Top-flight pictorial log of Simon Spencer-Bower

29 Nov 2021

Internationally recognised pilot, instructor and aviation safety specialist Simon Spencer-Bower (7356) sets a new flightpath with his stunning pictorial book, Pilot’s Log – Once in a lifetime, every day.

While the book is written mainly for the aviator, it also recognises Simon’s agricultural roots.

A College Old Boy and 60 Years On 2022 Reunion organiser, Wanaka-based Simon has flown for 55 years, having gained his fixed-wing pilot licence as a teenager in 1967, and his helicopter pilot licence in 1980.

At 73, he has finally reflected on an action-packed career, producing a 450-page book full of entertaining life stories and images – from farm boy to one of the world’s top helicopter instructors and a highly skilled and respected pilot.

“My family and fellow aviators wanted me to create this book, saying ‘you need to write down all your wonderful stories and include your photos to share with others before it is too late’,” Simon recalls. “Pilot’s Log features highlights and stories of my life, along with stories from other aviators who have learnt to fly with me. It’s certainly full of photos from my past lives.

“The book title refers to the privilege of sharing the amazing beauty of New Zealand on my scenic flights. I fly a trip every day that my passengers perhaps only do once in a lifetime.”

Acknowledged with the Helicopter Association International, Salute to Excellence Award of Certified Instructor of the Year in 2015 and The Queen’s Service Medal in 2010 for services to aviation, Simon made the switch from fixed-wing to helicopter in 1980 – rapidly rotating into a new career.

The owner of Wanaka Helicopters, Simon is acknowledged as the world’s most experienced Robinson R22 helicopter pilot – with more than 14,000 hours on the type. He has also been involved with the Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow since the start, performing aerobatics and displays in many aircraft – from a Tiger Moth to a Spitfire – and assisted in emergency aerial search operations.

Simon also created the Advanced Helicopter Mountain Flying Course, the only mountain training course approved by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Born and raised in Canterbury, Simon also continues to run the family farm – converted from sheep and cropping to dairy – in Swannanoa.

“While I was a farm boy, flying was always a hobby,” he says. “I learnt to fly with the Canterbury Aero Club, buying my first aircraft, a Tiger Moth, in 1974, which I still have. An accident on the farm left me deaf in one ear, affecting my balance. However, performing aerobatics with the Tiger Moth helped my balance and I was soon representing New Zealand overseas.”

Simon finished third at the world Tiger Moth aerobatics championships in England in the 1980s.

In the 1980s, he discovered a passion for helicopters, recognising their value in rural areas. However, there was “minimal training available in New Zealand”. After very minimal instruction, he quickly taught himself to pilot helicopters competently, with a strong focus on safety. Recognising the growing need for instructors, Simon launched Canterbury Helicopters on his farm in 1981, providing pilot training and commercial helicopter work.

Simon has now trained more than 400 helicopter private pilots and 250 commercial pilots.

In the mid-1990s, he moved south to set up Wanaka Helicopters, offering scenic flights among the Southern Alps, and a specialist flight school. Today, it is the biggest helicopter flight training school in New Zealand, and one of the largest in Australasia.

Sons Chris (12262) and Pete (12715), both College and Jacobs House attendees, who are also commercial pilots, now manage the company while wife Carolyn and daughter Charlotte are also involved. Simon credits Carolyn with much of his success and underlines the integral role of the family in the growing business.

Simon admits he “was a bit of a renegade” at College, describing his time there in the 1960s as “pretty tough”.

However, he says that, as a boarder, he quickly “learnt to stand on his own two feet” and which “left him well prepared for life in the big wide world”.

After creating his colourful Pilot’s Log, he hopes that anyone can appreciate the stories and images capturing “once-in-a-lifetime experiences, every day”.

Book can be purchased online at: