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Tourism Icon Marks First Ski Plane Landing

30 September 2005

Tourism Icon Marks First Ski Plane Landing

AORAKI MOUNT COOK, NEW ZEALAND - The iconic New Zealand alpine tourism company, Mount Cook Ski Planes, will celebrate on 1 October 2005 the 50th anniversary of the first ski plane landing on Tasman Glacier.

The historic landing by a single-engine Auster flown by former RNZAF wing commander Harry (later Sir Henry) Wigley was achieved on 22 September 1955.

The company will celebrate the anniversary in “true southern style’ at an airfield ceremony followed by an anniversary dinner at the famous tourist resort hotel The Hermitage.

Wigley set a goal of landing tourist flights on the high, flat, snowfields of the Tasman, Franz Josef and Fox glaciers while flying for Queenstown-Mount Cook Airways formed by his father Rodolph Lysaght Wigley in the late 1930s.

In the post-war years ski planes emerged as the solution. A former Canadian bush pilot, ‘Carp” (E.H.) Carpenter, who was head of the New Zealand Air Department’s Airworthiness Division (a forerunner of CAA), provided advice on the design of retractable skis.

Kiwi ingenuity took the concepts further and after hundreds of hours of testing a set of laminated Oregon pine skis were fitted to an Auster Aiglet aircraft. The skis were raised by a system of radius rods for take-off and lowered for snow landings.

On the day of the flight, a crowd gathered at The Hermitage air-strip to watch Wigley depart with passenger Allan ‘Squib’ McWhirter on the historic flight up the Tasman Glacier. A landing zone on the glacier’s eastern side was chosen and Wigley flew down the line at the lowest possible speed while McWhirter threw markers out on to the great expanse of smooth snow.

Wigley flew in a wide circuit, gaining height, and lined the plane up with the markers.

It was a tense experience, not knowing how the skis might react, and in the event that they might be required, the Auster was loaded with ice axes, shovels and emergency gear.

Wigley applied full power at the lowest possible speed and the heels of the skis gently skimmed the snow.

All went well and thousands of flights have followed. Today Mount Cook Ski Planes is one of the icons of the New Zealand tourism industry.

It operates six-seater Cessna 185 and 10-seater Porter Pilatus aircraft from the airfield at Mount Cook and Cessna aircraft from Franz Josef.


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