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Walter J. ("Wal") Wagtendonk was born in The Netherlands in 1929 and emigrated to New Zealand at 20 years of age. Shortly after arrival he was selected for pilot training in the Royal New Zealand Air Force in which he served for 8 years, mainly on instructional duties. He retired from the Service as an A-2 instructor in 1960 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

When his Service contract finished, Wal and his family moved to Nelson where he joined the Nelson Aero Club staff, first as manager, and later chief flight instructor.

In 1978, Wal and his wife Ann formed the Nelson Aviation College in Motueka (near Nelson), which grew into one of New Zealand’s best known theory and flight training centers, and became the first "approved" school to conduct both fixed-wing and helicopter courses. Many experienced helicopter pilots currently flying in various parts of the world started their basic training under Wal’s careful instruction.

After their retirement in 1990, Wal and Ann moved to the Bay of Plenty in the North Island, not far from their son and daughter.

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