Registration: ZK-AEL / ZK-ALA

A very historic aircraft (in the owners eyes anyway!) this aircraft is the only surviving WACO model UOC in existence. One of only 3 built, the Marlborough Aero Club bought S/No 4336 brand new in 1935. Delivered in May 1936 as ZK-AEL the aircraft had a reasonably chequered history before being impressed into service with the RNZAF as NZ575. Preferred as the aircraft of choice by pilots of the RNZAF Communications Flight based at Rongatai, the WACO survived the war and was returned to the Marlborough Aero Club in 1946 as ZK-ALA. Alas, it only served through to 1948 before being written off in a landing accident at Omaka. Purchased by Blackmore Air Services, it was repaired and taken to Rotorua for use in scenic flights. James Aviation ultimately bought his company and the WACO was used as a company hack. In 1958 during pilot currency training the aircraft was flipped on it’s back and written off again.

It was semi-repaired and displayed in a transport museum housed in one of the hangars at Rotorua Airport. This museum collection, including the WACO, was exported to Coolangatta, Queensland, Australia in September 1959. It then travelled around the eastern seaboard of Australia for the next 25 years before ending up in Sydney where restoration finally began. Extensive work was done to the badly damaged wings and the fuselage was repaired as necessary and recovered.

In 2001 whilst Jay was stationed in Australia with No 2 Squadron RNZAF, the Editor of “Classic Wings Magazine”, knowing that Jay harboured both a fetish for WACO’s and Marlborough’s aviation history, planted a seed in Jay’s head. He mischievously advised that S/No 4336 was still extant and believed to be in the Sydney region.

No amount of research was able to accurately locate the aircraft or it’s owner, including an impassioned blind, but unanswered letter to his last known address. Jay reluctantly forgot all about it until an ungodly hour one Monday morning in 2008 when a fax came through.

Having decided to forget about the WACO and start his own business, Jay was now faced with a dilemma. Reason got the better of him and he was soon off to Sydney to inspect this piece of history. Against better judgement, 2 fellow Club members expressed interest and a partnership was formed to purchase the aircraft and in late 2008 the WACO was delivered to Omaka.

Stripped of it’s fabric and with wings and tail fitted the aircraft was presented at Classic Fighters 2009 on ‘Restoration Row’. Following the airshow the WACO was completely stripped and prepared for restoration.

Sadly, many other aircraft have taken priority and the aircraft still sits in a thousand pieces. The fuselage has been X-rayed and just requires a couple of weeks of concentrated work to get it to the stage where the backwards steps to date can be reversed.

We really look forward to one day returning this aircraft to the skies above Marlborough!

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