Cunningham “Jock” Cassels joined the RAF in Edinburgh in September 1941, a few weeks after his 18th birthday. He was trained as a pilot and ended up in Egypt flying the Spitfire. After the war ended he was posted to a Sunderland squadron and flew that aircraft from the base in Wales. He retired from the RAF in 1966 and still wanting to fly, joined the RAAF and was posted to 38 Sqn at Richmond, flying the Caribou. He did a tour of Vietnam with 35 Sqn and finally retired from the RAAF in January 1979. Jock Cassels
Some highlights from a Full Career in Aviation.
Thanks to Ian (Tiny) Ashbrook and Radschool Magazine.
Ian (Tiny) Ashbrook served in the RAAF as a pilot and professional engineer in a range of command, policy, flying and specialist positions. He was awarded a Chief of Air Force Commendation in 1997 for the financial management of RAAF Operational Logistics and an Order of Australia in 1998, primarily for his contributions to RAAF airworthiness policy. He took early retirement from the RAAF in 1997 to become an Executive Director of Rolls-Royce Australia Ltd and associated regional companies and Regional Director – Defence for Rolls-Royce plc, London with prime responsibility for Defence business in the Australasian region. He retired from Rolls-Royce in 2010 and lives in SE Qld, where he is involved in a diverse range of activities.
Ian Ashbrook was born in Hamilton Vic and in answer to questions relating to who he knows in the Hamilton area responds ‘no one really as my whole life in Hamilton was about three weeks’. Ian would have been born in Port Moresby, where his mother had been raised between the wars. Her father had taken his family to Papua in 1919 where he subsequently established an engineering business specialising in rubber and copra production but, also with a marine slipway on Port Moresby’s Fairfax Harbour
However, in 1942, with the Japanese coming over the Owen Stanley’s Ian’s mother and her sister were evacuated to Cairns with two suitcases each and they subsequently made their way to stay with an aunt in Hamilton, Vic. Meanwhile, Ian’s father (who was the accountant of the trading company Burns Philp) was evacuated a little later, joined the RAAF and spent most of the war back in Papua and New Guinea as a meteorologist.
After spending some time at Coal Point while his father trained at Rathmines, the RAAF Catalina base on Lake Macquarie, Ian subsequently spent the war with his mother and aunt, in a hotel at Coffs Harbour. When the war ended, Ian’s father made his way, following discharge from the RAAF, to Coffs Harbour only to learn that his wife had been diagnosed with a short life expectancy terminal illness. Unable to get seats on a train because of troop priorities, he bought an old Austin 7 Tourer and transported the family to Sydney where the diagnosis proved incorrect.
The family then returned to Port Moresby in Jan 1946 taking the Austin 7 with them to become
the first civilian car in Port Moresby after the war. Port Moresby, with its large aircraft and vehicle dumps was a ‘boy’s own adventure’ with every self-respecting kid having an aircraft fuel tank as a canoe and most people driving surplus Jeeps. Unlike today, the town was very safe and Ian can recall walking a mile or so along a bush track alone at the age of five to catch a bus to school with the only strict instructions being not to touch ammunition or snakes. Port Moresby was littered with ammunition and bush fires inevitably produced a cacophony of explosions and fireworks. Ian’s parents owned 50 acres of the 6 mile hill at Port Moresby, including the land on which the local radio station, 9PA, was located and their house looked NE over Port Moresby’s famous Jackson’s Airfield and Ian frequently walked the km or so to the airfield to wander through the hangar and explore the various aircraft for hours at a time and this was not discouraged by staff at the airfield.
In 1947, the Austin was shipped to Cairns and the family drove to Sydney, a not insignificant adventure at that time, with Ian perched in the back. Not long after leaving Cairns, Ian noted that it was hot in the back to which the response was ‘stop complaining’. A little while later he again commented that it was very hot in the back, again to be exhorted to ‘stop whinging’. However, the excited yell that there was smoke and fire in the back finally got some attention. It turned out that the rear brakes had been overtightened in the servicing in Cairns and the brakes had overheated and caught fire.
In 1952, at the age of just nine, Ian chose to go to boarding school in Charters Towers and, as a tall, gangling weakling, very swiftly learnt how to keep his head down in a school where most of the pupils had been raised in the rough and tumble of large cattle properties. This, though, was good grounding for future survival and the keeping of one’s own counsel.
During one school holiday in 1953 Ian, who had flown to and from Australia on numerous occasions in DC3 and DC4 aircraft, had the opportunity to accompany his father in a chartered Qantas Catalina to West Papua landing on Lake Murray and the Fly River.
Ian at the blister of a Qantas Catalina
At both places, locals met the Cat in long single hull canoes paddled by up to 50 standing ‘warriors’ painted and dressed in basic lap-laps and Ian, who stayed on the aircraft at both stops while his father attended to business ashore, also observed many large crocodiles basking on the river banks.
Needless to say, movement from the Cat’s blister to the top was done carefully gripping on to every rivet and apart from the experience of occupying the blister for take-off and landing, surrounded by swirling water as the aircraft accelerated, it was Ian’s first experience actually flying an aircraft which he did for most of the trip.
The Catalina had similar engines to the Caribou and flying it, from memory, was also very similar in the cruise with no auto pilot and basic navigation instruments. The overnight stay was also very memorable at Kerema, which was then an isolated village on the Gulf of Papua. Almost two decades later numerous similar flights across the Gulf of Papua, when Ian was flying Caribou aircraft, brought back memories of the Catalina adventure.
The other memorable aircraft was the Sandringham flying boat, a civilianised version of the Sunderland maritime patrol aircraft. Qantas also operated Sandringham’s out of Port Moresby and the family spent some time on Samarai Island, on the Eastern tip of Papua, where his father managed the Burns Philp activities. Samarai was only accessible by boat or amphibious aircraft; hence several Sandringham flights.
Following a severe bout of malaria in 1954 with a touch and go few days in Charters Towers hospital and a communications failure by the school, Ian was withdrawn by his mother and finished 6th class under the NSW school system in Port Moresby. Schooling in Port Moresby only went to 6th class, so in 1955 Ian commenced school by correspondence under the Qld system. This proved to be a great life as Ian found that he could complete the day’s work by about 9.30am and spend the rest of the day on his outrigger canoe living another ‘boy’s own adventure’.
Life was good for a young bloke in Port Moresby in the 50’s.
Sadly this came to an abrupt end in Aug 1955 when the family pulled out of Port Moresby to Brisbane and Ian found himself back in the constraints of 9.00am – 3.30pm at Ascot State School.
Changing State school systems was even harder in those days and when the family moved to Newcastle in 1957, Ian remained in Brisbane to complete the Qld ‘Scholarship’ year, which was 8th year primary, while NSW was by then two years into secondary school; so, the move to NSW was difficult culminating in a year at the now defunct Newcastle Junior Technical School (which finished at ‘Intermediate’ when most students joined the work force). However, with extra coaching and some overtime, Ian managed to undertake the ‘Leaving Certificate’ at Newcastle Boys High School.
Not long after arriving in Newcastle, Ian was introduced to 16 Flight Air Training Corps (ATC) which paraded in the Parachute Training Flight hangar at RAAF Williamtown on Fri nights. This was to have a big impact on his future and Ian enjoyed camps at Rathmines, Fairbairn, Richmond and Williamtown and rose through the ranks to become the flight’s first Cadet
Under Officer. It was also in the ATC that he met a range of cadets who subsequently had careers in the RAAF (Des Lovett (GPCAPT), Kev Henderson (GPCAPT), Dave Rogers (AVM – right) etc etc) as well as some notables such as PltOff (student) Col Spitzkowsky (later GPCAPT and F111 guru (think ‘Little Red Steel Book’)) who was administratively attached to 16 Flt ATC. So, in Jan 1961, having the wide range of career choices that we had then, Ian had to choose between a BHP engineering traineeship and an offer to join the newly named RAAF Academy at Point Cook. He chose the latter.
RAAF Academy was a tough environment and many of the practices would be unacceptable now with ‘bastardisation’ rife and failure high (we started with 28 and graduated 12); but, that early boarding school experience kicked in and the art of ‘invisibility,’ even at 6’4”+ (194cm) came into daily practice. That I had got into the Academy was interesting as at the main interview the pilot member (SQNLDR (later AVM) Bill Collings – left) took great exception to my desire to do an engineering degree ‘as a fall back as the future of pilots was uncertain’. Bill Collings never forgot this and took great delight in reminding me each time our paths have crossed over the ensuing 50 or so years.
After two years at the Academy, I then spent the academic terms at Sydney University, including an extra year, along with three others after the University took exception to our commitment and performance. This allowed me to pursue my best decision yet by getting married and subsequently Carolyn helped me submit a thesis on ‘A Monte Carlo Simulation of Hyper Velocity Impacts in a Rarified Atmosphere’ (applicable to designing an ablation layer for reentry vehicles). I held onto this, along with my Uni notes, for nearly 20 years and only reluctantly eventually threw them out when I realised that I’d never subsequently opened any of it and can’t recall directly applying anything that I’d actually learnt at Uni; but, it was a great experience!
Pilot’s Course followed, again with a high failure rate; but, I did quite well and ended up at Williamtown, undertook the Vampire Weapon’s Course and flew the Sabre. It was here that I ran into an instructor with whom I had clashed years earlier as a cadet; so, after much handwringing, I requested a posting to fly Caribous in the hope that I could get some experience in Vietnam and be competitive for a test pilot (TP) course. In some respects, this was fortuitous as later, in 1982, when I was presented with the opportunity of a Mirage lll conversion, I found that even though the Vampire had been tight, my very long legs had great difficulty fitting into a Mirage.
Flying the Caribou was great. I completed a tour in PNG and received my Captaincy there as a ‘field’ upgrade by the permanent Det A Commander SQNLDR Ron Raymond (R2) who was a vastly experienced pilot and flying instructor, as well as undertaking several of the pre Vietnam exercises at Shoalwater Bay and the pre Vietnam Canungra Course. This was also during the Confrontation with Indonesia and, along with another pilot, Graeme Szczecinski, we became the ‘experts’ in accessing the small strips on the border of PNG with Irian Jaya. Unfortunately, this culminated in having to return to PNG a couple of weeks after the completion of my main three-month deployment, when tensions flared and, on one sortie near the border, collected several bullet holes in the tail plane; however, because of the political sensitivities on both sides of the border, this was hushed up and few people were told. So, I notched up 1000 hours, became the 38Sqn Maintenance Test Pilot and awaited my turn to go to Vung Tau. So, it was with some surprise that I was posted as Aircraft Maintenance Officer and subsequently SEngO at 38 Sqn and with the run-down of 35Sqn saw my chances of a Vietnam tour disappearing. I even proposed that I go to SVN as both the Operations Officer and the SEngO but, this never eventuated.
38Sqn was a very busy job and it was also my first engineering job and without the benefit of even the Engineer Officers Basic Course (DPO subsequently noted this several years later when I was a SQNLDR and wanted me to ‘tick the box’ until I pointed out that I had just rewritten the course syllabus in my then role in Canberra!!). Somewhat surprisingly, the SEngO was at FltLt level although the squadron was flying around 22,000 hours per year with 22 Caribou and another 2000 hours with 3 Dakota aircraft. We had two continuous major maintenance lines running in the hangar and suffered considerable experience and manpower shortages, as we also trained and supplied all of the replacements for 35Sqn SVN. Fortunately, the knowledge and operational experience that I had on the aircraft was invaluable and more than offset the paucity of my knowledge of the Engineer Branch.
de Havilland’s complex at Bankstown.
As both SEngO and Maint TP, I was in the fortunate position of being available at short notice to do test flights, particularly at the weekends, and this was invaluable in improving our serviceability numbers. However, I thought that my career was again short lived when, in answer to the continual criticism by the SNCOs of the amount of work (usually up to a week including cylinder changes etc) required on aircraft received from the Deeper Maintenance contractor (Hawker de Havilland), I diverted a test flight from Bankstown into Richmond and gave the ‘troops’ 20 mins to find as many issues as they could. They then wrote them up as we flew back to Bankstown. However, on arrival, I was greeted by an enraged Res Eng (SQNLDR ‘Taffy’ Salvage) who demanded to know where I’d been, who had authorised me and demanded that I accept the aircraft ‘as he had released it’. I stood my ground and fortunately the pre-arranged Caribou arrived to take us all back to Richmond and I left with an even more enraged SQNLDR standing by the rejected aircraft and insisting that he’d have me court-martialled.
On arrival back at Richmond after stand down I decided that I’d better inform the CO, by then at the bar, of what had happened. He was largely disinterested seeing it as an ‘engineers problem to sort out’; so, the following morning, I sat in my office waiting for what was going to occur next. The phone rang and this rather gruff voice said ‘ WGCDR Rockliff, SupCom – I hear you’ve had a run in with SQNLDR Salvage’? I started to respond when ‘Rocky’ stopped me with ‘don’t worry about it. This is just what we’ve been waiting for and you’ve documented it beautifully. I’ll take it from here’. A week or so later when I went back for a further test flight, the SQNLDR could not have been more helpful and the contractor output ‘improved’.
A major headache at 38 Sqn was leave in lieu accumulation and particularly for duty crew. We maintained a weekly duty crew roster for all out of hours commitments and with the roster starting early am until 08.00 and then 16.00 until whenever (sometimes through until 08.00 the following day) and, as required, at the weekend and many flights occurred out of normal hours. Overtime was also accrued with manpower shortages on the deeper maintenance lines and recovering unscheduled arisings needed to meet the daily aircraft requirements. Unfortunately, this meant that most leave in lieu could not be granted and for many members this meant being unrecompensed for 100’s of hours. For duty crew this was aggravated by having to return to work immediately following some particularly lengthy and sometimes overnight workloads. I had been aware of this before the maintenance posting and when I looked into it as SEngO, I found a great deal of unhappiness not so much that much of the time would never be compensated; but, that there was usually no break after a week’s duty crew.
After some research and numerous consultations, I proposed that the duty crew roster run from 16.00 on a Thu to 08.00 on the following Thu and that irrespective of the hours actually worked over the week, the crew then went on leave until the following Mon and that this would be sacrosanct irrespective of Sqn commitments. This gave the crew a guaranteed four-day break which they could plan around and helped to reduce leave in lieu credits that would otherwise never be recovered.
In 1971, the RAAF celebrated the 50th Anniversary since the formation in 1921, principally with a series of Airshows at the major bases around Australia. To effect this, a display group was formed under the direction of GPCAPT (later AVM) ‘Bay’ Adams and each aircraft in the RAAF was represented in the Show which ran to a pretty standard program in Mar/Apr 1971. I was lucky to be selected to fly the ‘slot’ (No4) position in the Caribou display with No4 also carrying the RAAF parachute display team. The shows opened with a major flypast of all the aircraft followed by individual displays. Caribou No1 did the handling display while 2 and 3 did low altitude load extraction (below) and other displays. No4 finally brought the parachutists in for a coordinated drop. Because of the distance involved only a single Caribou was sent to Pearce and we started the shows at Edinburgh, then Laverton and worked our way around through East Sale, Richmond etc with the final show at Townsville. Since the shows were only at the weekends, the whole exercise took about six weeks.
After Townsville, I returned to Richmond, while the other three, flown by instructors, continued on to PNG with a group of conversion pilots. The following morning, I was just getting the family ready for a quick break up the coast when word came through that one of the Caribous (A4-264) had overshot the runway at Tufi on the NE coast of PNG, and was lying in a gully off the end of the runway. So, early the day after, with a group of tradesmen and a bunch of spares, including engines etc we boarded a C130A for Port Moresby. On arrival in Moresby I was asked what I intended to do and, after indicating that I really needed to inspect
the site first, the deputy detachment commander in PNG (FLTLT Jack Rydstrom [right] a 35Sqn veteran who later died in a civilian Caribou crash in PNG) who had been to the site, suggested that I look at turning the aircraft in the gully and dragging it out nose first, while acknowledging that there was a huge risk of the aircraft sliding sideways in this manoeuvre and going deep into the gully. However, when I got to the site later that afternoon, I saw merit in Jacks’ suggestion; but, how to actually haul it? That was solved on site with a ‘local’ suggesting that he send out a call and we could get sufficient manpower to do this. The following day we had about 200 locals arrive out of the bush in various states of minimum dress, we turned the Caribou and then with two very long ropes and about 100 locals on each, with me orchestrating from the front the locals started singing and hauling and we soon had the aircraft parked beside the runway. Of course, I can’t deny that being fluent, in those days, in Motu (Papuan language) helped break the ice with the helpers. We set up a mini aircraft depot and a daily Caribou supply from Moresby, worked from dawn to dusk and a week later, flew the aircraft out and back to Richmond.
All good things come to an end and in Jul1971, I overnighted in Townsville flying a Caribou ferry from Port Moresby. The Mess was in full swing, celebrating/commiserating the officer promotions list that had just been released; however, I was not feeling well, took a quick look at the list and then went to bed. At breakfast the following morning, someone congratulated me on my promotion to SQNLDR so I had a closer look at the list and there I was in an obscure fold. However, on arrival at Richmond, my unwellness had developed into a full-blown attack of Chicken Pox which I had caught from the children and two weeks of misery in isolation (and several months of slow recovery) followed. During this, I found myself posted to Defair as EngP2A to start in early Oct71, I had no idea what this meant and no one at Richmond had even heard of the job. And so, with a face covered in scabs I set off to influence the RAAF as a Canberra staff officer; but, soon found out that I slotted in somewhere between Eileen the Irish tea Lady (yes, morning and afternoon a trolly wheeled into the office and Eileen served us tea and biscuits) and the stray cats that lived in the hedge surrounding the car park which is now the location of ASIO HQ.
On learning of my posting to Defair and as soon as I was able, I arranged to have two lounge suits tailored as the normal dress at Russell Offices for all members was civilian clothes. This made life interesting as, until one learnt who was who around Russell Offices, it was difficult to ascertain who to call Sir.
However, it was pointed out to me that generally the shabbier the suit the more senior the officer and the best dressed usually were SNCOs and WOffs! Seven years later when I learnt of my posting from London to Defair, I had a couple of nice Saville Row suits tailored; but, before I had arrived back in Canberra the rules changed, uniform was to be worn normally at all times and my new suits subsequently saw little wear and sadly made it to the Salvos a few years later, in somewhat pristine but dated condition.
By the time that I had arrived at Russell Offices, the job had changed names to TP2A; but, it was the same job within the Directorate of Technical Plans and my WGCDR, TP2, essentially provided career and posting advice for all officers in the Engineer Branch. A complementary section TP5 provided similar advice for airmen and I shared an office with TP5A (Alan Emmerson and later Tom Carlyon). I knew little about the Engineer Branch but TP2A was responsible for maintaining the integrity of a number of large boards, hidden behind locked doors, with tags in unit order showing every established engineer officer post in the RAAF and other tags with each officer’s name etc. My main job was to keep all of this up to date. Fortunately, my boss, WGCDR ‘Chris’ Dent, a Ground Radio officer, was one of the nicest people I had ever met and his subsequent replacement (WGCDR Warren Tassell an Instrument officer) was similar and I learnt a lot, in confidence, about the structure, politics, history and people, from both. In those days there were six Engineer Officer Categories (Aero, Radio (subsets Ground and Air), Armament, Instrument, Electrical and Mechanical).
The Chief Engineer (Air Member for Technical Services (AMTS)) had to come from the Aero category (which caused a lot of dissention) and the retirement benefit scheme which only paid out when officers retired at their full retirement age (55 years for most with senior officers several years later), meant that many officers were just waiting out their time. This was obvious and a real problem. Within the Directorate of Technical Plans, Al Emmerson and I were the only Aero Category officers and most of the more general engineer jobs in Defair were held by non Aero officers eg there were six Armament GPCAPTs who had to be employed, and only one Armament specialist GPCAPT job. At the same time all of the AirCdres (5) and the AVM were Aero!
So, being in DTP was great for career broadening and I soon learnt that every Fri we all went to lunch, most times not to return to work and as the lunch afternoons wore on I can recall being counselled by GPCAPT and WGCDR non Aero officers on what was wrong with the Engineer Branch (this was all before breathalysers etc, of course). DTP also was high on the rumour distribution list and one learnt to keep one’s counsel when being pushed for info!
When not contributing to career development TP2A was the general odd job ‘boy’. AMTS (AVM Ernie Hey – right) was by far, at about 10 years seniority, the senior AVM in the AirForce and hence on the Air Board and he was also the RAAF Airworthiness Authority. Ernie refused to have Airworthiness defined in any document and maintained that Airworthiness was whatever he said it was. This of course led to the GD retort that airworthiness was just a dirty word used by engineers to stop pilots from flying. Ernie also didn’t have a staff officer so, de facto, the ‘odd job boy’ acted in this position when required – usually just to collect Ernie’s bar supplies from the Mess and load them into his car or deliver messages. One of my first real jobs was to write a paper presenting the case for some engineer Branch officers to receive flying training as this was being challenged by senior GD pilots. Probably my most significant job initially was to coordinate a Branch review of the proposal by John Jess to revise the DFRDB Scheme. Here I was, a pilot with an engineering degree and about 11 years’ service (8 of which had been on course), suddenly coming to grips with a complex subject of which I had no knowledge and little real interest.
That said and with help from Al Emmerson, we could see some significant flaws in what was being proposed (where most saw it as a huge improvement on the existing scheme and, in reality, it was). Notwithstanding, I pulled together about a 100 page analysis with suggested changes and when this was sent to the Personnel Branch, much of it became the RAAF position. Subsequently, the accepted scheme, addressed many of the issues raised and its introduction suddenly saw the RAAF with a huge number of ‘early retirements’. My office became de facto a DFRB advice centre and I was visited by many officers, including my own WGCDR who, when the numbers showed that they were actually losing money coming to work, commenced departure. This, of course opened promotions considerably; but, was poorly addressed by the personnel managers who kept trying to prevent promotion at relatively low seniority, in spite of performance, and we had many on acting rank ‘serving out time’!!
Working closely with the personnel managers, I had learnt to advise if there were any personal posting restrictions etc so, when I decided to do some home renovations myself, I advised DPO that I needed about six months. Wrong!! Despite having pushed for the Test Pilot (TP) training of an engineer pilot every 3 years this did not occur and when Peter Reddel (right) resigned at short notice from ARDU, I found myself laying bricks at night in Canberra’s winter in order to get to Laverton to replace Pete as OiC Performance and Handling at ARDU (then at Laverton) despite not being a TP.
This was a great job, despite the steep learning curve, and I managed to fly a range of aircraft at ARDU and participate in a wide range of tests across the fleet from F111 to CT4 including the Nomad (which was to feature high in my later career) and I regularly flew the MB326 Macchi and occasionally the Canberra, Dakota and Iroquois. My first performance report was to construct a post engine change air-test profile for the Mirage III. Having not flown the aircraft, this required some deep research and then to have one of the test pilots (FLTLT Peter Dickens) fly several profiles for analysis. This was a good way to settle in and learn about ARDU. I worked for another good and interesting officer, WGCDR Bert Cairns, who had had a breakdown at some time and was not averse at airing this with ‘I have a piece of paper that says I’m sane. What about you?’ Bert also had a marked aversion to another WGCDR in the unit and whenever the latter stood in for the CO, Bert wouldn’t come to work!!
Bert tasked me with updating the ARDU Non Standard Modification Procedures. ARDU was the only unit outside of Support Command with authorisation to design and fit modifications on aircraft; but, the procedures at ARDU were woefully inadequate to control and document this and there was much resistance by the test community to the introduction of any constraints. So, my first real policy work was accomplished with much careful diplomatic consultation.
Another interesting task was instrumenting the F111 with analogue recorders for trials work. To do this required significant design work and, more importantly, funds. The instrumentation expert was Mr Frank Verinder seconded from Aeronautical Research Laboratories (ARL) and Frank and I did a number of trips by Macchi to Amberley for the design work and then back via Canberra to elicit funds. Frank was a great guy but very disorganised and easily upset. On one occasion we had just pulled up at Fairbairn in the Macchi when I saw the OCs car approaching. GPCAPT Bruce Martin was a large, gregarious man who I got on well with and had worked with at Shoalwater Bay when he was preparing to go to SVN as the senior RAAF ‘operator’. On seeing me I got the ‘what’s a b.. engineer doing here’ and at that moment Frank, who had long hair down to his shoulders (this was 1974) removed his helmet and Bruce said ‘and who’s the girl you have in the back’ before exiting the tarmac.
That night in the mess I left Frank before closing to go to bed. The following morning at breakfast someone said to me ‘you’re with the long haired guy aren’t you’? I nodded, to which he responded ‘he punched the OC out last night’!! Wow. I then went looking for Frank and found him the worse for wear still in bed and decided to press on and wait for Bruce to make the first move. But, we were staying two nights so, on return from Russell Offices later that afternoon we went to the mess for the pay night buffet. I saw Bruce at the bar. and while trying to think fast, we walked in, Bruce turned, saw Frank and let out with ‘Frank what are you drinking’? Nothing was said about the night before and the two of them got on famously. Bruce came to see us off the following day and greeted Frank like a long lost friend on our future nights at Fairbairn. To me that was a great example of a ‘big’ man. Someone else could have made it such a big issue.
However, less than two years into the job I received a phone call one morning from the OC’s wife. Now SQNLDRs seldom received calls from the OC let alone their wives and Pat Law threw me when she asked ‘what are you doing with your car’? Thinking that somehow it had rolled back in the car park, I demurred when she then blurted out ‘oh, you don’t know, forget this call; but, if you’re going to sell the car, Russ will buy it’. An hour or two later I was to learn that I had 5 weeks to get to London to do the RAF Staff Course and then, maybe, remain in the UK on the High Commission staff. GPCAPT (later AVM) Russ Law (right) returned to Laverton a week or so later and said nothing so I ‘organised’ to bump into him and he muttered something to the effect I hear I’ve bought your car. How much is it? The car was a Mercedes that I had bought out of a probate estate in Sydney and in immaculate condition so I started my sales pitch only to be gruffly advised ‘don’t bother with the niceties – how much?’. As the time for my departure approached and no further conversation had taken place I started to worry; but, Russ came good at the 11th hour. The sequel to this was some 8 years later when I returned from Butterworth to HQOC as a GPCAPT to work for Russ who was AOC. The phone rang one morning ‘Tiny, Russ Law, that car you sold me is making a funny noise, Can you come and have a look at it’. So I trotted over to the residence Briarcliffe to find ‘my car’ much the worse for wear and a slipped aircon drive contacting the radiator. I couldn’t resist opining that this wasn’t bad after sales service particularly on an ‘as is, where is’ car sold over eight years before. Russ did actually see the humour in this.
London was also a great experience. Doing the RAF Staff College was a huge plus as it subsequently gave me over 40 close contacts in MoD and, as much of the work as SEngSO London was interacting with MoD, there was always someone who could either assist me or point me in the right direction. The other major activity was the development by Marconi Avionics of the AQS901 system for the P3C which was being updated. The Project Manager of the P3 program was GPCAPT Lars (Larry) Bek who, along with his two offsiders WGCDRs Harry Dunne and Gary Lynch (the Larry, Harry and Gary Show as they were apocryphally referred to), visited the US and UK twice a year for program reviews and as I was to return to Australia at a critical time with the program, I was extended in London for a year to provide program continuity.
RAAF London, at the time, before the hatchet reviews, was well manned although we didn’t have a GPCAPT. The Head of the Aust Defence Staff (HADS) was a 2Star and each of the Services had a 1Star head. I worked initially for AirCdre John Hubble who was replaced in 1978 by AirCdre (later AVM) Mike Ridgway (left). John Hubble was a rather dour character of very few words who I thought I had fallen foul of as in those days assessed officers were not allowed to see their Annual Reports and AirCdre Hubbles’ debriefs were terse and minimal. However, when in the 1990’s all reports were released, I was surprised to read how well I had actually been reported by John Hubble. Mike Ridgway, on the other hand, along with his wife Paula, were a breath of fresh air and we remained good friends long after London.
I could write a book on London alone; but, some of the best experiences included being sat next to GPCAPT Douglas Bader in the Chairmans Chalet at a Royal International Air Tattoo. Mike Ridgway had been invited; but, he had a sailing commitment so I was offered the representational job. ‘Tin legs’ Bader was the subject of Paul Brickhills’ bio of him ‘Reach for the Sky’ which was a bible for many of my generation. On another occasion, I visited Martin-Baker at Uxbridge when we had ejection seat problems and was advised that Sir James Martin was at work and would I join him at lunch time. Sir James had retired nearly a decade earlier; but, at 90+ hadn’t actually stopped coming into work! Lunch was held in his large ‘engineers’ office stacked with books and papers, where an equally old lady in ‘Victorian’ waitress dress cleared a space on a table, set it with silverware etc and served the two of us a delightful lunch.
We also had problems with the RR Continental IO360 engine from the CT4 Airtrainer. The engine surprisingly had been built by Rolls-Royce Motors at Crewe (where the car was built) and on each visit there, a company RR would be waiting at the train station exit to convey me to the plant. This was always an ego boosting experience; but, despite all sorts of attempts the drivers would never actually let me get behind the wheel.
Another problem we had was with cracking of Mirage wings and I was dispatched to Paris to try and get more information from the manufacturer Dassault. We had a joint fatigue program running with the Swiss and both of us had similar cracking which the French denied any experience of in their fleets. In Paris, I met up with our resident engineer FLTLT Alan Riley, who had received French language training at the then RAAF School of Languages at Point Cook and, being quite extraverted, Al had also acquired a good colloquial French vocabulary. Our meeting at Dassault consisted of Al and I on one side of a long table and about 10 company officials on the other. I backgrounded our problems and, after some discussion, pointedly asked why they thought the French AF didn’t have the issues as my information was that this was incorrect. This resulted in a rapid exchange in French between the assembled group following which the leader looked me in the eye and responded ‘no WGCDR, we do not have the problem’. Whereupon, Al interrupted with a ‘BS’ and pointed at various individuals with ‘you said, you said etc’ clearly indicating that we all had similar cracking. The leader then looked at me again with ‘WGCDR, I think it would be a good time to break for lunch’!! They knew that I had no French and assumed that Al’s French was only formal but, their rapid colloquial discourse was understood word for word.
London has many memories. We bought a VW Kombi. In fact, in those days, to the consternation of the senior HC staff, Australia House used to be surrounded by Aussies and Kiwis selling campers and I made some healthy pocket money buying vans as it got cold and people were desperate to get some money to be home for Christmas. With a bit of polish, some paint and a service they then went back outside Australia House in May, Jun when the supply had run dry, as Australians flocked to London for summer
in Europe in a Kombi. Needless to say, I tried to do this surreptitiously and ‘agreed’ that the practice of all of these vans cluttering up the streets was ‘dreadful’. We toured the UK and Ireland with our three children in our Kombis and did a long trip of nearly 10,000km through Italy and as far as Athens and then back through Tito’s Yugoslavia. In fact, we looked seriously at driving from London as far as we could on the way back to Aust and had the temerity to ask what allowances I would get in lieu of the airfares; but, before this could be resolved the security situation changed dramatically in 1978 and we looked at another adventurous way home. This culminated in us visiting Disneyland in LA followed by a week in the then little visited Cook Islands and a camping holiday around NZ’s South Island with some friends met in London.
Close involvement with Royalty at my rank was rare unless appointed as an equerry or similar; but, I did manage to have lunch with Princess Margaret when she visited staff college and marvelled at her ability to consume G&T in great numbers with no apparent effect. On another occasion, Carolyn and I attended a Queen’s garden party at Buckingham Palace which sounds exotic; but, in reality did only but see her pass by from our crowded enclosure and we did get two tickets to the 1978 Trooping of the Colour at Horseguards so Carolyn and our daughter Amanda had these while I stood with the boys (Paul and Michael) to watch the procession down The Mall. However, back in 1971, I flew the back up Caribou, complete with red carpet when Prince Charles and Princess Anne were flown from Melbourne to Mansfield and return for Charles to visit his old school Timbertop. And while on Staff College, I attended a dining in night for the combined UK Staff Colleges in the Painted Hall at Greenwich, (a magnificent place – see HERE) a grand affair almost Bacchanalian where, during the pre-dinner drinks I had this RN Lt elbow me in the back. I stepped back impulsively in retaliation, looked at him and saw some familiarity but couldn’t place it only to have another officer, who I assume was an ADC, point out to me ‘that was Charles you just bumped’ implying, I think, that it shouldn’t happen again even though as a SQNLDR I thought I outranked him!
In 1975, the All Seasons RAAF uniform had been in use for less than three years and remained basic with no cold weather inclusions so I was advised to get some form of greatcoat which at that stage was not part of the uniform. In this regard, ‘Boris’ the long term tailor at Laverton, came to the rescue and equipped me with an old style dark blue double breasted great coat with two rows of gold buttons down the front, almost ankle length and he attached rank boards to the shoulders as was the style at that time. I looked like something out of a G&S opera. However, when I got to Bracknell, I obtained an RAF woolly pully which, although a lighter colour, was at least warm. During the staff college visit to Berlin, I wore my great coat to check point Charlie and often wondered what the E Germans, who were photographing furiously with long telescopic lenses through the windows of buildings bordering the checkpoint, actually made of my outfit!
Prior to the Berlin visit, permission was obtained for me to accompany the RAF who were exercising the UK Power of entry into East Berlin; but, on the day, the Staff College Commandant, AVM Keith Williamson, asked me whether I’d mind not going as they had heard that the E Germans were being difficult and he didn’t want any delays as we were to return to the UK immediately after. Of course, as a SQNLDR student to an AVM Commandant, I agreed immediately to which he responded ‘excellent in lieu I’ve arranged for the Army to give you a helicopter tour around the city’. This was great and included overflying Spandau where Rudolph Hess was the sole prisoner and observing the dog runs on endless chains forming the border between the E and W. All the others saw were the grey buildings of East Berlin
A couple of years later AirMshl Williamson), then RAF Support Commander (later CAS as AirChiefMshl) contacted me to ascertain if I’d be interested in a direct transfer to the RAF as a WGCDR. RAF was suffering a significant shortfall in mid-level engineer officer experience and were keen to redress this. This was a couple of years prior to Maggie Thatcher and the Falklands and UK Military pay was poor (e.g. On staff college we worked out that the AVM was earning less than me as a SQNLDR, albeit with allowances, and a number of RAF students on staff college had borrowed money just to meet their entertainment expectations during the course). We enjoyed living in the U.K. but, appreciated that our lifestyle was privileged and would not be so if I took the offer up, so reluctantly declined and it was interesting to see how military conditions changed significantly post Falklands with pay particularly, doubling or more.
I swapped jobs with my old course mate WGCDR Neil Smith (later AVM) and did the HO/TO in London. Smithy was astounded when I explained that I had only one filing cabinet as when I took over there was a mountain of stuff that I was reluctant to dispose of; but, when three years later I hadn’t had cause to touch any of it, I made the effort to sort, archive and dispose of anything I considered no longer relevant. My new office as AirEng1 in Canberra, Smithy explained had some eight filing cabinets and he apologised that he hadn’t undertaken a similar purge.
So it was that I got back to Canberra in 1979 to look after all RAAF single engine aircraft from a DAirEng perspective. I was greeted with the news that the Mirage, in its dying throes, had even more severe wing cracks than I had pursued with Dassault, the ARL fatigue test on the CT4 Airtrainer’s indicated that the aircraft suddenly had 40% of the expected fatigue life and the Macchi MB326 also had unpredicted wing cracks. Some time later I found myself as part of the DAFS quick reaction team, encased in rubber overalls on a 38C day, crawling through Dowd’s Morass near E Sale to the site of a Mirage (A3-75) that had crashed on the 18th Feb 1980, off the Dutson Range, with live bombs attached. The crash was a result of the aircraft being damaged by a prematurely exploding Mk82 bomb. (The Pilot, P/O J W [Truckie] Carr, ejected safely from 3,500 ft at 230 knots and the recovered components of the aircraft are on display at the Gippsland Armed Forces Museum).
Aside from determining that I was never likely to develop a rubber fetish, over a few beers with the troops later that night I was advised that the reason for the crash was incorrect fusing causing a bomb to explode immediately beneath the aircraft. This was before the over legalisation of Defence and when DAFS was able to obtain non-attributable information ‘for the determination of ongoing operations’. So it was that the DAFS team went home the next day, satisfied that it wasn’t a fleet wide problem; but, the Court of Inquiry was forced to have the bombs dug out of the morass, a major and expensive task, in order to confirm the cause and all of this was front page news because the duck shooting season opened the day after the crash and Dowd’s Morass, which we had to declare out of bounds for safety reasons, was where most of the ducks were!!
Mirage wings became a major problem and each wing was managed and unbelievably, wings were swapped among aircraft to keep sufficient aircraft flying, while we set about having some 48 odd new wings built (a similar debacle had occurred in the 1960’s with the Vampire where a similar wing management program was carried out). During this time, it also became apparent that engine spare parts were also an issue as, wisely, HQSC specialists had declined expensive engine upgrades because we planned to retire the fleet before returns on expenditure could be justified, only to have the retirement date extended by years such that the engines needed to be upgraded to remain supportable and this required large funds. In 1979, there was no DMO and AF Materiel Division was in its infancy, also, all major expenses had to receive approval through Defence Central and, in particular, the Force Development and Analysis Division (FDA – or Force Destruction and Annihilation as it was cruelly known).
The head of FDA at the time (2star equiv) was Alan Wrigley, designer of the Nomad aircraft and several attempts to get engine funds for the Mirage were thwarted by Alan. I had been involved at ARDU when we identified problems with the Nomad in the STOL configuration and Alan had not agreed with the ARDU/RAAF position. So, after several refusals of support from FDA, I suggested to my superiors that maybe if we went engineer to engineer and explained the position to Alan we might be able to ameliorate the situation. There was some merit seen in this; but, politics prevailed and we stalled. So, in some frustration, I picked up the phone, dialled Alan’s number and was put through to him. I don’t think he was used to receiving calls from WGCDRs; but, I explained why I was ringing and asked if I could come over to F block and explain the requirement to him. Not surprisingly, he declined but, indicated that he would come and see me and straight away. I quickly rushed down to my boss (GPCAPT Ted Whitehead) to explain and he in turn briefed the DG (AIRCDRE John Henze) and it was agreed that I continue with this alone. Alan Wrigley duly turned up and we went through the issue in detail over an hour or two and he finally agreed that there was no alternative. So, it was that when we finally disposed of the Mirage fleet most aircraft had near new wings and current Atar 9C engines – what a great buy/gift for the Pakistan AF.
The other major issue was the CT4 life reduction such that we were rapidly running out of aircraft for essential pilot training. A quick scan around the world showed up a possibility of acquiring a few T34 Mentor aircraft from the US; but, this would have meant operating a mixed fleet (ie some pilots being CT4 Airtrainer/Macchi MB326 trained and others T34/MB326 trained). This was not favoured although it may have been the only solution when my offsider SQNLDR Wal Nelowkin reminded us that there had been a number of new CT4’s embargoed by NZ when it had become known that they were ultimately destined for Zimbabwe (Rhodesia).
Enquiries with NZ showed that these were still boxed at Hamilton, NZ and I was tasked to visit NZ to ascertain the situation. I initially visited Wellington and ascertained that there were 14 such aircraft and, if we could purchase same then the NZ government would allow their export to Australia. I then went to Hamilton where WGCDR Rex Peterson from HQSC met up with me and one of the aircraft was unboxed for our inspection. The aircraft had hard points on the wings for 25lb bombs, an armament panel and a magnificent suite of German Becker radios etc; but, apart from the clock, were very similar to our fleet. I had been tasked to look at the acquisition aspects as well as the operational aspects from a pilot’s perspective while Rex looked at the engineering support side. Sitting in the cockpit with photographs of our aircraft and having flown the CT4 at ARDU, all looked very similar apart from armament and radios when my eye caught the clock which was a 24 hour clock; but, in one sweep of the dial ie 12.00 was at the bottom and I decided that it was unlikely that our pilots could handle a clock where ‘Mickey’s hands pointed down at 12.00’ so, this would also need changing.
Rex and I then returned to Melbourne and Canberra respectively to write our reports; but, when I got back on the Fri, I was informed that the project was ‘hot’ and a brief report was required by Mon afternoon. Without Rex’s detailed input, I concluded that acquisition was a possibility and that the aircraft could probably be acquired for about $1m and modified and delivered for another $1m and recommended that this be further explored. I handed this to Ted Whitehead and was surprised the following day to be shown my two pages which had gone rapidly up through the chain to the CAS AirMshl (later ACM Sir) Neville McNamara and on which he had handwritten words to the effect ‘I agree the WGCDR’s recommendations. CAFM find the $2m, CAFOPS/CAFTS acquire the aircraft’.
So, a week or so later, I was back in Hamilton with seniors from Defence, AFOffice and HQSC. I was then asked what I was going to do. The manufacturer Pacific Aerospace had contact with an address in LA and another in Switzerland and had ascertained that the ‘owners’ were interested and that we should make an offer. This was all being handled pre fax/email etc by telex and, for openers, I said that we were prepared to pay $0.5m for the 14 aircraft as they sat. The Company were aghast that this was a pittance and would not be accepted and my on-site advisers also demurred; but, I persisted with the opening offer. This was conveyed to LA and the following morning we had a response direct from the Minister for Defence Zimbabwe accepting and advising where the funds were to be paid. The Company couldn’t believe it and my ‘advisers’ then opined that I had offered too much!! That left us $1.5m to modify and deliver the aircraft. 17 years later when I was DGLOGOPS as with a budget over $0.5b and we had several acquisition bureaucracies, I could not have achieved anything like this and especially in the space of about a month.
However, my major job as AirEng1 was as the RAAF engineering specialist adviser in the design and development of the New Basic Trainer aircraft, which was to become the Wamira (AFSR5044) and the complementary New Fast Jet Trainer (AFSR5045) which never really advanced beyond the writing of the Staff Requirement. Essentially, I spent around every second week with the design team at Fishermen’s Bend determining what they needed in guidance from the RAAF and the other weeks in Canberra trying to satisfy their queries. RAAF policy and documentation was primarily in support and maintenance. We had little real airworthiness policy and our design requirements had by and large been given very little thought over the years. We largely bought military equipment off the shelf with some modification. Some would say too much modification. So it was that when we were asked for our operating spectrums, fatigue spectrums, oxygen system requirements, electrical wiring requirements etc etc we found ourselves wanting and in order to quantify these, even if by reference to a US or UK specifications, much rapid work was required. Fortunately, in CAFTS Division, we had a number of officers who, while not their primary job, were prepared to assist (notably (Al Emmerson, again, whose commitment to airworthiness carried over to the CAA after he left the RAAF and SQNLDR (later AVM) Pete Nicholson a GD TP with an Engineering degree who was at the time posted to CAFTS Division and with whom I had had a close working relationship at ARDU) and the first real Airworthiness Design Document – PD13 came into being. Some 10 years later, in 1990, when I started the Directorate of Engineering Policy in Canberra, this document was central as we developed airworthiness policy for the RAAF.
It was in the midst of this intensive workload in Apr1981, that I received a call from personnel (SQNLDR Frank Eaglen an engineer who was working part time in DPO while receiving significant medical treatment for cancer). Frank noted that I had a posting preference for Butterworth and enquired if I was still interested in this and, if so, could I be there in mid Jun to replace GPCAPT ‘Chummy’ Wade as CO 478Sqn.
Having spent over 3 years in the UK and having been back just over 2 years, my Butterworth posting preference was somewhat tongue in cheek and the offer was very unexpected but, of course, really appealing. However, it posed several work and personal logistic problems. Our three children who, possibly due to my frequent and lengthy absences when at 38Sqn, were born in consecutive years, were entering secondary school and had each already attended more than 10 primary schools; so, a move was not desirable from that perspective. However, Butterworth appealed to all of us so it was agreed that as each child entered secondary school, boarding school, while not preferred was the only real option. I then accepted the offer and was then further informed that the job really was to close 478Sqn and prepare both Mirage Sqns (3 and 75) for return to Australia to be reequipped with the F18 Hornet and that they had been looking for an officer to plan and manage such a task.
So, again we were in the process of selling cars, renting our house etc etc and, after some rushed attempts to secure boarding school positions, which proved not to be easy, Paul commenced boarding school and Amanda and Michael accompanied Carolyn and me onto the RAAF Boeing 707 out of Mascot for Butterworth; but, even that wasn’t easy. The Indonesians delayed the diplomatic clearance for the aircraft and we all spent that night and most of the following day in Darwin and finally ended up in an hotel in Penang Rd at about 1am the following day, a Sun, having no real idea, in the dark, where we were.
Fresh from a Canberra winter, later that morning we stepped into the pre-monsoon temperature and humidity, took in the smells of the wet fish market, and wondered whether this had really been such a good idea. But, it was too late to turn back.
To be continued!!
John Noel Gordon BELLAMY, AFC OAM (generally known as Noel Bellamy) was born on 3rd June 1928 at Drouin in Gippsland, Victoria and grew up in the Alice Springs area. His long and illustrious career in aviation started when he joined the RAAF in 1949, and continued until he was hospitalised early 1999. Some highlights of his RAAF service included:
1951 – Graduated from No 6 Pilots Course.
1952 – Posted to No 38 Squadron flying C47 Dakota aircraft. Later, attached to No 30 Communications Unit at Iwakuni, Japan, supporting operations in Korea.
1953 – Flying duties relating to the detonation of atomic bombs in central Australia.
1956 – Attained flying instructor qualification.
1957 – Training Officer and Instrument Rating Examiner in No 86 Wing, including VIP transport operations. Noel was also pilot to then Prime Minister (later Sir) Robert Menzies, Ministers of State and international dignitaries.
1958 – Involved in establishing the first C130 Hercules squadron (No 36) in the RAAF, including ferrying the aircraft from the USA and introducing operational and flight standards.
1964 – Introduced the first Caribou aircraft to the RAAF (No 38 Squadron) and established a training course for Caribou crews proceeding to Vietnam.
1965 – Posted to Vietnam as Flight Commander (Nov 1965 – July 1966) and flew about 500 operational sorties in Caribou aircraft.
1968 – 1970. 4 trips to Vietnam with 36 Sqn. (A Model Hercs).
Throughout his military career Noel was a dedicated and professional Air Force officer with exceptional aviation knowledge and skills. His philosophy, as a Training Officer, was to remove the mystery from sophisticated aircraft and their systems so that students could better understand and fly them and to imbue the highest standards of professionalism and flight safety. He achieved the highest qualifications available in the RAAF as both an operational pilot and a flying instructor. His attributes were recognised by the award of the Air Force Cross in 1971, shortly before he left the RAAF to take up a career in General Aviation. It is apparent that he carried these qualities with him into this new aviation arena.
On his departure from the RAAF in November 1971, Noel proceeded to Port Moresby in the (then) Territory of Papua and New Guinea (TPNG) to take up the position of Chief Pilot with Aerial Tours (later to become Douglas Airways).
With his previous experience flying RAAF Dakota, Caribou and Hercules aircraft in TPNG, Noel appreciated the need to establish and maintain the highest training and operational standards in this most demanding of aviation environments. That he achieved these objects within the constraints of commercial aviation is testified to by the fact that this Company, operating 17 aircraft, had no air safety incidents during his four years as Chief Pilot.
Returning to Australia in June 1975, Noel continued flying in General Aviation based at Archerfield (Brisbane), including a period as Chief Pilot, Chief Flying Instructor and Manager of Woodfall Aviation. However, his ambition (post RAAF) was to set up his own aviation business. In March 1979 he established the Archerfield Flight Centre, with all training and charter licences, operating from rooms in the old terminal building at Archerfield Airport. On 17 December 1980 he moved into his own building (officially opened by the then Premier of Queensland, Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson) in a prominent position in the Archerfield complex, and the Archerfield Flight Centre became a well-known and respected flying training and charter establishment with all General Aviation training and flight test approvals.
Noel perceived deficiencies in the training of General Aviation pilots in Australia, and he set out to try and make a difference. He believed that he could provide the highest quality training at competitive prices, utilising appropriate syllabus structures and effective flight simulation for instrument flight training. To this end he pioneered the introduction of the integrated syllabuses for commercial licence and instrument flying training and searched the world for an effective but affordable ‘synthetic flight trainer’ (or flight simulator). He discovered the AST300 simulator produced by Aviation Simulation Technology in the USA – representing a generic light twin engined aeroplane with real aircraft instruments in a normal sized cockpit, and with the most realistic flight and navigation regimes he had seen. He purchased an AST300 for his own business, and became the AST distributor for the south west Pacific area.
It was not long before Noel Bellamy and his Archerfield Flight Centre gained a reputation throughout the industry for the best flying training and aviation services at affordable prices, attracting students and clients Australia-wide. However, he was still dissatisfied with some aspects of General Aviation, and voiced his opinions through the General Aviation Association (GAA). His administrative talents were soon recognised in the GAA and he was appointed, successively, Secretary to the Queensland Branch, Delegate to the National Council, Chairman of the Flying Training Division, Queensland Regional Chairman, Vice Chairman of the National Council and, finally, National Chairman. He was also a delegate to the AVIAC Council – advisers to the Federal Government on aviation matters. His advice and leadership saw a number of improvements in the General Aviation industry, particularly to the conditions of pilots and operators.
In July 1988 he was persuaded to move his office to the RQAC to oversee the multi-engine and instrument flying training there while still servicing his own clients. The RQAC also purchased his aircraft and AST300 simulator. Noel saw this as an opportunity to apply his training philosophies to a larger community. Under his guidance, using his syllabuses and the AST300 simulator, the RQAC soon became the premier flying training organisation in the area. Many pilots who had had difficulties achieving and/or maintaining an instrument rating or multi-engine endorsement appreciated Noel’s patience, understanding and uncompromising standards.
In 1991 Noel retired from active flying instruction and moved office from the RQAC to his home, to concentrate on the production of Operations Manuals for commercial flying operators while still maintaining flight test approvals as a ‘portable’ Approved Test Officer. Noel started producing Operations Manuals shortly after starting the Archerfield Flight Centre, when he realised how time consuming this task was and how little support was available to Chief Pilots whose time was generally fully occupied in day-to-day operational matters. He little realised then that within ten years he would be fully occupied producing manuals for the majority of General Aviation companies in Australia, from single aircraft charter and training operators to regional airlines flying modern jets, including fixed and rotary wing aircraft both land and water based. He was approached by several overseas companies seeking his assistance, and he was instrumental in getting Russian heavy lift helicopters on the Australian, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea registers. With his extensive military and commercial aviation experience and his exceptional knowledge of regulations and orders, Noel become something of a ‘guru’ in this field, producing around 40 different manuals per year.
One other area in which Noel’s talents proved invaluable was the organisation of air shows. In September 1990, Noel directed the Battle of Britain 50th Anniversary Air Show at Archerfield. His previous experience in military and civilian air shows and his acquaintance with appropriate aircraft owners and operators (both civil and military) ensured a widely acclaimed and highly successful air show which realised a profit of over $100,000, most of which was donated to nominated charities. This was followed by another major air show in May 1992 commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Australia Remembers Air Show in September 1995 commemorating the end of World War 2. For the latter he arranged for the legendary Bob Hoover to perform his immaculate “energy management” routine in a Shrike Commander, plus some aerobatics in a Trojan.
Since leaving the RAAF in 1971, Noel Bellamy dedicated his life to improving the lot of all people, but particularly pilots, involved in General Aviation. Whenever he perceived a significant problem in this industry he did something about it, sometimes to his personal cost. His particular concern was the poor standard of training and testing evident in some areas. With his depth of knowledge and experience, he was frequently consulted on General Aviation matters by people at all levels in the industry and government. Indeed he was considered by some to be a General Aviation icon.
In 1996, in recognition of his many contributions to General Aviation, Noel was awarded a well-deserved OAM. He is possibly the only person who has received such an award for services in this field. To know Noel was to admire his integrity, his dedication to excellence in affordable flying training, and his general professionalism. He was also very popular socially and had a wide circle of friends that extended well beyond the aviation fraternity.
There was much more to Noel Bellamy than these words could convey. For example, as a young man he was an Inter-Service athletics champion, holding a record in the long jump. He was also passionate about boating and fishing and constructed radio-controlled model aircraft and sailing boats – but had little time for these activities in his last few years. Many of his friends tried to persuade Noel to write his memoirs and we might have had some success had not his illness caught up with him so quickly.
John Noel Gordon BELLAMY, AFC OAM (generally known as Noel Bellamy) died in the Royal Brisbane Hospital early on the 21st June 1999, aged 71, after a protracted battle against throat cancer following which a funeral service was held at the Mount Gravatt Crematorium on Friday 25th June, followed by a “wake” at the Royal Queensland Aero Club (RQAC).
Thanks to Trevor Benneworth and the RAAF Radschool Magazine
By Jeff Pedrina.
Some readers may remember these sorties, which were part of the Dakota, and later the Caribou conversion course at 38 Squadron. Usually 2 aircraft were programmed, each accommodating the course members and of course two QFIs.
One, in particular, I remember during my Caribou conversion. The official start point was Port Moresby in PNG. We flew from there into Bulolo, about one hour’s flying time from Moresby.
Bulolo is a town in the Morobe Province of PNG. It was once an important gold dredging centre. We each did some circuit work before calling it a day. Our QFIs had arranged accommodation at a resort hotel, high up in the hills. Our transport was an ancient bus driven by a crazy priest whose driving along the impossibly narrow road with drop offs on each side made our hair stand on end.
Once settled in we met in the salubrious dining room for pre-dinner drinks. It was at this point that I discovered what an Imprest Holder’s duties were. Two of the junior members of the endorsement team (myself being one) had been nominated as Imprest holders, to the tune of £1200. We ordered a sumptuous dinner, minus the dessert. We were told by our QFI masters that the dessert would be covered by the Imprests, with a wink and a nod to the proprietors. The dessert happened to be the fine wine and beer we had been drinking throughout the meal. Of course we, the said Imprest holders, duly signed for the “desserts”. There were no repercussions on our return to Richmond.
Next day we continued on to Wau, also in Morobe province. The strip was 3100 ft long with a 12% slope, a fearsome combination for any pilot, and a history of disasters. We all did circuits there and were told in no uncertain terms that on changeover we were to park at the uphill end at 90 degrees to the strip before applying the park brake.
There were many stories about Wau. Some time later we nearly lost one of our C130s when the pilot did not follow the parking instruction and stopped his aircraft and shut down at the uphill end of the strip without turning at right angles. As the crew were walking towards the terminal building his peripheral vision picked up the C130 moving backwards down the strip. Throwing caution to the winds, and looking after his career he ran after the aircraft, got it started and applied full power before turning it 90 degrees. His reputation remained intact.
After Wau we flew on to Mount Hagen, Wewak, Nuku, Maprik, down the Strickland gorge and back to Wewak. Flying down the gorge above a solid layer of cloud, and over an outpost called Telefomen, which apparently had a regular supply run we were told an unbelievable story about how the local pilots penetrated the ever present overcast. They let down an object on a rope to gauge the height above the air strip. Using this dubious procedure they were able to penetrate the cloud layer and make a visual approach.
We returned to Richmond via Horn Island and Townsville.
Thanks to Jeff and to Trevor Benneworth, the RAAF Radschool Magazine.
WGCDR RAAF (Ret) Reginald William Rockliff (Rocky).
Rocky was born in West Midland, West Australia, on the 22nd October, 1922. He went to school at the Katanning State School and left when he was 15 after finishing 9th grade. This gave him the Junior Certificate. He started work as a messenger boy for the WA Government at the Treasury Building and at age 17 was promoted to junior clerk at the WA Gov’t stores. In 1941, with the War on and at age 19, he was called up for “6 bob-a-day” service with the Australian Army Service Corps (AASC) and was stationed at the Claremont Show Grounds as a driver with the 5th Motor Ambulance Convoy.
In 1942 he transferred to the RAAF and was posted to No 1 Engineering School at Ascot Vale in Melbourne from which he graduated as an engine mechanic. After graduation, he was posted back west to 1SFTS at Geraldton to work on the Ansons and Tiger Moths. He had now reached the rank of AC and his pay had nearly doubled to “10 bob-a-day” so he thought he was in Heaven.
LAC Rockliff (on ladder) with LAC Ken Wood. Note the up to date GSE. (about 1950)
After only 4 months at Geraldton, he was sent back east to Engineering School and graduated as a Fitter IIE (Sumpie). This was followed by a posting to the Astro-Navigation school (2ANS) at Nhill in Victoria then in 1943 he was posted to Point Cook where, for 3 months, he did nothing but change spark plugs. After being able to change a plug with his eyes shut, they gave him a reprieve and set him up overhauling Air Compressors followed by another posting to RAAF Tocumwal to work on the proposed overseas transport squadrons’ Dakota aircraft. In 1944 the proposed transport squadrons were cancelled and the personnel and aircraft were absorbed into 7AD which then was servicing Beauforts, Liberators and Dakotas.
RAAF Base, Tocumwal
In 1946, with WW2 just a sad memory, the ADF was in demob
mode and Rocky was posted back to Perth for discharge. He went to work for the Commonwealth Oil Refinery (COR) a Government enterprise which was sold to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which, in 1954, became the British Petroleum Company (BP).
In 1949 the ADF had realised their de-mob policy had starved the Services of many valuable men and it began enlisting again. Rocky applied and was accepted as an LAC Engine Fitter (Sumpie). He was posted to 25 Squadron at Pearce which was equipped with Mustangs, Wirraways, Tiger Moths, Ansons and Oxfords and he was given the job of looking after the Ansons which were staged on cross country flights.
In 1951 he was sent on Detachment to 34 Squadron which was at the base at Mallala in South Australia. It was here he first met Merv “Avro” Anson, a pilot, who remained a good friend while in the RAAF and for many years afterwards until his (Merv’s) death in 2013. Mallala was originally the home of No 6 Service Flying Training School during World War II and was later selected as the temporary base for flight test and transport support for the joint UK-Australian Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera. After the construction of the Base at Edinburgh in the mid-1950s, Mallala housed No 24 (City of Adelaide) Squadron until the final closure of the base in May 1960.
At Mallala Rocky was set to work servicing the engines on 34 Sqn’s four Bristol Freighters and on occasion, detached to the Rocket Range for engine changes on Lincoln Aircraft. From there he was posted to Engine Repair Section (ERS) at 1AD at Laverton which was run by SQNLDR Ron Lavers, a well known and well regarded bloke, one of the pre war “driver pilots” who was good at flying straight and level but not to good at the take of and landing bits. From Laverton, he was sent on a temporary posting to Tocumwal, to Detachment B, where the only vacant accommodation was a vacant officer quarters (separate house) which he immediately grabbed. He converted the temporary posting to a permanent one and was then able to move his family (wife and 2 year old son) up from Melbourne. He did and passed his promotion exams and got his Corporals and was put in charge of preserving aircraft engines in storage. At the same time, he was given instruction and then licensed to drive all vehicles on the base and was made the NCO/IC of welfare and the operator/custodian of the trial Airman’s Bar. In 1954, he passed his Sergeants’ exam and shortly afterwards got his third hook and was posted back to 1AD at Laverton just in time to welcome their second son to the family.
In 1954, he and a few mates were sent to hangar 88 and selected to work solely on jet aircraft such as the Sabre, the Canberra, Vampire and Meteor and it was here he met another life long mate, WOFF Joe Langlands (Jumpy Joe) who, until his death in 2008, remained a good friend and colleague.
In 1955 Rocky and wife Joy welcomed their third son.
In 1958 he was sent down to East Sale for a month’s training then posted to 1AFTS at Pearce where he was to work for WGCDR Ron Lavers once again. Ron figured that Rocky knew his way around engines and stuff and put him in charge of inspection of Goblin Impeller Blades using an intrascope and in 1959 he was promoted to Flt Sgt.
In 1960 it was time to head east again and he was posted to HQ Support Command to work in the spares accessing section and because of his knowledge and work on Sabre aircraft, he was given the Sabre spares desk, once again, with Ron Lavers as his CO.
In 1961, he was persuaded to accept a commission in the Engineering Branch and was posted to OTS at Pt Cook where he was joined on course by a mix of male and female senior NCO’s. On course they removed all rank insignia, mounted a white flash on the shoulder, an Officer’s badge on the cap, were denied entry to the Sergeants’ Mess and were given only restricted access to the Officers’ Mess. On completion of the course, he was posted back to Support Command with the appointment of Air Eng 1A4 – which meant he was responsible for airframe maintenance on Vampires, Dakotas, Winjeels, Meteors and Caribou aircraft.
While he was at HQSC, the Red Sale aerobatic team had crashed at East Sale and he was seconded to the Directorate for Flying Safety (DFS) and sent to East Sale to investigate the terrible accident. There was a problem in the Vampire with the brake adjustment pedals which used to jam. This was subsequently fixed and subsequently, he led the modification team that saw the introduction of the DC3 wing attachment mod. This was carried out to avoid the loss of a wing in flight which had occurred in the USA.
He also found time to swat for then sit for and pass his promotion exams.
In 1965, as a Flight Lieutenant, he was sent on detachment to 38 Sqn at Richmond for familiarisation on the Caribou aircraft before being posted to RTFV/35 Sqn in Vietnam as the Squadron EngO. He was issued with an official passport and decked out in Civvy clothes and arrived in Vung Tau in April 1965 to relieve Sqn Ldr Robin “Chummy” Wade. In 1965 there was no accommodation for RAAF personnel on the airfield and arrangements had been made to house the blokes in Villas in Vung Tau. Blokes were paid an extra US$2.50 per day to offset the cost of meals though the Villa Anna (Officers’ quarters) did have a very good kitchen, not so the Airman who fared much worse.
Vung Tau was a mishmash early in the piece, the RAAF were attached to the US Army, their missions were organised by the USAF, the US Navy picked up the tab for all costs and the airfield at Vung Tau was commanded by a US Marine Corps Major. Pay went a long way – most ‘niceties’ were very cheap, you could obtain an excellent seafood meal at Back Beach for next to nothing and the organised Sunday Bar-B-q’s were very well catered for and attended. VB and/or XXXX beer cost $1.10 a slab, a 26oz bottle of Johnny Walker was only $1.10 and a carton of smokes would also set you back the magic $1.10.
What was even better, these prices were in US dollars, paid in Military Payment Certificates (MPC) and at the time the Australian Dollars was worth US$1.12.
RTFV had a compliment of 6 aircraft, which allowed it to meet the daily USAF commitment of one aircraft to Da Nang, one to Nha Trang and two to the Delta region. This was the work load for six days each week, giving the Squadron one spare aircraft and one always in the hangar on either a C or a D.
Early in 1965, RTFV lost two aircraft. The first, A4-173, touched down just short of the very short strip at Hai Yen, collapsing the starboard undercarriage and the subsequent crash damaged the starboard wing and propeller. After ascertaining that a replacement wing could be obtained on loan from the US Army a composite crew of RAAF and US Army aviation personnel, with spares and the necessary ground support equipment (GSE), was flown to Hai Yen. The aircraft was successfully recovered to base after 7 days concentrated effort where the loaned wing was removed and returned to the US Army and a new wing installed.
The second event occurred a couple of days after the Hai Yen event and involved A4-171. After landing at another remote and very short strip near the Cambodian border and while backtracking the runway, the twin nose wheels sank into a filled-in water course, sheared backwards and collapsed the aircraft onto its nose. Again, with the support of the US Army aviation regiment, a selection of RAAF and US Army personnel were flown in by chopper and the aircraft was recovered the same day. As a new nose section was required to effect full repair of the aircraft, it remained grounded for more than 12 months until the required bits could be obtained from De Havs in Canada. In the meantime, an aircraft from 38 Squadron at Richmond (A4-208) was borrowed to cover the shortfall. Today, A4-173 can be seen with a starboard wing US Army markings at the Aviation Museum at Caloundra, Queensland.
Rocky says recognition must be made to:
Firstly, to the skill and dedication of the flight’s ground crew who worked on A4-173 during the day, out in the open without workshop facilities and who had to withdraw inside the settlement and to leave the aircraft to its chances at night as the airfield was under enemy attack; and,
Secondly, to the assistance received from the US in recovering these 2 aircraft. The 330th Aviation Company provided transport of wings, propellers and personnel to Hai Yen for A4-173 and to the airfield near the Cambodian border to retrieve A4-171.
The pic at right was taken by Rocky just after he arrived by chopper at the site of the A4-173 incident to see what was to be done to get the plane fixed, how many bods would be needed, what replacement parts and to see what GSE was needed. When the repairs of A4-173 and A4-171 were completed, both were flown out by SQNLDR Doug Harvey with Rocky down the back keeping an eye on things.
Rocky says after the A4-173 incident, he tried to recommend several of the ground crew blokes for awards of the British Empire Medal (then the only suitable award allowed) but the powers that be allowed only MID’s to be allotted to FSGT Frank Latham (Sumpie) and to CPLCharlie Downes (Framie).
John Rae, Instrument fitter, RTFV, later commissioned and retired as a WGCDR
The cessation of supply of Pratt and Whitney engines from Australia and the supply of Spartan reconditioned engines from the US Army supply chain plus the fact that they didn’t maintain a “life of part” register was a major concern. RTFV partially overcame the deficiencies with the Spartans by spending many man-hours checking every nut and bolt before placing the engine into its mount and refusing to accept replacement spares if there was any doubt as to their condition. The fact that the US Army didn’t allow for mandatory engine oil changes at specified hourly intervals and used the massive electrode spark plugs instead of the platinum pointed plugs was also a concern. Another aspect of the US Army’s procedures that did not go down well with the RAAF was the fact they did not adequately mark their refuel rigs to ensure different fuel blends would or could not occur, very unprofessional when compared to RAAF standards.
Rocky says an interesting event occurred in 1965 when 4 star General William Westmorland paid a visit to RTFV HQ accompanied by a bevvy of lesser Generals, Colonels, photographers and newsmen. Westmorland was very interested in learning of RTFV’s achievements and asked Rocky how many Caribou aircraft the RAAF had on station. He was informed there were 6 in total, with 4 committed each day. He then asked what was the situation with the US 21st Aviation Company which was positioned next to the RAAF Caribous on Vung Tau airfield and was told that of the 20 aircraft they had on strength, their daily flying average was only 3 to 5 aircraft. This didn’t amuse him at all, he demanded the presence of 21st Aviation’s CO, EXO and other titled people and promptly sacked them on the spot.
As the Base at Vung Tau was a huge US forces base, it was decided the best thing to do was to take some of granny’s advice, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” so RTFV personnel started to wear baseball hats which bore one’s rank as did the Americans. Rocky was a Flight Lieutenant at the time so he wore the equivalent US Captains’ rank of two bars on his cap. This seemed to work well except for the RAAF Warrant Officers whose rank was indicated by the crown and wings which looked awfully like the US Full Colonel’s (Bird Colonel) badge and consequently drew quite a lot of salutes from the US Service people. The WOE at the time was George McLean who wouldn’t play ball and return the salute which nearly always meant the US bods would hold their salute for some time expecting George to reciprocate. Poor old George must have had sore ribs from constantly copping Rocky’s elbow with a hissed “Salute back George or we’ll be here all bloody day.”
The Villa Anna, where the officers used to live, was a two storied building which faced the South China Sea.
Rocky occupied a room facing the sea on the upper floor. Downstairs there was a bar/club room that allowed access from the front and rear of the building and which was decorated with Playboy Centrefolds on one wall and directly opposite with pictures of the Queen and Prince Philip accompanied by the appropriate Australian Flags. In the roof structure above, AVM Ernie Hey a host of flying bats had settled in and these used to fly out each night, in two separate groups, in search of food. One evening they had a visit from the late AVM Ernie Hey, the Air Member for Technical Services, and while enjoying a cold one at the bar the first group duly flew out over the heads of all those standing. No-one noticed or spoke as it was a regular occurrence but the AVM, who hadn’t experienced it before, was a bit taken aback and said, “What the hell was that?” to which someone said, nonchalantly, “Oh that was just “A” flight Sir”. A few minutes later, the second lot hurtled past with a noisy beat of winds and before anyone could speak the AVM with a knowing grin said, “I presume that was “B” Flight?”
While in Vietnam, AVM Hey discussed the possibility of doing the Caribou E Services in country instead of using US Army resources. Rocky was given the job of investigating whether the job could be done by Air Vietnam and after visiting and inspecting their facilities he was satisfied that it could be done as their tech people were suitably qualified to undertake such a job under direction from RTFV tech staff. He wrote an E Service schedule and placed the necessary papers with the Americans to have the first E carried out in Country. Rocky and Sgt Graham Buttler (Framie) would periodically visit the Air Vietnam work-shops to check on progress and eventually, the finished aircraft was wheeled out and flew without one unserviceability. Subsequent aircraft were also serviced at Air Vietnam to a formally produced E Servicing Schedule which was based on Rocky’s original sheets.
While at RTFV Rocky was “lucky enough” to get to know a bloke who was a French-Canadian engineer with De Havilland Canada – the makers of the Caribou. His name was Jacques Lorioux and he was present at all the trials conducted on the Caribou at places Kookaburra gas stove ranging from the Sahara Desert to the Arctic Circle. Jacques was married to a Vietnamese woman called “Mickey” and they and their maid, Dou Sou, lived in a block of single story flats in down town Vung Tau. Jacques loved to entertain and Mickey and Dou Sou loved to cook – the perfect partnership. They had a Kookaburra gas stove in their kitchen and Dou Sou would go to the early morning market and get fresh food while Rocky and his mates would get steaks, beer etc from the PX on base. A bunch of them were regally and regularly entertained and fed at the Lorioux’s home, eating wondrous food and listening to Jacque’s tape recorder until late into the night and because of the late night curfew, they would often doss down on a mattress size foam with the dogs for company and sleep until dawn when they would catch an early morning Lambro back to the Villa for a tub before heading off to work. Many Australians enjoyed the hospitality of Jacques and his wife “Mickey” and Rocky keeps in touch with them to this day.
In December 1965 he boarded the Freedom Bird and returned to Australia to take over as SEngO at 38 Sqn at Richmond.
Rocky remembers his time in Vietnam fondly. He says, “Apart from two isolated minor incidents concerning two senior NCO’s, I could not have been associated with a better crew. Not only did we maintain our aircraft and equipment wonderfully but at times the Americans borrowed our service personnel to make up for their deficiencies in all trades. Some of our blokes returned in civvy life to contracts in Vietnam with the US Services.”
In January 1968 Rocky was promoted to SQNLDR and posted to the RAAF School of Technical Training (RSTT) at Wagga as the OIC Mechanical Trades Squadron (MTS). Initially, he was sad to leave 38 Sqn but gradually got to love being associated with adult and apprentice trainees. He says he learned a lot at Wagga. While he was there, there was an incident where senior NCO’s were given a supervisory job over young apprentices who were detailed to work at preparing and serving food and after they had completed the washing and cleaning-up afterwards, got stuck into the liquor they had spirited away under the noses of the supervisory NCO’s. Being drunk they started to riot and caused extensive damage to several buildings.
An incident occurred the night before the normal Tuesday morning parade. Wagga can turn on some pretty terrible weather in winter and this morning was no exception. The fog was a ‘pea-souper’ with visibility down to dot feet so the parade was cancelled. When the Wagga Meteor fog eventually lifted it revealed a Meteor aircraft parked on the parade ground, in front of the flag pole.
The OC hit the roof.
As Rocky was the Base Engineer as well as the OIC MTS he was sent for and told in no uncertain terms to:
Get that bloody aeroplane back to where it came from; and,
Find out who did it and why.
Initially, he had no idea how it had got there, it couldn’t be towed down the main drag as there were too many trees yet that was the only possible way it could have come. There were no engines in the nacelles and no fuel in the aircraft so it had not been driven there under its own steam, so what was the answer?? It did occur to Rocky that perhaps it had been carried but by whom and when and who had organised it and why. Eventually, it was carried manually back to its resting place at the front gate, however, try as he might, he was not able to break the Appy code of silence and it is still a mystery to this day.
Now that a lot of water has passed under the bridge, if you know anything about it, Rocky would love to know…..
Another memorable incident involved the Tumbarumba Express. This was a rail motor that ran once a week from Wagga out to Tumbarumba, a journey of about 110 km. The rail line ran through the base itself and ran alongside a 3 storied Appy block.Tumburumba Express Either bored to tears, lack of funds or no off-base leave mid-week (or a combination of all three), some elec/instrument Appies got the bright idea to short out the “safe-working” signal system which was carried in the overhead wires adjacent to the rail line. It worked like this; when the station up the line was satisfied that it was clear for the train to leave Wagga, they would send a signal down the line which would release the “staff” from the signal box which had to be carried by the train driver. If he didn’t have this he was not permitted to leave Wagga. On this occasion, when the guard on the train went to get the “staff” to pass onto the driver, the box wouldn’t open and release it. It took a considerable amount of time to work out what was wrong and to fix the problem and try as they might, they never found out who was responsible.
At this time the dress rules on Base included short back and sides and most of the young blokes, when venturing into Wagga itself, would don a wig to try and fit in with the locals and not identify themselves as either RAAF or Army – whether the local female population were stupid enough to fall for that was anyone’s guess.
Later in 1970 Rocky was offered acting rank of Wg Cdr and a posting to Dep Air with the appointment of MP2 and the primary duty of looking after and provisioning buildings and workshops that were connected with aircraft, this would include hangars, flight line buildings, run-up bays etc. It was also decided to introduce standardisation of work benches and Rocky was elected as the RAAF representative on an inter-service aircraft standardisation committee.
This was the time when there was a lot of talk about the future of bases such as Pt Cook, Laverton, Richmond and Fairbairn, where to best base the Iroquois and the Caribous that were leaving Richmond and those returning from Vietnam and what to do about the deficiencies at Amberley.
It was plain to all that a new huge hangar was urgently needed at Amberley to house the expanding 3AD and there was a need for new workshops for engine overhaul as well as flight line structures and workshops and a hangar capable of having tail-gate access for the Caribou fins.
The job necessitated visits to every base in the RAAF and the raising and completion of a host of Air Force documents covering the design specifications of required buildings in time for action to be taken by the appropriate authorities. Further, the RAAF desperately needed a centralised air conditioned aircraft paint shop.
Late in 1974 Rocky, who was approaching due retirement age of 55 (due in Oct 1977), asked for and got a posting to 482 Maintenance Squadron at Amberley, this to be his Swan-song. Back then 1 and 6 Sqns were the flying squadrons (F-111’s) and any maintenance or requirements were handed to 482 Mntce Sqn. The problems associated with the aircraft stemming from the early days were well known by now and had been well and truly sorted and that aircraft had grown into a dependable and reliable machine. Sadly though, in his second year the RAAF lost 2 F-111’s, fatally in one instance and thankfully with no loss of life in the other.
F-111 aircraft were often deployed overseas, No 1 Sqn deployed to Hickham AFB in 1975 and again in 1977, spending time at the Marshall Islands on return to Australia. No 6 Sqn deployed to Ohakea AFB in New Zealand for 1 month in 1976. Both also spend time in Butterworth – and Rocky being the EngO made sure he had a seat on the support aircraft.
His last jolly, before leaving the RAAF was to accompany an F-111 in the support Herc to Richmond, Canberra, Laverton, Edinburgh and then Pearce.
In 1975, with a bit of foresight, he and Joy purchased a 5 acre plot of land which was part of a 60 acre dairy farm situated on the outskirts of Lennox head, northern NSW. He had erected two double garages, had power connected to them, then with such modern amenities as a canvas bag shower, portable toilet (take away and empty style) and a 22ft caravan, the Rockliffs survived quite comfortably until their house was built and finished in Dec 1977. The next purchase was a trusty Fergy tractor with a slasher and a carry all which could be fitted to the front and to the back, and with it they planted 500 shrubs and trees.
Rocky (left) shown here fending questions from the NZAF top brass.
To fill in his time, he became a bit of a master at home-brewing the amber fluid then he and Joy got the travel bug and travelled around OZ and he reckons he’s now seen a big part of it. But progress is progress and their lovely rural retreat was gradually being encroached upon and eventually the council rezoned their area from rural to urban and finally they were ground down by the pressure and sold off 4 of their 5 acres. They used the proceeds from the sale to head off overseas and over time travelled through the UK, Western Europe, Americas, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Middle East, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Japan, Egypt, and recently through Cambodia and Vietnam.
Unfortunately, during Rocky’s last trip overseas he had a black out which resulted in a few days in hospital before being medevac’d back to Oz. These days he and Joy restrict their travel to local events – the carefree days have gone!! And being over 85, he is restricted to a bi-annual eye test and driving test, but as he says, with the onset of advancing aged disabilities, it is essential to keep a current driving license.
When they built their home back in 1977, Rocky obtained an “Owner – builder” license and as the house is built on rising ground, he used the slope to build in a “granny flat” under the front of the house. This includes a double bed room, lounge, kitchen and separate toilet and bathroom and is surrounded by a 12 foot brick patio. This has been a God-send and has been used by a countless number of visiting relations, friends and overseas acquaintances over the years.
Sadly, in 2001 they lost their youngest son, John, to bowel cancer. Over the twenty years between 1990 and 2010, bowel cancer rates have doubled in young Australians 20-29 years and are up by 35% in 30-39 year olds. Australian and international research has shown a worrying global trend towards a higher incidence of bowel cancer in younger people, especially given bowel cancer rates are stabilising or falling in over 50s. However, Rocky strongly advises and encourages all Australians who are aged 50 and over, to undertake bowel cancer screening.
These days he and Joy have slowed down a lot, no longer is there a need to rise at 5.00am and thankfully God made a heap of tomorrows in which to get the urgent things done. For a period, they donated some of their time to meals on wheels, mainly to help those not as fortunate but also to avoid the bowls and/or golf club syndrome. A cream Volvo with two white hats on the back shelf is definitely not their scene. Their 1,270 m2 property plays host to a lot of lawn and these days “the Man” comes in with his mower and a friendly neighbour helps cart the wheelie bins down and back to the front gate.
Having belatedly overcome a hate for EDP, mobile phones and useless chatter on the TV, he purchased a lap top and now maintains regular contact with old mates from his RAAF time. He also assists Vet Affairs in a setup whereby his daily pulse, blood pressure and lung strength are relayed to his GP and Vet Affairs in Brisbane.
At this time in their lives, (both 92 in Sept) Rocky, who is one of nature’s gentlemen (with a fair bit of larrikin tossed in), reckons it’s great to be able to sit back on the veranda, enjoy a cold one or two and reflect on life’s wonderful memories.
Rocky sadly passed away 0n 1 August 2017 on the Gold Coast. Funeral details to follow.
Thanks to Trevor Benneworth and the RAAF Radschool Magazine
Brian (Jack) Plenty AM (President)
My life at 38 Squadron began on posting to Caribou conversion in April 1977 at Richmond, NSW. John Griffiths (Griff) was the Training Flight Commander who, along with George Bliss, Chuck Conner and Bob Bacchiella, tried to stop us: landing on the nose wheel during Short Take Offs & Landings (STOLs), collecting foliage from Londonderry Drop Zone whilst flying away from Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System airdrops and causing serious injuries to the aircraft, bystanders or our instructors during the PNG trainer. I did not know what to expect from flying the Caribou but loved it from the first flight. It was hands on flying: STOLs were a blast and landing up the 8% slope at Wau, PNG was, well, wow.
Under the outstanding leadership of Phil Astley, A Flight Commander, I spent a marvellous two and half years flying around Australia undertaking numerous couriers on the East Coast; a range of Army, Navy and Air Force Support tasks, Parachute Training School tasks from Salt Ash Drop Zone and elsewhere, exercises in outback Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia and regular training and check out flights. Highlights included a deployment to West Irian on Op Cenderawasih in mid- 1978, more PNG trainers and in early 1979 bringing home the UN Caribou from Islamabad at the end of the Air Force deployment with Noel Kruse, Kev Scott and Col Knudsen. My time in the boggies paradise ended in January 1980 when I was sent on flying instructors course at Central Flying School (CFS), East Sale, VIC and then time instructing at 1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, VIC.
I was back at the Squadron in early 1982 for a refresher/conversion. Mike Calvert was the Training Flight Commander, along with Dick Elliott, Bob Mears, Ray Lockitt and Cowboy Wilcox as Squadron NAVO. The conversion was very enjoyable and easier second time round and again culminated in a PNG trainer. After a few months of line flying, I started Right Hand Seat training in preparation for a CFS check out and expected a tour in Training Flight. Fate intervened and in September I was sent on Melanesian Pidgeon language training at Point Cook then in August to Aircraft Research & Development Unit (ARDU) for C47 Dakota conversion and subsequent instructor rating at CFS prior to proceeding on posting to the PNGDF Air Wing at Lae airport.
I spent 1983 and 1984 with the PNGDF Air Wing instructing PNGDF pilots on the C47, flying throughout PNG, landing at most of the familiar Caribou strips and many others. John McGill-Harris was CO in 1983 and Giff was CO in 1984. The flying was simply marvellous. I then spent 1985 and 1986 at CFS as a flying instructor; three years in a ground tour in Air Force Personnel in Canberra; A Flight Commander, Chief Flying Instructor and then Temporary/Commanding Officer for three months at 2 Flying Training School, Pearce, WA in 1980 and 1981; RAAF Staff College, Canberra in 1982; ground tours in Canberra in the Defence Intelligence Organisation then as Staff Officer to the Vice Chief of the Defence Force; then back to 38SQN, now at Amberley, QLD as CO from mid-1986 and 1987.
There were many highlights as CO but commanding a great bunch of aircrew, ground crew and support staff was on top. Dave Falls was Executive Officer and ran a highly efficient operation. As a former Caribou sumpy and Loadmaster, he provided me excellent oversight and advice on all aspects of the squadrons activities. One highlight was the introduction of Night Vision Goggle flying after the aircraft had been modified and key to this activity was Dougal Scott, the Training Flight Commander. My time as CO was too short and was to be the last time flying Caribou.
I subsequently was posted as Director Exercises at the ADF Warfare Centre, Williamtown, NSW in 1988 and 1989 then as Officer Commanding 86 Wing, with 38SQN being one of the units in the Wing, from mid-2000 and 2001. Postings followed as Chief of Staff at Headquarters Australian Theatre (HQAST), Potts Point, NSW in 2002 and 2003 (renamed HQ Joint Operations Command in 2004) with three months in the United Kingdom in early 2003 attending the Higher Command & Staff Course and then to Infrastructure Division as Director HQAST Project from 2004 to early 2007. I was then posted to Command Air Lift Group (now Air Mobility Group) from early 2007 to August 2008 and then to my final posting as Head Capability Systems in Capability Development Group before being retired at the end of 2012.
I now live in the Kurrajong Hills to the west of Richmond on 10 acres, that needs a lot of love and care. I still see and hear C130s, C17s, Hawk and Army and Navy rotary wing aircraft flying into Richmond: all reminders of a great career that started on Caribou at 38 Squadron.
Matt Struthers (Secretary)
My 38 Squadron time started straight with writing it on my name tag at Wagga after finishing Instruments course in 1991. I had made a deal to swap if I got 38 SQN and a mate of mine got somewhere else at Richmond. While completing the last few weeks of the course I bumped into SGT Pete ‘Sully’ Sullivan who started with “Ahhh, Thirsty Eight SQN eh, you’ll love it there”. After a couple of stories I was sold and reneged on my mate, apologies Scott.
I spent the first year and a bit at Richmond until the end of 1992 when the Squadron moved to Amberley.
1993 to the end of 1996 I was there at 38 Squadron soaking up the excellent life working on Caribou’s brings, along with the great camaraderie and the culture of the Squadron. We certainly seemed to make the other units jealous, so it seemed. I reckon they all had it good, now that I look back on my time in the RAAF. While I was at the Squadron for this tour I was usually involved in the social club in different areas, the Enfield Club was an awesome way to get the Squadron members together, RAAFies and our partners. The end of 1996 we also had our first son, Lachlan.
1997 I started a new chapter with Caribou’s when I was posted to ALLMSQN to support them. Those four years I learnt a new side to maintaining aircraft, through the support to those on the front line flying, maintaining and supporting with developing accurate publications and data systems. While I was at ALLMSQN I ended up involved in the ALLMSQN social club and then my last year, 2000 I was the Airmen’s Club President. That was a fun year with plenty of stories, and yes Julie was involved there too. While we were posted to Richmond we had our second son, Justin, and our third son, Thomas.
2001 saw us posted back to Amberley and back at 38 Squadron. We were only there long enough to have our first daughter, Caitlin, buy a house and get posted again. This time we were heading north to Townsville to be a part of Det B.
2002 to 2004 I was a part of the small and very effective Avionics team with a few PNG trainers and a deployment to the Solomon Islands, not to mention a small bout of malaria from the PNG highlands.
2004 saw me choose to spend more time with my family than the Caribous and we headed back to Amberley, Ipswich to be more specific, as we were now civilians, that was weird.
From there I have not been able to get away from Defence and have been to Nowra with the Navy for support of weird things that had wings that spun a great rate of knots overhead, helicopters, although most of the work there was loggie support. Then back to Amberley with F-111’s and Super Hornets and now working with the Army on helicopters again. I have also been involved with 38 SQN after getting out with 23 SQN and then recently sorting Caribou spares for the disposal project.
When I was offered to help out with getting the 38 Squadron Association up and running, it was hard to say no, hence why I am here. I look forward to many years involvement with the Association and getting reunited with past members of the Enfield Club.
Julie Struthers (Treasurer and Membership)
My name is Julie Struthers and I hold the positions of Treasurer and Membership Officer.
The experience I bring to this role is:-
I have 7 yrs Administration and Membership Management with a large R.S.L. Club. I have held various administration and finance roles over the past 30 years. I have also been involved with multiple committees in various roles. When I have held a treasurer role where memberships were to be managed I have also been the Membership Officer as these roles often go hand in hand. Accumulatively I have 6 years Treasurer/Memberships Officer experience.
Personally and my time with 38 SQN:-
My time with 38 Squadron was with Caribou’s from March 1994 to July 2004. Our family of 6 travelled up and down the east coast starting at Amberley – Richmond – Amberley – Townsville until my husband’s discharge, all of our postings were only Caribou related. My first flight in a plane was in a Caribou and it holds a special place in my heart. I regularly dropped into the squadron and made a huge effort to get to know my husbands’ work colleagues and was no stranger to pickups from the White Hut or visits to the Bou Bar. Our time with 38 SQN had a major impact not only on my husband as a serviceman but myself as a spouse, mother and me personally. I often wish I could turn back time as I have great memories, and may have had a word in some exceptional peoples ears (nagging/harassing haha… ) to support this association coming to fruition.
Looking forward to sharing and making new memories as the ”38 Squadron Association”.
John Griffiths, MBE (Public Relations)
My Caribou life started out at Richmond on Caribou, August 1966 to May 1968 Straight off Pilot’s Course as a Boggie, learning the ropes from the very experienced, Vietnam veterans, Mike Lancaster and Ron Raymond. The Squadron was turning over all crew, both groundcrew, and aircrew, feeding the needs of 35 Squadron Vietnam. We flew many Army exercises in Rocky and flew to Papua New Guinea, learning to operate the Caribou in High and Hot operations. With our experience, little as it was at that stage, Vietnam was a whole lot less demanding than New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea June ’67 to August ’67 and February ’68 to March ’68 Operations in 38 Squadron Det A based in Port Moresby. We were working with the Army and Civil Aid. Several Search and Rescue operations later as there were many aircraft accidents in the highlands. With very few roads at that time in PNG, light aircraft were the only means of transport to get produce to the markets, supplies back to the villages and missionaries to do their work. After a very short break back at Richmond, headed off to fly the Caribou in Vietnam with 35 Squadron.
Richmond again July 1974 to January 1978 After a tour on C130Es and an instructional tour at Point Cook, it was back to Richmond instructing on the Caribou. Started out as a junior instructor and finishing up as the Training Flight Commander. Plenty of great flying including numerous PNG trainers and an aircraft changeover to Kashmir. Great experience. After leaving 38 in January ’78 I headed to Townsville as the Caribou Flight Commander at 35 Squadron before heading off to the USA, flying the Sabreliner on Exchange with the USAF. No further hands-on with the Caribou but it was one of the aircraft types I looked after in the USAF Safety Center (sic). That set me up for a tour at DFS before heading back to PNG as the Commanding Officer PNGDF with Jack Plenty, our 38 Squadron Association President.
After 20 odd years as an Aviation Insurance Loss Adjustor, attending many aircraft accidents I returned to the RAAF in the Active Reserve until I aged out at 68.
A great life, thanks so much to those formative years learning the basics.
Michael ‘BO’ BURGESS-ORTON (Assistant Secretary)
Michael was born in Salisbury, Rhodesia on 29 March 1974. He emigrated from Zimbabwe in August 1982 and his family settled on the Gold Coast. He attended Southport State High School and graduated in 1991.
Michael joined the RAAF on 21 January 1992 and attended the Australian Defence Force Academy to complete a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Mathematics. After graduation, he was attached to 82WG for six months in 1995, while waiting for 169 Pilot’s course. He graduated from 172 Pilot’s course on 4 July 1997, after back coursings due to air-sickness and a broken elbow.
Michael was posted to 38 Squadron after pilot’s course and was soon deployed to Papua New Guinea for drought relief operations in early 1998 for Operation PLES DRAI. He became a non-tactical Captain in 1999 and was deployed to East Timor with Operation WARDEN and INTERFET prior to being posted to the Australian Defence Force Academy in 2000.
In 2002, Michael completed a refresher course on the Caribou and quickly became a Tactical Captain and was deployed for Operation ANODE in 2003, Operation LARRY Assist in 2006 and Caribou Detachment Commander on Operation GUBA Assist in 2007.
During his seven year posting he filled positions as OIC Tactics Cell, Deputy Operations Flight Commander, Operations Flight Commander and Detachment Commander for 38SQN Detachment B. On 5 Sep 2008, Michael was the Aircraft Captain of ASY 764 which suffered a structural failure during landing at Efogi in PNG.
In 2009 Michael was posted to HQ 3 Brigade as Brigade Air Liaison Officer and was deployed to Operation SLIPPER as the Air Liaison Officer to Combined Team Uruzgan in 2010, to establish an Air Effects Cell. He was appointed as Director of the Air Component Coordination Element for Operation QLD FLOOD Assist (7 BDE) and Operation YASI Assist (3 BDE) in early 2011.
Michael completed the Advanced Command and Staff Course in the UK during 2011/12 and was posted to HQJOC as a Current Operations Watch Commander in 2012/13. He was appointed to Command 38 Squadron from Nov 2013 to Dec 16 where he converted onto the King Air 350 and delivered a number of reforms in pilot development and capability enhancement.
The formation of the 38 Squadron Association had been a major goal, which was realised with the foundation meeting prior to handing over Command of the Squadron.
Michael is married to Abigail and has two children, Lachlan (18) and Emily (15).
Dave Geck (Assistant Public Relations)
I joined the RAAF in May 1985 and trained as an Electrical Fitter, spent 4 years after Wagga Wagga at ATTU in Richmond, working on GSE, Finally after 6 years in the RAAF I was posted to a Flying Squadron, 1FTS and was allowed to work on Aircraft. After 1FTS was closed down two years later, I was posted to TAAMS in Darwin and eventually transferred to 35 Squadron Det A. Enjoyed the small team environment of working in Darwin, we worked hard and played hard.
After 8 years it came to an end and I was posted to 38 Squadron Amberley in Jan 2000 and promoted to Sgt. Very much enjoyed Amberley with many trips away, PNG, Solomons, Noumea and New Zealand the highlights. It was time to move again and a spot came up in Townsville which I grabbed, the chance to work in a small detachment environment again with 38 Squadron Det B this time. The four years in Townsville flew by with plenty of trips, rescues and the Squadron moving up in 2008.
December 2008 saw my discharge from the RAAF after the dreaded offer of a posting to the deep south. Moved to Maryborough, Qld and joined Queensland Air Museum in January 2009 and have been working on their Caribou’s ever since.
LIKE BERT HINKLER
By Ron Raymond
An extract from an autobiography. To be published as ‘Over the Rainbow’.
Thanks to Trev Benneworth and the RADSCHOOL Magazine.
During March 1964, the second group of crews proceeded to Toronto, Canada to undergo type rating training at the DeHavilland factory before accepting and ferrying a batch of three aircraft to Australia. The three captains were Squadron Leader Chris Sugden DFC, Flight Lieutenant Bernie Parker and me.
I enjoyed my time at De Havilland Canada. We had been crewed up before leaving Richmond: John Staal as my co-pilot, ‘Red’ Jordan signed on to navigate and two fitters, Corporal Robinson and LAC Richards both of whom were to serve with me later. We were tasked to ferry Caribou A4-164 back to Richmond – but first we had to complete a type rating under the auspices of the plane maker. To this end we enjoyed a leisurely few weeks in Toronto, leisurely to the point of mildly boring while we laboured through the aircraft’s technicalities as presented by an engineer who seemed surprisingly ill informed concerning the machine’s systems:
‘Yes, we understand the pressure side of the circuit – but where is the hydraulic return flow?’ ‘Ah…’ Long pause… ‘Ah, the oil is dumped overboard,’ the man suggested followed by a further long pause – in fact a very long pause.
‘Thank you, it just seems rather unusual, that’s all.’
‘Yes I suppose it does. OK then, if you are all happy about the hydraulic system we can move onto the flight controls…’
While this particular presenter fluctuated between imprecise and incorrect, the marketing and operational people were competent and helpful in the extreme. Amy Hollingsworth, our flight instructor, displayed patience, tact and common sense worthy of a medal. I was saddened to hear of his death while scud running a year or two later when he hit a radio mast attempting to land in marginal conditions during an industrial dispute that closed the airways system. Then there was Suzy – everybody fell in love with Suzy as she fussed over our transport, accommodation, meals, mail and travel, all the while ignoring those who fell under her spell or were overheard giving ribald vent to an opinion of the Canadian weather and Toronto traffic.
Not that the weather or traffic was all that bad for, loaded with North American allowances and rugged up to a point where I could barely fit in the thing, I hired an MGB, folded the top back, and headed south to see the Niagara Falls and assorted Ontario sights during early Spring. The adventure delighted me such that I retained the car longer than good sense and finances warranted. Nevertheless it proved an enjoyable interlude – despite arriving at Niagara to find the falls a frozen mass of ice relieved by miniscule streams rather than the water I had visualised cascading over the escarpment.
It was interesting driving the MG around the city. The vehicle instantly established an accord with fellow sports car enthusiasts who, without exception, waved a greeting as I passed – a custom I have yet to encounter elsewhere, even in our MGF in New Zealand. All of which added to my regard for Canadians, relating their culture to that of the USA in a vein similar to my view of New Zealanders (Kiwis) versus Australians. Unfortunately, we were quickly discovered by a group of expatriate Aussies in downtown Toronto: youngsters on their overseas experience who seemed to revel in the chorus from ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport’ or ‘Waltzing Matilda’ in a misguided attempt to identify as wild colonial boys. Not that there was any real harm in it at all other than appearing mildly crass rather than unique: a common enough characteristic I find in Caucasian adolescence. Nevertheless, the encounter finally irritated me to the point where I mistakenly accepted a lease busting invitation – a unique Toronto custom I had heard of but never experienced.
Crews who brought the second flight of Caribous to Australia – May 1964..
Standing L-R: Owen Murrell (Loady), Wally Patterson (Nav), Brian “Ric” Richards (Loady), John Staal (Pilot), Keith “Red” Jordan (Nav), Don Pollock (Pilot).
Seated L-R: Des Lovett (Pilot), Barry Ingate (Loady), Ron Raymond (Pilot), Chris Sugden (Pilot), Bernie Parker (Pilot), Bev Barry (Nav).
Put simply, accommodation leases in Toronto were carved in stone – tenants could not exit a lease without the owner’s consent so they often resorted to a riotous party in an attempt to be thrown out: the affair I attended proved a masterpiece. By the time I arrived the debacle was running strongly with music at full volume, people jumping off furniture, broken glass in the remains of the kitchen, people drunk, drunks trying to dance, couples snogging in the bedrooms, somebody sick in the only toilet, people throwing beer bottles from the third floor window in an effort to hit a fish pond in the court yard below and a live snapping red Indian to add a unique something to the evening.
As I wasn’t experiencing too much pain – or logic for that matter – it seemed appropriate to strike up a conversation with the mountain of a man who had just been introduced to me as a Native America – it went something like this:
“Are you really an Indian?’
“Are you really a limey?”
“I asked you first.”
“Are you trying to take the piss out of me limey?”
“Well what the damn hell are you about then?”
“I just want to know if you are a real Indian.”
“I never met a real Indian before.”
“Well, I am. My lineage predates the Little Big Horn, my mob personally scalped Custer in fact.”
“Colonel Custer? You mean the boss of the Seventh Cavalry? ”
“We scalped all of them as well.”
“Wow, too much information! You must have been brave, Braves.”
“We did it with one hand tied behind our back.”
“Now you’re taking the piss out of me.”
“I wouldn’t think of it, anyway what are you – you from England? You damn sure sound like you are.”
“I’m from Australia.”
“Austria? You don’t sound Austrian.”
“That’s a hell of a strange way to spell Austria.”
“Ah… I give up. See you later Sitting Bull.”
“Don’t take it too hard Aussie. Here – have a Bud then you better get out of here before the cops arrive.”
“Thanks, isn’t Budweiser an American beer?”
“You’re damn right it is – the best damn beer in the US of A.”
“Even in Canada?”
“Yeah man – even in Canada. I like Canada but I’m an American and if I can’t get an American beer, I’m out of here.”
“That sounds like a plan,” I observed as Sitting Bull handed me a Budweiser which we slugged down in a heartbeat before shaking hands and disappearing along our respective paths through the tapestry of life.
I met up with the crew back at the apartment we rented as an alternative to the pub that Suzy had arranged for us. Red was involved in showing a lady the complexities of our self-averaging hand held sextant. Not that I had much faith in the instrument, I guessed it had been provided as a prop to either afford Red a purpose in life or assure us of his mastery of the black art. I could not see how he would actually ‘shoot’ a star or planet from beneath the aircraft’s wing or even over my shoulder in the cockpit and, if he ever succeeded, how he would correct for the errors inherent in a Perspex canopy. In that regard, the Caribou lacked an astrodome calibrated for sextant use and it truly puzzled me how to use it during our flight across the Atlantic. Of course, every problem has a solution and this one was solved when the girl knocked the instrument off the table, consigning it to Category 5 operational status – Category 5 being the RAAF designation for a component best described as ‘stuffed’.
It was nice to eventually complete our day and night handling checks followed by an uneventful five-hour shakedown flight in 164. The flight proceeded from Toronto to overfly Sue St Marie and Niagara as the principal turning points before returning to Toronto. I was relieved to find the Niagara Falls flowing again in all their spectacular glory a spectacle that restored my faith in North America. All that remained was to fly the aeroplane to Australia, a task planned across the Atlantic from Gander, Newfoundland to the Azores, Gibraltar, Malta, El Adem (Tobruk) Aden, Karachi, Calcutta, Butterworth, Djakarta, Den Pasa (Bali) Darwin, Charleville and Richmond, New South Wales – a piece of cake.
Back in the days of pioneering aviation Bert Hinkler, an Australian, flew a similar route from England in a Gipsy Moth, the precursor to a Tiger Moth …I think we took something like 10 days longer than Hinkler in his little biplane – and he did it without a self-averaging sextant. Of course simplistic as the Caribou was, it had enough systems for things to go wrong and sufficient crew to make the mistakes characteristic of complicated machinery. In deference to this philosophy Red rose to the occasion and applied the local magnetic variation east instead of west on our first sector from Toronto to Gander, a gross error so close to the magnetic pole and an error we only detected when I commented on the size of the icebergs when I really should have been talking about snow covered mountains – an anomaly that captured Red’s immediate attention and inspired me to carry my own map thereafter. In fact, the first leg was inauspicious at best for as well as drifting some miles off track, we started leaking hydraulic fluid from the starboard propeller reservoir. This was a serious matter as the Caribou propeller relied on its own source of hydraulic oil and the wrong sort of malfunction in the system could lead to an uncontrollable propeller over speed. In the event, I was rather pleased the problem manifested itself over Newfoundland rather than half way across the Atlantic.
As the propeller obviously needed attention we rolled up our sleeves and assisted our flying spanner (engineer) in removing the unit during the onset of a snow shower after we landed. We needed to set the scene pending arrival of spares from Toronto the next day. The job proceeded tolerably well and, covered in grease and glory, we were just about to close up the aeroplane when a Canadian Air Force officer arrived and, acknowledging our desperate circumstances, invited us to clean-up at the local Radar Base and join him for a drink in the Mess where there was a therapeutic and mandatory Screech waiting for us.
Screech is the fire water peculiar to Newfoundland. Its origin is simple enough, take freshly emptied rum barrels, scrape the remaining sediment into a manageable mass and re-ferment it as a brain numbing brew acceptable to the rugged ‘Newfy’ inhabitants – Screech. Somehow I found the product acceptable, so acceptable I had two more which proved to be another serious mistake that day. The bar of the Gander Officers Mess contained a unique assortment of memorabilia, a Chinaman’s pigtail hanging ‘here’, the control column from a Constellation that crashed on the airfield mounted ‘there’ and an assortment of lesser booby trapped artefacts from various prangs to snare the unwary. I idly triggered the Constellation pitch trim button while I watched the barman organising a glass of single malt, a bell rang, lights flashed and a gaggle of thirsty Canadians stormed into the bar looking for the miscreant who had summoned them for a drink. Fortunately, my allowances had been topped up by a grateful nation and I could meet the cost of the general shout …one thing about the Canadians – they took no prisoners. What then followed was one of the more momentous and hilarious evenings during my time in the Airforce.
Rectification of our rogue propeller took two days after which time we launched into some of the worst weather that common law allows.
We left Gander before dawn on 11 May 1964. The weather looked ominous, the engines singularly noisy and our heads heavy after the hospitality at the RCAF Radar station. Added to all that I never really approved of an ocean vista so early, by night it’s OK, mysterious perhaps, even picturesque if there is a full moon a clear sky and the sea state is down, but dawn is something else. I was simply not a dawn person. In Vietnam, we flew to Tan Son Nut airport, Saigon, before first light each day and I disagreed with that as well, a bleary eyed breakfast in the BOQ, the monsoon blowing clouds and stars across the sky, the cautious drive to the airfield through the darkened ville (village) in our asthmatic jeep, alert for people, kids, dogs, chickens and communists (Viet Cong) mesmerised by the lighthouse on Cape St Jacques as it cheerfully blinked the end to another night when I really didn’t want the night to end. I just wanted to turn my back on it all and wake in daylight as a sparkling new me ready to tackle Ho Chi Min and General Giap as a matched pair if that was really needed and anybody else for that matter, anybody who disagreed with our grandiose but misguided cause, so long as they disagreed after sunrise.
Not that I was an absolute sloth, rostered on night ops I was happy as a sand piper, I tolerated the tracers, the blinding light of the flares and the smell of war as long as it happened at a gentlemanly hour, how did the song go, the song we sang so innocently at The Point?
“They feed us lousy chow but we stay alive somehow
On dehydrated eggs and milk and stew,
The rumour has it next they’ll be dehydrating sex
That’s when I’ll tell the coach I’m through.
For I’ll face the sudden dangers,
The shooting back at strangers, but when I get home late….
I want my woman straight…Buster!
I wanted wings till I got the bloody things
Now I don’t want them anymore.”
(Apology to Oscar Brand and ‘Wild Blue Yonder’)
No, first light is first light. It’s just not a good time to plan or contemplate anything let alone a heaving, windswept, freezing sub-arctic 1,500 nautical miles of untamed ocean. Still, I supposed it had to be done so I set climb power and took the bird up into the overcast. At least the grey clouds and rain swirling by the canopy took my mind off the ugly grey sea raging below, which was a very good thing as the ugly grey sea would rage below us for another ten or eleven hours.
It wasn’t all that long before the adventure started to unravel. First, the Newfoundland airports closed behind us as a weather event surged down the east coast of North America. Second, we were too far east for the Ocean Weather ship to paint us on radar and too far west of the airways for a land based fix. Third, our sextant was still unserviceable let alone useless in cloud. Fourth, I didn’t really know if the weather change had also brought a change to our planned wind – something to affect our estimated position and govern any clever alternative we might consider. In fact, the only thing I knew for certain was that we were flying towards the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but even that became a secondary consideration when our Single Sideband radio began chirping a litany of airport closures down the east coast of the US denying any chance of diverting back to a suitable airfield. All we could do was grit our teeth and hold Red’s planned heading: our salvation lay in finding the Ocean Station ship for a fix.
In those days the USN deployed Ocean Weather Stations, ships located in mid-ocean to track aircraft on radar, fix their position, provide weather and sea state details and stand by in an emergency. These vessels were positioned along air routes across the Pacific (specifically San Francisco – Honolulu) and the Atlantic (particularly Gander – Azores) they were an absolute blessing before the days of Omega, GPS and satellite weather data.
We were last in a very loose stream of three aircraft, well behind Chris and Bernie so at least there was no fear of collision. All we could do was hold our compass heading while maintaining our airspeed and altitude and occasionally checking the outside air temperature for any change in the air mass. I handed over the flying to John while I conferred with Red about the likely effect of the unexpected weather: I felt that our Dead Reckoning had a good chance of seeing us within range of the Ocean Station’s radar, surely we couldn’t be 100 miles or so off track in just five hours of flying (mind you an unexpected 20 knot wind component was a mere zephyr at that latitude). We both fell silent. Neither of us knew the radar capability of an Ocean Station ship apart from the belief that it was probably good. After two hours John declared himself tired, so tired that he needed to rest in the cabin, a development that didn’t concern me as I was quite content to fly my aeroplane, even on instruments, the rest of the way. In fact, I logged six hours on the dials out of a total of 11 that day. You will remember that the Caribou had no automatic pilot.
An hour after John retired, Chris called on VHF to check our progress and advise that he had contact with the Ocean Station and that I would be pleasantly surprised when I raised them in person – I felt a sense of relief at the news: I had not realised that I had become a shade tense with the unexpected during the deteriorating situation. When we finally did receive a radar fix from the Vessel (Ocean Station Delta from memory) Red’s DR proved accurate enough to avoid a heading change or ETA amendment so all was forgiven. Who needs a self-averaging sextant anyway?
Other than somewhere to hang our hats for the night, Laijes Field in the Azores failed to inspire although I did not doubt that the islands could provide a pleasant interlude if I ever had an opportunity to spend time there. They certainly had an interesting history and, like Brazil, a culture stemming from old Portugal. In the event we simply completed our post-flight checks, refuelled, and closed the aeroplane before checking into accommodation arranged by Suzy. Chris had become concerned over the possibility of sabotage to the aircraft – holding up my experience with the starboard propeller as an example of the hazards we faced.
Squadron Leader Sugden DFC, Chris, was a person I will never forget – a loyalty also felt by others who served with him in Vietnam. Chris was a complicated person, a passionate man, often critical of his senior pilots while protective of junior officers and the men, a leader who acted quickly, if occasionally impulsively, whom I found brave to a fault, knowledgeable in the ways of the air and far from hesitant concerning professional risk. However while I endorsed just about every action he promoted, I could not agree with his assessment of the propeller failure or his suspicion concerning sabotage. Technical problems happen in the best families and I still see them as the luck of the game rather than a covert activity by persons unknown. During out tour in ‘Nam, I served as Second in Charge to Chris who occasionally displayed this impulsiveness leaving me no option other than ignoring his verbal instructions on two occasions. These breaches of protocol ultimately proved correct and he was man enough to accept the changes without comment.
We flew the Gibraltar sector the next day, 12 May, a milk run in clear sky and smooth air all the way to the ‘The Rock’ which finally rose from the sea beneath a mantle of cap cloud at the end of an eight-hour flight. The 14th and 15th proved equally suited to the task of ferrying aeroplanes halfway around the world, although I would have preferred the second rest day in Malta – rather than Gibraltar – and spent time exploring this gallant little island with its collective George Cross and history of survival against fearful odds. In the event, we only had one night to visit downtown Valetta, time to purchase one or two souvenirs and then fly a brief three hour thirty-minute flight across the Mediterranean to El Adem where we prepared for our longest flight the next day – the sector to Khormaksar, Aden.
I had grown up believing that a desert, and certainly the Sahara, was a dry treeless place, an undulating carpet of sand that became diabolically hot during the day and desperately cold at night, a belief I found only half correct as I tossed and turned, trying to sleep in the stifling heat of an ancient Nissan hut the night before we were due to leave for Aden. Our original plan included refuelling at Khartoum before continuing on, however, the politics of the region dictated a diversion around Egyptian air space via its most south western point (Nasser’s Corner) and a forecast sand storm at Khartoum eliminated hope of landing for fuel. We finally decided on a non-stop flight around the air space followed by direct tracks across Sudan and Ethiopia, twelve and a half hours of desert flying that would extend the aeroplane – even with our long range fuel bladders full to capacity. These bladders proved to be unreliable if not downright treacherous things while operating at maximum ferry weight saw the aeroplane well beyond its certified performance capability – in fact, the machine felt cumbersome and ungainly as we taxied to the threshold for take-off two hours before dawn.
Overweight aircraft operation is not necessarily hazardous, not if the aeroplane is loaded within ‘ferry’ limitations rather than grossly overweight, the balance is OK, trims are set correctly, air density is not reduced by heat, altitude or humidity and the aeroplane has been serviced properly. Of course, the machine lacks its customary zest but even that is acceptable as long as the engines continue to deliver power. Sometime after I left the military, Sleepy Jack (Jack Rydstrom) one of my line pilots from the RAAF unit I commanded in Papua New Guinea, had an engine failure in a civilian Caribou, a tricky development further complicated when his remaining motor also failed over PNG’s Fly River delta. Jack died when he went down in the jungle before he managed to reach an airfield. Sadly his Lady, a passenger in the cabin, was also killed when the cargo broke loose crushing her against the forward bulkhead, amazingly the co-pilot survived the whole sad ordeal to tell the story. Jack’s aeroplane was undoubtedly heavy but I doubt that he would have accepted anything illegal. He would have set METO power (Maximum Except Takeoff) in an effort to remain airborne when his first engine failed, probably placing unavoidable stress on his remaining Pratt and Whitney, a tired R2000 engine that had seen better days. I flew overweight aeroplanes for various reasons in various situations, situations that were no big deal provided the engines ran normally. By day this was never a problem however at night I occasionally had the unique sensation of being suspended in space immediately after takeoff – an illusion attributable to a black night, a constant heading and flight instruments telling me I was not going anywhere in a hurry. I sometimes even varied the pitch attitude (raise the nose a little) but the rate of climb would remain fixed on some unfamiliar value while the airspeed reduced as a reminder that, yes, we really were airborne so stop meddling and fly the thing properly. Fortunately I never felt this in a jet, however, I did experience it during the take-off out of El Adem once the Caribou finally lifted off and reluctantly dragged itself into the sky
Not that the sector to Aden was anything but a milk run. Long and tiring, the skies clear all the way, clear enough that despite heat haze and dust we enjoyed a splendid panorama as we crossed the Nile and the rugged mountains of Ethiopia before Djibouti presented itself as a precursor to the Gulf and finally Aden’s Khormaksar Airport. The whole business lasted a numbing 12.5 hours of hand flying leaving us a thoughtful little crew as we climbed out of 164 to Chris disgustedly announcing that both the other aeroplanes were unserviceable – a state that continued for 11 long, sweaty, thirsty days while we waited for replacement long range fuel bladders and enjoyed Chris’ continuing affirmation that it was all a plot to delay delivery of the aeroplanes. For my part, I thought it more like a Gilbert and Sullivan opera with different lyrics.
I still wonder at our forefathers who arrived on such a desolate shore to doff their hats and offer three rousing cheers for the British monarch as they raised the Union Jack and claimed the place in the name of Mother England. Along with blistering heat and flies, Aden left me quite indifferent. At the time, the British and a bunch of rowdies known as Redfan rebels were busily shooting at each other in the adjacent mountains, a dreadful piece of God’s earth even hotter than Khormaksar airport where young ‘Tommys’ deplaned from RAF Beverly air transports and downed whatever was liquid and cold in the airfield’s small bar before leaving for the barren, rocky hills to fight a war. Normally I hold Infantry in high regard, however, I amended this to awe as I watched those lads board their vehicles in preparation for combat.
Aden’s saving grace was its function as a ‘duty-free port’ and in this context, goods were remarkably inexpensive. Naturally, we took the opportunity to spend up big on treasures to take home. Amongst other things I acquired a tape recorder – a gadget, I used in an attempt to convince Chris and Bernie that they were health hazards. For reasons unknown the sleeping arrangement at Red Sea House, our dilapidated military accommodation, was based on rank, captains shared one room, co-pilots another and crewmen yet another, a system that differed from the arrangement in Canada where accommodation was allocated by crews, even to my chaps sharing the cost of an apartment appropriate to our exalted status as aircrew. I quickly found that Chris and Bernie were inveterate snorers not only inveterate but raucous. Of course snorers are snorers, they have no simple way of not snoring once the mood comes over them, or at least I was not aware of one at the time, so I gritted my teeth and hid my head under the rock hard pillow each night while hoping to fade into unconsciousness somewhere in the hours before dawn, a feat I usually managed out of sheer exhaustion. Of course this was far from a satisfactory solution, for one, my head became hot at the hobs of hell stuffed under the pillow and, second, I could still hear them snoring. Finally, enough was enough so I set up the tape recorder and played the racket back early one morning, an event that failed to impress anybody let alone moderate my tormentors.
Bernie woke first, glared blearily at the tape machine, yawned, scratched himself, rolled over and went back to sleep. It would not overstate things to say the ploy lacked effect. Chris eventually woke and studied me as if I was something he’d found under a piece of gorgonzola before commenting on the desert’s odd effect on some people, that perhaps an assignment with one of the army patrols would suit my temperament, even compensate for the inconvenience of Red Sea House. Chris had a way like that, a solution for every problem, instantly conceived and translated into action, by you, if you didn’t keep your head down. Nevertheless I imagine the Boss gave the matter further thought for after breakfast he broke the news that the fuel bladders should be on their way with the RAF shortly and, as there was little point in leaving all the aeroplanes in the burning hot sun, I should take 164 and my crew to Butterworth in Malaysia where I could wait and re-join Bernie and him when they ‘came through’. I agreed that the idea had merit although my team would regret missing the opportunity to chase the ragged rascals round the rugged Arabic rocks as it were. Chris just responded with one of his penetrating looks that warned of very thin ice so I left things at that to gather the crew and set about readying the aeroplane for the lonely flight across Pakistan, India, Burma, Thailand and Malaysia.
The flight to Butterworth took four days, one to Karachi followed by a day off, one to Calcutta and the final sector to Butterworth, a total of 33 hours airborne. I don’t remember why we stopped in Karachi however I do recall enjoying the occasion along with formal cocktails in the august company of diplomats and administrators at the High Commissioner’s residence, a refreshing alternative to the sight of a dentist, complete with a business sign advertising his presence on a down town Karachi footpath, where he operated on a patient in daylight and full view of passers-by, horses, mules, dogs and the inevitable horde of flies. Not that the ambience of Calcutta proved any better with people either asleep or dead by the side of the road as our transport delivered us through the city streets to Dum Dum airport in the hazy glow of an Asian sunrise, an event accompanied by the aroma of oriental spices and cooking. The jury is still out on my acceptance of an Asian lifestyle, however, there is no denying the exotic flavour of the place.
Butterworth fighter base was a relaxing stopover in a small piece of Australiana secreted roughly one third of the way up the west coast of the Malaysian Peninsular, a six day delay while we waited on Chis and Bernie to finally arrive – six days of hardship involving comfortable accommodation, servants, splendid meals, current news (The Strait Times) a well-stocked bar, access to George Town on Penang Island and the opportunity to carry out maintenance on the aeroplane with access to cover, workshops, tools and experienced supervision. We even flew an air test on each of two days however we were careful to limit each flight to one hour for fear of overdoing things. We might even have flown on the third day but Red noted some cumulus clouds in the far west so we agreed that conditions were becoming a bit grim and we changed into ‘civvies’ before catching an afternoon ferry boat across to Penang Island and George Town.
George Town emerged from a tropical swamp during the time of the Raj to become a trading post of the British East India Company and, eventually, the most favoured and livable town in Malaysia, an architectural and cultural accolade as defined in its World Heritage status, an award without precedent anywhere East of Suez. I was enchanted to be walking in the footsteps of Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad, the shadows of grand architecture, of elegant ladies and nineteenth-century gentlemen who created an empire. We spent the afternoon touring the town, the Island, and finally dining in a style such that we missed the last ferry back to the mainland. Not that I was particularly concerned for the surfeit of good living had left me completely agreeable with most everything that had or might come my way during 164’s delivery and, anyway, the town offered accommodation appropriate to my new found self-image as some sort of world girdling ferry pilot. Unfortunately, the mood failed to extend to my colleagues who insisted on weaving our way to a collection of sampans by the waterfront where we cunningly negotiated a bargain rate across the Strait to a point on the mainland where we could strike out for Butterworth – or hire a taxi or something. The voyage across the Strait went something like:
“Is it always this rough?’
“Why – aren’t you feeling well?”
“Of course I am – I wouldn’t be dead for 50 bucks an hour.”
“Jeez – it’s got water coming in!”
“Don’t give it another thought – these things are meant to make a bit of water.”
“But I thought the water was supposed to stay on the outside of a boat.”
“Well this is not a boat, it’s a sampan.”
“I take it there’s a difference.”
“There sure is, sampans are Oriental boats developed over the millennia. The Chinese discovered gun powder after they worked out how to row around in sampans that’s how old they are. Take this one, more character than the three of us combined”
“So what’s gunpowder got to do with a leaky sampan?”
“Nothing really – it’s just relative that’s all.”
“It’s just what?”
“Shit Skipper, I think I’m going to be sick!”
“Hang in there buddy – the sea air will have you feeling tip top in a heartbeat.”
“That’s if my heart continues to beat.”
“That it will – I have it on good authority.”
“How about I sing a few bars of ‘Those in Peril in the Sea’ do you think that will soothe him.”
“OK let’s give it a go.”
“I’d rather find a tree to sit under.”
“No sooner said than done – here’s the other side coming up right on the nose.”
“Yeah, but I can’t see any trees.”
I woke the next morning to news that Australia was sending an ‘Airforce presence’ to Vietnam. My first action after breakfast involved a visit to the Mess Library in an effort to find where Vietnam was, my second included a walk to Base Operations to check on progress, if any, of Chris and Bernie, my third involved walking back to the Mess Library to read all that I could find in a Time magazine about a war that would probably take our minds off beer and sex for the foreseeable future.