Wellington Airport - 60 Years On reveals airport's dramatic, almost tragic opening day

The documentary is being released as the airport celebrates its 60th birthday.
The documentary is being released as the airport celebrates its 60th birthday. Photo credit: Paul Davidson

A new short documentary looking back at Wellington Airport's early days has been released, just in time for the airport's 60th birthday.

Creator Paul Davidson was 14 years old on the day the airport opened.

A massive air show took place to celebrate the opening and Davidson was anticipating a day of action, but things didn't unfold quite the way he was expecting.

A Vulcan bomber was taking part in a display flight above the airport. Just as it came in to land, the aircraft touched down just short of the runway and one of its wings clipped the ground.

At this moment, the pilot, staff and everyone on the ground watching thought they were just seconds away from a firey, explosive death.

The aircraft could have easily cartwheeled across the tarmac, which would have been catastrophic.

But somehow, the pilot managed to regain control. He powered the bomber up to full thrust and managed to get it back in the air, well clear of any danger.

Davidson says he'll never forget that moment.

"There was a bang as its wheels hit the bank and broke, followed by a few heart-stopping seconds of likely disaster, then there was a thunderous roar as he accelerated away with kerosine mist spraying over us," he said.

This cemented Davidson's fascination and passion for aviation, which is still going strong 60 years later, almost to the day.

He said he wanted to share the story of that day before his memories begin to fade away.

"Sixty years is about the time grandparents' teenage memories are fading, so it's the last chance for first-person commentary. And it brings history back to the present for all generations, even the iPhone generation who are curiously fascinated by well-told heritage stories."

Davidson said things have changed since the day tragedy nearly struck Wellington Airport, and while flying may be safer and cheaper, there are some things that were better back then.

"We will never see an air show the likes of that one again. Can you imagine today's stealth bombers and fighter planes circling around Wellington Harbour?"   

There are no events planned for Wellington Airport's birthday weekend, which is all the more reason to watch Davidson's documentary.

Wellington Airport - 60 Years On is available to watch in full on Vimeo and is embedded below.