Liam Butler interviews Bill Reid author of Born to Fly.
The thrilling and entertaining lives of New Zealand’s helicopter dynasty.
Question One: How have Helicopters developed and sustained rural life in New Zealand?
Bill Reid: Helicopters have been used in agriculture since the earliest days of their introduction to this country. For the first few years the only work they managed to pick up was gorse and thistle spraying on back country blocks too steep for fixed wing aircraft to handle. Gradually as people began to realise the potential of the helicopter many more roles were added such as flying in fencing materials, mustering, sheep raking and feeding out after heavy snows, boundary surveys, aerial photography to aid farm planning, seeding and topdressing, wild animal control of goats, deer, pigs, wallabies and even wild turkeys by aerial shooting, poisoning rabbits and possums etc, burn offs in rough country and aiding in the planting of pine plantations or establishing new pasture, flying in radio repeaters to maintain communications on large high country stations. I am sure I could go on and think of more but I think it proves the helicopter has become indispensable to rural New Zealand.
Question Two: What is it like to fight a big fire?
Bill Reid:Actually quite exhilarating. Although often they are associated with high winds and pretty bad turbulence, made even worse by the heat from the fire, most pilots I know jump at the chance when called. The feeling when it is over knowing you made a difference is very satisfying and helps engender a great friendship with the other fire-fighters.
Question Three: When you first visited Papua New Guinea you flew over pristine tropical rainforest. How does having such a bird’s eye view affect your perspective of how we should manage our natural resources?
Bill Reid: Flying over pristine tropical rainforest in PNG is really no different from flying over Virgin native beech forest in NZ, they look pretty much the same from the air. You just know in the tropics the trees are a lot taller. I think we have got the balance pretty right in this country between development and conservation. It would be virtually impossible for a mining company to wreak the havoc that they have in some third world countries.
I think the biggest threat to our forests now apart from possums is climate change. I don’t think there is any doubt now that our weather patterns are becoming more severe. Springs and autumns have become much windier and in the last few years we have had major storms that have decimated huge tracts of native forest. The storm that hit the country just this last winter will take centuries to fully recover from. When you consider that a lot of the trees in our native forests are up to 400 years old you would think that previous wind events would still be evident, especially from the air.
I cannot think of anywhere in the country where there is evidence of anything like this having happened in the last few hundred years. When you fly down the west coast of the South Island now all the way from the Heaphy down to Haast it looks like an atom bomb has been let off in some places. Quite scary!
Bill can you tell me a bit more about the photo of the helecopter nearing the rig…
It is my Father John Reid approaching the Sedco 135F Drilling Rig off the Taranaki coast. In a Bell 47- J2A in the early days of oil exploration. Note no hearing protection in those days!
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