Born at Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, on 26 September 1922, Brian Kynaston Waugh was the second of two sons of Helen Elizabeth Caudle and her husband, Walter Waugh, an electrical engineer. He developed an early fascination with aviation after his father became a foreman on the construction of an RAF station in Shropshire. In August 1938 he joined the RAF’s aircraft apprentice training scheme, and in 1941 he was posted to South Africa. While there, he transferred to pilot training, gaining his wings on 24 September 1943.
In early 1945 Waugh was posted to No 75 (New Zealand) Squadron as a flight engineer in an Avro Lancaster bomber crew. During the last few months of the war he participated in night bombing operations, including a raid on Kiel on 9 April in which the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer was sunk. After the war he continued flying with RAF transport squadrons, which included service in the Far East.
Waugh was a handsome man, about five feet eight inches tall, with an olive complexion, dark hair and, for most of his adult life, a distinctive moustache. On 28 July 1945 he married Jean Mary Lowe in Manchester; their happy partnership was to produce three sons and two daughters. Baptised an Anglican, he became a Methodist on marriage. His Christian faith was important to him, especially in later years.
Waugh got much satisfaction from challenging bureaucracy. He was independent in his views and not afraid to state them when necessary. This influenced his later civilian flying career as he preferred to be his own boss, working for small airlines. From 1950 he flew for various British charter companies, and on 19 February 1954 he was injured when his de Havilland Dragon Rapide crashed in Northumberland. Despite being hailed a hero for helping to rescue the passengers from the burning aircraft, he was convicted in a civil court of negligence for flying in icing conditions with no de-icing equipment. He always considered this conviction to be unjust.
A pilot colleague, Brian Chadwick, invited Waugh to emigrate to Christchurch, New Zealand, and join South Island Airways (SIA), which was pioneering regional air services to South Canterbury, North Otago and Nelson. He joined Chadwick in September 1954 and the ‘two Brians’ soon became well-known pilots in the South Island. In 1956, when SIA ceased operations, Waugh was instrumental in the formation of Trans-Island Airways (TIA), at that time the only scheduled airline operating outside the New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NAC). Chadwick and Waugh continued their flying partnership with TIA and took delight in challenging the government-owned ‘big brother’ NAC monopoly.
On 29 March 1958, piloting a charter flight from Ohakea to Nelson in a Lockheed Electra with 13 passengers, Waugh found himself in the midst of a dangerous cyclone – he later claimed that the turbulence was the worst he had ever encountered. With damaged navigational aids, the aircraft was lost for almost two hours before landing at Paraparaumu. The passengers later presented him with a pair of gold wings in tribute to his flying skill.
TIA was forced into receivership in mid 1959, however, and in November Waugh was appointed chief pilot and chief engineer of West Coast Airways (WCA) of Hokitika. WCA maintained the tradition of its pioneer forebear, Air Travel (NZ), which had started the country’s first licensed airline service in December 1934. Operating a de Havilland Rapide, Dominies and Cessna 180s, WCA was a versatile airline providing scheduled services, scenic flights over the glaciers and alps, supply-dropping, air ambulance and general charter work. It was an integral part of south Westland life, and Waugh became a prominent local figure; from 1965 to 1967 he served as a Hokitika borough councillor.
On 12 February 1962 Chadwick and four passengers went missing on a scenic flight from Christchurch to Milford Sound. For the next five years, while flying the south Westland route, Waugh pursued a personal but unsuccessful quest to discover what had happened to his friend. For many years afterwards he wrote articles about this continuing aviation mystery.
By 1967 the completion of the road linking Haast with the Paringa River to the north had reduced the need for passenger, airmail and freight services in the region, and in March that year Waugh flew WCA’s final south Westland flights in a Rapide. It was the end of a historic and unique air service. On 15 April 1967 he was badly injured when his Dominie crashed in the Shotover River after both engines failed. This ended his flying career.
Waugh then trained as a meteorologist, and served at Hokitika and Gisborne. In 1972 he became a motel proprietor in Nelson, before taking up part-time employment for a local engineering company. He died suddenly of a heart attack on 7 October 1984 while talking to the congregation of the Stoke Methodist church. He was survived by his wife and children. Brian Waugh’s long aviation career provides a fascinating insight into the operations and problems of several of New Zealand’s most important post-war regional airlines, flying amid the rugged terrain and turbulent weather of the South Island.