Dreams of New Plymouth becoming the country's international travel hub peaked 80 years ago today when a plane called Southern Cross touched down in Bell Block.
The three-engined Fokker Trimotor was piloted by famous Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and by landing at the Bell Block Aerodrome, he had just completed the first-ever passenger-carrying crossing of the Tasman Sea. Five years earlier, in 1928, he was the first to fly across the Tasman.
He, his crew and two passengers had departed Gerringong Beach south of Sydney at 2.50am that day, arriving at the aerodrome 14 hours and five minutes later, before a cheering crowd of more than 15,000 people.
To mark the anniversary, New Plymouth Aero Club historian Peter Hobson will host an exhibition at New Plymouth airport today detailing the famous flight and the life of Kingsford Smith.
"It was the secretary of the New Plymouth Aero Club, Stan Nielson, who helped get Kingsford Smith here," Mr Hobson said.
"He told him we had a little airfield here we were trying to establish and it was the closest to Australia. From there negotiations went on and then out he came."
For a time it was hoped the arrival of the superstar Australian pilot would propel the Bell Block Aerodrome into the big league and establish it as an international air travel hub. Newspaper articles at the time showed the local press was right behind the idea.
"With the possible exception of Wigram in Canterbury and Mangere in Auckland, no aerodrome in New Zealand is as well fitted as the New Plymouth Aero Club's property at Bell Block to cope with the arrival of the giant monoplane Southern Cross," one newspaper said.
"It is the landing ground in New Zealand at shortest distance from Sir Charles' place of departure; it is only 10 miles from Mt Egmont, the snow-capped sentinel which will offer such a valuable landmark to the airmen."
Mr Hobson said the Kingsford Smith exhibition would stay up over the weekend.
Kingsford Smith earned global fame when he made the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States to Australia in 1928.
The same year, he completed the first crossing of the Tasman Sea, landing at Wigram, in Christchurch. He disappeared over the Andaman Sea, west of Thailand, in 1935 trying to break the England-to- Australia speed record.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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