Malcolm McGregor, known to colleagues as ‘Mad Mac’, achieved fame as a First World War air ace. He later helped to establish civil aviation in New Zealand.
In March 1916 McGregor entered Leo and Vivian Walsh's private New Zealand Flying School at Mission Bay, Auckland, after his parents refused to allow him to enlist in the army. He graduated later that year and sailed for England for advanced training with the Royal Flying Corps. His first posting was as a fighter pilot in No. 54 Squadron in France. In June 1917, he sustained injuries in an emergency crash landing. After recovering in England, he served as a flying instructor. He found these duties frustrating and in March 1918 was reprimanded for allegedly performing stunts.
He returned to France in May 1918, now with No. 85 Squadron of the recently established Royal Air Force. During the final offensives of the war McGregor was promoted to captain and given command of his own flight. A recommendation for the Distinguished Flying Cross in August 1918 described him as 'a pilot of exceptional, even extraordinary skill' and 'a clever leader, full of resource and dash'. He was awarded the DFC and bar, and was credited with six aircraft destroyed and a balloon (shared) as well as four sent down ‘out of control’.
McGregor’s wartime experience afforded him exceptional technical knowledge of aviation. After the war he established several commercial aviation ventures, became one of New Zealand’s best-known Territorial Air Force and civilian pilots, and competed in an international air race. He died just short of his 40th birthday after crashing while landing at Wellington’s Rongotai aerodrome in wretched weather.
Adapted by Matthew Tonks from the DNZB biography by Errol W. Martyn