More than 350 people paid their respects to Warkworth man David Starr at the Mahurangi East Community Centre last month. David was a top-dressing pilot for 30 years and, at one point, was the only person in the world who was rated to fly a DC3 with only a private pilot’s licence. When not flying planes, David served at various times as Warkworth Amateur Athletic Club treasurer, Kowhai Swimming Club captain and Warkworth Golf Club president. He died unexpectedly at North Shore Hospital. He was 80 years old.
David spent his early life in Papakura and was a foundation pupil at Papakura High School. Upon leaving school at 15, he first worked as a farmhand on his parents’ farm, but later became a loader driver for top-dressing planes. His driving job took him inside an aircraft for the first time – a DC3 – which remained a favourite plane for the rest of his life.
David worked as a driver for James Aviation, which operated everywhere from Wanganui to Kaitaia. He was based at Ardmore Airport, but could often be away from home for months at a time. David and a pilot would often stow a Fiat 500 in the back of plane so they had a car to move around in when they were away on extended trips.
David started flying lessons at Ardmore and got his private pilot’s license in 1964 and a commercial license in 1967. Around this time, he met his future wife Mary at a birthday party at the Auckland Aero Club. They went out three times and were engaged nine days later.
David went on to train as an agricultural pilot and, once qualified, transferred to Warkworth, working for James Aviation, based at Kaipara Flats Airfield, flying a Fletcher aircraft.
David’s eldest daughter, Catherine Starr, recalled flying with her father and his habit of tipping his aircraft’s wings to acknowledge friends spotted on the ground. But she says other aspects of flying were gruelling.
“I can tell you that a Fletcher is not built for passenger comfort. Even with earmuffs you can’t hear yourself think, and your ears are constantly popping,” she said.
It was a dangerous job. An engine failure once caused him to crash into a farm on Shedewys Hill, where he escaped with nothing more than a scratched thumb. A slippery surface at Wharehine saw his aircraft to careen off the airstrip and its wings to crash through a fence.
In 1983, David bought his own top-dressing plane and continued to fly until 2000, at which point he realised he was unlikely to pass his next medical exam and opted to retire from flying.
He continued to serve as pilot representative with the NZ Agricultural Aviation Association (NZAAA), enjoying the opportunity to stay in touch with the industry. Previously, he served for two years as chairman of the NZAAA and was also a northern branch chair of the Aviation Industry Association.
David was a passionate golfer and his children’s sporting interests persuaded him to become heavily involved in the Warkworth Amateur Athletic Club and the Kowhai Swimming Club.
Another passion was Freemasonry. In an interview with Mahurangi Matters in 2007, David said he liked what the organisation did to help fellow members and those in need.
In his later years, David kept busy as the cleaner of the Mahurangi College pool, something he continued until a few weeks before he died.
Daughter Catherine said her father could not simply be an ordinary member of an organisation.
“If he joined something, he was in boots and all. It is something that he passed on to us children, who also end up on committees and taking responsibility for organisations we get involved with,” she said.
“To us he was Dad, flawed at times, but perfect in our eyes.”
David is survived by his wife Mary; three children, Catherine, Robyn, and Andrew; and two grandchildren, Samantha and Paige.