Airport holds big 50th birthday bash

By Roger Moroney

HISTORY: Hawke's Bay Airport is on land that, if it hadn't been raised by the 1931 earthquake, would only be able to take seaplanes. PHOTO/GLENN TAYLOR HBT140710-04
HISTORY: Hawke's Bay Airport is on land that, if it hadn't been raised by the 1931 earthquake, would only be able to take seaplanes. PHOTO/GLENN TAYLOR HBT140710-04

This weekend is a significant one for Hawke's Bay as the Art Deco transformation of Napier is celebrated with a what-ho weekend and the Hawke's Bay Airport commemorates 50 years.

The events will complement each other in that historic aviation is a colourful component of both.

Hawke's Bay Airport will be hosting two WW2 Spitfire fighters, a P51 Mustang, a Curtiss Kittyhawk, a Grumman Avenger and the Warbirds Harvards and they will be part of a ground display which also features an air force Iroquois, as well as taking part in flying displays today and tomorrow.

The aircraft will also take to the skies to coincide with Art Deco events.

The anniversary aviation event will be taking place on an airfield which was, before the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake raised it, effectively only suitable for catering for the landing and departure of sea planes - which is what it had been considered for at one stage.

The original aerodrome was based off the Embankment Rd which had been set up by the Napier Aero Club after the earthquake although, after the Napier Airport Board was formed in 1935, it was decided to raise the rating of the aerodrome.

While the paperwork was being sorted out, an alternative, larger site was being looked at.

It was ablock of land known as "the Beacons".

While the Embankment runway served well as an aerodrome into Napier and Hawke's Bay, hosting East Coast Airways services between Napier and Gisborne in 1935, it was agreed that the more expansive Beacons site at Westshore would fit the bill for the future.

In a basic state, it began to get used by commercial flights before the war and, up until 1959, was regarded as being the permanent commercial aerodrome, with the Civil Aviation Department informing the mayors of Napier and Hastings that it favoured a site between the two cities.

That stirred up some debate until it was realised that the cost of developing a new site, even to the fairly basic stage the Beacons was at, would have been financially daunting.

In 1960, the Labour Cabinet announced it had decided that the Beacons site would be the region's airport and that the government would provide a 50 per cent subsidy for the works.

The Hawke's Bay Airport Authority was then set up and the wheels began to turn.

Full construction of the airport began in December, 1962, with the first task being the digging of deep drains to carry off any water seepage from the nearby ocean.

Major earthmoving took place early in 1963 with stormwater pipes installed and the foundations for the initial 4500 foot runway laid.

It was completed in October, with some 1200 tonnes of asphalt mix laid and settled over a 19-day period.

Tuesday, October 29, was a historic day as a National Airways Corporation DC3 from Wellington made the first commercial landing on the new runway.

On December 15, the first jet-prop aircraft, a Fokker Friendship, touched down.

As it was reported at the time the runway was "the pride of Hawke's Bay" and "one can now fly jet prop direct to sunny Hawke's Bay".

It was officially opened on February 15, 1964.

The public will get plenty of opportunities during the weekend to be part of the anniversary which has been steered by the Napier Aero Club and airport management, with static and air displays planned.

One of the features of the air display will be a WW1-design BE2c aircraft owned by Masterton-based The Vintage Aviator.

It is a full-sized flying replica of the aircraft Hawke's Bay people donated to the Royal Flying Corps in 1915.

As part of the event, there will be a special re-enactment at the airport of the aircraft's handing-over ceremony which originally took place during WW1 at Farnborough airfield in England.

It will take place at 1.30pm today.

As well as the historic fighter aircraft, among the 40 other planes expected to turn up will be Tiger Moths, a Pitt Special, a Russian Yak and an air force Iroquois helicopter.

The airport, working in with Air New Zealand, has made some minor changes to a few scheduled services to work around the classic aircraft flight times.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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