Preserving our flying heritage

by Andy Bryenton

When Hornby was a small town out in the periphery of the Christchurch metropolitan area, a parcel of land between there and the city centre caught the eye of Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company and its founder, Sir Henry Wigram. Originally named Sockburn Airport, space grew, along with the post first world war aviation boom. 

Industrial-focussed Hornby, with its glass, fertiliser and meat processing works connected to twin rail lines, was the perfect neighbour for the air force base, which was to grow just next door. Since the end of operations at Wigram in 1995, however, the major attraction on the doorstep of Hornby, (now a shopping hub and gateway to the Selwyn District) has been New Zealand’s only museum dedicated to our air force. 

The RNZAF Museum at Wigram is a treasure house of aviation history, with displays of machines which have braved everything from enemy fire to the chilling blasts of Antarctic winds. Here, visitors can see a replica of the Britannia, New Zealand’s first military aircraft from the days of cloth wings and pilots with iron nerves. The Auster Mk7c is fitted with skis for landing gear, as it travelled to the Antarctic, while the P40e Kittyhawk was the backbone of our fighter squadron during the darkest days of World War ll. Right now, aerospace conservators are working on the complete strip-down and rebuild of a Catalina flying boat, of the kind, used to hunt Nazi submarines. 

Both the Spitfire and the Mustang have pride of place here, alongside planes like the Tiger Moth, which turned from military use to pioneering aerial fertiliser spreading and seeding. The museum also serves as a repository for decades upon decades of military aviation research, records and knowledge, helping scholars and historians piece together a complete history of our ‘flying kiwis’. For those visiting Hornby, this destination is a must-see, and it’s worth noting that without Hornby, there might never have been a Wigram air base at all.