Aviation history in a quiet corner

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In a far corner of Ashburton airfield, across the paddock from the fast-fading WW2 hangar, is a little-known and intact piece of New Zealand aviation history.

It is a compass rose made of concrete.

A compass rose is a figure on a compass or map or nautical chart – or ground, as in Ashburton – to show the orientation of north, east, south and west and intermediate points.

The Ashburton compass is rudimentary and standard for time.

When it was built – when Ashburton was home to the WW2 Royal New Zealand Air Force Elementary Flying School and trained 1100 pilots for service in the war – it is believed to have had brass points indicating true north, south, east and west, but they are gone.

To use the rose, an aircraft was placed on the rose pointing true north and, from there, the magnetic north direction could be found and the readings for each plane altered.

Because magnetic north is variable, the calculations needed to be done regularly.

The rose – and 600m of tarmac – have a Category A Ashburton council heritage listing.

The tarmac runs northeast and still has the metal tie-downs used to secure Tiger Moths from damage in northwest winds.

The tarmac is still in good condition.