The only time I’ve ever met All Blacks legend Richie McCaw, we didn’t talk about rugby. We talked about flying.
For those not from enlightened parts of the world, the All Blacks are New Zealand’s national rugby team, currently ranked number one in the world. McCaw is the team captain, and is regarded as one of the best to ever play the game. Hence, he’s a bit of a celebrity here in the Shaky Isles.
McCaw was a guest at a Star Alliance event last November in Queenstown (Air New Zealand is a big sponsor of the All Blacks), which I was also attending. I chatted to him about his passion for flying – he holds a private pilots license, is a keen glider pilot, and flying apparently runs in his family. He is even familiar with Aviation Week, which is always good to hear. Anyway, it came out in conversation that he is the patron of the Southern DC-3 Trust, an organization that keeps an old Douglas DC-3 flying. McCaw said he is asked to be involved in many foundations, but this one was a no-brainer for him. He is very enthusiastic about the trust’s mission, and he hopes to have a crack at flying the aircraft at some point in the future.
So why am I bringing this up now? Well, it happens that McCaw has convinced the Southern DC-3 Trust to help his provincial team, the Canterbury Crusaders, out of a bit of a jam. Due to the volcanic ash cloud that is causing flight cancellations in the South Island of New Zealand, the Canterbury team was wondering how it was going to get to Wellington to play an important local derby fixture against the Wellington Hurricanes this weekend.
McCaw won’t be playing in that game due to injury, but he still came up with the idea of transporting the team in the DC-3. Apparently it can fly lower to avoid the ash, and propeller aircraft are not as vulnerable to ash as jets. The aircraft can only take 28 passengers (and these are some hefty lads), so team management will have to drive up to Wellington. Here’s a link to a local media story about how McCaw arranged the DC-3 flight.
Here also is a link to the Southern DC3 Trust. The aircraft is a U.S. Air Force veteran that spent most of its post-war career in Australia. It is one of only two airworthy DC-3s in New Zealand, and has less flight hours than any other DC-3 in the southern hemisphere.