Bertram Ogilvie (1881-1944), a motor engineer for Hawkins and Rome, Napier, began around 1908 (just five years after the American Wright brothers' milestone flight) to build an aeroplane to his own design with assistance from his employer, Charles (Arthur) Hawkins.
A large shed was built as a hangar on a property on Riverbend Rd, Napier (near the site of St Augustine's church) and with help from other keen enthusiasts Bertram would construct two full-size biplanes.
The first biplane looked very frail from the one existing photo of it and it is not known if it had any flight attempts.
Using parts from the first biplane, another one was constructed of a new design.
A description of the biplane appeared in Wings and Wingspread magazine as having a 30 foot (9m) span which was constructed of broomsticks, wooden spars, white pine, yachting rigging screws and piano hinges for attaching the large chord ailerons or flaps. Flying surfaces were covered by strong fabric tightly sewn and attached.
Under the wings was a frame carrying a tricycle undercarriage with a 10hp, two cylinder engine, with a battery ignition constructed by Ogilvie.
Ogilvie, Hawkins and Charles Nairn took out a patent in April 1909 for "Improvements to or relating to aeroplanes."
Some have wrongly claimed that Ogilvie in taking out this patent was the inventor of the aileron – which is a mechanism used to create a rolling motion, for instance to enable an aircraft to banking for turns. Ogilvie's invention was to enable an aeroplane to fly level automatically.
The first flight attempts were apparently made on a beach near Napier, but "did not meet with any success."
Napier's Daily Telegraph reported in July 1909:
"It seems that Hawke's Bay is to have its own aeroplane shortly. For some time past experiments have been conducted with a contrivance of that kind near Napier, and although the experimenters have sought to preserve the strictest secrecy, some knowledge of what is in progress has got abroad. The last experiment was looked forward to with considerable confidence, but nothing more satisfying than a 'glide' was the result."
Not giving up, Ogilvie and others built a launch ramp of about 100 feet (30m).
The launch ramp was about 20 feet (6m) in height and had three longitudinal chutes – one for each wheel of the tricycle undercarriage to travel on.
The 10hp engine, however, was insufficient even with the help from the ramp to be able to keep the biplane in the air and the best results were only small hops.
Field Marshall Lord Kitchener, the British Army commander came to New Zealand in early 1910. After his official proceedings had concluded he undertook a private tour of New Zealand in a 38hp Daimler, which included visiting Napier.
After arriving in Napier on March 12, he visited R D D McLean's Maraekakaho station the next day, and in the afternoon called on Hawkins and Ogilvie to see their biplane.
Kitchener, after inspecting the aeroplane, commented he "would rather Mr Ogilvie fly it, as going up in the air in that machine seemed too dangerous to him." However, Kitchener reportedly encouraged both men to go to England to develop their aeroplane further.
That's what they did, taking a ship from Napier in May and arriving in England in late June 1910.
While at sea, Ogilvie had built a model plane which incorporated his patented automatic balancing control system.
Handley Page was contracted to build a full sized version of the triplane. Hawkins and Ogilvie would base themselves in Hampshire, where their trials of the aeroplane began.
By March 1911, the triplane had still not flown due to problems with its Alvaston engine not performing as well as expected. It was replaced by its manufacturers.
Ogilvie trialled the triplane with the new engine, but no flights were attempted just yet, as he just manoeuvred it around the airfield.
The triplane did get airborne with Ogilvie at the controls, and a number of flights in short succession enabling him to reach an altitude of 200 feet (61m) were performed. He met with an accident when petrol ran out after travelling about 800m, but the repairs were minor. Hawkins was away when Ogilvie took the triplane for this test run, with no one else in attendance.
No more flights were made until Hawkins returned, and after a discussion between the men the triplane was removed to Brooklands, and Ogilvie would not fly it there.
Instead, two prominent pilots of the day flew the triplane. Howard Pixton was comfortable with it, but A V Roe wasn't as keen on it. The patented automatic balancing device wasn't performing as well as expected.
At Brooklands Hawkins and Ogilvie met Colonel John E Capper "who became very interested in their machine" and offered to build a hangar for it and supply helpers.
Hawkins and Ogilvie, however decided against this – with financial and other difficulties forcing them to sell the triplane and return to New Zealand in August 1911. It is not known the fate of the triplane.
Ogilvie continued to be interested in aviation throughout his life, and was asked to do a test flight in October 1912 in Hastings of a Bleriot with a 50hp Roberts engine imported by James D Walsh – but nothing appears to have come of this.
He would live in Hastings for the rest of his life, forming a partnership in 1914 with Eric Napier that operated a motor garage in King St.
While in England he met Dorothy Freeborn and married her in New Zealand in 1912. They had four children, and his only son – also Bertram, was killed in the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake. His business was destroyed during the earthquake and spent the next 12 years working for the Hawke's Bay County Council.
Bertram Ogilvie passed away in 1944 in Hastings. In 1975 Ogilvie Crescent at Auckland International Airport was named in his honour.
Charles Hawkins served during World War I with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and served at Gallipoli and France. After 1919 he retuned to England to live and died there on March 25, 1936.
* Thanks to aviation historian Errol W Martyn for assistance with this article.
* Michael Fowler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contract researcher and commercial business writer of Hawke's Bay history. Follow him on facebook.com/michaelfowlerhistory