Tuesday 9 September 2014

One of Our Earliest New Zealand Helicopters: Bell 47D ZK-HAA

While talking to a friend of mine, Alan Dixon, about things aeronautical (as you do), he mentioned that he had been involved with early helicopter seed spreading operations with the New Zealand Forest Service in the Kaiangaroa Forest during the spring of 1962.  He also said that he had photos of the helicopter which turned out to be Bell 47D-1 ZK-HAA, and I am pleased to be able to post his photos and his story below.

ZK-HAA (c/n 35 - which makes it a very early example) was first registered in the US as N181B in May 1948.  It was brought to New Zealand by Elynor Rudnick whose family owned Kern Helicopters in Bakersfield, California.  It arrived in New Zealand in November 1956 on the MV Mariposa, and it operated here for some time under its American registration before being registered ZK-HAA in March 1957.  It was originally operated by Rudnick Helicopters using the Helicopters NZ licence.  Helicopters NZ had been formed by Timaru man and ex wartime pilot Doug Shears with assistance from Alan Hubbard.  They had obtained Aerial Work License 161 in November 1955 and had reserved the registration ZK-HAA, but they didn't have a helicopter.

ZK-HAA was registered in New Zealand in March 1957.  Although it is the first registration on the New Zealand Helicopter Register it was not the first helicopter to operate here, as Hiller 12B ZK-HAB and Bell 47G ZK-HAC were flying before March 1957.  ZK-HAA was operated by Rudnick Helicopters using the Helicopters NZ license and it went on to operate around New Zealand which we know because it had accidents near Warkworth on 7/1/58 and at Wanganui on 6/12/58.  After the Wanganui accident it was returned to the US for rebuild, and it returned to New Zealand as ZK-HAA in April 1960.  Ownership transferred to Helicopters NZ Ltd in December 1961, but when Alan Dixon photo'd it in the spring of 1962 it was painted as Rudnick Helicopters NZ Ltd, so it was probably in transition.

Alan was involved with ZK-HAA when it was used to spread pinus radiata seeds on clear felled blocks, which was a New Zealand first.  You can see the spreading mechanism below the helicopter in the above photo - it was lowered when the helicopter was airborne and spun around, flinging the seed out in a swathe.

In the background is one of the impressive Pacific logging trucks that were operated on the haul roads in the forest and were too big for the public roads.

Alan had set out the areas to be seeded so he had to show the helicopter pilot where to spread the seed.  He got a big fright on his first flight when the helicopter lifted off and rose to a couple of hundred feet before banking.  Alan hadn't been told to put on the seat belt and found himself bracing against the canopy to stop himself falling out! (and there were no doors fitted at the time).  Seeing Alan's predicament, the pilot quickly righted the helicopter and furiously pointed to the seat belt.  So there were Health and Safety concerns in the logging industry back then too.

This photo gives an idea of the scale of the forest and the tiny size of the helicopter.

And this photo shows the makeshift landing pad which consisted of 4 logs placed on the ground.  Very interesting, and all from a chance conversation.

ZK-HAA operated in New Zealand until 1963.  On 27/7/63 it was loaded into SAFE Air Bristol Freighter ZK-CAM along with another Helicopters NZ helicopter, Bell 47G ZK-HAG, and flown across the Tasman to Australia where it became VH-UTL with Helicopter Utilities Pty Ltd.  It was finally cancelled from the Australian Register in November 1968.

Elynor Rudnick later married and withdrew from helicopter operations in New Zealand.  Helicopters NZ Ltd was sold to a couple of Americans wheo in turn sold it to its general manager John Reid and the company secretary Alan Hubbard.  And the rest is history to be told at another time.


  1. Hiller 12b HAB was owned by James Aviation in Hamilton. My father, Murray White was the 1st Licensed Helicopter Engineer in NZ. When the chopper was sold to Mike Alexander of Aerial Applicators in Wanganui we moved. When I finished school at Wanganui Girl's College I worked as "the office girl" - in these days it would be PA for Mike, Manager, PA for Murray, Chief Engineer and PA for Beryck Dalcom, Operations Manager. Those were the good 'ol days!!!!

  2. My father flew in the Hiller when it first came to NZ, Murray was a family friend.

  3. my grandfather cliff east was one of three of the first pilots of the hiller 12b.. I have a newspaper article about the arrival of this helicopter

  4. My brother and I went on a paid flight from Dargaville for about five minutes in what was said to be the first helicopter in NZ. If it was 1957 I was 11 and my brother was 10. My grandfather paid for the flight as we had cleaned up some land where we lived in the top of Hokianga Road