Walsh Brothers' NZ Flying School

Walsh Brothers' NZ Flying School

The New Zealand Flying School in Mission Bay, run by Leo and Vivian Walsh, trained 110 pilots that went on to serve in the First World War.

First World War pilots

About 300 pilots were trained in New Zealand during the First World War. Others from New Zealand, keen to serve in the war as pilots, made their own way to Britain. By the end of the war about 800 New Zealanders had served with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) or Royal Air Force (RAF), and a further 60 with the Australian Flying Corps (AFC).

The first flying school

Two private enterprise flying schools were established in New Zealand to train pilots. The New Zealand Flying School in Mission Bay was the first to open in October 1915. The stone Melanesian Mission Building was used as the school's headquarters. Brothers Leo and Vivian Walsh trained about 110 pilots here.

The Walsh brothers designed the first flying boats in the Southern Hemisphere in 1914, the first flight taking place on 1 January 1915. Four 2-seater training aircraft were built at the school, based on USA Curtiss biplanes, and rigged out to operate as seaplanes. Later they imported the first two Boeing aircraft ever built.

Students paid £100 (worth about $13,700 today) for a ground course and flying lessons. Successful trainees received a £75 refund from the British government. Many young graduates of the school gained commissions in the Royal Flying Corps and, subsequently, the Royal Air Force.

Vivian Walsh became the first New Zealander to obtain an aviator's certificate in New Zealand in July 1916.

Archival footage from the school is available to view at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision (the New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua Me Ngā Taonga Kōrero).

Another school in Christchurch

Henry Wigram established the Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company near Christchurch in 1916. They began training in 1917, and by the end of the war about 170 pilots graduated here.

Establishing the RNZAF

The Government purchased the Christchurch school in 1923, and the assets of the New Zealand Flying School in Auckland in 1924. The Auckland school was relocated to Hobsonville a few years later.

By mid-1936 Hobsonville had two aeroplane hangars, a landing area, offices, barracks, stores buildings, a meteorological hut, a garage, married quarters for twenty-two families, a seaplane hangar, an engine repair shop, an airframe repair shop, a marine store, a dope shop, a concrete slipway, electric power and light, and a water tower.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) became an independent service within the New Zealand defence forces in April 1937.

Photo credits

Cover image

Curtiss flying boat of the New Zealand Flying School flying over the harbour, 1916. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A6243.

Thumbnail image

Captain Blayney of the Royal Flying Corps, Auckland. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 31-B4070.


'New Zealand's air war 1914-1918', (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Jul-2014

Ministry for Culture and Heritage History Group

J.M.S. Ross, Royal New Zealand Air Force (Wellington: 1955).

'WALSH, Leo Austin, and WALSH, Vivian Claude', from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 23-Nov-11


Mission Bay Reserve, Near 56 Tamaki Drive, Mission Bay