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Red Beach pioneering pilot celebrated

Posted at 9:31am Tuesday 21 May, 2019

One of New Zealand's pioneering aviators, Red Beach resident Cliff Tait, 89, is being recognised with a special exhibition at MOTAT.

It was 50 years ago this month that Cliff set out on a historic flight from Hamilton to become the first person to fly around the world in a single-engine plane, completing the feat in three months.

During his aviation career, Cliff broke 28 speed records, including some that were set by Jean Batten.

MOTAT is honouring Cliff's contribution to the country's aviation history by hosting The Flying Kiwi exhibition on weekdays, from Friday May 17 onwards. A range of artifacts are on display including the plane Cliff made his historic flight in, which he affectionately named Jacy (JC) – a mix of the first letters of his, and his wife Joyce's, names.

The couple now lives at North Haven Retirement Village.

A private MOTAT event was held for Cliff and other special guests from his career on May 12, the date on which he left New Zealand, 50 years ago.

When Cliff originally pitched the idea of flying the Hamilton-made 115 HP Airtourer around the world to promote New Zealand-made aircraft, he intended that someone else would undertake the journey.

According to Cliff's son, Cliff Tait Jr, officials did not take Cliff Snr's proposal seriously, and told him to “do it yourself”.

“If there is one thing about my Dad that stands true, it is that if he is challenged to do something, he'll do it,” Cliff Jnr says.

So, just five years after learning to fly and becoming a commercial pilot, Cliff undertook his global adventure, which was largely self-funded.

“Half a century on, he can still recall the trip in unbelievable detail,” Cliff Jr says.

“He can still describe exactly where he went, what problems he had at each location and who helped him.”

Cliff faced his fair share of dangers along the way including having his permission to land in Russia withdrawn because of the Cold War.

Despite the difficulties and lack of on-ground support during many of his stops, Cliff made it home safely to his family on August 1, 1969. Joyce and their four children were there to greet him.

“Arriving back home to Mum is the part he remembers most fondly, as well as remembering all those who helped him along the way,” Cliff Jnr says.

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