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Nation’s long wait in vain

War historian Neil Frances, left, and author Bill Conroy, with a model of the Ryan aircraft flown by Captain George Hood and Lieutenant John Moncrieff in their failed attempt to cross the Tasman Sea. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

BOOKS

The Nation Waited: The first attempt to fly the Tasman Sea

Author: Bill Conroy

Nicola Little

At 2.44am on January 10, 1928, Lieutenant John [Scotty] Moncrieff and Masterton’s Captain George Hood took off from outside Sydney in near-perfect weather for the expected 14-hour first-ever flight across the Tasman.

New Zealand and Australia were enthralled by the wonder and daring of the new world of aviation and 12,000 people gathered at Trentham racecourse to welcome the heroes in.

They never arrived, and no trace was ever found.

Author Bill Conroy brings 30 years of research into the mystery into a remarkably readable book that gives a picture of the times, the excitement and the experimentation at the beginning of peacetime aviation in New Zealand.

Conroy explores the many factors that influenced the aviators’ chances of success in a way that both aviation experts and anyone with a passing interest in history can enjoy.

Captain George Hood. PHOTO/WAIRARAPA ARCHIVE

The chapter on meteorological conditions over the Tasman, and the difficulty of knowing what could be happening in an oceanic environment that no one had ever experienced, helps the modern reader understand just how much the two pilots were launching into the completely unknown.

The pilots also had no instruments to measure wind speed and direction and so could only estimate their drift off course, and the latest navigation technology used, the “earth inductor compass”, was a short-lived and not entirely reliable innovation.

The plane itself was a truly modern plane for the time.

Called the Aotearoa it was a new style ‘monoplane’ – planes were generally biplanes until then – a customised Ryan B-1 Brougham similar to Charles Lindbergh’s, with the latest Whirlwind 220hp radial engine that had proved itself in many long flights already.

Along with the technical aspects of the flight, the aviators faced many other pressures such as finding funding, planning and testing, and dealing with the huge public and media interest.

Conroy pulls all these factors, and the aftermath of the disappearance, into a compelling picture of the times, the people and the technology.

All in all, The Nation Waited is a deeply researched and fascinating examination of a great New Zealand mystery.

The Nation Waited: The First Attempt to Fly the Tasman Sea, Wairarapa Archive/Fraser Books. $35 from Wairarapa bookshops and the Wairarapa Archive.

2 COMMENTS

  1. A great read, and one that has answered a number of key questions for me.
    The book makes a startling revelation about the possible final resting place of the aircraft and the possible cause of the accident.
    It is well researched and has many interesting photographs.
    As the author states we may never know what happened however I believe that they made landfall, based on the testimony of witnesses, and so my search continues.
    One can not talk about this case without mentioning the late Paul Beauchamp-Legg who undertook many searches of the Mt Stokes area.
    Well done Bill ! It is wonderful that NZ’s first aviation accident is remembered in such a great way.

    • Hi Andrew. I have just come across your comment and I thank you most sincerely for your very kind remarks. Please keep up your own interest in this dramatic event in our aviation history. Perhaps one day the RNZN may take their dive team and do a sweep around the spot that the dead-reckoning plot suggests may have been the crash site! On the other hand perhaps one day your theory will prove to be correct.
      All the vey best to you Andrew
      Kind regards
      Bill Conroy

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