Without doubt, Bryan Cox is one of New Zealand’s most well-known aviators. His contribution to aviation in this country is considerable. As a pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, he flew Corsair fighters on Pacific operations during WWII. Post-war, he continued flying and amassed a total of over 21,000 hours in the air. Remarkably, 18,000 hours of this total time was spent teaching other people to fly and Bryan was the flight testing officer for the issue of nearly 600 private pilots licences. Few people could equal the breadth and depth of Bryan’s war and peacetime aviation experiences that spanned over 50 years.
In recent years there has been a resurgent interest in WWII aircraft, particularly fighters. To experience the freedom of flying a powerful single-seat WWII fighter in the 21st Century, you either have to own it or be invited to fly it. Those that are invited are generally high-hour airline or ex-military pilots with previous experience in flying Warbirds aircraft. Consider then, what it would feel like to fly a P-40 Kittyhawk fighter at just 19 years of age and with only 115 hours solo time. On 3 August 1944, Bryan did just that. Months later, he was flying 2200 horsepower F4U Corsair fighters on operations over the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul, New Britain – all before his 20th birthday.
These experiences are recorded in Bryan’s first book, Too Young To Die, which is recognised as one of the best autobiographies ever written by a Pacific fighter pilot. Bryan’s second book, Pacific Scrapbook 1943-1947, provides further details of his time in the RNZAF and is supported by hundreds of photographs, letters, newspaper extracts, documents, diagrams and maps.
Cats Have Only Nine Lives not only gives a fascinating insight into Bryan’s experiences as a fighter pilot in the RNZAF, but picks up where the other books left off, as it covers his many and varied experiences in civilian flying. The stories Bryan tells are sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic. Although he lost many friends during the war, he made many more with his continued involvement in civilian aviation – firstly as an air traffic controller and then as an instructor. Cats Have Only Nine Lives is a fascinating collection of stories, anecdotes, and facts that are both entertaining and educational. Given that most of Bryan’s flying was from Auckland’s Ardmore Aerodrome, the book also records much of that airfield’s history too.
Although many might argue that ‘luck’ was on Bryan’s side on more than one occasion, there is little doubt that he was a skilful pilot. Consider, for example, the first time Bryan flew a glider. Without any prior dual instruction in gliders, he piloted a Libelle sailplane from Ardmore after taking a tow behind a Piper Pawnee aircraft – a skill most ‘power’ pilots would take hours to successfully achieve. But then, perhaps that’s not surprising given Bryan routinely landed single-engined powered aircraft with the motor stopped just for fun.
Bryan has given much to this country and continues to do so. If a friend or relative are in need, Bryan is always there for them. As editor of the New Zealand Fighter Pilots Association’s journal, he has done much to record a part of New Zealand’s history that would have been lost without him. And now he has given us a unique insight into his life’s experiences in aviation through the publication of this book. I’m sure anyone who has an interest in aviation will enjoy it as much as I have.