sitting in a workshop and the presenter just flung that one out at us.

    Back on topic, late last year I was sitting at my desk one morning when I heard a droning sound. Next moment a pair of Harvards came roaring overhead, so low I would probably have been able to hit them had I any ability at throwing stones. Sadly my camera was out of reach at that moment. For many years Harvards were used as basic flight training aircraft for the South African Air Force before cadets graduated to jet planes. I don’t know if they are still in service, though.

    1. ‘That’ word is not too different in any western European language! On that note of unfortunate linguistic confluences I have this vision of a disastrous alien contact SF story in which every English word is a deadly insult or swear term in the alien language, and vice versa…

      I think your air force used Harvards just as the NZ one did. Wonderful to see some of them still flying.

  2. Ah! Aviation. New you’re talking my language. Loved the Fox Moth. I’ve always been a fan of the Tiger Moth. What beautiful airplane. The golden age of aviation is an interesting time. There weren’t any wars of significance unless you consider the Spanish Civil War part of the time. One of my favorite planes from then is the Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk. The idea was these huge blimps would function as aircraft carriers and the F9C would hook upon them in mid-air. Amazing idea. It would’ve been awesome they really pushed the idea through.

    1. Dirigible launched fighters? Awesome idea and a pure dieselpunk concept. I don’t know too much about it. I gather the idea was revived later for the B36 – the F85 Goblin followed. Good notion but hard to make work in practise.

      1. It was more than a concept, they were actually doing this. It really does seem like something out of steampunk, except it really happened. The idea never progressed. The USS Macon blimp only carried four of the fighters while Essex-class carriers actually carried 90 fighters. Still, the idea is really interesting. HG Wells penned a book, “The War in the Air” which was about combat with blimps. It could be an interesting alternative history story if written now.

        1. Yes it would! They had aspects of that in WW1 with the Zeppelin raids over London. Very difficult to stop as they cruised above the usual ceiling of the fighters. AA had only limited result. Some were shot down nonetheless. My grandmother, a Londoner, watched one of them falling in flames in 1917.

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