Fulton Hogan helps airfield unlike any other

First there was Warbirds over Wanaka. Now there’s Te Reo over Ruatoria.

Fulton Hogan is sponsoring what is billed as the world’s first ‘Te Reo Fly in’, an event to mark the 60th anniversary of one of the country’s most remote – and colourful – airfields. Among the features of the 21 March 2020 event at the Ruatoria Airfield will be free landing for pilots who use a ‘kia ora’ or ‘tena koe’ when radioing in from the sky.

East Coast Regional Manager Andrew Harvey describes it as a “unique event, with unique people in a unique part of New Zealand”.

“Ruatoria Airfield isn’t like any of the airports across New Zealand that we work with,” Andrew says.

“It was built by a farmer with a home-made grader, the clubrooms were an old house that was dragged across the Waiapu River by bulldozer in three pieces, and pilots have to dodge rushes on the runway.”

The fly-ins (think aerial car rally) were so popular in earlier years that the aero club is said to have purchased a two spouted kettle for refreshments. Activities included cricket, softball and mini-putt challenges with the Ruatoria locals. Original member and 60th anniversary event patron, 85-year-old Hughie Hughes QSM, remembers the hangar being decked out with hay bales and people overnighting beneath aeroplanes’ wings in their sleeping bags.

The airfield also played a role in a national landmark, the East Cape lighthouse. The lighthouse – the first in the world to see the sun each day – was fully automated in 1985, removing the need for lighthouse keepers. Hughie was the electrician during the remote lighthouse’s automation and he flew fellow workers there and back each day from the airfield.

Because the airfield is on a farm, farming considerations have taken priority over flying. Stock are cleared from the aerodrome for fly-ins, and the airfield has traditionally closed for three weeks each year during lambing.

“You have to find a way to get the stock out otherwise the sheep shit flies up on the wings and you have a helluva job cleaning them,” Hughie Hughes says.

Weather conditions were also a factor, Hughie recalls. In wet weather the top dressing planes couldn’t fly the bigger loads because the wheels sank into the ground.

The 60th anniversary Fly-in will be open to the public and feature displays by the Police, FENZ, the NZ Defence Force and the new Tairawhiti Trust Rescue Helicopter. Visiting aircraft on display will include a Tiger Moth and a Harvard, and the Minister of Defence Ron Mark has been invited as a guest of honour.

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