1937: Imperial Airways flying-boat in Auckland

Pan American Airways flying boat 'Samoan Clipper' (foreground), and Imperial Airways flying boat 'Centaurus', moored off the Pan American wharf at Mechanics Bay, Dec 1937.
Pan American Airways flying boat Samoan Clipper (foreground) and Imperial Airways flying boat Centaurus, moored off the Pan-American wharf at Mechanics Bay, Auckland, between 26 Dec, 1937 and 1 Jan, 1938. Evening Post photo. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Just one day after the arrival of the second Pan American Airways survey flight from Pago Pago under the command of Captain Musick on 26 December 1937, another flying boat arrived in Auckland. This time it was an Imperial Airways survey flight from Sydney, under the command of Captain John Burgess. The crews of both aircraft were warmly welcomed and took local dignitaries for sight-seeing flights.

Captains Burgess (left) and Musick in Auckland, Dec 1937.
Captains Burgess (left) and Musick in Auckland, Dec 1937.
Captains Burgess and Musick in Auckland, Dec 1937
Captains Burgess (left) and Musick in Auckland, Dec 1937. Photo: Leo White, Alexander Turnbull Library

The following report contains interesting references to radio communications.

Evening Post (Wellington), 27 Dec 1937, p 8



(United Press Association — By Electric Telegraph — Copyright.)
(Received December 27, 1 pm)
SYDNEY, This Day

The Imperial Airways flying-boat Centaurus left for New Zealand at 4.3 o’clock this morning, and passed over the heads five minutes later. She is expected to reach Auckland about 3.30 o’clock, New Zealand time.

The single letter carried by the Centaurus from Sydney will convey official greetings from the Minister of Defence (Mr HV Thorby) to the New Zealand Minister of Defence (Mr F Jones) in the following terms: “May I take this opportunity of conveying seasonal greetings to you on the occasion of this visit from the United Kingdom of the Imperial Airways flyingty-boat Centaurus. My Government feels that this flight is another step towards the establishment of a regular air service between our two Dominions, thereby linking your Dominion with our Mother Country.”

The Centaurus has aboard 1500 gallons of fuel, which is sufficient to take the giant boat to Auckland and back without a stop in favourable weather.



(By Telegraph.)
(From “The Post’s” Special Reporter.)

Arrangements are complete for the reception to the Imperial Airways’ flying-boat Centaurus early this afternoon. The time of arrival cannot be exactly stated, but the machine is expected between 3.30 and 3.45 pm.

Following the arrival of the Pan-American Clipper, Mr F Maurice Clarke, manager of Union Airways, discussed arrangements for handling the ship at the Airways’ base. The American company has placed at the disposal of Imperial Airways all facilities for mooring, docking, and refuelling, as well as, if desired, the assistance of the Pan-American radio station staff in addition to the services given by the base staff. The handling of the 20-ton flying-boat will be done by men from the Royal New Zealand Air Force base at Hobsonville.

The Centaurus is maintaining touch with shore stations throughout the flight following the dawn take-off from Sydney harbour. Communication was held steadily with Sydney and other Australian stations, and during the greater part of the day the radio operator on the Centaurus, Mr H Dangerfield, has been in touch with Wellington and Awarua by short-wave, conducting the necessary meteorological navigational work.

When within 200 miles of the New Zealand coast communication will be changed from wireless telegraphy to telephony on the New Zealand aeradio system developed for use by pilots of internal air services. That is, during, the last hour or more of the flight communication between the flying-boat and Auckland will be as ready and easy as telephone conversation between Courtenay Place and Lambton Station. Use is also being made of the national broadcasting stations for a continuous touch with bases between which the machine is flying.

Waiting in Auckland for the arrival of the Centaurus is Captain JW Burgess, senior captain of the Government steamer Matai and father of Captain Burgess of the flying-boat.


As the machine nears Auckland a two-way conversation will be opened over the YA stations, and it will be heard throughout New Zealand.

The full programme of formal social functions during the stay of the Centaurus has yet to be confirmed by Captain Burgess. The reception’at the airways jetty will again, as yesterday, be brief and informal, but the evening reception by the Mayor and council in the Town Hall will be more formal. Tomorrow will be a very full day. It will open with calls upon the Harbour Board and later in the morning the Governor-General, Lord Galway, and party will visit the base. At 1 o’clock the officers will be entertained at luncheon by the Harbour Board, and in the afternoon board members will be the guests of Captain Burgess and officers on the ship on the survey flight of Auckland. Unfortunately it may not be possible to allow members of the public on board the Centaurus in Wellington and in South-Island ports. Tomorrow’s function will conclude with the formal State dinner to the commanders and officers of both ships. Wednesday and Thursday will be comparatively free days socially, but there will be a good deal to do in inspection and routine and maintenance of the flying-boats’ engines.

The present plans are for the Centaurus to leave for Wellington at 7 am on Friday in order to give the people of New Zealand every opportunity to see the ship in the air, if not close at hand Captain. Burgess will take the flying-boat down the coast via New Plymouth, Hawera, Wanganui, and Palmerston North, and on the return to Auckland, after visits to Lyttelton and Dunedin, with a possible brief call at Wellington on her way north, the east coast route will ba followed. Of course, these arrangements are largely dependent upon weather conditions and again upon the decision of the commander of the Centaurus.



(By Telegraph.)
(From “The Post’s” Special Reporter.)

Messages from the Centaurus to noon may be summarised as follows, in New Zealand times arid nautical: miles:— Take off, 6 am; 6.50 am, 70 miles from Sydney, speed 105 knots, 6000 ft; 7.39 am, 145 miles out, 125 knots, 8000ft; 8 am, 208 miles, 125 knots, 8500 ft; 11 am, 320 miles from Sydney) 125 knots, 9300 ft; 11.30 am, 378 miles from Sydney, 690 miles from Auckland, 123 knots, 9300 ft.

The midday message stated that the Centaurus was already within 390 nautical miles of Auckland, and that her speed with a lessened fuel load, had increased to 150 knots, or 165 miles an hour. Consequently it is estimated that the time of arrival, has been put forward almost an hour to approximately 2.45 pm.


SYDNEY, December 26.

The Imperial Airways flying-boat Centaurus landed at Rose Bay, Sydney’s new flying-boat base, at 8.40 am on Friday, from Brisbane. Thousands of people on the harbour and foreshore had their first glimpse of the giant flying-bcat.

Her commander, Captain JW Burgess, during the official welcome by the Minister of Defence, Mr HV Thorby, declared that Rose Bay was an ideal base for this type of aircraft.

A party, of Parliamentarians, including the Premier, Mr BSB Stevens, and the Lord Mayor, were taken on a half-hour flight over the harbour and city, which greatly impressed them.

Mr Stevens described the Centaurus’s visit as an epoch-making event.

The Centaurus leaves for New Zealand on Monday morning.


The Wellington City Council is to entertain and welcome Captain Burgess and officers of the Centaurus at a dinner, to be held at the Hotel St George, on January 1, at 6.45 pm.


(By Telegraph — Press Association.)

“Plans are being elaborated for an extensive survey of meteorological and oceanographical conditions in the North Atlantic for aviation purposes and a special survey will commence in May next under the control of the International Committee,” said Mr F Entwistle, of the British Air Ministry, who is a through passenger on the Niagara to America and England after visiting New Zealand and Australia. He said that a study of the Tasman would also be commenced in the near future.

The International Committee would have as its head Professor Helland-Hansen, of Norway, and members would represent Germany, Franca, Great Britain, United States, and Denmark. Rear-Admiral Edgell, hydrographer to the Royal Navy, would be the British representative.

For survey work over the Tasman small balloons would be sent up from ships to test the higher air currents, and trained officials would join the Awatea and Wanganella almost immediately.