The Ash­bur­ton Avi­a­tion­mu­seum houses a trove of in­ter­est­ing air­craft, in­clud­ing the South­erndc3 that re­cently flew the Cru­saders to the North Is­land. NICK ASH­LEY flies in for a visit from Christchurch in a Cessna 150 light air­craft.

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With no low-level clouds in sight and a mod­er­ate but smooth westerly wind aloft, it was per­fect fly­ing weather. The flight to Ash­bur­ton from Christchurch was rou­tine, with the skies empty and the re­lent­lessly straight State High­way 1 pro­vid­ing the per­fect land­mark to fol­low.

Ash­bur­ton air­field is a com­plex of four run­ways about four kilo­me­tres east of the town on Seafield Rd, and is clearly sign­posted from the high­way for road traf­fic.

The Ash­bur­ton Avi­a­tion Mu­seum is at the east­ern end of the air­port, with plenty of park­ing avail­able, no mat­ter how you get there.

The mu­seum be­gan in 1978 with the pur­chase of a North Amer­i­can Har­vard from the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Dur­ing World War II, the RNZAF op­er­ated Har­vards as train­ers, with the mu­seum ex­am­ple serv­ing for two decades from 1942 to 1962. Har­vards are highly recog­nis­able by their ‘‘glasshouse’’ wind­shields, and the few still fly­ing around New Zealand can be recog­nised by the howl­ing sound made by their pro­pel­ler tips which can ex­ceed the speed of sound.

An­other mu­seum air­craft, a de Hav­il­land Vam­pire that flew for just a few hours in RNZAF ser­vice, was res­cued from life as a chil­dren’s play­ground at the Cave Tav­ern and ex­pertly re­stored over sev­eral years.

Vam­pires car­ried the RNZAF into the jet age, be­ing used from 1951 to 1972, when they were re­placed by BAC Strike­mas­ters. Pow­ered by a sin­gle Gob­lin tur­bo­jet, the Vam­pire reached a top speed of about 880kmh, which while record-break­ing at the time, can now be fre­quently ex­ceeded by larger com­mer­cial air­lin­ers.

One of the more un­usual dis­plays is a ‘‘gift’’ from the Soviet Union: a piece of space-probe Cos­mos 482 which crashed nearby.

Af­ter a failed launch se­quence, the probe broke up with sev­eral pieces fall­ing in fields near Ash­bur­ton. ‘‘Space­ball num­ber 1’’ is a roughly bas­ket­ball-size sphere of welded metal that was dis­cov­ered about 8km south of Ash­bur­ton on April 3, 1972.

Shar­ing a hangar with many air­craft that will never take to the skies again is the South­ern DC3, an air­liner built in the 1940s that is fre­quently used for scenic flights over Christchurch.

This month the old work­horse was put to work fly­ing stranded pas­sen­gers be­tween Christchurch and Welling­ton af­ter do­mes­tic flights were can­celled as the vol­canic ash cloud from Chile dropped even lower. Even the Cru­saders boarded this piece of fly­ing his­tory to get to Welling­ton for their clash with the Hur­ri­canes on June 18.

Any­one with an in­ter­est in avi­a­tion could spend sev­eral hours at this great mu­seum, but as it was ap­proach­ing clos­ing time I de­cided to have a fi­nal look around the hangar and make my way back past a re­tired Fokker Friend­ship to the much smaller air­craft wait­ing for me near the run­way.

A few min­utes later, I was on my way back to Christchurch, and look­ing out to the west I could see a dirty tint in the sky that was an in­di­ca­tion of the chaos to come for both air­lines and trav­ellers.

How­ever, my flight ended smoothly, and whether you fly or drive, the trip to the Ash­bur­ton Avi­a­tion Mu­seum makes a great es­cape from Christchurch. Just make sure you avoid fall­ing space­craft!

Ash­bur­ton Avi­a­tion Mu­seum: Open­ing hours, Wed­nes­day and Satur­day, 1pm to 3pm, and Sun­day 9am to 4pm; en­try $5.


Mu­seum starter: The pur­chase of a North Amer­i­can Har­vard launched the Ash­bur­ton Avi­a­tion­Mu­seum in 1978.

Work­horse: This South­ern DC3 re­cently flew stranded pas­sen­gers to the North Is­land.

Mixed back­ground: Ade Hav­il­land Vam­pire that was res­cued from a life as a chil­dren’s play­ground at the Cave Tav­ern.

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