Tauranga's Bryan Cox, 93, has just become one of the three oldest pilots in New Zealand.

Last week the World War II veteran was signed off for his recreational pilot's licence, 24 years after his last solo flight in December 1993.

It was the introduction of the licence, which has a less stringent medical assessment, that got the retired fighter pilot turned flying instructor thinking about taking to the skies again.

On January 11 he made his solo return,cameras in tow, after being signed off by Tauranga Aero Club chief flight instructor James Churchward.


Churchward admitted he was "a little apprehensive" when he heard the age of the applicant he would be flying with.

"Ninety-three is quite old. I wasn't sure of his ability and whether he would even have the mobility to get into the aircraft."

"But he flew very well. For 93 he is incredibly agile and flies aircraft to a high standard."

Mike Richards from the Civil Aviation Authority said Cox was one of the three oldest pilots still flying in New Zealand, but not the oldest. There was only a year between the three.

"It is an incredible achievement and testament to a safe flying history for a pilot to continue to be in the air in their 90s."

Cox - who has more than 21,000 hours' flying experience meticulously recorded across 12 log books - also had to sit a medical assessment equivalent to that needed to drive a truck, and pass an aviation law exam to get his licence.

He said it was hard to describe "the feeling of being on your own in an aircraft".

"It was very satisfying to feel capable and in control. It brought back memories."

Cox has joined Tauranga Aero Club and said he planned to fly once a month or so to keep his skills sharp.

He would mostly do circuits and practise different landings, but had a couple of friends who were keen for him to take them up to see the sights.

Asked what his family thought of his renewed interest in flying, he said they were "a bit reticent".

"None of them [his four children] have asked me to take them up."

Cox began his flying career when he enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force in May of 1943, aged 18.

"I didn't like the idea of someone sticking a bayonet in me in the army or drowning in the navy. A fighter pilot has the most control over his own destiny, that's why I chose the Air Force."

He was a fighter pilot for four years and has written three books about his experiences. He is the only living survivor of Black Monday, RNZAF's worst single-day loss of life.

After a nine-year break from flying, he became certified as a flight instructor, opening Manukau Flying School in 1966. At the same time, he did charter and other flights before retiring from flying in 1993.

Recreational Pilot's Licence
- Made a standalone licence class in 2016
- Requires an NZTA medical certificate called a DL9
- Medical certificate must be reviewed every two years for over-40s

Things RPL holders cannot do include:
- Carry more than one passenger
- Fly at night
- Do aerobatics

- Source: Civil Aviation Authority