The man who delivered us the moon

Peter Williams 19/07/2019

We celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the moon landing this weekend July 20th with Gavin Trethewey the pilot who flew in record time from Sydney to deliver the footage to New Zealand.

It was almost 50 years ago, Gavin then aged 29, completed a return trip to Sydney in record time to collect a videotape of the lunar landings for New Zealand television audiences.

Peter began the interview by asking what time did he leave the air base at Ohakea?

Gavin goes through the plan they had for delivering the footage, arriving in Sydney by 11am local time, “the plan was to be ready for a quick departure.”

“We were taken to an operations room away from everybody else so that we could get a quick departure.”

We watched the moon landing live on their television.

After about 40 minutes or so the reel of film arrived, so we grabbed it and headed off at high speed for Wellington.”

Peter’s curiosity makes him ask what plane and flight path did they take for the trip?

It was an English Electric Canberra, we had a squadron of them based at Ohakea at the time.

We only had a moderate tailwind, normally we would come over above 40,000 feet because that's where the Canberra like to be. 

We came down to 20,000 feet for that crossing,

Gavin explained, “because that would give us the best help on the day with the wind and the speed we could make.”

Peter then wanted to know if the journey was a joint operation between the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the New Zealand Broadcast Corporation? Gavin Answers, “yes it was.”

I think the NZBC hired the airplane from the RNZAF, of course you could have put the film on a civil airplane but you can't send it off when you want it to go.

We were there to go at the time.

The pilot then remembers how he would have been one of the few New Zealanders to see the moon landing live.

It was quite exciting to watch we didn't know at that stage how successful it was going to be.

Peter recounts how the astronauts landed four miles off target and had to travel the lunar surface to get to their original landing location.

Gavin explains the thoughts going through his mind watching the live footage, “it was pretty critical on fuel so it really was a touch and go operation.”

Peter asks if he can remember the feeling when hearing those immortal words as man first touches the moon surface.

We were all pretty tense, we were all watching carefully. There was only half dozen so it was very quiet as we watched.

We had an affinity for the astronauts, they were people like those that I worked with.

Gavin take a moment to marvel at the occasion, "it was quite an event considering the computing power. The more I think about it as time has gone on the more I am astounded by the result."

Listen to the full interview above.