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Adventurous residents take to the skies again

Written by Maryvonne Gray
on March 29, 2023

Perhaps living in a village named after one of New Zealand’s greatest airmen, Sir Keith Park, has influenced the residents to aim skywards when thinking of new and exciting activities to do!

First there was the Sky Tower jump and perimeter walk, arranged as part of Ryman Healthcare’s enhanced resident activity programme last month after resident Helen Lane’s brave suggestion.

Then, another former airman, resident Don Bennington had the idea to do a scenic flight in a DC-3 which came to fruition last Friday.

Feel the nostalgia: Watch here as the DC-3 taxis towards the runway and takes off.

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“I have a few contacts from my Air Force days and I called them up and they said ‘easy, just give us the numbers’ and it proved to be pretty popular!” said Don.

Pretty popular it certainly was. Whereas jumping off the Sky Tower saw nine residents take up the challenge, it was five times that number for the DC-3, with Resident Experience Coordinator Steph Cawte having to organise two vans and a bus to transport the residents from Hobsonville to Ardmore Airport.

The other difference was the weather – Auckland put on a stunning day which pilot Matt McLaughlin said would be perfect for viewing the city’s various landmarks en route.
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DC-3 Pilot Matt McLaughlin (centre) briefs the residents before the flight.

Because the DC-3 flies at just 450 metres (1500 feet), the detail could be quite surprising, he said, recalling a story of what a young passenger had once spotted.

“I was helping a group of air scouts disembark after a flight once and I asked one of them ‘what did you see?’

“He said ‘giraffes!’ which was not what I expected him to say at all! But we had done a turn over Motat and the zoo and he saw the giraffes. So there’s a chocolate fish for you if you see a giraffe,” he told the residents.

A request to fly over the residents’ village in Hobsonville was not so easy to fulfil, however.

“Flying over Hobsonville it gets complicated because of the airspace of Whenuapai, and likewise over Piha or west Auckland you’re in Auckland International Airport airspace.”

With so many residents keen to fly and only 22 seats on the DC-3, two flights were scheduled, with the second group touring the Warbirds Museum elsewhere at Ardmore Airport while they awaited their turn.

The route they followed took in the Clevedon Hills, Maraetai, Waiheke Island and Rangitoto before turning left over North Head, doing a couple of turns over the harbour for views of the Sky City and Okahu Bay, and then returning back past Auckland International Airport to complete the 25 minute flight.

For the residents, hearing the engines start up and seeing the smoke puff out was a real nostalgia trip as many had flown on DC-3s before, including Helen Lane: “I was 10 years old when I went on my first flight out of Whenuapai and that was a DC-3 because that’s all they flew back then.”

This particular aircraft, affectionately known as Betsy, is a 1944 Oklahoma-built Douglas DC-3 with fixed-wing propellers and is one of only a handful in the world still certified for civil aviation.

It has had a few modifications – for instance, it used to be painted in the D-Day colours used by the Royal Air Force in WW2 but in 2007 was repainted to represent the aircraft NZ3546 from 42 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the seats come from an old 767!
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Reliving their RNZAF days: Volunteer ground crew Brian 'Gunther' Graham with residents and former RNZAF men Ian Curtis and Don Bennington, who had the idea for the activity.

The verdict? “Excellent!” said Don. “I think everybody thoroughly enjoyed it.

“We got a good view of Auckland and all around and then Auckland International Airport.

“I didn’t see any giraffes though!” he laughed.

When he was a flight engineer, Don flew on DC-3s all the time around the South Pacific.

Usually they could fly for just over six hours before needing to refuel, although two aircraft were fitted with internal tanks to fly further.

“You had to actually turn the taps on and off, and if you got it wrong like one guy did, and there was a delay between turning one off and the other one on, the pump would pump air into the fuel tank and the engine would stop!

“It didn’t happen to me though, I always took extra care with that!”

There was none of that to worry about on this occasion though, said Don. The biggest worry was only for those taller than 177cm and that was to remember to duck as they climbed aboard!

“You will need to mind your head or you will leave a little bit of your body at the top of the stairs,” said Matt.
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Betsy the beautiful DC-3 in all her glory.

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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