Perhaps New Zealand's most qualified and experienced First World War pilot, Clive Collett flew a total of about 1200 hours, many of them on experimental work, on at least 46 different types of aircraft.
Born at Spring Creek near Blenheim on 28 August 1886, Collett shortly after the outbreak of war worked his passage to England and joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in early 1915. When his squadron was about to be posted to France he was badly injured in a flying accident in July, and it was another eight months before he got to fly on the Western Front. This was short-lived, however, as his injuries were still troubling him and he was invalided back to England for further treatment. Upon recovery, he was posted to the RFC’s Experimental Station at Orfordness, Suffolk in June 1916. Here he carried out test flights and other experimental work, including the first parachute jump from an RFC aircraft, in January 1917.
By July 1917, Collett was back in France, flying Sopworth Camel fighters with No. 70 Squadron. On 27 July, he became the first RFC pilot to make a confirmed kill with a Camel, before racking up a further six kills over the next 44 days to become New Zealand’s first fighter ace. An extremely aggressive pilot, Collett pushed himself and his aircraft to the limit. According to British air ace James McCudden VC:
[Collett] used to come back shot to ribbons nearly every time he went out. One day he drove a German machine down to the ground behind the German lines, and then to make quite sure he fired at it on the ground until it burst into flames. Collett was always for downing the Hun, whenever and wherever he could find him.
Wounded during an aerial dogfight in September 1917, Collett returned to England to recuperate, receiving a Military Cross and bar for his exploits on the Western Front. In October, he returned briefly to Orfordness then joined the Aeroplane Experimental Station at Martlesham Heath in Suffolk, where he helped evaluate captured enemy aircraft and performed exhibition flights. He died on 23 December 1917, when the German Albatros DV fighter he was flying crashed into the Firth of Forth in Scotland. He was 31 years old.