Wellington Aero Club
The club currently operates a fleet of light aircraft from Wellington International Airport including the Piper PA-38 Tomahawk, Cessna 172, Piper Cherokee, and Nanchang CJ6A. It employs two full-time flight instructors and a number of casual instructors, and operates 7 days a week from 8am to 5pm.
Current Aircraft Fleet
- 5 x Piper PA-38 Tomahawk two-seat trainer aircraft. ZK-ESG ZK-JFE ZK-WAC ZK-FML ZK-TAW
- 1 x Cessna 172 four-seat trainer/touring aircraft. ZK-FLT
- 1 x Piper Cherokee Archer PA28 four-seat trainer/touring aircraft. ZK-MBG
- 1 x Nanchang CJ-6. ZK-MAO
The site for Rongotai aerodrome was first identified in 1922, beginning as undulating sandhills and rugged terrain. This has been developed into the international airport we[who?] all know today, which the club is privileged to operate from. Aircraft began operations on a small area of flat ground behind the sandhills in Lyall Bay as early as 1911. In 1921, Rudolph Wrigley of the New Zealand Aero Transport Company (later Mount Cook Airlines) fashioned a runway and then built a hangar.
George Bolt, a member of the Walsh Brothers Flying School, landed there following the first flight between Auckland and Wellington in his Avro biplane on 28 October 1928. Charles Kingsford Smith, after flying overhead Wellington on his way to Wigram Aerodrome in Christchurch following his first Tasman crossing, agreed with the idea of an aerodrome being constructed on this piece of land.
On 18 September 1928, a council meeting was held in Wellington, where it was unanimously decided on the motion of the Mayor that an aero club be formed in Wellington and that "lists be open for the enrolment of members". A committee of seven collectively called "The Investigation Committee" were appointed and set about investigating the formation of an aero club and determining the suitability of land at Lyall Bay as a potential airfield. With authorisation from the Council to construct a runway, plans were developed by the city engineer with input from Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, and on 5 November 1928 the members of the investigating committee and eighty-four prospective members declared the official formation of the Wellington Aero Club. Following the opening pageant, interest in aviation increased within the community and as a result membership also increased.
Club operations began on 27 acres of land which had to be levelled; this increased to 46 acres forming two runways: one, 1,200 feet running north and another 2,000-foot runway running north-west. An official opening ceremony for the airfield, presided over by Mayor George Troup, was held on 16 November 1929; however development was not completed until February 1930. The club was gifted several planes early in its history and acquired a temporary hangar in early 1930.
It was in 1930 that the Blundell Brothers, proprietors of the Evening Post, gave the club a 100 hp Simmonds-Hermes Spartan biplane, nicknamed ‘The Evening Post Plane’ and training began in this on 20 February 1930. Not long after, the club also acquired its second aircraft, a D.Mills Coupe Moth, with the help of a grant from the government and following this in June, a third Moth, also from D. Mills, was added to the fleet.
Two of the first instructors at the Wellington Aero Club were Squadron Leader Steadman and Captain George Bolt; each went on to train a large and significant number[clarification needed] of students. George Bolt also acted in the role of ground engineer.
Bolt was regarded as one of the best-known pilots and engineers in NZ. He was licensed to fly all types of aircraft, had experience with a large number of engines and aircraft construction and was a true asset to the club.
Squadron Leader Stedman was an ex-war pilot of outstanding ability. He was described as a "careful and resourceful pilot of infinite patience" who successfully trained pupils whom many others would have pronounced hopeless.
Clubhouse and hangar
During the 1930s, the airfield was a popular venue for club flying. However it wasn’t until 1933 that the club pushed for a club house. Up until then the club’s office was based in the hangar. A pageant was held for the opening of the clubhouse which was officially opened by Mayor T.C.A Hislop on 10 February 1934. George Bolt put on a display which included skimming the ground at high speed, landing on one wheel and flying sideways at less than 20 feet off the ground. The clubhouse functioned as a workshop and hangar space on the ground while upstairs was the social area with a kitchen and most importantly a view of the aerodrome. The clubhouse building was originally sited closer to Lyall Bay, however has been moved twice due to increased operations at the airport to its present site at Coutts Street. The Wellington Aero Club building was added to over the years and in 1958 these three separate buildings were joined together with the front building a reception and foyer area, the middle was a workshop, upstairs was a social room and the back building, which was previously the house of Claude Rootes who was the ‘Aerodrome Custodian’. The front section was previously the Union Airways, subsequently NAC, terminal building (next to the original control tower).
Due to its proximity to the city, Rongotai offered air travelers one of the most convenient services in the world. Air traffic built up rapidly and by 1946 Rongotai was by far the busiest aerodrome in NZ. But with the introduction of larger aeroplanes, the old Rongotai Airport became far too small, and in 1947 commercial passenger services were moved to Paraparaumu, with mainly light aviation continuing at Rongotai together with NAC operations to Nelson and Blenheim using De Havilland four- engine Heron aircraft.
In 1946 it was decided that Rongotai would be transformed into a major airport. However, it took four years of research and planning, and finally in 1950 the Ministry of Works came up with a plan for a runway to be constructed in the direction it now lies today. In 1952, a contract was let for the reclamation at Evans Bay and the removal of houses from Rongotai Terrace. The completion of the new runway saw 6 million tons of rock and soil shifted, the reclamation of 40 acres from the sea, and the resiting of 150 houses, which included the aero club house. In 1959 the redeveloped airport was opened.
Today the Wellington Aero Club operates from what used to be the Gibson/Airwork hangar on the western apron, while the new club rooms and hangar are now located on George Bolt Street, named after one of the first instructors at WAC.