By John Keast
John Hill reaches for the black button.
Tap tap. Click click.
He has not forgotten.
Morse code stays with you.
Mr Hill is the man behind a new attraction at the Ashburton Aviation Museum.
It’s an aeradio shed, created in a World War Two buwhen Ashburton was an air training base and moved into the museum’s super-hangar.
The aeradio shed is a replica of offices he has worked in around New Zealand and overseas.
It is jammed with radio gear, instruments for reading and recording the weather, a typewriter – and a morse code key.
Aeradio stations were set up around New Zealand – and elsewhere – by the Post Office to receive and pass on aviation and related messages.
They were also set up around the Pacific in World War Two as coast-watch stations.
The station at the museum represents a 1950s aeradio station used at secondary airports around New Zealand.
“They were not control towers, they were radio stations of benefit to aviation. They were part met station, too.”
“This is in memory of the aeradio and associated operators killed in the Pacific [17 New Zealand coastwatchers and five civilians captured in the Gilbert Islands- Kiribati – were beheaded by Japanese in 1942] and those who returned to New Zealand,” Mr Hill said.
His experience is extensive.
He worked at aeradio stations at Milford Sound, Haast, Oamaru, Timaru, Christchurch, Blenheim, Wanganui, Taupo, Whakatane, Whangarei, Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Niue.
The work was varied; for departing aircraft the officer would pass on all weather information and a flight plan would be sent to air traffic control.
The officer would also handle passenger and freight information – and be ready to put on the kettle for visitors.
Mr Hill said the work fell away as more planes had radios.
Officers had to know how to measure wind speed and direction, the barometric pressure (by which pilots set altimeters), and the arriving aircraft would be reported to air traffic control – and non -arrival.
Mr Hill eventually became the man in charge of that section at the Ministry of Transport and later joined a software company to write programs for airports – programs used around the world.
Mr Hill retired to Ashburton – and his love of aviation continues.
The museum shed features instruments from Mr Hill’s lifetime collection, and some look-alike gear Mr Hill made.
And there are two morse code keys.
In yesteryear, an aeradio officer would receive weather information via morse and have to create a weather map.
Officers worked from 6am to 6pm, with weather reports on the hour