Retired Air New Zealand senior captain Don Nicol, provided a captivating address and photographic presentation to members and guests of the Rotary Club of Kapiti recently.
Captain Nicol recalled that he had been fascinated with aviation when living in Palmerston North as a young boy, where he had as neighbours the McGregor family. The most notable of these was ‘Mac’ McGregor who flew from Mildenhall to Melbourne in the MacRobertson Air Race in 1934 piloting a twin open-cockpit Miles aircraft, coming 4th overall and setting some single-engine records in achieving this. They returned to a hero’s welcome in Palmerston North, with some 10,000 people turning out to cheer them. The McGregors were major players in the formation of Union Airways at Palmerston North, which eventually became National Airways and then NAC.
In 1953, Captain Nicol commenced his flying career when undergoing compulsory military training with the RNZAF at Taieri Airbase. Following a period of working as a laboratory technician at Victoria University, then an interesting sojourn with the NZ Broadcasting Corporation, he was admitted to a RNZAF wings training course that had been initiated by National Airways. He commenced his commercial aviation journey with NAC from Rongotai on DH Heron aircraft, and then on to DC3’s when the NAC operations transferred to Paraparaumu Airport while the new Wellington runway was being constructed. In 1965 he transferred to Auckland joining Teal, and was one of the first pilots to convert to the new Douglas DC8 jet aircraft, and flew these for many years and to many countries throughout the world.
Following early retirement from aviation in 1977, Captain Nicol devoted his full time to successful technological industries, including electronic circuit products. He retired fully in 2000 to the Kapiti Coast and continues to have an avid interest in flying, and is seen frequently at the Kapiti Aero Club, where his advice and experiences are eagerly sought by the members.
‘I knew from early childhood that my place in life was in the sky. I can recommend aviation as a pastime or professional pursuit, whichever will generate much pleasure and satisfaction to anyone who is prepared to put in the hard yards,’ said Captain Nicol.