Jean Batten is one of New Zealand’s great innovators and aviators. Her achievements as a solo navigator in the 1930s are nothing short of incredible. Navigating her way across vast distances and featureless oceans with a wristwatch and a compass, she was incredibly accurate with her landfall points – often within 100 yards. In an era before GPS and satellites, this kind of precision is unrivalled. Her ingenuity also served her well in her first two failed solo flights to Australia – both ending in crashes that ordinarily would have destroyed the aircraft and killed the pilot. Her resilience and persistence to learn from both failed attempts ensured that she would go on to achieve her ambitions. A recent donation to MOTAT’s collection from the Auckland International Airport includes Batten’s signature white leather flying cap, log books and a stop watch. These complement the engine from her Percival Gull aircraft, and her awards and medals currently on display in the Museum’s Aviation Display Hall – all of which tell the inspiring story of a Kiwi woman who was a record-breaker and a trailblazer.
Moving from the heroics of the sky to the harshness of Antarctica, you can’t talk about Kiwi innovation and ingenuity without immediately thinking of Sir Edmund Hillary. For MOTAT, Sir Ed’s achievements are evidenced nowhere better than the modified Ferguson TE20 tractor used in his ‘dash for the pole’. Applying design thinking, trial and error and pure determination to simple motorised technology resulted in three of these tractors successfully making the first land-based trip to the South Pole since Scott’s ill-fated mission in 1912. Although originally commissioned to provide depot drops and support for a British expedition, Hillary and his companions decided to go to the pole themselves. Battling fatigue and travelling in the open-topped modified tractors, the team arrived at the South Pole on 4 January 1958. To see one of these tractors up close and personal at MOTAT, with its flimsy looking canvas covers, awkward tracks and small size gives some insight into what a significant achievement this was.
Rounding out the selection is the Rutherford engine in the Rocket Lab Electron Rocket. Although not quite part of MOTAT’s collection yet, this incredible piece of engineering represents the pinnacle of contemporary New Zealand innovation and ingenuity on the world stage. The recent successful launch of Rocket Lab’s electron rocket from the Mahia Peninsula marks a significant moment in the evolution of New Zealand’s aerospace industry. The Rutherford engine has many of its components, including the combustion chamber, valves, pumps and injectors, produced by cutting-edge 3D printing technology. This approach significantly reduces both production time and cost to bring the vision of Rocket Lab’s founder Peter Beck to remove barriers to commercial space, closer to reality.