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Nationwide Air History

In June 2006 I received an e-mail from Simon Gunson. He had been working on the Carvairs from Nationwide and was willing to share his recollections. The text below is from e-mails he sent me.

"The airline was created by Entreprenuer the late Matt Thompson. He was a trucking tycoon having started the Car Haulways Group which hauled locally assembled new vehicles and distributed them around NZ. Starting an airline to fly these cars across Cook Strait was a logical reaction to the expensive Government owned, Cook Strait ferry monopoly, then run by NZ Railways.

I recall at that time the ferry fares were NZ$85 per family car and we could do the same for about NZ$70 per car. Refusal by the NZCAA however to let us carry passengers pretty much limited the appeal for private individuals, so we mostly flew cars, but sometimes also pallet freight returning from the South Island. Except for British leyland cars built at Nelson, there was little return cars to come back to the North Island. Unfortunately we mainly flew southbound cars to blenheim airport from Wellington so the was no synergy with cars built at Nelson. What really fated this airline was when ZK-NWB threw a con rod flying into Christchurch airport on her No.4 engine. She flew back almost empty on three engines the following day with just a small cargo of metal castings for ballast. When she parked on the ramp her engine cowling on the damage engine was a mess, bleeding oil as I termed it.

I recall the engines needed about 22 litres of oil. Part of my job was to re-oil engines and refuel aircraft (performed by walking out on the wing and hauling up a hose. We guaged amounts with a wooden dipstick by day and by night in all weathers). I was surprised that a whole day after the thrown con rod cracked the engine's crankcase, it was still bleeding oil! This must have happened late June 1979. The spare engine was found to have seized from corrosion. A deal to buy a replacement engine in Papua New Guinea fell over when the owner had a heart attack at a hotel in Port Moresby before signing the sale. ZK-NWB was grounded until the airline closed about 16 July 1979.

I recall one wet miserable night in June, the office girl, Jill was trying to hitch a ride to Christchurch with us. We were on the western apron at wellington airport still firing up engines when the panel started to smoke and glow orange in the dark. We had to shut down and cut the master switch. We evacuated by torchlight. I always think had we taken-off we would have soon after gone down in flames.
Another time probably in February 1979, We loaded some cars at Nelson. We took off and climbed to 5,000ft to clear some hills east of Nelson when the hydraulic reservior behind the pax seats in the hump cabin started spraying fluid. I was seated there dead tired from working long days. I saw the co-pilot leap up with a spanner and start working on the leak but quickly fell asleep. I awoke on finals to wellington unaware if the problem was fixed or even if the wheels were down. I got up out of my seat and looked over the pilots shoulders from the jump seat to watch the runway approaching. I didn't want to disrupt the attention of the pilots from their tasks. The only airborne emergency I have ever experienced and I fell asleep. Something I have never been able to replicate on a commercial airline flight.

I attach a photo of the interior of the cabin inside the Carvair's hump. behind these two seats was the hydraulic reservior against the starboard wall. Matt Thompson was a brilliant entreprenuer in the mould of Sir Freddie Laker. Had Nationwide Air not folded, his next plan was to fly live sheep to the middle east on a Boeing 707 frieghter. Later he found a loophole in the Government's ability to prevent competition for the national flag carrier Air New Zealand. He discovered that flying clubs could operate scheduled flights so he joined forces with Thames aero club, formed the Aqua Avia Society and chartered some BAF Viscounts. I am unsure now why that did not succeed but the Government used every trick it could to keep the aircraft on the ground. I also attach a photo of this SKYBUS operation and ask that you also publish this as my tribute to Matt Thompson's genius. He was never allowed to show the world his true talent because of the petty vindictive people in power in this country.

One of the nicest memories I have is punching out of towering cumulo nimbus clouds north of wellington one night after a wet miserable take off. We emerged into a ghostly blue surreal scene with clouds all around us bathed in moonlight and the stars shimmering beyond. What a memorable night. Another time we descended into christchurch through a squall line with hail inside the clouds. Man those clouds were awful dark and turned daytime into night inside the cockpit. Quite scary for a moment there.

Another occasion we had to abandon our landing on short finals when a plane ahead wouldn't move fast enough. We cleaned up our gear and gunned the throttles to overfly the runway at less than 300ft. What a buzz. We zoomed north up Evans bay north of the runway and went around the harbour at 500ft and flat out like a pylon racer. I saw seagulls flying over the top of the cockpit. One of the very few occasions in aviation when you get a real sense of speed is flying low and fast in a big aeroplane.

Another time in March 1979 we were on short finals for Wellington airport with Bob Gilbert at the controls. A gust of crosswind caught us and tipped the port wing up, pushing us towards cliffs next to the southern end of the runway. Both pilots had the wheel hard over and nothing responded for about 20 seconds. very heart stopping moment. "


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