Meet the man who flew the McDonald’s Taupō plane

Matthew Martin / Stuff

“The DC-3 was my favorite, I never heard anyone say anything bad about it,” says Neville Worsley.

For the first time in nearly 40 years, the man who piloted the McDonald’s Taupō DC-3 climbed back into the cockpit – and it would be fair to say that a small tear rolled down his cheek.

The popular plane is usually locked down, but McDonald’s franchisees have made an exception for Neville Worsley, who had a flying career that spanned more than six decades and was notably ‘torpedoed by the windshield’ of a top-skinned aircraft.

Prior to Friday, the last time Worsley had sat at the helm of ZK-CAW was when he was a top dresser in 1983, although he had visited him a few times at McDonald’s.

The aircraft has a colorful history that includes wartime service, crop spraying and display in a motor fleet.

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Neville Worsley's favorite hobby – aviation – turned into a career.  He is pictured with a famous DC-3 he piloted, now based at McDonald's Taupō.

Matthew Martin / Stuff

Neville Worsley’s favorite hobby – aviation – turned into a career. He is pictured with a famous DC-3 he piloted, now based at McDonald’s Taupō.

Worley said he loves flying DC-3s, putting in more than 7,000 hours in them during his time flying for Fieldair, and it was wonderful to be back in one.

Now 82, Worsley said he started flying Tiger Moths aged 16 and spent his life flying as a pilot, instructor and touring pilot – and that he had loved every minute.

“I was very lucky to have my favorite hobby turn into a career, it’s just amazing.

“The DC-3 was my favorite, I never heard anyone say anything bad about it. They were awesome, low maintenance, easy to control, and just beautiful planes to fly.

He said his visit to McDonald’s Taupō brought back memories of his old friends and the fun they all had.

Worsley wrote a book about his aeronautical exploits titled Tiger Moths at Topdressing DC-3dedicating it to other top pilots who have died doing their job.

Neville Worsley has written a book about his aviation exploits, dedicating it to other top trainers lost in accidents over the years.

Matthew Martin / Stuff

Neville Worsley has written a book about his aviation exploits, dedicating it to other top trainers lost in accidents over the years.

“Unfortunately there are too many to mention, I’ve lost quite a few buddies in accidents over the years.”

He had his fair share of accidents, he said, the worst being when he plowed through dense bush while flying a top dressing Fletcher plane near Pahiatua in the Wairarapa.

“I was unconscious for six to eight hours and went outside still wearing my harness – I was torpedoed by the windshield into the bush.

“I ended up with a concussion and a few scratches, but no broken bones. I guess I got a little lucky that day.

Born and raised in Taranaki, Worsley flew most of his flights outside the district and spent around 20 years in Rotorua as an instructor and co-owner and operator of White Island Airways.

He returned to Stratford to retire with his wife, but continues to fly his own home-built aircraft and his two sons are also qualified pilots.

Many Kiwis would have seen the vintage plane outside McDonald’s Taupō, but few would know of its rich history.

McDonald’s Taupō franchisee Eileen Byrne said she was very protective of their famous DC3, and it was a real pleasure to sit down and talk with a former pilot.

“Enthusiasts from all over the world come to see it. We had to lock the cockpit at the end because people were trying to steal the buttons and things from inside.

Byrne said their DC-3 helped McDonald’s Taupō be named the coolest McDonald’s in the world in 2013.

The DC-3 is said to have been key to making McDonald's Taupō the coolest McDonald's in the world in 2013. Franchisees Des and Eileen Byrne are pictured at the time.

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The DC-3 is said to have been key to making McDonald’s Taupō the coolest McDonald’s in the world in 2013. Franchisees Des and Eileen Byrne are pictured at the time.

The aircraft’s history is as colorful as the people who flew it, but in a nutshell, it rolled off the production line in California in October 1943 and served in the Pacific until the end of the World War II before being sold to the Australian National. Airways in 1947.

It finally made its way to New Zealand in December 1961, was registered as ZK-CAW and flew as part of the South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand fleet.

The ZK-CAW also flew as a postman before being purchased by Fieldair and converted to a field sprayer and trainer in 1971.

The DC-3 was finally retired from service in October 1984 after completing a total of 56,282 flight hours.

It arrived in Taupō in 1989 after being purchased by former Taupō Mayor Rick Cooper, who displayed it in his car yard, and when McDonald’s Taupō expanded in 1990 it was incorporated into the restaurant and has remained there ever since.

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