Saturday 12 January 2019

Fly DC3 to the '60s - and back again

Thank you to FlyDC3 for hosting me.
It's pretty hard to avoid the 'trip back in time' cliché today. Regular readers 😃 of a certain vintage will recognise the plane: a DC3 complete with Pratt and Whitney turbo-props. This one began flying in October 1944 and is still going strong - unlike others of my acquaintance who share the same birthday (and no, I don't mean me. Hmph). That control tower is of a similar age, so they look good together. This is Ardmore Airfield, in Auckland's south-east, which is actually the busiest domestic airport in the country, thanks mostly to the seven air schools on the site. But Betsy here does her best to keep the runway dusted, too.
She was built in Oklahoma just too late for anything dangerous, WW2-wise, did a bit of service around the edges of the Korean War, working in Japan and the Philippines, and then went on to civilian duty there and in New Guinea, finally ending up in tropical Australia. After a stint in a museum, she was brought to NZ by enthusiasts and now is in the care of FlyDC3, who have a team of ex- and current pilots and flight crew, military and commercial, who think nothing of giving up their precious free time to take her up on flights that generate just enough money to cover her expenses.
That's what I did today, tagging along on one of her summer days out to Whitianga - on a perfect sunny, clear January day, with a complement of just nine passengers, so we each had a window seat. Rectangular window, see? Rather low, so you have to duck down to look out - but, since we mostly flew at about 1500 feet, it was well worth the minor discomfort to be able to see so well what we were flying over. 
That was Auckland city, the islands of the Gulf including Waiheke, the Coromandel peninsula, and the coast and farmland beyond, finally swooping down over Whitianga's picturesque cliff, river mouth and beach. 
It's quite a while since I was here last, and the town's been quietly booming: there are grand houses built alongside the airfield there with their own planes parked outside - and, nearby, an astonishing waterway development with a curved canal, artificial island, retirement village and lots more even grander houses with big shiny boats moored at jetties at the bottom of each garden. Extraordinary. We were swept along a fancy new road past big-box stores and I wondered if I'd even recognise the town now - but I'm glad to report it's just as appealing as ever, with lots of art galleries and coffee shops in the main street, a well-used marina, a very busy ferry bustling back and forth across the river, and, it being summer holidays, heaps of kids hurling themselves off a wharf they shared with a bunch of families busily fishing.
The Mercury Bay Museum has masses of stuff to poke through. I especially enjoyed, having been put by Betsy into a nostalgic frame of mind, the recreated 1960s classroom, with cursive writing practice on the blackboard, pounds, shilling and pence sums (I can still do it!) and a list of monitors' names (milk, inkwells, board cleaning...) - all so familiar. There was also a mock-up of a classic murder house [dental clinic] with a boy realistically writhing in the chair.
There was a 1960s bach [holiday house] setup, too, where I found a horrifying copy of a 1964 Jackie magazine (I remember it) - featuring youthful, and very neat-looking, Rolling Stones, but also some ghastly advice dispensed by Cathy and Claire in their column. Augh!
After a nice lunch at Stoked beside the beach, and some more wandering round the shops, including a proper emporium that stocked everything, and just went on and on, we were taken back to the airfield. We boarded Betsy again - she had been working hard doing three scenic flights while we relaxed - and Jolon and Yongxi flew us back to Ardmore, the engines roaring just outside the windows while we luxuriated in the roomy interior (leg room! no overhead lockers!). It was a lovely day out, we were looked after so well by the crew, who clearly adore Betsy and see it as a privilege to be able to do some "real flying". Recommended.

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