Learning the "Right Stuff"

  • Our first accommodation for the Basic Training phase - Boot Camp barracks
  • Having fun shooting .303 Bren Guns on full automatic.  Our personal Lee Enfield .303 rifles stacked.
  • More fun, this time shooting 9 mm Sten Guns
  • A visiting Harvard to Birdlings Flat Range during our Officer Cadet Training phase
  • Self and Warrick Batten on the Flight Line waiting for our next Harvard training flight
  • Climbing aboard my steed for first solo on May 28th after 15 hours of dual instruction
  • In formation, heading to Birdlings Flat Range for bombing & gunnery.  Note the bomb rack on NZ1023.
  • The dreaded Link Trainer building - many desperate hours spent in here.
  • Whoops!  Somebody just did a wheels up landing at Birdlings Flat.  Note the wing gun [.303]
  • Formation take-off at Wigram heading for Birdlings Flat Range.








The year is 1957, the month January and my training begins as a pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force - the RNZAF. If I can show that I have the right stuff, I hope to graduate in December with the rank of Pilot Officer and wearing the coveted pilot brevet on the left breast of my officer's uniform. Then, I'll be a fully qualified instrument rated, aerobatic, close formation, air gunnery and bombing military pilot. A hotshot aviator with a total flight time of 200 hours, all flown in the WW2 trainer, the North American Harvard, Mark 2A.

Looking back so many years from 2017, I'm humbled in the knowledge that I was able to survive the training and graduate as an officer and a gentleman [just kidding] ... and as a pilot. I was 17½ years of age when I began the training, the minimum age for acceptance, and graduated at 18½ ... still very much a callow youth ... but obviously possessing the right stuff!

Was the training that easy that a simple country boy like me could handle it? Far from the truth: I look back on that year as the most difficult physical, academic and psychological challenge that I've ever faced, certainly not before, and never since. Everything following that first year of struggle to survive and succeed in the great game of aviation became relatively easy. Like my successful classmates, I'd transformed into a highly self confident individual, imbued with the knowledge that I could now achieve the impossible ... or something like that!

We, the graduates, had every reason to feel somewhat immortal. We were the survivors of a slow but steady attrition of our original group during the eleven months of training. In fact, the decimation had begun during the RNZAF's initial selection process, months before we entered the training program. Many were called, few were chosen and even fewer graduated. Of course, the ones' who were chosen had to be perfect physical specimens with a crooked smile, straight teeth, handsome and charming.

Some years later, as an Instructor Pilot in the same training program, I did my best to convey to students, from my own experience, what were the reasons for success or failure. My simple take was to be at least average in the three disciplines: military officer qualities, academic and flying ability. A good "all rounder" ... no advantage in being an academic genius if you couldn't fly for crap, or didn't know your left leg from the right on parade!

So how good were we, the immortals who'd survived? Didn't take long to find out from our peers, those who'd preceded us by only a year or two. When we showed up at our first operational conversion training units at RNZAF Base Ohakea in early 1958, we were referred to as "bog-rats" and told not to consider ourselves real pilots!

What was the Harvard like to fly, what could we do with it and how good a basic trainer was it?  In retrospect, I was fortunate to join the RNZAF as a student pilot in the dying days of that vast knowledge learnt by thousands of allied aviators during WW2.  The British Commonwealth Harvard, the USAF's Texan T-6 and the USN's SNJ quickly and effectively prepared them for combat roles in Hurricanes, Spitfires, Typhoons, Tempests and Mustangs etc ... like the Harvard all tail-draggers with large propellers producing high torque, prop wash and precession, particularly during take off.

In 1957, No 1 Flying Training School and it’s big brother, the Central Flying School (CFS) of the RNZAF, still embodied the very best of that WW2 training of pilots using the Harvard to teach all military flying skills from ab Initio through to advanced - including instrument flying, aerobatics, air combat techniques, air gunnery and bombing. It made a lot of noise, inside and out, the cockpit cold in winter, hot in summer, smelling of burnt gasoline and oil. With no previous flying experience it was difficult to handle this comparative monster of an airplane. This was no puddle-jumping, bug-smashing little tinker toy Cessna trainer, as used in the general aviation world, but rather a thoroughbred beast that needed a strong and steady hand.

Learning to fly the Harvard well, took time and perseverance. But with experience in the airplane, it became fun to fly. Possibly the steepest learning curve was instrument flight training. The flight instruments were WW2 vintage and the only radio navigation aid was a small AM (200-550 kHz) radio receiver for the purpose of hearing the Morse code signals (A's & N's) from Radio Range ground based arrays. Other exciting maneuvers purely flown on instruments were Pattern Dogs and recovery from spinning using limited panel (gyros were caged for aerobatics!)


  • Passing Out Parade for the Aircrew Cadets of No. 25 Wings Course: RNZAF Base Wigram - March 1957
  • No. 25 Pilot Wings Course at the beginning of Phase One Flight Training: RNZAF Base Wigram - May 1957
  • Harvard doing a break from formation over Birdlings Flat
  • The guy in the box - in a formation of four Harvards.
  • Loading practice bombs [smoke] onto Harvard
  • Another whoops!  The same wheels up at Birdings Flat - by John Doe!
  • Peter off for another exciting night in the Harvard - hope the flare pots don't blow out!
  • Graduation Day for Peter and the other survivors.
  • December 18, 1957: Graduation Ball - Flight & ground instructors at the rear, students in front.  See the names at About Us
  • Peter Tremayne, Graham Register, Warrick Batten, Roger Gray, Bob Graham, Russell Branks, Alastair McLean, Ian Collins, Gary Hilder, Colin Mackey


  • The Radio Range Signal Pattern
  • Pushing the Beam - note the "Bisignal" zones.  We knew these as "Twilight Zones"
  • The difficult Pattern D (Dog) to fly on instruments.  The power settings are for the Harvard





Riding the Range - Radio that is!

Possibly one of my last aural Radio Range approaches that I recall, before the aerial arrays were torn down and dumped on the trash heap of NZ Aviation history, was over Christchurch in the winter of 1959.  I was in a Harvard with Bill Cranfield ... he in the front seat and me under the hood in the back, attempting my best to hear the A’s & N’s and stay on the inbound leg to the Cone of Silence. 

I commented to Bill that the RPM would not change with movement of the Prop Lever and he suggested I look outside.  I moved the canvas hood back and saw only white … we were in cloud, with ice collecting on the leading edges, with Bill’s observation that the propeller flyweights had iced up, and his fix was: “I have control”, pushed the nose over, rapidly descended at least 500’ (no area radar in those days), then pulled up with a 2-3 G positive loading back through our assigned altitude and finally crept back to where we’d started.  Bingo! The prop lever was now changing the RPM.  I suspect Bill had learned this technique flying the Beaver in the Antarctic with Sir Ed? 




The Pattern Dog - by Harvard

Here’s the Pattern Dog in all its glory … Harvard power settings included.  I seem to remember trying to emulate a Pattern D in the C-130 (just a waste of fue) and much later in a 727 simulator (trying to impress my American crew –failure), but I still have nightmares of being bullied into doing the Pattern D in a Link Trainer by one of those WW2 Sergeant Pilots who controlled our lives during “Link Time”

Last comment on the Pattern D leaflet that I scanned, complete with creases from all the flights it suffered in my flight-suit leg pocket.  I had to use PhotoShop to remove the stains of the blood, sweat and tears!   




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