Over a hundred years ago an American clergyman, bishop Wright, told the audience at a small religious college that "Pretty much everything in nature that can be invented, has been. The world is on the verge of the millennium." A dissenter in the audience disagreed, asserting that the next 50 years would produce many exciting new discoveries. When bishop Wright challenged him to name but one, he suggested "Well, flight." The bishop laughed, assuring him flight was reserved for angels. There was nothing unusual in this view in the 1880s, but bishop Wright had two sons - Orville and Wilbur.
Like the Wright brothers aircraft, Airsail was founded on the optimism of two young men, Len Perry and Wynn Craven. They had returned from war time service in the Royal New Zealand Air Force with considerable aeronautical engineering experience, which they decided to use in the manufacture, certification, servicing and repair of gliders for the post-war gliding boom sweeping the country. Post-war import restrictions made it a difficult time to start any new business requiring components and materials from overseas. They acquired premises in a disused factory and then encountered difficulties in getting their Air Force aircraft engineering qualifications recognized by the civil aviation authorities. To generate an income while waiting for the authorities to make a decision, they began producing simple Ready To Fly rubber powered model aeroplanes from scrap timber, powered by rubber cut from automobile inner tubes. These models flew remarkably well, so well in fact that a New Zealand department store bought the entire stock, and suddenly Airsail was in the model aeroplane business! Harsh post-war economic conditions forced a move to even cheaper premises in an old feed and storage building, where they produced kit sets, pre-cut wood, adhesive and dope. Production machinery was designed and built by Len Perry although most processes such as packing kit sets, filling bottles, labelling and corking were done by hand.
Import restrictions spurred on Kiwi ingenuity, for everything had to be produced from local materials, for example dope and balsa cement were produced by dissolving old 35 mm movie film in acetone! When balsa wood became available, Airsail designed a chuck glider, the Boomerang. A friendly printer allowed them to use his press to print the outline on at night, when the machinery was inactive. The success of the Boomerang encouraged them to produce other designs - the Delta Jet, the Skyline and a small pod and boom glider. Business picked up even further when diesel motors became available and the control line craze hit the country. The demand for kits necessitated a move to larger premises, the present factory in Penrose, Auckland, where they produced the Satellite glider, one of the first kit models available in NZ with preformed components and die cut wood parts, produced with a band saw, a circular saw and lots of Kiwi ingenuity. Recognizing a market trend, the Airsail team created a purpose designed range of models to satisfy control line fliers. First there was a trainer for the novice to learn to fly on, after which he or she could progress to the aerobatic model to improve their flying skills before graduating to a racer or a scale model. Radio control eclipsed the control line craze and Len Perry bought one of the first American Heathkit R/C sets, assembling it himself then designing a powered model on which to teach himself to fly. Shades of the Wright brothers! The introduction of locally manufactured Teletrol R/C sets in New Zealand created a demand for a radio control power model - the three channel Airsail Apollo 107. The success of this led to the introduction of something larger and more sophisticated, the El Condor. Just as things were looking good, fate flexed her fickle finger twice to change everything dramatically.
First, a heart attack laid Len low for several months. On his return to the fray, he found the model trade in a period of decline. Nobody was buying model kits any more. Airsail ceased further design and development to concentrate on their accessories business - control horns, bellcranks, pre-bent undercarriages, hinges, clevises etc. This belt tightening enabled the company to survive the lean years and to develop a comprehensive line of kits and accessories under the DECO trade brand. Len Perry retired in 1984, selling Airsail and its factory premises to Goodmans. Unfortunately the new owners were businessmen, not modellers and lacked the aero-modelling knowledge to be able to anticipate the requirements of the modelling public. Business slowed and staff began to leave. This seemed like the low point in Airsail's history... until three likely lads came by, looking for a business to buy: Brian Borland was already a top ranked modeller, having representing his country two years previously at the World Scale Radio Control Championships in Reno, USA .
This achievement had been accomplished after a long apprenticeship of competition successes at National level in control line combat, team racing, free flight scale and R/C scale. In addition to his aero-modelling experience, he had previously run his own airline model manufacturing business. This background enabled him to see Airsail's potential. David Hope-Cross was an aviation historian as well as an enthusiastic scale aero-modeller . Like Brian, he was a previous NZ scale champion and international class competitor, with an impressive list of scale models designs built and flown by him. Some of these models are now on permanent display in museums around New Zealand. David too had a business background and believed Airsail could be brought back to being a successful manufacturing enterprise. Brian and David's optimism was shared by Bob Harvison, the third partner, who although not an aero-modeller, had produced decals for Brian's previous airline models business, and shared his optimism for resurrecting the ailing company.
At this juncture a small snag occurred when Goodman & Co decided to retain the brand name Airsail. This almost proved a stumbling block because the name Airsail was synonymous with quality kit production, and the new owners needed to use this name in future export drives. Eventually a compromise was reached and Goodmans kept the name Airsail, and Brian and Co named their export manufacturing company Airsail International Limited. After many years trading as Airsail International Limited the retail walk in shop was closed to concentrate on kit manufacture and wholesale supplies. At this point John and Sharon Danks saw the opportunity to purchase the retail business and the JR Propo agency so in 2010 the deal was done and trading commenced under the present name of JR Airsail. John is well known in the hobby for his involvement initially in control line team racing and stunt. Through his attraction to speed he eventually moved to RC Pylon where he acquired New Zealand records in both racing and speed. He represented New Zealand at World Championship level where he gained valuable experience from the best in the world. He like many took a break to spend more time with their growing family and in later years has returned to the hobby. In more recent times he is flying IMAC and Pattern although the need for speed is still there and Pylon racing is still in his blood.