Bay Of Plenty
The Classic Flyers Museum in Tauranga
September 15, 2015 was the 75th anniversary of the most decisive day in the Battle of Britain. I was loitering that morning in Mount Maunganui so it seemed to be exactly the right day to fill in an hour or two at the Classic Flyers Museum next to Tauranga Airport on Jean Batten Drive. As it turned out any day would do. This museum is not only interesting, informative and interactive, it is also run entirely by volunteers. And so there I was sitting in the worn ejector seat in the cockpit of a Hawker Hunter fighter jet (not actually developed until after WWII). A recorded instructor took me through a flying lesson with all the attendant noises. We took off, climbed to 14,000 feet, fired at a few targets, banked, turned and landed. It was realistic enough to make me realise that I would probably have fainted before we left the ground. None-the-less, at the end of the session the instructor informed me that I had the makings of a great fighter pilot. Had I wanted to go for a real jaunt in a pilot trainer, I could have gone for a 25-minute ride in a restored Boeing Stearman, used as a trainer in WWII. Instead I clambered through the securely grounded fuselage of a Consolidated Catalina PBY-5a. It looked a mighty uncomfortable interior to have ever flown in. There are around 30 aircraft at the museum and half of them are either airworthy or able to taxi. Among the ones that aren’t going anywhere, I admired a Kittyhawk with shark’s teeth painted on its nose; a North American Harvard; A replica of a flimsy 1914 Bristol Scout C (an aircraft know to have taken part in the Gallipoli Campaign); a Fletcher top dresser (circa 1950s); a full-sized Spitfire replica; and a De Havilland from the Swiss Air Force. Vintage and classic craft come and go from this base. Some for repair, others to show off. In the workshop a Grumman Avenger TBF-1 was undergoing a major reconstruction. Incredibly, this bulky torpedo bomber with its folding wings, was designed to land on the deck of a carrier ship. It was one of the deadliest aircraft of WWII. If you are an aficionado of flying memorabilia you could spend hours here perusing the items that line the hangar’s walls. Instead, I met my friends and in the museum’s very good Classic Flyers Avgas Cafe we raised our coffee cups to the memory of ‘Britain’s Finest Hour’. Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide. Read her 'notes from the road' in every issue.