Aviation instructor flies high with precious cargo


Reuben Wohlers shows young Domanic Grant the ropes as they fly to Hastings from Palmerston North.


Massey School of Aviation pilot Reuben Wohlers has volunteered his time to fly a special flight as part of a nationwide fundraiser to support the Starship Foundation’s continued efforts to help Manawatū children and families in their times of dire need.

The flight on 30 March is one of many in The Poppy Flight fundraiser– the brainchild of travel broker Melanie Salisbury that aims to raise funds and awareness for Starship, the RSA and the New Zealand Warbirds Association.

Each aircraft will carry a giant poppy and star and gather hand knitted poppies at each destination from local crafters. These will then be added to the giant poppy and star and flown to the next stop, creating impressive works of art throughout the country. Donations will be also be collected along the way.

The Aviation school extended an invitation to local Starship patient, eight-year-old Domanic Grant and his dad Phil to accompany Mr Wohlers on his flight.

Belted in and full of excitement, they took off into the sky from the Massey School of Aviation runway en route to Hastings, where they then stopped and collected hand knitted poppies from locals before returning home to Palmerston North.

On arrival home, Mr Wohlers and his two passengers were welcomed by Massey Aviation students, staff and representatives of the Julia Wallace Retirement Village. They were treated to a civic welcome by Palmerston North City Mayor Grant Smith followed by entertainment, activities and an afternoon tea at the retirement village, where they were joined by local schools, clubs, and community groups.

Mr Wohlers requested permission to offer his services as a volunteer pilot from Chief Flight Instructor Paul Kearney who was more than happy to grant this. 

Anke Smith, Manager Business Development and International Programmes from the School of Aviation says supporting the unique New Zealand entity that is Starship was an easy decision to make.

“It is truly a lifeline for so many parents and children and ‘the Starship effect’ extends well beyond immediate families receiving its services. Many School of Aviation staff know or have heard of someone whose family member has been on the receiving end of a Starship service at some stage.

“Families in the region continue to benefit greatly by having access to world- class medical care at Starship available to their children as and when required- without  barriers such as finances or geographical location having to be considered.”

The fundraiser will see over 30 volunteer pilots fly between posts throughout the country for four weeks in the lead up to ANZAC Day 2021.

The first Poppy Flight took off from Ardmore Airport on 26 March with a Harvard aircraft flying to Thames for the first of the welcome events.

When all flights are complete, the artworks will be donated to charity with the star going to The Starship Foundation and the poppy going to the RSA.


Massey School of Aviation pilot Reuben Wohlers


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