Binty's tales of a flying fanatic

Road clear: Colin Bint used the A704 highway near Lanark as a runway when fertilising trees in Scotland
Road clear: Colin Bint used the A704 highway near Lanark as a runway when fertilising trees in Scotland

Pilot Colin Bint was never much of a talker but he was a great story-teller.

A new book, Binty Tales of a Topdressing Pilot, holds some of his yarns and was published by his widow Lorraine this year. Colin had wanted to share his stories with family members and friends and the 148-page illustrated book was a way of honouring the 10th anniversary of his death.

Colin was only 58 when he died from leukemia in 2003.

"He was writing furiously before he died, trying to beat the clock," Lorraine says from the Fairhall Valley home the couple built in 1985.

They had moved to Marlborough from Rangiora but for Colin the shift was a return to land he had previously lived on as a boy. For two years his parents had managed a large farm in the valley and it was there that young Colin was introduced to flying.

A topdressing plane was to fertilise a neighbouring farm and a flat stretch on the Bints' property would be the airstrip.

Colin wagged school and volunteered to help. He writes: "I had never been really close to an aeroplane before, but our little school was near Woodbourne Airbase and I even had a school friend whose uncle flew a Mosquito."

Eleven-year-old Colin busied himself all day, collecting emptied fertiliser bags and stacking them in a tidy pile. He was rewarded for his efforts at the end of the day with a ride in the plane. He knew then he wanted to be a topdressing pilot.

When he was old enough for his first flying lesson, the Bints had moved to Motueka. It was the 1960s, and employment was available for anyone who wanted to work.

Pocket money boosted by tobacco-farm and apple-orchard holiday jobs paid for his lessons and by the time he was 16, the schoolboy had gained his private pilot's licence in a 90hp Piper Cub.

Three years later he graduated from the Wanganui Commercial

Flying School and obtained a topdressing job in Canterbury.

Small aircraft, heavy loads and rugged countryside to navigate around set daily challenges for New Zealand top-dressing pilots, Lorraine says. Those from New Zealand have an excellent reputation.

That may have helped Colin's luck in 1967 when he applied for a spray pilot's job in England through a flying magazine. That led to work in Rhodesia.

"We got married in 1969 and then he pulled a job in Oman, spraying date palms for insects," Lorraine says.

Other overseas' wok contracts took her husband to Saudi Arabia, the United States and Australia. Seven-week stints away were typical, she remembers.

Colin eventually obtained his helicopter licence and, in Marlborough, he and her brother, John Sinclair, started Marlborough Helicopters.

"A lot of people in this district knew him . . . as a helicopter pilot," she says. In that role, he fought forestry blazes for the Rural Fire Fighters, sprayed farms and did live deer recoveries.

"You can only fly when the weather is good . . . if it's a good day, you work all day and half the night."

Days, nights, weeks, months and then years passed before Lorraine was ready to tackle Colin's book. She transcribed the notes he had penned about his flying trips and put them into sequential chapters.

It was important his voice stayed alive in the text, she says.

"He was not a good talker but he was a great storyteller."

To make the book accessible to family, friends and young people who dream of flying, it was printed by a Nelson publishing company and Lorraine is selling copies at cost.

The first ones came out in time to mark Colin's 10th anniversary and Lorraine writes in the Afterword: '"Colin was still writing his memoirs when he ‘ran out of hours' in 2003 after falling victim to leukaemia.

"This book only scratches the surface of the many and varied tales that make up his 26,000-hour career in the air."

● Email or phone 03 572 8254 to purchase Binty Tales of a Topdressing Pilot.

The Marlborough Express