A Tauranga man has flown in the face of adversity, thanks to an outpouring of support from friends and neighbours. Reporter Jean Bell steps out on the tarmac to discover how Alan Papesch's aviation adventure took flight.
Taking control of a Harvard for the first time in 62 years was just like riding a bike for Alan Papesch.
But that isn't the only reason the former RNZAF pilot's return flight was remarkable.
The 83-year-old was recently diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and, in response to the shocking news, friends and fellow residents at Bethlehem Shores Village rallied together to grant Papesch's wish to fly high once again.
Wispy cloud did not mar the bright blue sky nor Papesch's sunny mood as he geared up for his flight at Classic Flyers yesterday, accompanied by his wife Janette. "I'm so lucky," he said of the flight.
"We've been looking at the weather forecast for a month," he laughed.
He spent more than 200 hours in the Harvard aircraft during his first year in the RNZAF.
Yesterday's flight, which saw another pilot take the front seat with Papesch riding shotgun, was organised by his friends at the village's Men's Club, Tim Ross and Barry Cooper.
From Classic Flyers, he headed to Bethlehem Shores Village to fly by and wave at a crowd before soaring on to Ōmokoroa and Waihī.
On return, he gathered with friends for nibbles.
After the flight, Tom Ross said the efforts to return Papesch to the sky were worth it - and Papesch even got to fly the plane for part of the flight. The last time he was in a Harvard aeroplane was 62 years ago.
"Alan came back beaming," Ross said. "He flew from Ōmokoroa to the Mount and said it was just like getting back on a bike."
When Papesch received word of his shock diagnosis, Ross and Cooper busied themselves with organising the flight, fundraising to cover the cost.
"We wanted him to have something to focus on," Ross said.
The cause saw so many people at the village to open up their wallets that Cooper and Ross had to stop taking donations.
A keen singer and performer, Papesch was a member of the Village's choir, ukelele club and the Harmony A Plenty barbershop choir.
"I share my gift of music and singing with people and they've given back," Papesch said.
The outpouring of support was "very emotionally humbling", he said.
"I can't appreciate it enough. It's not only the flight. It's that people responded.
Alan Papesch's life and career
Papesch joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in March 1953 at the Wigram base in Christchurch.
During his 11 years with the RNZAF, he racked up more than 200 hours flying in the Harvard aircraft and gained a special scholarship to complete a mechanical engineering degree.
He married his wife, Janette, in 1960 and had an RNZAF guard of honour at the occasion.
In 1966 he became a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Canterbury where he taught for more than 30 years.
In 2007, he and his wife Janette moved to Tauranga.
The couple will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in January.