Walsh Brothers

Leo and Vivian Walsh; pioneering aviators

Probably amongst the least acknowledged Old Collegians would be Leo (1896) and Vivian (1896-1903) WALSH who pioneered the first controlled flight in New Zealand in 1911 and were the first in the southern hemisphere to build and fly a flying boat. Reports show that the younger brother Vivian was the adventurous aviator while Leo, seven years his brother senior, was the planner and organiser.

Leo and Vivian Walsh grew up with an avid interest in mechanics and engineering.Encouraged and supported by their father, the brothers resolved in 1910 to build a plane and fly it. A syndicate of businessmen was formed to support the plane-building venture, and parts were imported to enable construction of a Howard Wright biplane. The completed plane was test-flown in front of spectators at Papakura on 5 February 1911, the plane rising to 60 feet and staying aloft to cover a distance of 400 yards. This was the first successful powered flight in New Zealand. Successive flights continued until April, when the plane somersaulted on landing, and was wrecked. Leo became the foundation president of the Auckland-based Aero Club of New Zealand.

Next the brothers decided to build a flying boat, and work commenced in September 1913. On New Year's Day 1915, the brothers launched their home-built flying boat at Bastion Point on the Waitemata Harbour, the first to be built and launched in the Southern Hemisphere. This same aircraft enabled the brothers to launch their New Zealand Flying School in October 1915, primarily to prepare young aviators for war duty in the Royal Flying Corps.

Students paid $200 to learn to fly. Though the school began with only 3 students, before long there were as many as 25 students at any one time. More planes were purchased as student numbers increased.

After the war, Leo Walsh and George Bolt began air mail deliveries, and also began transporting ministers, doctors, businessmen and other passengers as far north as the Hokianga and as far south as Kawhia and Whakatane. The government purchased their flying school in 1924, and moved it to the Hobsonville Air Force base.

New Zealand ONE News report on 100 years anniversary

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