'Faith in New Zealand': the flying petrol tank

On the 22nd of November 1934, Raymond Whitehead and Rex Nicholl made an illegal flight across the Tasman in a makeshift de Havilland Puss Moth. The headlines that followed read like excerpts from an adventure novel:

"Daring young aviators. Take-off by moonlight. No radio aboard. Hope to break record."

Page 7 of Northern Advocate, 22 November 1934Page 7 Northern Advocate, 22 November 1934

However, this was no flight of fancy. Whitehead and Nicholl successfully made the trip from Sydney, Australia to Doubtless Bay, New Zealand, crossing the Tasman in less than 15 hours and completing only the "second west/east crossing of the Tasman Sea by a single engine aircraft", as described by Kevin York in Aviators and Aviation Events in Motueka . Their aircraft of choice was a de Havilland Puss Moth appropriately named the Faith in New Zealand. Leo White, of Whites Aviation, commented on the character of the pair:

“The lads drew a straight line from Sydney to Auckland on their chart. On the Sydney side of the half-way mark they wrote “water”. On the other they wrote “still more water”. Then they flew out over the Tasman… condemned and praised in turn” – Wingspread, 1941.

The journey was all the more astonishing considering the condition of the aircraft. One reporter from the Northern Advocate commented that "no machine ever used in attempting such a flight shows such makeshift ingenuity in its equipment." The pair had installed a secondary petrol tank on the passenger seats and replaced the oil pipe with a piece of hose from the cockpit to allow oil to be added to the oil tank during the flight. As you can see in the photo below, the pilots had to squish into the one remaining seat for the journey across the Tasman earning the plane the nickname the “flying petrol tank”.

Photo from Leo White, Wingspread: the pioneering of Aviation in New Zealand. Nicholls on left, Whitehead on right. Nicholls on left, Whitehead on right. Photo from Leo White's Wingspread: the pioneering of Aviation in New Zealand .

Air travel has changed a lot since Whitehead and Nicholl embarked on their legendary joyride, yet the history of the Faith in New Zealand has not been forgotten. In fact the plane had another special story waiting in the wings.

Restoring Faith in New Zealand

Earlier this year researcher and aviation enthusiast Kevin York contacted the Alexander Turnbull Library through the "Ask a Librarian" service. This free research service can be found on the National Library website and connects researchers with experienced librarians who can facilitate access to library materials. Questions range from simple requests right through to in-depth research enquiries. In this case, Kevin wanted to see material from the Ephemera collection relating to the Faith in New Zealand. In particular, he wanted to find images and items that portray the original aesthetic of the plane.

Kevin was conducting his research on behalf of a chap called Roy Palmer, an aviation enthusiast based in England who owns the Faith in New Zealand. Roy has been dutifully restoring the aircraft to her original condition. This restoration has included ensuring the paint has the same silver colour and that all the details, including logos, are as close to the original as possible. The photo below shows the Faith in New Zealand in the 1930s and it's this aesthetic that Roy Palmer was hoping to recreate.

The Faith in New Zealand. Photo supplied by Kevin York.The Faith in New Zealand. Photo supplied by Kevin York.

Kevin’s detective work led him to a book of transfers produced by the Quality Transfer Company in the 1930s. He wanted to see if the Castrol logo on the plane was contained within the pages of the book held in the Library’s repository in Wellington. A low-quality research image was sent to Kevin and Roy to verify if this was the Castrol logo they were after. The image put us all in agreement that this was "absolutely" the original logo from 1934 and a high-resolution image could now be ordered.

Quality Transfer Company (N.Z.) Ltd. Quality Transfer Company (NZ) Ltd.: No. 36. Castrol Wakefield Motor Oil. Sales and distribution Claude W Batten & Co., cnr Wakefield & Taranaki Streets, Wellington [ca 1934]. Ref: Eph-B-ADVERTISING-1934-01-11[Detail] Quality Transfer Company (NZ) Ltd.: No. 36. Castrol Wakefield Motor Oil. Sales and distribution Claude W Batten & Co., cnr Wakefield & Taranaki Streets, Wellington [ca 1934]. Ref: Eph-B-ADVERTISING-1934-01-11

Waterslide transfer logos

The Library proceeded with the image order bringing Roy one step closer to completing his restoration of the Faith in New Zealand by supplying him with a high-resolution digital photograph of the logo page. Roy wanted the image so that he could create a waterslide transfer logo for the aircraft's cowling. This kind of transfer, also known as a slip transfer, uses dextrose and water to bond decals to the desired surface and is great for producing highly detailed images.

A consultation with the Library's Imaging Services team revealed that we would need to treat this request slightly differently from a traditional image order. As you can see in the image above, the original is a transfer so it is the inverse image of the final product. The team at Imaging Services worked their magic and produced two versions of the logo, one a reverse of the image and one a true image.

Imaging lab photography setup. Photo: Audrey WaughImaging lab photography setup. Photo: Audrey Waugh

With the image safe in Roy's hands he was able to create the transfer to complete his restoration of the Faith in New Zealand. The image below shows the Castrol logo transfer in 2017 on the Faith in New Zealand after being gloriously restored by Roy Palmer.

The Faith in New Zealand in 2017. Photograph supplied by Roy Palmer.The Faith in New Zealand in 2017. Photo supplied by Roy Palmer.

If you have a research project that you would like some assistance with, or you want to learn more about the Library’s collections, have a look at our website or use the Ask a Librarian form to get in touch with a Librarian.

Thank you to Kevin and Roy for letting the Library share this story.

By Audrey Waugh

Audrey is a Librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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