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On The Wings Of History : Volume 01

REVIEW BY John King [NZ Aviation News Vol XXXIII No 4 June 2010]

CoverOn the Wings of History
The Beginning of the Vintage Aviator Collection
by Allan Udy and Alex Mitchell
Historical Aviation Film Unit www.aviationfilm.com
ISBN 978-0-473-16677-9
116pp, 150 x 210mm soft cover. RRP $25.00

Major aircraft collections (ignoring aero clubs, flying schools and airlines) are not common in New Zealand. In the past the aviation public has been educated and entertained by the splendid Alpine Fighter Collection which also provided the basis for the biennial Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow. Now that the Alpine collection has been dispersed - with little noticeable effect on the airshow, thanks to the growing numbers of interesting aeroplanes in private hands - there has been no equivalent single grouping of WW2 aeroplanes.

But during the past decade something even more enterprising and specialised has been quietly happening, in the form of a collection of aeroplanes all dating from a five-year period near the dawn of the world's aviation endeavours. Initially stemming from the enthusiasm of one man, more than 30 WW1 aeroplanes are now found in New Zealand and grouped on both sides of Cook Strait, most of them airworthy and all as close as possible to original specifications and methods of construction.

The endeavours of The Vintage Aviator Ltd (TVAL) and the connected 1914-1918 Aviation Heritage Trust, whose aeroplanes and relics are also shown in the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre (OAHC), are well enough known among aficionados, but information about them has been piecemeal at best. They are regularly displayed in Blenheim and Masterton, certainly, but they tend to emerge from the Kilbirnie factory - not so very distant from the Rongotai site that produced all those Tiger Moths, a type dating from a mere 13 years after the end of WW1 - with minimal fanfare. Finding details about them is difficult.

This book changes all that and is particularly welcome. Allan Udy, in charge of the words, and Alex Mitchell, whose aviation photographs make this book especially attractive, have produced a reference source that is also a good read.

On the Wings of History starts with a six-page summary of the first 15 years of recognised aviation, starting with the Wrights and ending with the Armistice in November 1918. Other pages deal with TVAL, OAHC and where to look, listen and smell these treasures they produce, and the main section describes each aeroplane in the collection, with text and detail photographs opposite a full-page image of that example, either in flight or as displayed in the museum.

The reader might be excused for slight confusion at first glance. Thirteen Fokker Dr.1 triplanes? But only seven have ever been seen at one time!

The answer can be found in the fine print. The bulk of each description deals with the origins and connections of that aeroplane's colour scheme, with only passing reference to how or when it was made, even when it's a rebuild of an original airframe and not a reproduction. Perhaps the authors have something in mind as a follow-up.

But a small panel at the bottom of each page does mention the aeroplane's origins and registration. ZK-FOK, for example, the Dr.1 built in the mid-1980s by Stuart Tantrum and John Lanham which led the way in full-size WW1 aeroplanes in this country, has had several metamorphoses, each one worthy of a separate entry.

On the Wings of History is destined to reside within easy reach of this reviewer's desk as a source of reference and constant reminder of some very interesting things going on in one specialised area of New Zealand aviation. It deserves wide distribution and readership.

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