Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fading Past? Hobsonville’s Sunderland seaplane hangar


 The following was written for the July 2010 issue of the West Auckland Historical Society's newsletter.

The placenames of the district of Hobsonville has a redolent mix of two completely different heritage themes. The 19th and early 20th century industries, the potteries, brickyards and lime kilns, are celebrated in Limeburners Bay, Brickbat Bay, and Clark Road. While from the 20th century, an age between wars and in their wake, come Bofors Point, Nimrod Inlet, Orion Point, Bomb Bay, Catalina Bay. At the old Hobsonville Air Base itself, there are streets named for past commanding officers: Isitt, Calder, Buckley and Carnegie.

How much of these two combined and overlapped themes from Hobsonville’s past will remain for the future, in the face of plans to create massive housing estates beside the waters of the upper Waitemata? One part of the picture of Hobsonville’s history does have WAHS President Trevor Pollard concerned: the fate, yet to be determined, of the old Sunderland seaplane hanger.

The first use of the airfield at Hobsonville was by a civilian, F D (Doug) Mill who owned his own Gypsy Moth and set up his Air Survey & Transport Ltd operation in 1927, specialising in aerial photography, repairing and selling aircraft, and providing passenger transport. Mill’s operations were to continue until 1940.

The first seaplane hangar was completed in 1929, once Hobsonville became a government-owned base, part of a development including commanding officer’s residence, central office, and cottages for the men. The 1937 Cochrane report, recommending a separation of land and seaplane operations, led to the establishment of Whenuapai and Ohakea airbases, and the development of Hobsonville as a Repair and Equipment Depot, and seaplane base.

Imperial Airways successfully carried out the first mail flight across the Tasman Sea in December 1937, and this led to the establishment of Tasman Empire Airways Ltd (TEAL). TEALs operations were at Mechanics Bay, but as Hobsonville was the government’s repair depot, it was decided to build a large hanger in 1939 near the existing hangar and workshops for the maintenance of TEAL’s seaplanes.

In 1942, the repairs section at Hobsonville was relocated to Hamilton, but two years later came the arrival of four Sunderland flying boats from the United Kingdom – the aircraft that the larger hangar at Hobsonville would become associated with from that time onward. The coming of the Sunderlands meant extensions to the seaplane apron, already used to capacity by TEAL aircraft, Walruses and Catalinas.

Photos taken May 2010.
The seaplane era at Hobsonville ended with the retirement of the Sunderlands in the mid 1960s, the last flying from Fiji to Hobsonville in 1967. The focus of the base shifted to helicopters, but the base eventually closed in 2002.

Sources:
Hobsonville Landing AEE (Archaeology, Rod Clough and Sarah Macready, 2009
Former Hobsonville Airbase, A Heritage Assessment, Dave Pearson, 2008

6 comments:

  1. Check out

    http://www.ziln.co.nz/program_detail.php?program_id=1063&channel_id=60

    It might be a nice link for those (like me) with an interest in flying boats and Hobsonville.

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  2. Hi Phil! That is a great link -- thanks for putting that up. I've passed it onto Trevor.

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  3. Please Change the spelling of "Hangar". in your headline. Thank you

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  4. Whoops! Hadn't realised that. Cheers, will do it now.

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  5. I HAVE PRODUCED A DVD ON THE HISTORY OF HOBSONVILLE AS REAGARDS TO THE AIRFORCE. IF ANY ONE WOULKE A COPY PLEASE LET ME KNOW. COST IS $29.00 DOLLARS.I WOULD BE HAPPY TO SHOW IT AT ONE OF YOUR MEETINGS.
    PETER MASON
    PRODUCER/DIRECTOR END OF AN ERA

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  6. What are your contact details, Peter? Email? Phone? Both Avondale-Waterview and Pt Chevalier Historical Societies might be interested in hearing you talk and show this.

    Lisa

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