New Zealand’s first controlled powered flight

5 February 1911

Manurewa (Auckland City Libraries, 2-V10)

Pioneering aviator Vivian ‘Vee’ Walsh took to the skies over South Auckland for the first successful flight in New Zealand. During late 1910 and early 1911, Vivian and his brother Leo, members of the Auckland Aeroplane Syndicate, had worked with a small team of men and women to assemble a Howard-Wright biplane that had been imported from England in parts. Early on the morning of Sunday 5 February, Vivian flew the aeroplane, named Manurewa (‘Soaring Bird’), for the first time.

The flight took place in a single paddock, the steeplechase section of Papakura racecourse. The defunct Papakura Racing Club had held its final race meeting a fortnight earlier, on 21 January 1911. Racehorse breeder William Walters of Glenora Park had made the paddock and the rooms under the grandstand available to the syndicate, which comprised the Walsh brothers and three investors, brothers A. Neville Lester and Charles B. Lester, and A. Josiah Powley, the syndicate’s secretary.

The flight on 5 February, Leo Walsh’s 30th birthday, was observed by the brothers’ father, Austin Walsh JP, and his sisters Veronica and Doreen Walsh, as well as some local residents. Another flight with syndicate members present took place four days later, on 9 February. With Vivian again piloting, Manurewa rose over 6 m from the ground and flew 300–400 m. With no brakes, and insufficient ground to slow down, the machine ran into a fence after landing.

The Walsh brothers and an American colleague, Reuben Dexter, went on to establish the influential New Zealand Flying School. Vivian became the first person to obtain a pilot’s licence in this country (see 13 July).


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Posted: 06 Jan 2022

This article needs revision to take account of the revised biography 2021.

Jamie M

Posted: 01 Jun 2018

Hi Terry - my understanding is that we are correct that it is 'first controlled powered flight recorded in New Zealand' - the earlier 5 February flight was not recorded. Please let us know if this is not correct though. Thanks

Terry Moyle

Posted: 01 Jun 2018

The date here is incorrect. The first flight was undertaken on February 5 1911.