7 May 1917: Canterbury Aviation Company makes first flights from Sockburn Aerodrome

Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Co. Ltd  was formed in August 1916, and purchased land for a flying field 3 months later. The Company was chaired by Sir Henry Wigram, who had tried to have a state-backed flying school established and when that attempt failed,  decided – along with his fellow directors – to establish their own. By the end of December that year, 40 pupils had enrolled to learn to fly.

C M Hill, Chief Instructor. Image from The First Hundred Pilots

The first flight was made by instructor Cecil M. Hill (pictured at left) on 7 May 1917, and by 1919, 182 pilots had been trained.

In 1923 the government decided to take over the company and run the airbase under a military umbrella: in June the base was officially handed over and renamed Wigram Aerodrome. Sir Henry Wigram continued his support: donating £2500 to the Government for the purchase of an aeroplane – a Gloster Glebe fighter – and gifted a further 81 acres of land in 1932.

Over the years the Wigram Aerodrome has been part of not just local, but national history as well:

Charles Kingsford-Smith (1897-1935) made the first Tasman flight from Sydney to Christchurch, arriving at Wigram Aerodrome on 10 September 1928. His aircraft is pictured on arrival. File Reference CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0015
Neptune Lockheed aircraft at Wigram for Operation Deep Freeze 1961. Entry in the 2014 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt by Dave Howell. Source: Kete Christchurch, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ

The Museum opened on 1 April 1987, and the Base itself closed to commercial air traffic in March 2009. The final Wigram Air Show was held the previous month.

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