Long-time aviator John Wilkinson with his family (from left) Debbie McGregor, Jeannie Caney, Scott Fairclough and Holly Fairclough, in the new Ashburton airport hangar named after him.

With his aviator jacket and helmet, a young John Wilkinson imagined he was the famous fictional fighter pilot Biggles, conquering the skies.

Now, after 60 years of flying, John has his own flying tales to tell and a hangar at the Mid Canterbury Aero Club named in his honour.

The club says John has been a great ambassador for flying, passionate about his hobby and contributed greatly to the running of their aero club.

He was also made an honorary life member of the club, which officially opened its new hangar at the weekend.

John’s new status was a bit of a surprise – he thought he had been asked along to open the hangar.

He recounted some early flying stories, including how he came to be hooked on flying.

He was lucky to have a joy ride in a small plane when he was 12; the seed was sown and by 16 he was learning to fly.

“My father was quite impressed but my mother took some convincing. She said, you can learn to fly as long as you don’t go too high and too fast.”

He remembered first lessons from 1956, with a former air force pilot as instructor. Dressed in a leather jacket and helmet, John said he felt like Biggles.

And the flying was heavenly, although not always smooth.

Practising an engine failure at lift-off, John remembers being instructed to swerve around a tree at the end of the runway and onto the nearby golf course.

The golfers scattered in all directions.

He said navigating was another challenge, in those days flights were plotted by map, not GPS.

John moved from Nelson to Mid Canterbury 35 years ago and continued to fly.

“I have had a lot more pleasure from flying than I have put into it. It has been great.”

Aero club compere at the hangar opening Peter McQuarters said John was a very handy pilot and had flown for the Mid Canterbury club in New Zealand flying competitions, doing very well for many years.

He was president in 1995.

“He does not make a big song and dance and has been very generous. His passion for flying and this club and these people runs very deep.”

The new hangar was completed earlier this year but because of covid, the official opening was delayed.

The new building can accommodate eight or nine planes, including the four that the club owns.

The aero club is also in the throes of relocating the former iSite building from East Street to be its new clubrooms. A new concrete pad is being laid at the airport and the building will be transported out there soon.

The first hangar at the airport dates back to the 1920s, when one was built for 250 pounds, considered a pricey sum at the time.

The new hangar has been built through the fundraising efforts of members and a $20,000 grant from the Community Trust of Mid and South Canterbury.


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