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Flying Success . . .South Canterbury Aviation Heritage Centre Members (From left) Graeme Brookland, Bevan Sutherland, Jeff MacDonald, Dave Gabites, Don Bayliss, and Jeremy Talbot. PHOTO: SHELLEY INON

by Shelley Inon

The South Canterbury Aviation Heritage Centre is hoping to expand its numbers so it can open to the public more frequently.

While the heritage centre opened for regular visits, such as a recent Scouts event, it was hoped the centre situated in the old airport control tower and a hangar public every Sunday.

Volunteer Jeremy Talbot said South Canterbury had a strong aviation history, something which should be embraced by the district.

“We had the first man who flew in the world there is no doubt in our minds.”

Mr Talbot said Richard Pearse did a lot of things to advance the world of aviation , but the man suffered for his genius.

“He was before his time. He used to be called Pearse’ and kids would throw stones and spuds at him when he cycled past.”

All of Mr Pearse’s gear had been dumped in the river, but found it to Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).

However, the aviation group hoped to reclaim some of the pieces the museum was not showing.

“If they could release those pieces it can be returned to South Canterbury where it can be appreciated for what it is … our aviational history.”

Working together . Dave Gabites working among fellow aviation enthusiasts at the heritage centre.

Mr Pearse’s achievements signalled the beginning of a long history of aviation in the area. Mr Talbot said that list included the first air service hangar in Washdyke, the first ski planes in South Canterbury, the first microlight club “and we were also early pioneers in aerial top dressing”.

With light aircraft being their focus, the aviation group has made replicas of many different planes, including one of the Pearse plane, and a running engine based on his drawings, along with a replica of the Wright Brothers’ glider.

The replicas are not just for show.

Children are encouraged to sit in the planes and pretend to fly – “the sticks all move”.

While interacting with the replicas they were also learning about history, such as the temperature from which the pilots would try to protect themselves without modern insulated cockpits.

At -50degC “if they touched the side of the plane their hand would’ve been stuck”.

The group is also trying to replenish its tool supply. If anyone has any surplus mechanical tools deceased estate would be more than happy to retrieve them and put them to good use.

Any aviation enthusiasts are invited to come along and join the group.

Weekly workshops are held on Tuesday afternoon and people are encouraged to “just turn up”.

School or service group trips can be arranged by calling Mr Talbot on 021 571-893.