A Short History of Awatoto Field | Print |
Wednesday, 03 June 2009 07:32

For the record, I would like to set down a short history of the establishment of Awatoto Field, the flying site of the Hawkes Bay Radio Flyers. This may also help as a template for other clubs who might wish to travel down the same path.  As we all know, few clubs have a permanent, dedicated area in which they are free to fly at will and be masters of their own destiny. The reasons we know all too well, the high cost of land, the associated problems with noise and safety, the restrictions due to proximity to airfields and controlled airspace, trees, housing, people and the aspect, and the difficulties associated with a large number of differently focussed members , the list goes on and on.
When I first joined the HBRF in the Nineteen-eighties, the club field for some time had been located on a "friendly" trust farm south of Hastings, but when our mentor passed away, the property was sold in mid-1992 and we were on the move again, literally, from pillar to post, seldom alighting for more than a few months.
About this time I took a trip to Auckland, and spent half a day down at Penrose where club members flew from the back of the container site on the edge of the Manukau, where they shared a field with the local microlight club, and flew out over the tidal mudflats. That day, I met Chris Tank and Paul Stairmand for the first time, who were practising aerobatics. I was intrigued with the layout of the site, a small grass landing strip with a southerly aspect, and an unimpeded flying area out over the water. On returning to Napier, I approached a friend, Mr Takis Koutsos who was then the H B Catchment Board Chief Engineer who I knew from Lions Club days, to see if there were any like sites available in the Napier / Hastings region. He gave me a map and a bunch of keys to various areas under their control and off I went. Unfortunately, they were mostly unsuitable, mainly constrained by trees, restricted flat land and poor aspect etc. So much for that idea, but soon after I was out at Awatoto and drove behind the Fertiliser Works acid plant and climbed the stopbank, and walked up river. I was heartened by what I saw, so back to the Regional Council to ask Takis if we could investigate this site. He said yes if we could get the consent of the farmer who leased the land, though he thought that may be difficult. Well the River Gods were shining on us, I knew that gentleman as a golfer a number of years previously, and he agreed to accomodate us.
The next thing was to convince the members, and in December 1992 the first group I took out (members of our land sub-committee) to look over the stopbank were aghast at the sight that greeted them, long grass, lots of surface water, ducks and cattle and a river ! However I prevailed and we walked up-river along the stopbank, and crossed a natural causeway about where our present car park is and got out to the strip area which was high and dry and very flat. General agreement was that we give it a go, and from memory, we formed a sub-committee, consisting of Harvey Stiver, Bob Whitburn, John Sutherland, Graeme Paradine and myself, (and others ?) and we moved on from there. We still had our tractor and flail mower for which I think Grant Gordon arranged storage at the Fertiliser Works, and with a lot of hard work, mowing and raking etc, HBRF Awatoto Field was born. We also had to improve the access track, and were fortunate at that time to have a member who was with the then Ministry of Works who managed to obtain some "contaminated" roading material for our access road, from road works in the area and the odd use of a grader, ( that wouldn't happen today !) and we had the services of member Grant Gordon who was very experienced in using heavy machinery.
About this time Graeme Paradine found a suitable “Builder’s shed” which we adapted (in my driveway!) and then sited it over a “long-drop" hole which was dug by Rob Wallace’s team from the Power Board. This has served us well since, as a toilet and immediate storage shed for flight line gear. After about fifteen years, and with the help of a few floods, the hole needed replacing , and we have just relocated the shed rearwards , thanks again to the Unison Team!
We occupied the site like this until the end of 1994 and as expected, were beset by the inevitable flooding, loss of access and silting of the field etc, and also having to share the area with the farmer's cattle that were attracted to our strip, pits, car park and roadway, and found it necessary to pooh on everything, so that vehicles and planes would go home with a liberal coating of dung! I then put forward to the committee the idea that we might apply to the HB Regional Council for a formal lease and put an electric fence around the area. Once again the council said " Yes, but you have to get the farmer's permission. Well to cut a long story short, again after some negotiation,   Frank Gordon kindly said "Yes", and we were able to hook into the HB Regional Council's power supply at the gate pump station and erect our electric fence, and go flying on our own "Clean" airfield.
The HB Regional Council granted us a lease of the area, (about five hectares) and we have lived there happily ever since. We have to cope with the inevitable flooding and the associated repair work and the costs, but it is still a small price to pay for the jewel this site is most of the time. From time to time we have made improvements, grading and lifting a low area between the strip and the eastern pits, and frequent lifting and metalling of the road access and installation of pits barriers and seating. More recently we have extended , lifted, shingled and fenced the main carpark which gives us clean access and parking at flood times, and continuing remedial work on the access road, building up the shingle base and improving drainage.
A raised causeway has been built up between the carpark and the strip as an insurance, which will allow clean and dry access to the strip for the tractor and taxiing aircraft after any inevitable future flooding and silt drop. And most recently, we have added the shade shelter and upgraded seating over the inner fifty meters of the pits which has been a real boon under the hot summer sun.
During the late nineties, the Fertilizer works allowed us to erect a tractor storage shed on their acid plant site adjacent to the field, and the shed was built by club members and through the generosity of member Garry Frazer who donated his expertise and all the pre-cut materials. This shed provides "near site", clean and secure storage for the tractor, two mowers and all our gear.
During our early occupation of the field, there was some concern raised by both conservationists and duck shooters alike, as incongruous as that may seem, but their fears were soon allayed, and we enjoy a good relationship with the Waitangi Shooters Association, and close the field annually for three weekends at the start of each duck shooting season. The Hawkes Bay Regional Council have been very supportive of our efforts to make the site our home, and as long as we remain vigilant about issues of security and safety, there is little reason why the status quo should not remain. We operate from just inside the fringe of the Hawkes Bay Airport controlled airspace, and they too were supportive of our activity with normal flying restricted to four hundred feet, and a Notam being able to be applied for at airshows, and with the local aeroclubs being notified.
Now that the public walkway runs along the stopbank on our Northern boundary, we are much more in the public eye, bringing ever increasing interest in our activities. This also demands that we be even more vigilant about our safe flying rules, with no power flying behind the pilot flight line being paramount, ensuring there are no aircraft straying over the stopbank.
We know we have to live with the inevitable flooding issues, we are after all in the flood catchment area which is so important to the Bay. However, the improvements we have made to the site over the past fifteen years do mean that each time we get a flood, the impact is less and recovery quicker. Long may it continue.
Barrie J Russell, Hawkes Bay Radio Flyers. May 2009.

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Last Updated on Saturday, 20 June 2009 02:49