In 1921 there were four flying companies registered in New Zealand: New Zealand Flying School (Auckland), Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company (Christchurch), New Zealand Aero Transport Company (Timaru), and the New Zealand Aerial Transport Company (Hastings).
For the year ended March 31, 1921 the four companies employed 15 pilots, carried 6354 passengers and clocked up 2611 flying hours. The distance flown totalled 158,757 miles (255,494km), with the New Zealand Flying School making up the bulk of this at 117,136 miles (188,512km).
• Premium - Michael Fowler: 'Rare sensation' in Napier's 1919 elections
• Hawke's Bay author Michael Fowler releases new history book
• Premium - Michael Fowler: Sea a constant danger to early Napier
• Historic Hawke's Bay: Chinese treatment has thankfully improved
Hastings' flight company was the brainchild of Lyell Tatton. Before enlisting for service in World War I in the Wellington Infantry Battalion as a private, Lyell had diverse occupations.
He had trained as a dental apprentice in the family business in Nelson, then worked as a mineral water manufacturer in Ohakune, before training as a motor mechanic at Oscar Andrews.
Lyell saw action at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, and took many iconic photographs of Anzac Cove, which he turned into postcards and sold. Although he was a keen photographer, there are not many photographs of him.
Falling chronically sick with diarrhoea, Lyell was transferred to hospital in England. His battalion suffered heavy losses at Chunuk Bair, so his illness likely saved his life. Upon recovery his service continued, as an ambulance officer, dental technician and clerk.
He began pilot training in November 1917, and in February 1918 was discharged from the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and assigned to the Royal Flying Corps. He served in the RFC in Palestine until the Armistice in November 1918. He was invalided back to New Zealand on the hospital ship Marama, arriving in New Zealand on January 29, 1919, then settled in Hastings, working as a motor mechanic.
In September 1920 Lyell wrote to the Hawke's Bay A&P Society asking permission to give flying displays at the showgrounds during their show, and noted he intended to establish a flying centre in Hawke's Bay.
The society declined his request – the danger to the public and frightening stock would prove, they thought, too risky.
Lyell went to Sydney, Australia, returning home in November 1920 after ordering three aeroplanes from the Australian Aircraft and Engineering Company. This company had secured the rights to manufacture Avro aircraft from England in 1920.
He would be part owner of the Hastings-based New Zealand Aerial Transport Company and they would operate from an airfield of 200 acres (81ha) created at Longlands, about 1.6km from the Hastings Golf Club (likely on the opposite side to the present Bridge Pa aerodrome).
The land was rented from a farmer, and a woolshed was converted into a hangar.
The first aeroplane that arrived from Australia at the Port of Napier on February 19, 1921 was intended for a passenger and mail service to Gisborne.
It was a 130 HP rotary engine Clerget-Avro, and could carry a pilot, two passengers and mail. The next plane was expected to arrive before Christmas 1921, but it appears that due to the trouble he would have with the first Avro, the other aircraft ordered never arrived.
At this time there were only six other officially recognised airfields in New Zealand, all leased or owned by the four civilian aviation companies.
Passenger flights took place in the Avro in early March, with hundreds being taken up for joy rides.
On March 11 Lyell drove to Gisborne to scope out possible emergency landing sites en route. In Gisborne, a temporary aerodrome at the Makaraka racecourse was agreed upon, until they could secure a permanent airfield.
It seems the planned flights to Gisborne never took place as the Avro was grounded when it was discovered that the engine – which was supposed to be brand new – was a secondhand one.
The air board stated it could not be used for passenger flights, only short flights around Hastings to keep the engine in order. A court case was to take place in Australia against the Australian Aircraft and Engineering Company Limited to settle the dispute – but in 1922 the company went bankrupt.
On June 14, Lyell took the Avro up for the allowed purpose of ticking over the engine, but at 200 feet it began to descend. At about 80 feet the aeroplane was caught in an air pocket and crashed nose first. Nearby golfers at the Bridge Pa course over a mile away heard the noise of the impact.
Lyell was lucky to survive, and this was only because he had strapped himself in the aeroplane – which he had never done before – as he had planned to do "one or two stunts".
It took 15 minutes to remove him from the wreckage. He was taken to Royston, a private hospital, where it was found he had broken his arm in two places and was in severe shock. He stayed in hospital until mid-July 1921. The Avro was written off.
New Zealand Aerial Transport Company was then taken over by Auckland's New Zealand Flying School, but by 1922 it appears all flying had ceased from the Longlands aerodrome by this company in Hawke's Bay.
Lyell Tatton would work for the New Zealand Flying School briefly before leaving to Australia to work, and he died there aged 100 in 1989.
- Michael Fowler (email@example.com) is a contract researcher, commercial business writer of Hawke's Bay history.