Pioneer aviator George Bolt dies

27 July 1963

George Bolt, circa 1943
George Bolt, circa 1943 (Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-5933-07)

Bolt was an outstanding figure in the development of commercial aviation in this country. Among his many achievements were taking New Zealand’s first aerial photographs in 1912 and delivering its first official airmail in 1919. He served with the RNZAF during the Second World War.

George Bolt’s flying career began in the South Island in 1911. Aged just 18, he launched a glider that he had designed and built himself from the Cashmere Hills above Christchurch. In 1916 he began work as an apprentice mechanic at the Walsh brothers’ New Zealand Flying School in Auckland. By 1919 he was the school’s chief pilot. He achieved a number of early aviation milestones, including long-distance and altitude records.

Bolt made his first experimental airmail flight from Auckland to Dargaville in 1919. He made further mail flights to Thames and Whangārei the following year, then in 1921 joined forces with the Walsh brothers to begin a regular airmail service between Auckland and Whangārei. This proved uneconomic and was soon discontinued.

In late 1923 the New Zealand Flying School ceased operations. Bolt now turned to military aviation, becoming an instructor at refresher courses for ex-service pilots who were to form the nucleus of the New Zealand Air Force (Territorial).

During the 1930s Bolt worked for a number of commercial airlines. In 1935 he became the chief pilot for Cook Strait Airways. When the Second World War broke out the company’s aircraft were requisitioned for air training. Bolt was appointed chief engineer at the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Ōhakea station. He then became chief engineer at the RNZAF repair and assembly facility at Hobsonville, attaining the rank of wing commander in 1943.

In 1944 Bolt was appointed chief engineer of Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL), the forerunner of Air New Zealand. He remained with TEAL until his retirement in 1960. Today, people driving between the city and Auckland International Airport travel along George Bolt Memorial Drive.