Raymond (Ray) Douglas Turnbull Interview

Today is the 31st of July 2018. I’m interviewing Raymond Douglas Turnbull on his family. Would you like to tell us something about your family? Thank you.

Yes, well I started with my grandfather who was a railway man at Christchurch Railway Station. He was Manager of the Freight Department, and he had three sons, two daughters. My father had brothers William Turnbull and Bert Turnbull, and my father was Joseph Turnbull. Joseph, my father went to the First World War with the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, his regiment, and eventually went to Gallipoli, got severely wounded there, got treated in Britain for his wounds and recovered sufficiently, was brought back to New Zealand and went to Hanmer Springs, which of course along with helping with recovering soldiers from wounds, also was a mental institution for shell-shocked soldiers, and I think my father would have been in among those with his Gallipoli experiences. But he recovered sufficiently and went in for a ballot for a farm at the Kaiwaka Soldiers’ Settlement at Kaiwaka, that was north of Napier, thirty miles north of Napier on the Napier-Taupo Road … Soldiers’ Settlement. And he drew a farm which had a bunch of kowhai trees on the highest part – two thousand feet – which overlooked the Esk Valley, and he named this farm ‘Kowhai Downs’.

He married my mother, who was Mary Evelyn Hampton, and they farmed, from 1917, that farm very successfully. Had four sons – Alec, the eldest; Derek, then me, Ray; and then Brian. No daughters.

When the Second World War came along, Alec – he’d been a Territorial, and he was judged A1 – fit for military service. After training in various camps in New Zealand he was shipped to Egypt and eventually he served with the Eighth Army in Italy. And while he was there my father communicated with him about buying a farm for him, and asked my brother Alec whether he would be happy if he was able to persuade the owner of a farm known as ‘Braes o’Mar’ at Tutira, the owner Archie Wilkie an eccentric bachelor, and a big farm, twenty-seven hundred acres ‘Braes o’Mar’ was. And Alec was enthusiastic, so Williams & Kettle were my father’s bank at that time – a lot of returned soldiers had stock and station agencies as their banks, and Williams & Kettle happened to be my father’s bank in 1917 and thereafter. During the hard times in the slumps of the twenties and thirties, a lot of farmers got into difficulties but my father had been able with some astute farming practises to farm pretty well. And the Williams & Kettle manager at the time was old Nat Kettle, and there’s a letter somewhere in one of my brother’s archives – a letter from Nat Kettle congratulating Joe Turnbull and his wife on their farming and being able to reduce their indebtedness to Williams & Kettle.

Now, when old Nat Kettle died or retired, some of the senior people in Williams & Kettle’s management – their noses were put out of joint when a younger man, Les Rolls, was appointed manager. And my father, Joe Turnbull got on very well with Les Rolls, and when he suggested to Les Rolls that he was going to see if he could persuade old Archie Wilkie to sell ‘Braes o’Mar’, Mr Rolls said “go for your life, Joe, and if you get that block, spend what you like on development and send in the bills in to Williams & Kettle – the sky’s the limit.”

So my father got contractors busy, and I was fifteen or sixteen at the time, and able to help over Christmas holidays. My first active season there he had three hundred acres put into turnips and grass and chou moellier, and things were going pretty well. There was a worry about … the rabbit plague was beginning to be felt, and there was total chaos, no proper organisation that was showing any promise of being able to control this rabbit problem. This was a worry.

My father had other commitments on his mind, and about that time Les Rolls died of a massive heart attack. This was a huge blow to my father, Joe Turnbull, because his arrangement with Les Rolls of Williams & Kettle to “spend what he wanted on development, the sky’s the limit” – that was a word of mouth arrangement between my dad, Joe Turnbull, and the manager of Williams & Kettle, Les Rolls, and it was only functional while Les Rolls was alive. Once Les Rolls died this arrangement was worth nothing. There was no contract made with Williams & Kettle as a company. This and other matters caused my father to have a horrific nervous breakdown, and he was sent down to Porirua Mental Institution. He recovered his acuity, came home … there was [were] warnings from the hospital that we needed to be very careful, he could well be suicidal, which he was in the finish.

After his death the new manager of Williams & Kettle, Ted Burkitt … my father had anticipated that Ted Burkitt, if he was made manager, would have a very different attitude to that of Les Rolls. Because Burkitt had been a junior clerk in the main office of Williams & Kettle in the twenties and thirties, and had seen a procession of misery of farmers going broke and stock and station agencies losing money, and he anticipated there’d be further slumps after the Second World War as there were after the First World War.

So after a time he asked my brother, Alec, to come down to Williams & Kettle to discuss the business of ‘Braes o’Mar’ at Tutira. So within a day or two my brother, Alec, went down and had a meeting with Ted Burkitt and Ted Burkitt said “Alec – sell that place, there’s a ‘hoodoo’ on it. No one’s ever done any good on that place. Go in for one of these ballots of four hundred acres, all developed by Government, cottage, farm buildings, cow bales, everything. Sell that ‘Braes o’Mar’ farm.” And Alec said “no, I won’t do that.” So he rebuked Burkitt for using the term ‘hoodoo’ when talking about farmland. So Burkitt said “well, I’ll have to have a talk to a Board of Directors and see what we can come up with”. So a few days later he rang and said he’d like to come up to Kowhai Downs and speak to Alec about what they’ve decided to offer Alec. The offer they came up with was that Williams & Kettle would agree to have the three hundred acres that Alec’s father, Joe Turnbull, had had developed – have it top dressed with superphosphate and they would be happy enough to fund developing a further ten acres a year. This was [a] pretty pathetic programme compared with what was happening when Les Rolls was the manager. Twenty-seven hundred acres.

So Alec struggled on with some help from family and my brother, Derek, with his crawler tractors – brother Derek had bought crawler tractors, little D2s, and was agricultural contracting, so he did some buckshee work for Alec. And the family helped, but to a much smaller degree than was happening when Les Rolls was financing this through Williams & Kettle.

In the meantime Alec was negotiating with the Land Settle[ment] Committee. They were a very regulated society those years after the Second World War – committees, committees and regulations. One of the fellows who was on the Land Settlement Committee was a returned soldier, and had been a friend of my father and belonged to the same Masonic Lodge that my father belonged to, and Alec had been made a member of the Masonic Lodge. And we thought he would have been a big help to us, but in fact he had much the same attitude to ‘Braes o’Mar’ that Ted Burkitt, Williams & Kettle’s manager, had. He hadn’t mention the word ‘hoodoo’, but he said “it’s a poor hungry block.” And because he farmed nearby up at Putorino, his influence on Land Settlement Committee was considerable and he would have influenced a lot of the other Committee members that this was a rough proposition … ‘Braes o’Mar’.

This went on for … I wouldn’t remember how many years now. But eventually they came up with a proposition – they put to Alec that if he sold the back part of ‘Braes o’Mar’ that was about sixteen hundred acres from memory, the Government would develop that into four dairy farms that would be balloted to people, and they would fund him for further development of the front part of ‘Braes o’Mar’ – providing he got busy and developed a dairy unit so he would have income coming in each month and be able to finance debts and help with development. So Alec accepted this proposition, and did exactly that. And ‘Braes o’Mar’ turned into a very productive, successful farm.

Years later I was at a meeting at Tutira Hall and after the meeting I was chatting with my brother Alec, and this former Land Settlement Committee member whom we thought would have been a big help to us but turned out he was just the opposite, came to Alec and said “Alec, this farm of yours is a picture, it’s a credit to you.” And Alec’s answer was “all thanks to the Architect.” Now this reference to the Architect of course – Architect in Masonic parlance was God … God was the Architect. So it was just a reminder to this particular Committee member that when he had the opportunity to be helpful, to see ‘Braes o’Mar’ developed and turned into the nice farm, which it has done … which it is now … he had the opportunity and he never fulfilled it.

Later on Alec leased some Maori land across the main road … Napier-Wairoa Road, north of Tutira Lake, and farmed that for a number of years. And then the Maori owners put up for tender, and Alec put in a tender for it but another tenderer offered something better, and that one was accepted. And a while later Alec was approached by a spokesman of the Maori owners, and the spokesman told Alec that the tenderer whose tender had been accepted wasn’t able to meet the commitments – he wasn’t able to raise the money that he thought he was going to be able to do – and would Alec still be interested in buying the property. And at the time there’d been … whether it was a collapse of wool prices … but farm values had come back quite a bit. And Alec asked this Maori spokesman, “would the owners be aware of this?” And he was told “yes, they probably would”. And Alec said “well, I might have to offer a wee bit less than what I originally offered”, which he did, and his offer was accepted. So it’s still quite a big farm. I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head just what the acreage is now.

It’s still operating as a Turnbull farm?

It’s still operating as a Turnbull farm yes. It’s wonderful, and just nice to mention that Williams & Kettle is no longer a business name in Hawke’s Bay. It’s part of the history of course, but … Williams & Kettle – their branch in Waipukurau is a Cambodian cake shop. And in Waipawa, their branch there for a time was a second-hand shop. And I think it’s a supermarket now, and I’m not quite sure what happened up in Hastings and Napier.

Now that’s the story of the family farm. Now let’s come back to Ray Turnbull and the boys. At some stage you must have gone away to learn to fly. Where did you go to learn to fly?

My brother, Derek, had always been interested in learning to fly – he even started to build a glider one time, when he was in his teens. And thankfully he never ever actually got to actually building this glider. He’d already started to gather up a few bits and pieces that he thought he could build a glider from. With his agricultural contracting he had a trailer and a spinner for sowing superphosphate. And a lot of the Tutira country and Putorino had an element of pumice in it which was tough on track gear, and Derek used to think, ‘gosh, topdressing with an aeroplane would seem to be the wonderful thing to do.’ And already there were some Government experiments with aeroplanes sowing super phosphate. So Derek learnt to fly. And the company Fieldair – Lawson Fields was the organiser – he wasn’t a pilot but he was a businessman in Gisborne. And they set up this business, and they sent a Tiger Moth down to Kahika Station, just a mile or two north of Tutira Lake. While the topdressing was going on there, Derek took a Hastings Aero Club Tiger Moth, and I was a passenger in it, and we flew ‘bout a thousand feet above this aeroplane that was topdressing. And after he’d sown one load he roared up to us and appeared to be waving. So I waved back, and then realised the fellow was shaking his fist. Evidently he didn’t like us spying on him topdressing. His name was Noel Marshall, but anyway he put in a complaint to [the] air department that an Aero Club aeroplane had been formatting on him, which was absolute rubbish.

But shortly after this Derek bought a beautiful canopied Tiger Moth for £600, and had the canopy taken off and a topdressing hopper put in it. One of things it didn’t have was a jettison thing – the only outlet for it was a square six inch outlet at the bottom for sowing super. But Derek started with this and he had some pretty hair-raising experiences before Temple Martin, the aircraft engineer at Bridge Pa, designed a jettison device at the bottom of the hopper that you could dump the super in short time.

Derek had various pilots and he bought a second Tiger Moth, and he was running short of pilots. In the meantime I’d taken an interest in flying and had started flying at Bridge Pa, and I think I had seventeen hours dual there when I went to Australia and worked in various jobs over there – working in sugar mills, and cutting cane, and steel mills, and just putting in a bit of time … a change of experience. But before I came back to New Zealand I flew at Bankstown, Sydney, Aerodrome and got my private flying licence … Australian one, which was converted into a New Zealand flying licence. And I studied and flew, and got my commercial flying licence and agreed to fly with Derek for twelve months, and actually, it went on to five years.

In the meantime, we’d moved out of Tiger Moths – I’d done about a thousand hours on Tiger Moths – Derek would have done two or three thousand hours, and we went on to Cessna 180s. And Derek bought a Fletcher aeroplane, and that had the same 225 horsepower motor, but the air frame was a quarter of a ton heavier than the Cessna, and it was authorised to carry a quarter of a ton more than the Cessna was authorised to carry. And along with that it had a very big fat wing. One wing was a low wing aeroplane, and a big fat wing was supposed to give it a whole lot of lift. But the absurdity of it was this small motor that it had, and in turbulent conditions the 180s outperformed the Fletcher – it had to stop working and tie up.

Later on they replaced the 225 horsepower motor with a 260 horsepower … a Lycoming I think it was … and later on got bigger motors ‘til they got a 400 horsepower piston motor – I think that was Lycoming too. Then later the aeroplane was pulled to bits and developed into … the company at Hamilton … Aerospace. They developed it into the … they called it the Cresco, and it was equipped with a gas turbine motor, which was equivalent of about 600 horsepower. So they had various problems and one or two disasters in the development of the aeroplane, but that’s the one that is doing most of the topdressing today. Cresco developed from the early Fletcher FU24.

So after five years of topdressing – I’d intended to get into farming – and I was able with family help and backing, and my brother Alec in particular, to get a farm up just west of Waipawa and Waipukurau, about twenty miles near the foot of the Ruahines, and I farmed there for fifty years. We’ve still got the farm up there that’s leased at the moment.

After twenty years of farming up there I decided to renew my flying licence – do a bit of recreation flying. And circuits and bumps weren’t terribly interesting for me to do after sixty thousand flights as a topdressing pilot, so I practised aerobatics and competed in national aerobatic competitions and club aerobatic competitions for a number of years. I don’t keep my licence now, I let it lapse. I’m getting on in years.

Ray, what sort of plane were you doing your aerobatics in?

I’d done some aerobatics in Tiger Moths. I never did aerobatics in a topdressing Tiger Moth, but I used Bridge Pa Aero Club Tiger Moths and did my early aerobatics in them. And I got reasonably proficient with Tiger Moths. And then at Waipukurau they had a little Cessna Aerobat that was a trike under-carriage aeroplane. It didn’t have inverted fuel and oil systems, so when you inverted the aeroplane you had to roll it back right side up within five seconds. I used to count five seconds. But I had a lot of fun with the thing – it is underpowered as a[n] aerobatic aeroplane … couldn’t compare with Pitts Specials and some of the other single wing aeroplanes that have been developed, but it was good to learn on. I never tried to buy or be a part owner of a Pitts or anything else. Where there are four or five degrees of topdressing – open, advanced, intermediate and sportsman – I flew sportsman and intermediate, I never went into advanced stuff or open.

Going back to your aerial topdressing days, what was it like, the first flight with a hopper full of super?

The first flight … oh dear, oh dear.

That must have been quite a thrill?

Yes. Yes, yes. I was aware in the first day or two of the hazards that were present, and what impressed me most was the importance of air speed, air speed, air speed. You had to have air speed to get off the ground in the first place and in turbulent conditions you needed air speed, air speed. Now the airstrips being short, and it was the early days when we were in Tiger Moths, that my brother Derek had made a stipulation that all his strips had to be four hundred yards, or if there was a decent slope, something less than four hundred yards. But there were pilots who took on topdressing off very short strips and came to grief. The fact is that all these air strips were of limited length, and we flew in turbulent conditions and very often landing with a tail wind behind us – it’s unheard of at Aero Clubs, you don’t do that sort of thing. But we’d work all day with a brisk gusting tail wind on some strips. The Tiger never any brakes. The Cessnas did – they had brakes, and there was a few things that I’ve noticed with aeroplanes … with the Tiger Moths particularly … you could be approaching in gusty conditions and you wouldn’t be able to watch your air speed indicator, you just kept a flying attitude. And when you struck downdraughts you went down with the ambient air, you didn’t pull the nose up. But in a tail wind gust you knew darn well it would have knocked your air speed off, but you gave the motor a burst of throttle and the increased wash of the propeller over the wings would keep the aeroplane airborne, although you knew that the air speed indicator wouldn’t be indicating any jolly increase in air speed. So there was a few things like that that I noticed.

And I’d had an inquiring mind. I suppose I could say I’d studied physics to a degree – I had my University Entrance – I never had any University training at all, but when I came back to a bit of recreational flying at Waipukurau, in the Flight Office I picked up a magazine that … it was a synopsis of a bigger document that had been written by a couple of Boeing engineers who were very competent people who had been in the business of designing components of Boeing airliners. And in the late sixties and early seventies there’d been a spate of airliner accidents, usually on takeoff and landing, and these couple of engineers were assigned the job by Boeing of trying to find answers as to why these things are happening and how to prevent them. And these people were engineers – mechanical engineers – give them credit for that, but they weren’t pilots. And they studied a lot of accident reports and what struck them was that the pilots – when the aeroplanes were going down they didn’t seem to be pulling the nose up, which seemed to be the obvious thing to do to make them climb instead of fall. So all their research was aimed at testing aeroplanes using simulators to see how various configurations affected their rate of climbing capability. When an aeroplane is climbing, the energy of the aeroplane’s put into ascending … climbing up … and not increasing speed, so when you’re climbing an aeroplane of course, your speed drops back – naturally, it has to do. So they recommended that airline pilots when they got into any trouble, the best idea was to pull the nose up and fly as slowly as they possibly could, because that was the best climbing capability – to fly slow in rough, turbulent conditions.

So I felt this was so wrong – so wrong, that I put in a lot of time studying this and contemplating this, and I wrote a text which they circulated amongst pilots … Aero Club pilots and topdressing pilots … that challenged this idea of flying aeroplanes slow, and most of these people agreed with what I wrote, as far as small aeroplanes were concerned. They said, “but for these big ones it must be the right thing to do – I mean these fellows are Boeing engineers that designed this, I mean they should know how to …” But I said, “no, no, no … it’s scale.” Whether it’s a small aeroplane or a big jumbo jet, the mechanics of aviation … the physics … are exactly the same. The scale is different. The big aeroplane would need more room – more time and more room to be able to perform these things, but everything would be the same. ‘Course there are differences in jet aeroplanes and piston-engined aeroplanes.

But anyway, I wrote a paper which I called “Pitch Control of Aircraft in Wind Shear”, and I sent this to our Air Department, and FAA in the United States, and Boeing, and Australian Defence Department at Fishermans Bend, Canberra, and back from the United States I got a lot of material thanking me for the material I had sent them and they sent me more of their material which promoted this idea of flying slow when they run into upsets. So I was down at Canterbury Airport … my wife and I visiting our daughter down there, and I noticed that at Canterbury International Airport there was a sign ‘Airplane School’, or something of that nature. So I went in there and I met a fellow by the name of Wally Shepherd. Now he was training air traffic control officers, and he was an ex-RAF fighter bomber pilot and had taken part in the D Day operations. And I told him my belief, that the big aeroplane and the smaller aeroplane – the processes have to be just exactly the same, that it’s a matter of scale. And he said “I think you’re right. Would you be prepared to go up to Auckland if I can get a friend of mine to give you some time on a heavy jet simulator, to test your ideas?” I said “too right I would!” So that was arranged and I went up to Auckland and met with Air New Zealand pilots, and I’d brought some material. And one of their pilots was their Standards Officer, and he was a bit sharp for a while but he gradually saw I was serious in my intentions, and he mellowed a bit.

But I got on well with these fellows and then at eight o’clock on Sunday morning I met with this friend of Wally Shepherd’s – he was a Boeing 747 Captain by the name of Bob Sinclair. And he took me into this Boeing 747 simulator – it was a moving base simulator on four hydraulic rams. And he did all the cockpit prep work, and he said “now, I’m going to demonstrate what we’re taught to do when we strike a microburst on landing. And the airport we’re using is the Auckland Airport at night.” So there was a flare path down this jolly airport in front of me, and it turned out this microburst … he said “it’s the Fort Worth microburst that brought down a Lockheed 1011 with the loss of most of the people on board, and it hit the deck ‘bout a mile short of its runway that it was approaching.” So he demonstrated this simulator flight, and I can’t remember too much about it but he would have done exactly as they were told. Now a simula[tor] can’t simulate turbulence … positive or negative ups and downdraughts … can’t do that. But he was successful in landing the aeroplane simulator successfully, in negotiating this microburst. He said “now you’d do things differently?” I said “yes – yes.” He said “that’s what I want to see.”

So I was prepared to fly the thing just like I’d flown Cessnas, and I found it was exactly the same – it presented no problem at all. He was a bit astonished when I let the aeroplane down with the downdraught, but whereas they were told when they meet the first part of the microburst, which would be an increase in head wind that would tend to make the aeroplane climb, they’re told to reduce the throttle … the engine thrust … on the four power levers. And I guess he did this, which is the opposite to what I did. When my simulator struck the increased head wind, instead of letting it lift the aeroplane using elevator, I kept it on track how it was, aiming at the airport threshold – just kept the aeroplane tracking and increased thrust because the increased wind speed would increase drag. So then the next thing the aeroplane enters the down burst, or the downdraught of the microburst, and I just let the aeroplane settle while I kept the nose pointed at the threshold – this meant gradually lifting the nose a wee bit – and then increased power a wee bit, and when we met the outthrust of the microburst which would lower air speed, I had very good strong air speed and landed it no problem – it was so easy. And it turns out this was exactly one of the objections that the United States Airline Pilots had put up to this proposition that was recommended by the engineers. They said it was far better to allow the aeroplane to settle while you progressively raise the nose. So it was identical to what I’d described.

So after I’d written my paper, ‘Pitch Control of Aircraft in Wind Shear’, I got hold of two books – I bought them actually – that I wasn’t aware of, and one of them was by a British test pilot by the name of David P Davies and he’d tested all the British and American airliners to authorise them to fly in British airspace, and all the military stuff that was developed in Britain. And he’d flown about a hundred and seventy-five different aeroplanes, and on this issue of scale he makes a comparison between the big four-engined heavy bomber that was developed by Canadians into something else, and a smaller twin-engined Dove aeroplane. And he mentions how the Dove is so much quicker in its movements in difficult conditions, whereas the big aeroplanes need more space and time. And his wording was almost word for word for arguments I’d put up in my paper ‘Pitch Control’. And I could easily have been accused of plagiarism.

To think that you flew by the seat of your pants – with a bit of other knowledge you had, you were able to prove a point.

Yes. Yes. Now since this procedure that it was designed for trying to avoid aeroplanes crashing on takeoff and landing – since then they’ve found that pilots flying in high levels from fifteen thousand feet to twenty-eight thousand feet and above that, if they get into any trouble pilots are still prone to be pulling the nose of the aeroplanes up in upsets, and this has been causing crashes of course. One of the recent crashes was an Air New Zealand aeroplane that had been hired to a German company, and it was being prepared to be sent back to New Zealand and had two German pilots at the controls. And passengers were two New Zealand pilots and an Air New Zealand engineer, and two or three New Zealand Civil Aviation personnel. And they got into difficulties testing things at four thousand feet and the pilots pulled the nose up. And that was the attitude … they went down into the Mediterranean off the French town of Perpignan.

And I went down to [the] Air Department – and I’d spoken to them, they’d been very helpful … Wellington Air Department. I went down to them with my son-in-law’s mother who knew her way about Wellington. She was a highly qualified nursing tutor. So I met these fellows at Air Department – Clare was the secretary and I forget the chap’s name I spoke to, but I introduced my son-in-law’s mother as a highly qualified nursing tutor who had represented New Zealand Nursing at seminars in the United States, which she had. And she was an important person of course, and some of it came off on me and I got very good treatment. These people had documents for me and one was a four hundred and forty-three page document which was called ‘Airplane Upset Recovery Procedure’ … something like that. And this was teaching pilots to get rid of the idea of pulling their nose up. Obviously they made a big point of the form of teaching is an impediment to survival from upsets at high altitude. But I argued the point that although the air at twenty-eight thousand feet is a whole lot thinner than the air at sea level, it’s still the same medium, and the same procedures would work – certainly you’d be running into time and space again.

Well the logic of what you’re talking about is so clear.

Yes. I’ve never had any official notice that they think I’m right. They still feel that the bigger aeroplane – you have to do something quite different. And I’ve approached universities in Auckland. I’ve been busy farming and trying to – I run a family … in the latter years caregiver for my wife … but I’ve approached Auckland University and Victoria and Massey University, and Auckland have said that they’re sorry they can’t find any students or post-graduate students who feel that they are competent in taking on a project like this. I want to get a project going that would challenge mainly the lower takeoff and landing one they call the ‘Windshear Training Aid’, that I think is wrong … this idea of flying nose up. They say it appeals to pilots because it’s so simple to remember that they’re immediate … “pull the nose up – right”.

The numbers of takeoffs and landings you’ve done certainly makes you qualified to make some comment.

These engineers, the Boeing engineers that developed this aircraft training, the ‘Windshear Training Aid’ – in this synopsis that I have, they describe one of these accident reports where an aeroplane – or near accident … incident – where an aeroplane encountered an eleven hundred and fifty feet a minute downdraught on its approach, and was able with this process to land successfully. But then it mentions that in thunderstorm generated downdraughts the speed of the downdraught could be five or six times stronger than the stats getting up around six or seven thousand feet a minute. So obviously it wouldn’t work in those cases, but most cases you’ll survive. But the object of the exercise that they recommend is to keep the aeroplane flying as long as possible in the hope of surviving. Well that’s a negative attitude. It’s written into their stuff.

But I’ve sent the material down to Massey University and the fellow there has said “sorry, but we don’t have any Professors here who feel they’re qualified to supervise a programme of this nature”. So I want to give a talk at our local Probus Club on what I’m proposing and have it taped, and send a copy to CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] in Wellington who I get on with well, and ask University of Otago to treat this seriously and see if they can’t find a post graduate student and professor who could supervise a programme. Nothing has changed from this programme that was cemented into FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] law, and funded by FAA in the United States … nothing has changed from 1984 to 2018, they’ve still got the same idea except that FAA funded for higher altitude from fifteen thousand feet up to twenty-eight feet and beyond is pretty well the opposite to what they recommended down there. In this Upset Recovery paper … the document, four hundred and forty-three pages … they talk about the previous training. Obviously they treated it as an impediment. They don’t use that word, that’s my word, but they don’t attack it, which they should. They should say there’s something wrong…

Well I guess for people in their position, it’s very hard to admit you’re wrong.

Well that’s right. Well there’s politics about it too, and a point that this A B Davies makes in his handling of the big jets, and it’s a beautifully developed book and has been accepted worldwide and he’s spoken at a lot of seminars. But what I was going to say this A B Davies, in his book handling the big jets, he said ‘these testing pilots, when they are consultant pilots for some project, they’re doing their best to make the theory of this project work’. I mean the project people are the people who are going to be paying the consultant pilot, so if they’re told that the nose up, fly slow, low air speed is the way to manage turbulent flying, they’ll do their best to make that appear to work.

And the planes still keep going down.

This is just a thing of human behaviour – the people who are paying the piper call the tune.

Well now your children – what are they all doing these days?  What are their names and their ages?

Well the eldest is Jill, and she studied at university and got a BSc and a Master of Science – she’s interested in geology. And her first marriage she had two sons, one was Andrew Wilshire and the second was Sam Wilshire. And Andrew, when he was a little guy he was pulling computers and printers to bits and seeing how they worked, and he became a national expert on computers and things. And he worked for Air New Zealand and Fonterra – he was the Chief Technical Officer for Fonterra – and he’s had a contract with IRD in Wellington that was worth half a million dollars. And another thing he supervised was when Telecom bought a whole lot of their things that were contracted to overseas people – they brought them all back to this country and he was describing to his mother “a pyramid”, he said “of lawyers and contract people”, and he said “I’m at the top. They report to me”. And he became a Director of Price Waterhouse Cooper … he never went to university, he had his school certificate with six subjects and he went into work. And when he was working with Air New Zealand, he said “would you mind if I did a Master of Business Studies extramurally while I’m working for you?” And they said “no, go for it.” So they tolerated that and he’s got a Master of Business Studies. He’s written papers on asset management and things like that.

That was Jill. Another daughter, she trained on Polytech business and she worked for Shell, and she married a fellow who is a nephew of Tariana Turia. Those are their two daughters, and they don’t show very much Maori about them, but the youngest one – we just had her here for a week, and she’s very proud of her Maoridom and she’s making poi and things like that. The other one is studying nursing extramurally, and those are the two daughters.

Now eldest son, Bruce – he’s worked in various jobs, coal mines and things in New Guinea and Tanganyika, and the last good many years he’s been working for a coal mine at … it’s in Queensland, can’t think of the name … but he’s been there a good many years, and been working big bulldozers and shovel things … a thirteen-hundred-ton thing. They’ve got a [an] overburden over this coal mine, and one of the contracts that they have with the … possibly its Aboriginal owners is they have to replace … reshape the land and he’s been doing that with bulldozers and things like that. He worked at a place – it was in Groote Island in the Gulf of Carpenteria. We went there, and they have manganese – it was amazing how this stuff happened to be plonked in one jolly place. But the contract with the Aboriginals where they had to replace … after they’d taken the all the ore out they had to replace it, and it had to be so many food trees.

But I got involved with Federated Farmers – I was the Secretary up at Tutira Branch and at Onga Onga Branch. And when the great wool acquisition business was on I went to a party up where I farm … the neighbours there … our parties up there, we used to drink far too much. And on this occasion I was talking to Bruce Crystal, and it’d just been announced that the Wool Board were taking over – the acquisition was going through regardless, and he said “it’s a fait accompli – it’s done”. I said “but the Chairman of the Wool Board, just a little while ago, had said that all other options would still be available for farmers to market their own wool how they wished”. And he said “it’s all gone now, though”. I said “no – but that fellow …” who was it, Sir Jack Acland or Sir Peter Acland? But anyway, I said “well I’m going to think about this”.

So the morning after this party I rang the radio announcer guy … a guy by the name of David Debrusini … and he said “well what’s your part in this?” I said “well I’m just a Secretary of a small branch of Federated Farmers, and I get a lot of literature sent to me and I read it all, and anything that’s important enough I read it to my Federated Farmers’ meetings.” And I said “they’re going to hit the bloody roof when they realise this acquisition is on and all the other things are out.” I said “I’m making them aware of this at our next meeting, and I think it’s your business surely to make this news across the air.” And he said “I take your point – yes, okay. Okay, I’ll work on this.” So he contacted Punch Wilson who was for acquisition, and Bruce Crystal who was against acquisition, and of course they both spoke on radio. And Bruce Crystal said his telephone went red hot after that and away it went. So who was it that launched the activity against the ..?

All you have to do is point people in the right direction.

Yes, yes. That’s just one little thing that I have achieved. And another one was the aeroplane, Dash 8, that crashed on the Tararuas and killed three people. Years later the Police brought an action of manslaughter against the pilot – Southerden I think his name was. And a round robin was sent round to Aero Clubs asking pilots if they’d had any peculiar flying experience … unusual flying experiences … in the vicinity of the Tararuas or the Manawatu Gorge. And my wife and I had a remarkable experience one time when my flying experience wasn’t very great, but I had the wits to keep altitude. And we’d struck a microburst just west of Dannevirke at the foothills, and the aeroplane had got such a battering that I landed at Dannevirke and checked it out to see if everything was going. Off we went and fifteen hundred feet over the Manawatu Gorge we struck another one … the same thing, we went down about the level of the road that went through there. And I landed at Palmerston and went to the tower and described what had happened, and I logged it in my logbook of course.

So this round robin – I wrote to these people – there was a Judith Fyfe, a lawyer. She was acting for the Airline Pilots’ Association, and an airline pilot. And I wrote to them and told them I’d had an experience like they’d described a bit and they both came up here and interviewed me in the house like you’re doing. And Judith took notes, and they typed up this material down there and sent it back up to me and I corrected it and I sent it off down to them. So I appeared as a defence witness at bloody Palmerston, and they sent me a jolly certificate. Hugh Rennie’s signature has faded, it was put on with a biro pen and it’s … and there’s a bit on the back from the Airline Pilots’ Association.

Did they win the case?

Yes. Yes. But what has developed from this is that the Airline Pilots’ Association – they will only fly that particular circuit across the Tararuas in gin clear conditions. Anything else they’ll fly … either go somewhere else or …

How many hours did you fly while you were flying?

Bit hard to describe, because it’d be better to describe it as takeoffs and landings. So that was one development from there that they’ve changed the airline policy about approaching when the hills are covered with cloud. It’s got to be clear conditions for them to do their approach.

And so now, as you said earlier you’re being caregiver for your wife, Maryan. How long has she been unwell?

Well she had a stroke about fourteen years ago, and she recovered remarkably … remarkably. But she stopped driving about four or five years ago and her memory has been affected with the stroke … short term and long term. When I’m typing down there, I … she spells better than I do, and I …

Toss a word up for her?

Yeah, yeah, and most times she’s right. I have a dictionary and a … what d’you call that other one that ..?

Ray, you have a very, very precise memory, don’t you?

I think I do yes, most of the time.

Actually it’s been fascinating listening to the story. It was Penny and – your brother that lived at Kahuranaki …


That was?


Yes, Derek and his wife.

Yes, now Derek was topdressing for eleven years I think, and boy, he worked long hours. And he put great faith in his accountant, Vic Boland. Vic Boland was an accountant with Robert Dobson & Company, and Robert Dobson & Company were close associates with Williams & Kettle. Anyway, it turned out when Derek decided he would sell the business, and he was able to sell the business to Fieldair. When you worked out – every year he seems to be not as well off as much as he thought he would have been. And while these negotiations were going on where he was thinking about buying a farm, this Vic Boland, his accountant, died – he was my accountant too. He died, and after a while Derek got a ring from his wife, Boland’s wife, and she asked Derek, “Derek, have you paid Vic a sum of money recently?” And Derek said “yes, yes”. He said “once, a while ago”, he said, “I was getting a bit bloody … overdraft at the bank,” and they said “well, quieten things down a bit.” So Vic paid my loader drivers’ wages for that month. And he said “I paid Vic back”. And Mrs Boland said “no, Derek – this is a big amount. This is £4,000.” And Derek thought ‘Jesus Christ, this is where … I never thought of old Vic.’ But he went to his lawyer Max Pledger and Max Pledger said “don’t say a bloody word to anyone – your brothers or anyone else”. Now there was an accountant in Hastings, Len Webb. He said “we’ll get Len Webb onto this, and get all their documents and anything we’ve got over to Len Webb, and we’ll see what we can do.”

So they found out that over the eleven years Vic Boland had been embezzling Derek, and they were able to put their thumb on £16,000 that he’d thieved. Now in those days, and at a time when I was flying with Derek, £16,000 would’ve bought four brand-new three bedroomed homes, and put in today’s terms it would be worth maybe £4 million [$4million?] if you think what a three bedroom home would be worth now.

Now is there anything Ray, you’ve forgotten to tell me?

They had a Fidelity Fund of course, and it went to Lloyds, and it was a trying time for Derek. Eventually they paid £16,000 and Derek bought the farm – he’d tendered for this block at Kahuranaki and the tender had been declined. And it went to auction and Max Pledger put in a bid – it was lower than Derek’s tender – and got the farm. Just how long Derek had suffered from depression I don’t know.

Just wondering why he was working harder and making less.

But it seemed something similar to bipolar – he was having ups and downs and he went into the mental unit at Hastings once or twice. And he told me some of the crazy ideas that were in his head when he was having his ups. And his health broke down, and he died, aged I think seventy-eight.

Yes. Well this probably covers your life, doesn’t it?


Thank you very much for not only the contribution you’ve made with your family, but as a pioneer of the topdressing industry. It’s people like you who are being the building blocks and also being persistent.

That could be right, yes. But I never claimed to be a pioneer of aerial topdressing – Derek certainly was.

Anyone that had a Tiger Moth was a pioneer.

There’s one thing I mentioned in this paper here, was one of my father’s sisters was Mary Anne Aitken Turnbull. She was a school mistress up at Russell Flats at the foot of the Southern Alps in Canterbury. She married a fellow, Albert Rutledge – they said here she had two sons, but she had three – there was Bert, Jack and Ken. And she had a brilliance in mathematics. Whether she ever went to tertiary training other than they must have had training school for teachers. But this crops up in the Turnbull blood now and again. It hasn’t happened with me … my daughter Jill’s pretty sharp. But Derek’s daughter, Kath, has been an engineer with a big oil company, and she’s got it. And Max and Reuben … Max very likely has it.

All right, well thank you very much, Ray, and it’s been a pleasure to meet you.

Original digital file



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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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