The Tauranga Aero & Gliding Club was formed in 1932 in the Tauranga Borough Council Chambers. Amongst those present was Mrs Hewlett – the first woman pilot to hold a licence in the British Empire. Addressed by Captain Blake, it was concluded and moved that an Aeroclub be formed in Tauranga and a the new committee was headed by Mrs Hewlett. Numerous aerodrome sites were considered over the following months and in the mean time Capt Brake began flying lessons from the tidal Waikereo Estuary in a hired Avro.
Later an area of non-tidal land at the end of Elizabeth Street was leased and a new hanger and clubrooms were built, (the clubrooms later became the old Scout Hall). Flying lessons had begun but only for an hour each side of low tide! At the first general meeting there was much debate and opposition for the proposed cost increase of a 30min flying lesson from $1.75 to $1.90.
Another highlight for the year was a flying visit by the ‘Southern Cross’ and Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew who kept the club busy and the town buzzing. Many other aircraft began visiting Tauranga (at low tide of course) and the club was even offered a Avro 504k to purchase for $120 but could not afford it. The following years saw the club challenged for finances and aircraft alike and the priority became a non-tidal airfield. By now Air Commodore Hewlett recently retired form the RAF had succeeded his mother and pursued the policy of an aerodrome in the Whareroa Area.
In 1935 successful negotiations saw a lease signed for an airfield to be named ‘Tauranga Aerodrome’ as it had become apparent that an aerodrome was urgent if the town was not to be bypassed by other developing areas. And so local authorities were approached and the culmination of their efforts secured funds and development started proper.
In 1939 the official Opening of the Tauranga Aerodrome saw an aerobatic display of which the district had never seen and the welcomed end to the national joke “that you could only visit Tauranga at low tide”
Flying lessons were now carried out by a variety of providers and Union Airways began operating a service between Tauranga, Gisborne and Auckland. Aircraft of the day were de-Havilland 86 Airliners and later the Lockheed Electra, bookings were handled by the Bay of Plenty Times Office.
WWII saw the Aerodrome being taken over by the RNZAF and the club was forced into recession for the duration. But during this time improvements were made – runways lengthened and a large hangar constructed. In 1945 the club was re-convened with no assets and $24 in the bank, but with enthusiasm high and members committing in advance their training fees, the club raised enough to purchase two Tiger Moths at $900 each. Flight training had begun again!
Late in 1946 a Waco cabin aircraft joined the fleet and after a meeting with local Motiti Island farmer Mr Patterson a service for passengers to the Island began. The Tiger Moths began frequent passenger runs and later expanded to Matakana Island. This probably helped more than any other single factor towards getting the Tauranga Aeroclub on its feet.
Government subsidies helped the club grow in recognition for the part local clubs play in training pilots which go on to flightcrew for RNZAF and the aerial topdressing and airline industries. However topdressing was expanding at a fast rate and took instructors and engineers alike making a training club difficult to maintain.
Through all the changes the club continued to adapt and thrive, even with the advent of full time training institutions who now train most pilots. As the now Council owned airport expanded the club grew as well and now enjoys new clubrooms with an adjoined hanger. With an enthusiastic membership across all ages and with regular success in the FlyingNZ competitions, The Tauranga Aeroclub continues to be a place to gather for those who love flight.