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Royal New Zealand Air Force



The Flying Training School at Sockburn, operated by the Canterbury Aviation Company, was formed in 1917. Like the Walshs, the company had applied to the New Zealand Government for assistance and had been refused, and, like them, it had entered into an agreement with the British Government. Training started in June with one aircraft, a Caudron II with a sixty-horsepower Anzani engine. The instructor was C. M. Hill, who had come from the Hall Flying School at Hendon, and the ground staff page 6 consisted of J. G. Mackie (airframes) and J. E. Moore (engines). By the end of the war two more instructors were employed: B. Dawson, on loan from the Flying School at Kohimarama, and J. C. Mercer, who had been one of Hill's first pupils.

The first course, which lasted five weeks, consisted of six pupils, all of whom qualified for their pilots’ certificates on 24 August 1917. Altogether 180 pilots were trained at the school by the end of the war. Of these, 156 had gone overseas and were commissioned in the RFC, RNAS, or RAF when the Armistice was declared.

Flying training consisted of taxi-ing, ‘straights’ —taking off and landing in a straight line within the boundary of the aerodrome— circuits and, finally, figure-of-eight turns. The average amount of dual instruction before a pupil did his first solo was from three to four hours, and after another three hours' flying he was ready for his passing-out test.

Ground training was cut to a minimum to save time, as the RFC wanted pilots to be trained and sent overseas as quickly as possible; but whenever the weather was too bad for flying, pupils had practical experience in the workshops helping the engineers to build new aircraft and repairing damage caused by their own errors of judgment.

Besides the men who were trained at Kohimarama and Sockburn, several hundred other New Zealanders served during the First World War in the RFC, RNAS or RAF, either in the air or on the ground. When they returned after the war many of them kept their interest in flying, and from their ranks came the first members of the New Zealand Air Force.

The first air VC ever to be awarded was won by a New Zealander, Second-Lieutenant W. B. Rhodes-Moorhouse, RFC, the son of Edward Moorhouse, an early pioneer. During a bombing raid at Courtrai, he came down to 300 feet to hit his objective and was severely wounded by rifle and machine-gun fire. He flew back over 35 miles to his base to make his report, but died the next day in hospital. His posthumous VC was awarded in May 1915.