The NZAWA was founded in 1959 by Rhona Fraser who was so impressed with the enthusiasm of members of the Australian Women Pilots’ Association that, with the help of Ena Monk, she took on the challenge of forming a similar organisation in New Zealand. The Association’s first meeting was held in Wellington at Easter in 1960 with 15 of the 25 founding members attending, some of whom are still active today. The Association has since grown into a strong and well-respected organisation with approximately 200 members. In 1998, the Association changed its name from the NZ Airwomen’s Association to the New Zealand Association of Women in Aviation to better reflect the interests and activities of its wide membership.
New Zealand’s most famous aviatrix, Jean Batten CBE, was Patroness of the Association for many years until her death in 1982. Another pioneering flyer, Nanoya Smith, became Patroness until she retired from the position in 1998 at the grand age of 92 years. Our present Patroness is Rhona Fraser, the Association’s first President.
Throughout its history, NZAWA has enjoyed a breadth and depth of membership that includes women from all kinds of aviation-related interests and careers. Current membership includes recreational pilots through to captains on commercial airlines and air traffic controllers. We fly gliders, microlights, helicopters, single- and multi-engine planes; or we are just avid followers of anything to do with flight. Membership is open to any woman who participates in aviation either as a career or as a hobby. Well known for their pioneering spirit, women have always featured in New Zealand’s story, aviation being no exception. At the NZAWA 1979 rally it was decided that their story should be told and Shirley Laine undertook this task. After extensive research, Silver Wings: New Zealand Women Aviators was finally published in 1989. An updated and extended edition, Silver Wings; New Zealand Women in Aviation, by Pam Collings was released in March 2010.
Many of the founder members have made their mark in New Zealand aviation.
Rhona Fraser: Patroness of NZAWA; President 1960 – 1963.
Rhona learned to fly at Wellington in Tiger Moths and was the first woman from that club to go solo after the war. She was employed as a sheet metal worker and die caster so did most of her flying before breakfast. Dissuaded by her father to pursue a career in flying, she bought some land and set up a riding school instead. Wanting to encourage more women to become involved in flying, Rhona worked on the idea of women getting together to fly to a destination, so increasing their knowledge of cross-country flying and sharing costs. This was the birth of the NZAWA.
Ena Monk: President 1965 & 1973 – 1976.
Ena was one of the people to make a major contribution to the foundation of NZAWA by assisting in the drafting of the Constitution and Rules and in the design of the logo. She learned to fly at Wellington in the early 1950’s and moved to Rotorua with husband Graham in 1960; together they founded the Rotorua Gliding Club and enjoyed many years of gliding and as a tow-pilot in a Tiger moth. In 1975, Ena bought a Cherokee 140; one of the highlights of her “fun flying” was landing on the beach at Stewart Island for a barbecue hosted by the Southland Aero Club during the 1976 Airwomen’s Rally. After an ownership break of 10 years, Ena re-purchased DJI in 1998 and is still the proud owner today. She flew it to the NZAWA 50th Rally in Tauranga in 2010.
Anne started flying in May 1959 and got her PPL the following December. Most of her flying was practice for competitions and local trips, taking the non-flying wives for a trip around South Canterbury. When her children arrived it became more difficult to get away. Son Russell, continues the family farming tradition at Rangitata Island but has also inherited a passion for aviation: he has an airfield and microlight flight training school on the property.
Helen worked at the de Havilland factory at Rongotai during the war and afterwards continued her association with Tiger Moths working for a repair an maintenance company. Her instructor would taxi the Tiger Moth over to the hangar wheMcNair&Fraserre she was working and wait outside with the engine running. Helen would gather helmet, goggles, lunch and a cushion (she was too short to reach the pedals) and off they would go for lunch at 2500 feet over Wellington Harbour – “pure delight”. She recalls one occasion when “All hell let loose. I was nose up, nose down, this way, that way….out went my packed lunch. It did teach me one thing – don’t fly with your lunch in your lap!” Her licence was issued in January 1948. Helen was involved with the initial setting up of the New Zealand Airwomen’s Association in 1959. She died in 2007.
Thelma Bradshaw: PPL 1955; CPL 1956; Instructor 1957. NZAWA President 1970-71.
Thelma gained her flying instructor rating in 1957 – in the face of much opposition – whilst employed as a part-time commercial pilot and club captain at Nelson Aero Club. She had applied to become an air traffic controller but had been turned down by the Civil Aviation Authority because of the “lack of facilities” at the various airports. Thelma flew Tiger Moths, Austers, Piper Cubs, Tripacers and a number of other light aircraft. She was the first women to upgrade to a B category instructor. She married Brad (A. J. Bradshaw) in 1965 and together they spent much time flying their Proctor all around New Zealand. Thelma was instrumental in the publication, in 2000, of her late husband’s memoirs Flying by Bradshaw – Memoirs of a Pioneer Pilot, edited by David Philips and Graeme McConnell. Thelma is a keen supporter of NZAWA activities at a local and national level and maintains an active lifestyle.
Betty Bourke gained a commercial pilot licence in 1958 and instructor rating in 1960 and worked part-time at Hawera Aero Club for a number of years.
Frances Barnes (nee Tanner)
Frances began flying at 16 and gained her commercial pilot licence at 19. She was the first woman air traffic control assistant employed at Auckland before gaining her instructor rating and instructing at Auckland Aero Club, during which time the club moved from Mangere to Ardmore in 1961. Frances became the first full-time woman instructor when she took up a position at Wellington Aero Club in 1962. She gave up flying to bring up a family but, after a break of 25 years, Frances returned to flying and regained her commercial pilot licence and B category instructor rating in 1966. This was quite an achievement considering the changes in flight training procedures over the years. Frances was acting CFI (chief flying instructor ) at Wanganui when the aero club hosted the NZAWA annual rally and with her interest rekindled, she renewed her membership.
Judy Costello: PPL 1959; CPL 1962; Instructor 1962. NZAWA President 1968 & 1977–80.
Judy started flying with Waikato Aero Club in 1958 and obtained her PPL early in 1959. In September 1961 she attended the first commercial pilot’s course to be held at Ardmore aerodrome by the Auckland Aero Club. She obtained her CPL and instructor rating in 1962 and her first commercial job was as an aerial photographer for National Air Photo; after a few months she moved into the pilot’s seat. This was exciting flying as 90% was at low level doing aerial shots of farms over much of the North Island. In 1962 she moved north to Whangarei to instruct for the Northland Districts Aero Club which also operated each week from Kaikohe and Kaitaia. She obtained her B Cat instructor rating early 1963 and later that year returned to Ardmore to work for the first flying school established in NZ, the Auckland Flying School. At the end of that year she married Ray Costello who had just joined NAC; they were based in Christchurch for six months and Judy instructed part-time with the Canterbury Aero Club. Returning to the Auckland area in 1964, Judy resumed instructing for Auckland Flying School and Manukau Flying School in between raising four children. She has maintained her interest in aviation and in NZAWA, but much of her time is devoted to family, grandchildren, horses and gardening. In 2007 she and Ray purchased a Tecnam Golf so flying is back on the agenda.
Jenny Frame: PPL 1952; CPL 1956; Instructor 1964. President 1966–67 and 1981–1983.
Jennifer Frame (nee Craig) passed a number of important milestones for women during her flying career. She was the first woman in New Zealand to hold the position of Chief Flying Instructor and Manager (Southland, 1979). Her flying included servicing the lighthouses on small coastal islands, search and rescue work in the Foveaux Strait area and even chasing a bank robber! She taught her daughter and son to fly and made her first parachute jump at the age of nearly fifty.
Jenny and her husband Don moved to Nelson in 1987 and after a few years with Nelson Aero Club, Jenny co-founded, in 1992, Tasman Bay Aviation which was to become a very successful flight training and charter business. Jenny passed the milestone of 10,000 hours in 1995.
Forced to retire through ill-health, Jenny later died from cancer in September 2005. She had been a great role model, mentor, trusted confidante and friend to many, many pilots. The NZAWA FrameWorks mentoring/befriending scheme was established in her memory.
The first to achieve this highest level of instructing qualification was Liz Needham on 17th March 1983.
In 1988 Cathy Penney was the second woman to gain an A category rating and the first woman to do so as a helicopter instructor.