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.