Thrill of vintage planes lives on

Mandeville Fly-in organiser Maeva Smith's great-uncle, John Crombie, was one of the first pilots to fly a Tiger Moth at the airfield 100 years ago.
Southland MP Joseph Mooney checks out a de Havilland 90 Dragonfly, one of two in the world that are airworthy, at the Mandeville Fly-in on Sunday.

MANDEVILLE Fly-in organiser Maeva Smith celebrated a century-long family connection with the Mandeville airfield at last weekend’s event.

The fly-in was held on the grounds surrounding the Croydon Aviation Heritage Centre which was originally part of the farm her great-grandfather, Robert Crombie, owned after he and his wife, Mary, immigrated to the area.

Mrs Smith said her great-uncle, John Crombie, and a friend first used the paddock as an airstrip about February 20, 1921.

It’s one of the earliest pieces of ground that has been identified as an airstrip in New Zealand,’’ Mrs Smith said.

The fence at the end of the paddock was taken up and down to give aeroplanes more room to land.

“They would do a circuit and chase the sheep off.’’

Her great-uncle bought a Tiger Moth and kept it in a wooden hangar near the airstrip.

“We used to go down and play around it when he was cleaning it but Mum wouldn’t let us go for a ride with him because she said he wasn’t particularly good at driving a car so he wasn’t taking her precious girls in his aeroplane.’’

People often said there was a “magic about Tiger Moths”.

However, Tiger Moths had been part of the scene at Mandeville for as long as Mrs Smith could remember.

“I don’t get the magic because it’s always been there.”

Nowadays, the Croydon Aircraft Company, based at the airfield, gave people joyrides in vintage aircraft, including Tiger Moths, housed in the heritage centre.

What she enjoyed most about her work with the company was meeting people.

“There’s people coming in here from all over the world to look at what we do.”

It was special to be able to celebrate the anniversary.

“It’s nice to think that the activity [John] started is still carrying on and people are still enjoying it and that thrill of old aeroplanes hasn’t been lost,” Mrs Smith said.