A man working near Auckland's Māngere aerodrome saw a plane in the air and heard a peculiar whistling noise.

It was quickly followed by a heavy thud, Mr A Ford told a Herald reporter, and he concluded an object had been dropped from the plane. He thought nothing more of the incident until he saw an ambulance arrive.

The object was in fact a man, the highly respected, brilliant and daring pilot, Squadron Leader David Malyon Allan, who was killed when he plummeted to the ground about 3km from the airfield. It wouldn't be the last aviation tragedy to afflict the Allan family either.

Squadron Leader David Allan was killed by falling from the rear cockpit of a Tiger Moth during a slow roll at Mangere in 1940.
Squadron Leader David Allan was killed by falling from the rear cockpit of a Tiger Moth during a slow roll at Mangere in 1940.

It was March 1940, six months after New Zealand had entered World War II and Allan was training Royal NZ Air Force flying instructors.

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Aged 44, he was in the rear cockpit of a Tiger Moth, an open-top biplane. Pilot Officer Guy Newton - who later became a fighter ace in the Pacific war and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross - was in the front. They were flying about 3km from the aerodrome, the predecessor of Auckland International Airport.

Allan told Newton to go into a slow roll, turning the plane upside down before bringing it back upright.

"At about 2800 feet (853m), I went into a slow roll to the right, turning the machine over completely and back to its normal position," Newton told the inquest.

"This manoeuvre would take about 10 seconds to complete. When the machine returned to normal I immediately adjusted the tail trimming gear and noticed that the machine was flying tail-heavy."

Guy Newton was in the front cockpit when David Allan fell out of the open-top plane's rear cockpit during a slow roll at Mangere, Auckland in 1940. Photo / Herald archives
Guy Newton was in the front cockpit when David Allan fell out of the open-top plane's rear cockpit during a slow roll at Mangere, Auckland in 1940. Photo / Herald archives

Newton had heard a rattle. Wondering if Allan had fallen out, he tried to see him by looking around and saw his shoulder straps lying back along the fuselage.

He flew the plane straight back to the aerodrome and after landing it was found Allan's harness was undone.

Parachutes weren't mandatory at the time. A large consignment of them arrived the day after Allan's death and fliers were required to wear them.

An investigation found that the pin-locking mechanism on Allan's harness had been opened by a flying control lever - the joy stick - in his cockpit. Harnesses were modified to prevent a recurrence.

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Allan's obituary in the Herald said that as a stunt pilot he was unrivalled in New Zealand.

Born at Waipukurau, he spent parts of his childhood and teenage years in the Falkland Islands, England and Tierra del Fuego, the island group off southern South America.

He qualified as a pilot in 1916 - during World War I - in the Royal Naval Air Service and was a military instructor of flying and aerial combat.

After the war he managed a Hawke's Bay sheep station, became involved in club flying and became an instructor in Auckland, teaching hundreds to fly.

He was a pioneer of night flying, held speed records for cross-country flights and wowed crowds at Māngere with his aerobatics, the Herald wrote.

"Hundreds of motorists drove each Sunday to Māngere to see the little orange biplane persuaded by its brilliant pilot 'to do everything but fly down the clubhouse chimney', as a surprised, distinguished visitor once said."

Guy Newton, after a stint of instructing, led an air force squadron on two tours in the Solomon Islands against Japan, where, flying Kittyhawk fighters, he destroyed five enemy planes and probably a sixth.

"On his first sortie in this area he was obliged to bale out of a burning P-40 [plane], coming down in the 'Slot' near Gizo Island," according to the 1994 book Aces High, a tribute to the most notable fighter pilots of the British and Commonwealth forces in WWII. "He was rescued by a US Navy … Catalina."

Thirty-nine years after Allan's fatal fall, three members of his extended family died in the Mt Erebus disaster.

Allan's son Malyon, Malyon's wife Marjorie and their daughter Jane were killed - along with all the 254 other people on board - when an Air New Zealand DC10 on a sightseeing flight over Antarctica crashed into the mountain.

Malyon Allan had taught at the Royal Navy college at Greenwich in Britain where Kiwi Peter Mulgrew was one of his students after World War II. Mulgrew was on the 1979 Antarctic flight as commentator, having replaced his friend Sir Edmund Hillary.

David Allan jnr, Malyon's son, said his father was keen to see Antarctica and the Mulgrew connection sealed it.

"That's why he chose to go on the flight."