Class: RNZAF Permanent Flying Training Station
Administered by: Royal New Zealand Air Force
Closest Major Town or City: Ashburton
History under RNZAF usage: Due to the Japanese threat In the Pacific, a prudent reorganisation of stations was undertaken. It was designed to send all the training establishments to the South Island and keep the North Island purely for operational squadrons. Thus, No. 2 Elementary Flying Training School was shifted from Bell Block at New Plymouth down to a prewar airfield at Ashburton.
The Ashburton airfield was long established, being the home of the Mid Canterbury Aero Club. It had opened officially on the 17th of May 1930, two years after it had become the first block of land bought by local bodies in New Zealand specifically for the use of an aerodrome. Those councils were the
Ashburton County and Borough councils. By 1930 the airfield had a hangar that still stands today, big enough for two Gipsy Moths with wings outstretched, or three with wings folded. See more on the history of the airfield here
Work had begun on upgrading the station in February 1942, increasing the airfield's overall area, which had originally been just 93 acres, and establishing a 4200 foot long runway. Hangars were built, accompanied by workshops, huts and messes dispersed around the area. The work cost taxpayers £118,275, and the new station could accommodate 600 personnel.
The new station became active in September, whilst some buildings and hangars were still under construction, when the first Tiger Moths of No. 2 EFTS began to arrive. The school commenced its training duties there officially on the 16th of October 1942. Initially there were problems caused by the strong north-west winds till the hangars finally received their roofs.
On the 9th of November 1942 an unusual accident occurred at the station when sparks from the smokestack of a passing steam traction engine that was on the road next to the airfield ignited the dry grass. Tiger Moth NZ819 caught alight and was all but destroyed. The aircraft was eventually written off the books on the 19th of January 1943 as reduced to spares.
On the 1st of February 1943 a severe gale damaged six Tiger Moths. These included NZ739, NZ753 and NZ1418 being written off.
Several other incidents with Ashburton-based Tiger Moths befell the following aircraft:
NZ666 - Instructor, Pilot Officer Brian Levet was killed when his aircraft crashed near Darfield on the 28th of October 1943. It spun after a tight turn at low altitude and impacted with a hill. LAC Graham Gunn was injured but died three days later in hospital.
- Crashed on takeoff from Ashburton on the 7th of October 1943.
- Crashed near Ashburton on the 27th of March 1943 after hitting a haystack during low flying practice. Rumour has it that the instructor was chasing a rabbit at the time, and failed to see the haystack!
NZ689 - Hit trees 7 km south of Ashburton while carrying out a low level flying exercise on the 19th of April 1943. Flying Officer H.E.L. Pickering and LAC H.C. Parker were both injured.
- Crashed near Ashburton on the 16th of April 1943. Flying Officer P. Clark and LAC K. Outrim were seriously injured.
- Crashed near Ashburton on the 17th of December 1942.
- Crashed 4 km from Mayfield on the 10th of October 1944.
- Crashed at Ashburton on the 14th of March 1943.
- Crashed at Dromore near Ashburton on the 5th of November 1943. The aircraft failed to recover from an inverted position while flying at about 2500 feet and crashed into the ground. Pilot Officer Hugh Eagleson was killed and LAC N. Grant seriously injured.
- Involved in the last fatal RNZAF Tiger Moth accident when the aircraft hit and killed a flare path controller during night landing at Ashburton on the 18th of July 1944.
- Crashed near Charing Cross on the 10th of March 1943. LAC M. Young was injured.
- Crashed at Charing Cross on the 19th of May 1944.
- Crashed 19 kilometres south of Wigram on the 5th of September 1944 after hitting trees during unauthorised low flying.
The dispersed layout of the station proved unsatisfactory, and in June 1943 a £66,000 reconstruction of the facilities began. All of the previously-dispersed facilities were regrouped together on land adjacent to the airfield, and more accommodation was added so that the base could now cater to a strength of 900 people. This improved the station greatly, but by the time the improvements were ready, the demand for the training of new pilots was beginning to drop off.
Two years, almost to the day, after No. 2 EFTS had begun its tenure at Ashburton, the school was disbanded on the 14th of October 1944. The school's instructors and aircraft were absorbed by No. 3 EFTS at Harewood, along with those pupils still under instruction at the time of the move. Shortly after the school left Ashburton, the small base was closed. In its two years at Ashburton, the school had trained 1192 pilots.
Once the airfield was closed, the RNZAF did continue to use Ashburton for a time simply to store Tiger Moths and Harvards.
Opened as RNZAF Station: September 1942
Closed as RNZAF Station: November 1944
Today: The airfield is the site of the Ashburton Aviation Museum and is still an airfield. Little of the original RNZAF buildings still remain. There is one of the original hangars, and the taxi track, complete with tie down loops still firmly in the ground. The museum on site records the history of the station. Also today the aeroclub activities continue and around 25 aircraft, mostly privately owned, are based on the airfield.
Wartime Units Permanently Stationed Here:
No. 2 Elementary Flying Training School
Flying DH82a Tiger Moths as ab initio trainers
References For RNZAF Station Ashburton
- RNZAF Ashburton Reborn (Just For A Day), by Dave Bates, published in New Zealand Wings magazine
- New Zealand Tiger Moths 1938-2000, by Cliff Jenks and David Phillips, AHSNZ, 2000