Book recounts colourful flying career

Bruce Aitken of Taupo, former topdressing and stunt pilot, has published a book about this colourful career.

Ninety-year-old Bruce Aitken has published a book on his exciting and colourful career of 18,000 flying hours, 30 years running an aerial top-dressing business and being a well-known stunt pilot. He miraculously survived eight near-fatal plane crashes.

Growing up near the Wellington aerodrome, Bruce dreamt of being a pilot. Two years’ service in the occupation forces in Japan peaked his interest in aviation.

His first top-dressing job was in February 1953. Spreading fertiliser by air was in its infancy; the work was dangerous. Pilots were “flying by the seat of their pants” and many lost their lives in those early years.

In 1954 Bruce established his business, Farmers Aviation Ltd, thanks to the financial assistance of four Taranaki farmers. In a tightly regulated and competitive environment Bruce started with one Tiger Moth building up to a fleet of small aircraft and many clients.

During the years his training methods for nine new young pilots who worked for him, meant none lost their life. The book recounts his many run-ins with authorities and well documented official reports of his eight plane crashes.

Powerline crash

The most dramatic came in 1967 near Waitara when he and his Piper aircraft struck massive power lines strung across a wide gully. ‘Amazing Escape from Plane Crash’ was the headline in Taranaki’s main newspaper. Split seconds after Bruce scrambled from the smashed cockpit the whole aircraft was engulfed with fierce flames and in minutes was a charred twisted skeleton.

In 1980s a bigger fire spelled the beginning of the end of Bruce’s business. His large hangar near Hawera caught ablaze destroying five aircraft. An insurance payout bought a new plane that Bruce operated for two more years before giving up his top-dressing business.

The last chapter of the book makes clear that a career highlight for Bruce was his stunt flying performances at air shows throughout New Zealand. He was the only overseas act to be asked to a large 1986 American air convention.

With many photographs and official air accident reports, the memoir of ‘Bruce Malcolm Aitken’ is an invaluable record of an extraordinary career in an early period of New Zealand agricultural aviation history.

The book is available for $40 by contacting Bruce Aitken: 52 Ngamotu Rd, Taupo 3330, phone: 07 378-5871, or email:


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