By Rev RICHARD WAUGH, aviation historian.

Pioneer pilot, airline pilot and RNZAF officer.

Died in Auckland last month, aged 92.

New Zealand's oldest pilot, Ronald Affleck Kirkup, died two days short of his 93rd birthday.


Born in Auckland, the youngest of four children, he lived in the family home Jesmond Dene in Mt Albert.

He learned to fly at the Auckland Aero Club at Mangere in 1930. In February 1931 he made a memorable flight to Napier to help with earthquake relief, transporting emergency supplies. His unique aerial photographs of Napier taken the day after the earthquake were published in the 1997 book Early Risers.

In December 1932 he established his own Auckland-based charter flying business long before any scheduled airlines operated in New Zealand.

He took part in air pageants and relished taking people for joyrides. He also did contract work for newspapers, and transported many wrestlers around New Zealand.

In 1934 he was appointed chief flying instructor at the Canterbury Aero Club, and in April 1935 was recruited as the second pilot for East Coast Airways, the first licensed airline in New Zealand, based at Gisborne.

Ron was part a new generation of airline pilots, aero club-trained with no First World War flying experience. On July 7 1935 he made the first airliner landing on what was later to become Hawkes Bay Regional Airport in Napier.

During the late 1930s Ron was a high-profile airline pilot, working for Cook Strait Airways and the main trunk operator, Union Airways.

He achieved another first on April 16, 1939, when he landed an airliner at the yet-to be-opened aerodrome at Harewood, now Christchurch International Airport.

By the outbreak of the Second World War Ron was among the youngest but most experienced pilots in New Zealand.

He joined the RNZAF in 1939, a year before he married Reta. During the war he held various positions as commanding officer of flying schools, and had overseas service. He made first flights in both Kittyhawk and Avenger aircraft. His last appointment was as Wing Commander leading 40 Squadron helping to integrate Dakotas into the New Zealand airline system.

From the late 1940s he returned to farming at Whitford and Te Awamutu. Ron is survived by two daughters, Lenore Sumpter and Jill Swann.