Legendary pilot Bill Black, live deer capture from helicopters.
Pilot Bill Black with shooter Jim Kane.
Legendary pilot William (Bill) Black MBE was one of the pioneers of live deer capture from helicopters in Fiordland in the 1960s. He was also involved in over 500 search and rescue operations, mercy missions, and avalanche control missions.
Bill was a brilliant pilot, largely self-taught. He began his aviation career in 1963, flying Cessna fixed-wing and floatplanes, Tiger Moth, Dominie, and other aircraft. In 1967, he switched to helicopters, signing up with Sir Tim Wallis as a pilot for Luggate Game Packers. It is his helicopter flying that he is most famous for.
“Sharing stories with DOC colleagues, Bill is remembered as a gruff but lovely guy who was always there to help – ‘just don’t slam the doors’.”“Another DOC mate told me of the time they asked Bill about the conditions and were things okay? His reply, ‘listen mate if I’m OK – you’re OK – got it’. Which pretty much sums up Bill and the total confidence you had in him when you were in the air.”
Bill liked a smoke while flying and he was so skilled that he could roll a cigarette or pack a pipe while flying the helicopter with his knees.
Based out of Te Anau, Bill is credited at one stage in his career with the most helicopter hours as a pilot in the world. In the late 90s, he clocked up something like 27,000 hours flying. If that was in a car travelling at 100 km an hour, you would have been sitting behind the wheel 24/7 for 1,125 days and travelled 2.7 million kms.
He was a respected member of the aviation community, and he was a role model for many young pilots. He was also a popular figure in Fiordland, known for his sense of humor and his willingness to help others. As a pioneer in the use of helicopters in New Zealand, he helped to develop the techniques and procedures that are still used today.
In the 1977 Queen's Silver Jubilee and Birthday Honours, Bill was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire, for services to search and rescue operations, and in 2014 he was awarded the Jean Batten Memorial Trophy by the Honourable Company of Air Pilots for his contributions to New Zealand aviation.
Black was born in Owaka on 18 August 1943, and died in Invercargill on 1 July 2020, aged 76 years. Black's death was a major loss to the aviation community, and he will be remembered as one of New Zealand's greatest helicopter pilots.
You can read more about him in the book “I Did It My Way: Bill Black” by Merv Halliday.