2. THE FLIGHT
Amongst others, France has Bleriot, Mermoz, and Guillaumet; the United States has Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart and Australia has Charles Kingsford-Smith. New Zealand also has her famous aviators, and these are Jean Batten and Clifford Tait.
Jean Batten (1909-1982) was one of those aviatrix, who in the thirties became famous by setting and breaking aviation records. In 1934, she broke Amy Johnson's record between London and Australia. In 1936, she set a record for flight between London and Auckland in a Percival Gull.
Cliff Tait is equally famous. He flew solo around the world in 1969 in a very small single engine aircraft manufactured in New Zealand, a 115 HP Airtourer.
Cliff's aviation career is linked to that aircraft.
The Airtourer was a low wing, single engine all metal aircraft, designed by Polish born Australian Henry K. Millicer. In 1965, the Australian company Victa, better known for manufacturing lawn mowers, after building 170 aircraft, found themselves unable to compete with imports from the three main American producers of light aircraft.
It is interesting to note that, in Australia the Airtourer is still known as a Victa.
A New Zealand company, AESL, engaged in the business of servicing aircraft engines, bought the rights and the tooling to the Airtourer and continued with its manufacture at the Hamilton, New Zealand base. Cliff was living in Hamilton and had learnt to fly in a 100 HP Australian built Airtourer.
When Great Britain entered the European Common Market, it created some concern in the Commonwealth countries who worried about their exports, should the British market close. Cliff came up with the idea of making a promotional world flight, which, in his own worlds, was "to sell New Zealand to the World".
From the very beginning, financial difficulties, more than technical problems, made the project almost impossible. Cliff, with a grand total of 80 flying hours, was told by civil aviation authorities, that among other things, he would have to have an IFR rating before he could get approval to fly over water and overseas. An aircraft had to be purchased, and fuel, landing fees and hotel bills would have to be paid.
For Cliff, this was an enormous expense, and his wife generously offered to sell their home in order to finance the project. Promises of help failed to materialise. Cliff's employer, Dimock Machines, agreed to loan him the money, NZ$11 000, to purchase the aircraft. It was ordered from the factory to be fitted with long-range tanks and minimal IFR instrumentation including one ADF for radio navigation. Note: no autopilot!
Leaving Vancouver, the flight was difficult, with bad weather and a low ceiling, making the crossing of the Canadian Rockies another adventure. Cliff had to land at Armstrong and Cranbrook before reaching the Canadian Plains, and stopped at Winnipeg and Hamilton (Ontario). Cliff's primary reason for a stopover at Hamilton was to deliver a letter to the mayor of that city from the mayor of its sister city in New Zealand. Hamilton was also the mid-point of the voyage, and Cliff was proud to have arrived there without any problems.
Cliff's next stop was Moncton in Newfoundland (the province, not the island). At the time, Canadian Authorities demanded an inspection of all aircraft crossing the Atlantic from Canada. This meant not only an inspection of the aircraft, but of the survival gear, as well as the capabilities of the pilot. Cliff and Miss Jacy passed the test successfully and flew on to Goose Bay. The weather was very bad, and they crossed thunderstorms with turbulence and hail.
After a few days rest, during which time Cliff met with his London benefactor who had covered the flight, and checked on the aircraft, he continued on with the flight.
Cliff had planned to cross Europe via Germany and Yugoslavia, but pilots of the RAF suggested a more southerly and more classic route, via France, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, Bahrain and India. He left England from the airport at Manston, and crossed the English Channel in IMC at 7,000 feet. Cliff landed at Marseille in southern France with a very strong cross wind, and went on from there to overfly Corsica, before landing in Rome. The New Zealand Consul drove Cliff through the Eternal City. In Athens too, the Consul took him to the Acropolis.
Before leaving New Zealand, Cliff had promised Joyce that he would return in time for their 17th wedding anniversary and there were only 17 days left to achieve that objective.
In Nicosia, in Cyprus, Cliff discovered the permits necessary to continue the flight had not been sent. Nevertheless, he left for Damascus, which meant crossing the Lebanese mountains and climbing above 10,000 feet. The high temperatures created a "vapour lock" and Cliff lost fuel pressure. His rate of climb was terribly low, but he managed to find a lower pass, and cleared the terrain by just 300 feet.
In Damascus, Cliff made the mistake of pulling out his camera to take a souvenir photo of his arrival. Being a military airport, he was immediately in trouble, and was not permitted to depart until 3pm. The temperature is such that Cliff could only climb to 1,000 feet. He then realised that the fuel he had ordered in Imperial gallons, was in fact delivered in US gallons. The difference between 4.4 litres to 3.8 litres per gallon means that there would not be enough fuel to reach Bahrain. Cliff decided to stop in Saudi Arabia at Badanah, where the high temperatures and low visibility made flying difficult, but he found the pipe-line going through Badanah. Cliff was detained there until permission came from Jida, to let him go, as he had landed without a permit. On take off, the aircraft got bogged in soft sand, and his HF radio was not working. He arrived in Bahrain exhausted.
Cliff's next stop was Karachi in Pakistan, where for the first time he had to deal with Oriental bureaucracy. In new Delhi, the aircraft was overhauled and the HF radio temporally repaired. The next stop was Varanas (better known as Benares) half way to Calcutta, where Cliff had to suffer Indian bureaucracy this time. Despite all efforts, Cliff was unable to telephone his family in New Zealand.
The next day he departed for Rangoon in Burma, which is the traditional crossing of the Andaman Sea with it's monsoons, thunderstorms, thick clouds and extreme turbulence. In Rangoon, Cliff slept on a bench in the terminal before making an early departure. He arrived in Kuala Lumpur feeling extremely tired after a 12 hour flight in clouds and turbulence. The short leg to Singapore gave him relative rest. Cliff had won the battle against the monsoons, but had only 6 days left in which to achieve his goal. Although making up time slowly, Cliff paid dearly for all the time wasted in having to transport the aircraft by ship.
In Jakarta, the weather was fair, and his HF radio was still not operational. Knowing that Australian authorities would not allow him fly across the Tasman Sea without HF, Cliff repaired it on the tarmac. He found a short circuit in the 13 Mhz., and would have to use other bands.
After leaving Brisbane, Cliff stopped at Norfolk Island for the second time, having stopped there on his way out, and therefore closing the circle. He had, in fact, flown around the world.
Finally, on August 1, 1969, Cliff landed at Hamilton, his departure point. From the northern tip of New Zealand, all the way through Auckland, a few light aircraft escorted him. In Hamilton, family and friends greeted him warmly, and he handed the Mayor a letter from the Mayor of Hamilton Ontario.
Cliff had completed a successful flight around the world. In the beginning, his aim had been "to sell New Zealand", but it is difficult to know if his efforts improved New Zealand as a commercial partner. However, the flight was an enormous success for the pilot, and in fact, it changed his life forever. He describes the flight in his first book: The flight of the Kiwi.
The aircraft was sold to repay debt. It still flies and is based at the Rotorua airport.
In 1973, Cliff quit his salesman job and became a full time ferry pilot, with deliveries to Thailand, Pakistan, etc. He had to hire other pilots to help him with the deliveries. The factory then began to built a new aircraft; the Fletcher, designed for agricultural applications, with deliveries to the Middle East and Europe. The Fletcher was designed by John Thorp, who also designed the famous amateur built T18.
One of these techniques was to fly very low above the water and to work out the drift by observing the waves. It must be remembered that all Cliff's ferry flights were made well before the inception of the GPS.
In 1982, as sales manager of a company importing Beechcraft aircraft in New Zealand, Cliff took delivery of a Bonanza in the USA. Instead of ferrying the aircraft via the Pacific Ocean, the shortest and more classic route, Cliff decided to make the flight via the Atlantic Ocean. He had crossed the Atlantic earlier, during his 'Round the World' flight, and also when delivering a Super King Air.
Cliff's goal was to break the record between London and Auckland, set in 1936 by the New Zealand pilot Jean Batten (1909-1982) in a Percival Gull; and finally broken again in 1980 by the British pilot Judith Chisholm in her Cessna 210 Centurion. Cliff's intention was to regain the record for New Zealand. The Bonanza was fitted with ferry tanks bringing its range to 3,000 NM. Cliff succeeded in breaking the record.
The history of that record is as follows:
Cliff wrote two books: The flight of the Kiwi, Describing his flight around the World in the Airtourer, and Water Under My Wings, describing his ferry flights and his techniques for oceanic flights. Cliff also wrote an article describing his record breaking flight in the Bonanza: Records Are Made To Be Broken. This article is available on the Internet:
Cliff and his wife Joyce live in Tauranga in New Zealand.
The author had the great pleasure of meeting Cliff and his wife Joyce in Hamilton and in Tauranga. He visits them every time he goes to New Zealand.
Here is a recent photo of Miss Jacy as she was transfered to the MOTA Museum in Auckland.
Last update : September 26, 2013
Copyright © Claude Meunier 2000, 2013