Sunday, March 17, 2013

Flying Boats at Fergusson

history on our doorstep! Did you know that Fergusson container terminal and the present Ports of Auckland administration building wereconstructed on the site of New Zealand‟s first commercialinternational airport? Before containers there were flying boats in our port Way back in December 1937, a big four engined Empire class flying boat the “Centaurus” alighted on the Waitemata harbour after her pioneering, survey flight to New Zealand from England. An estimated 50,000 people, which was just about the whole population of the city,crammed the waterfront vantage points and hills around the city to see the spectacle of her arrival. The potential for internationalpassenger travel and for mail and freight to be carried to all corners of the globe in only a matter of days was being realised. For 20-odd years after that first proving flight, Mechanics Bay and more specifically, the breastwork in front of our present building became an international airport complete with Pan American Airways and TEAL passenger terminals and numerous workshop and maintenance facilities. Getting back to the trans-Tasman air link with the world, TEAL flights to and from Sydney were becoming so popular that by 1944 , they were operating three return flights a week.By war‟s end,TEAL was owned solely by the New Zealand and Australian governments. More aircraft were acquired but thesefour “Sandringham” or “Tasman” class planes as they were known, were converted military Sunderlands and although they shortened the Sydney to Auckland route toabout seven hours,and flights became daily, they were subject to engine cooling problems and were underpowered,so in 1949, TEAL bought four Solent Mark IVs from the Short Bros. factory in Belfast. It was a great choice, even though the government was the main driving force in opting for flying boats rather than the TEAL management- preferred option of land-based planes like the Douglas DC-4. The Solents, with their four Bristol Hercules engines each putting out 2040hp, not only offered a luxurious form of travel but were also the most powerful and reliable of their type–and they were the final and best development of the Short flying boats. Withtheir introduction, the trans-Tasman flight time was further slashed to a mere five and a half hours and passenger numbers continued to grow. My Mother and Father returned from China in 1948 in one of these planes.

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