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Moth to a flame

As Pete Anderson soared through the Masterton sky in the open cockpit of a Tiger Moth he last flew 64 years ago, he was blasted back through a flying career that twice took him to Africa.

The Tiger Moth flight from Hood Aerodrome last month was an early 82nd birthday present for Pete – after a lucky spot as he watched TV at home in Levin weeks earlier.

“We were watching a TV show called Country Houses,” wife Valda Anderson explained. It featured a Tiger Moth vintage aircraft flying from Wellington to Wairarapa. “Suddenly, Pete got very excited and said the Tiger Moth BLK on screen was the one he trained in, in 1959 in Whanganui.”

Pete’s old flight logbook shows he flew 27 hours and 45 minutes in Tiger Moth BLK. He completed his commercial flight test prior to turning 19, received his licence on his birthday and began work that same day with Manawatu Aerial Top Dressing Ltd, flying another Tiger Moth.

Pete’s career as a pilot took him to Africa twice – the first time in 1968, as a crop dresser, with his first wife Gladys and their two children. The second move to Africa, in 1975, saw Pete set up a float plane business on Lake Kariba, on the border between Zambia and Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe]. “We started out flying tourists along the Zambezi Gorge,” he said.

However, when war broke out with nationalist forces, Pete began flying in the Rhodesian Air Wing Command under then-Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith.

“I was flying 80-90 hours a month during the war,” Pete said. After the war, he and his family found life difficult in the African country, and returned to New Zealand in 1983. Initially, he returned to top dressing, then flew for Turtle Airways in Fiji.

In 1986, Pete bought Float Air in Picton, where he met Valda, before semi-retiring as an orchardist in the Bay of Plenty. Pete and Valda spent seven years in Masterton from about 2006 and opened the Alcatraz Boarding Cattery in Vivian St.

Tiger Moth BLK, originally silver but now with a dark green top, was built by the de Havilland Aircraft Company Ltd in Hatfield, England. The aircraft entered Royal Air Force service in 1940 during World War II, registered as R4895. In 1955, it was sold to the Wanganui Aero Club and joined the New Zealand civil register as ZK-BLK. After a series of owners registered in Marton, Tauranga, Whanganui, Wellington and Marlborough, it was purchased and rebuilt by the New Zealand Sport and Vintage Aviation Society in Masterton, where it took flight in 1986.

After Pete spotted the Tiger Moth on TV, Valda did some sleuthing to find where it was. She was delighted to confirm it was still at Hood Aerodrome carrying the code BLK and was in use by Wairarapa Flying Tigers for pleasure flights for the paying public.

“Pete was still talking about BLK after the TV show, so instead of waiting until his birthday in August, I decided to bring the surprise gift forward.”

Valda booked Pete a 30-minute flight, and the couple stood by in Levin for a fine day in Masterton. That happened on May 26, when Masterton pilot Steve Davies Howard made the joyride call.

Pete was taken through the required safety procedures, then climbed into a flight suit, thick aviation jacket and a helmet with goggles and radio headset, before pulling himself into the open cockpit.

“I think the Tiger Moth’s in better condition than I am,” Pete remarked, settling into the front seat of the 80-year-old biplane.

The Tiger Moth’s propeller was hand-cranked to start the engine, before Pete and Steve flew east into the sunny sky, watched by Valda, Pete’s daughter Michelle Thompson and friend Ray Piper.

Pete was treated to a bird’s eye view of Masterton’s water treatment ponds, before the Tiger Moth headed north, following State Highway 2 up to Opaki, where pilot Steve owns an olive grove. The final highlight was a swoop over filmmaker Sir Peter Jackson’s large property at Matahiwi.

“Pete wasn’t interested in doing any loops, or barrel rolls, as he is all looped out from his own years of doing things like that,” Valda said. “And he didn’t take control of the aircraft, as sitting in the front seat limits your view.

“The flight brought tears to Pete’s eyes and his grin was so big he could hardly get out of the plane.

Valda said pilot Steve’s respect and empathy for Pete added to the wonderful afternoon. “Pete wasn’t just another old bloke coming for a nostalgic flight. Steve showed genuine interest and care.”

Pete described the flight as “magical”.

“I was absolutely thrilled to bits. It was the best birthday present ever.”

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