Walter J Wagtendonk passed away peacefully at the Waipuna Hospice in the Tauranga area in the early hours of 18 May, aged 88. He was a former RNZAF Flight Leiutenant, a highly respected flying instructor and the author of many books on aviation.
He came to New Zealand as a 21-year-old in late 1951 and the following year was accepted for pilot training in the RNZAF. He graduated in March 1953 and became a flying instructor that same year. After eight years’ service, predominantly as an instructor, he retired with the rank of Flight Lieutenant with an A2 instructor rating (the second highest possible).
Instead of entering airline service, Walter chose to stay with instructing, originally with the Nelson Aero Club and subsequently with the Nelson Aviation College which he founded in 1978. He held a civil A-Category Instructor rating (the highest possible) and an Instrument rating.
Walter retired from the college in 1991 and started writing aviation text books covering Private Pilot, Commercial Pilot and Instrument Rating subjects. Under the brand name PilotBooks, he authored seven manuals including Principles of Helicopter Flight which is currently published in the USA and is used worldwide as an official reference. He also co-authored five other training manuals.
He became involved (and was still active until his death) in exposition manual-writing for aviation companies seeking General Aviation Air Operator Certificates.
Walter was a founding member of the New Zealand Aviation Industry Group (NZAIG) formed in 2013 following major industry upheaval as the result of the Aviation Industry Association’s attempt to impose its Aircare Safety Management System, a move which he strongly opposed.
This commercially driven tactic adversely affected non-Aircare accredited operators seeking contracts with various agencies including DoC, the New Zealand Fire Service and local authorities. Walter considered the Aircare system to be aimed at gaining a monopolistic control over operators and, supported by other committed people in the industry, he was successful in undermining it.
In 2015, Walter and his AIG members formed a close alliance with the General Aviation Advocacy network and he remained a staunch, watchful and active champion of general aviation until the day he died.
Walter was awarded the OBE for services to aviation and specifically for his work towards flight safety.
With his passing, New Zealand aviation has lost a wise mentor and a great fountain of knowledge.
A celebration of Wal’s life was held in Tauranga on 23 May. A memorial service will be held in Nelson at a date to be advised. Communications to the Wagtendonk family, PO Box 3136, Tauranga.