Classic Flyers Museum & Military Collection...
Classic Flyers NZ is a small piece of Kiwi aviation heaven, with a line-up of vintage aircraft and other vehicles that set a lot of nostalgia cogs spinning.
It’s the place to slip into a little war-time flying fantasy, with ‘operational’ aircraft you can ride in, like the stunning Boeing Stearman World War II open-cockpit bi-plane. Stay grounded, and the ‘try it’ theme still features strongly in the big converted hangar at Tauranga Airport. At the top of a flight of metal stairs running up the side of a camo-coloured RAF Hawker Hunter, a magic little sign says ‘you may sit inside this aircraft.’
Slip into the cockpit, and size up the controls: feet in the pedals, hand on the hefty stick, experimental waggle...chocks away! This is what museums should be about, providing some experience of the real thing. Jump into the back of a big green hulking ‘Huey,’ the Iroquois gunship and medivac chopper of Vietnam fame. Sit on a small green canvas and aluminium seat and imagine American soldiers, slumped exhausted, evacuated from a fierce battle.
The museum’s hangar complex allows visitors to delve into some aviation history, with videos to watch on aircraft like the famed Spitfire, and New Zealand’s hardy Fletcher, the flying truck of top-dressing. Displays feature stories like Les Munro’s, the sole surviving member of the famous ‘dam busters.’ All sorts of memorabilia on display includes flying suits, helmets and even vintage motorbikes and cars like a 1935 Alvis with sweeping fenders and wire wheels.
Next door , in another hangar, step back in time again with the Tauranga Military Collection, the proceeds of the Moreland family’s 30-year mission – collecting rare military vehicles, weaponry, uniforms, and military knick knacks.
The Moreland family history, as one with a proud tradition of Army service, is told with a display cabinet full of memorabilia and photos. Andy Moreland’s great uncle, uncle, and daughter have all served in the Army. His uncle, a lance corporal was killed in action in Libya in 1941.
The family’s collecting began with now retired dairy farmer Andy Moreland’s son Grant, and the three year-old’s prized military truck. The youngster insisted on military toys, and his early collecting began with badges, buttons, before moving on to helmets, grenades and more.
Grant talked father Andy into buying his first military vehicle, a U.S. Chevy truck commonly known as a puddle jumper, which came from a farm up the back of Raglan. ‘It had been ‘rolled and bowled, and had no cab on it, just a chassis sort of thing - it was all bent,’ says Andy. It was restored to a ‘perfect truck.’ The scene was set for an ‘all-consuming family affair.’
Their mission became to find vehicles in working order and restore them to their original working condition, if possible with the aid of a second model that was used for parts. The next vehicle wasn’t touched until the first was finished to the ‘last nut and bolt.’ The first museum was set up on the family farm at Tauwhare, near Cambridge, but the shift to Tauranga was to make the large collection, reportedly worth millions to international collectors, accessible to more people.
Andy Moreland’s favourite is a rare U.S. M3 half-track, a troop transporter salvaged from Vanuatu, which took the longest to restore – two and a half years - the last vehicle he restored. It was spotted by a friend hunting for aircraft parts in the islands who rang up to say ‘I’ve got just the vehicle you need.’ Andy replied : ‘Oh, dinkum?’ and went ahead to buy the vehicle which arrived in New Zealand after about 12 months and his wife ‘nearly gave me a hiding over it.’
Andy Moreland’s wife soon came to share in the enthusiasm however, and he looks back fondly on trips around the world to bring back military vehicles and equipment.’ We’ve virtually toured the world,’ he says, we’ve been to America and up through the islands where World War II battles were fought, to places like the Solomon Islands. ‘I’ve even trekked way back into the jungle and I can tell you some stories about that.’
The collecting is a bit of a disease, he acknowledges, joking that ‘you can take pills for it now. At time of writing, Andy has shaken it off, waiting for delivery of a six-wheel Saracen armoured car bought in Britain for a sum’ I hate to even think about.’
The Saracen, he hopes, may take its place in the Collection in time if room can be found for it.
Classic Flyers NZ & Tauranga Military Collection
Jean Batten Drive, the approach road to the airport, off Hewletts Road, Mount Maunganui, tel 572-4000, www.classicflyers.com Admission cost adult $10, child (5—15) $5, family concession $25. Open 10 to 4 pm daily.