|My uncle and
aunt, Joe and Josephine Linfoot, had been killed in the crash of
Hudson VH-AGO in 1957. Although I was only a toddler
at the time, I still remember seeing the slides of the crashed aircraft
and strange as it may seem, an interest in aviation began. I joined
Adastra as an Apprentice Aircraft Engineer in January 1970, this
being my first job (earning a massive $18 a week!). As a description
of events involving myself only, would be rather bland reading,
I would rather convey to the reader events involving the real Adastra
characters of the time, people like Jack McDonald, Lionel Van Praag
and of course, the Hudson.
Lionel Van Praag
I had never flown in an aircraft before and I still remember vividly,
my first flight, with none other than Lionel himself, in the Cessna
required a second person to be on board at all times during flight.
The reason as I can best recall, was to operate the emergency
undercarriage pump, located on the starboard side of the cockpit
bulkhead. The pilot couldn't reach the handle without getting
out of his seat. Therefore, who did they usually call upon for
test flights? The $18 a week apprentice, of course! After all,
they weren't about to let an "expensive" tradesman go "merely"
flying around just as an emergency undercarriage pump, were they?
Hence, there was an abundance of opportunities to fly around in
Hudsons. Jim Page and I (he was an apprentice also, a year or
so above myself) would just about push each other out of the way
to be on each test flight, but it generally evened itself out.
I was asked to go with Lionel in one of the Hudsons to Oodnadatta,
SA. It was a "difficult" decision, but I decided to do the firm
a "favour" and agreed to go. After all I was a fully trained emergency
undercarriage pump operator! Adastra was like a family. When an
aircraft departed, most of the hangar staff would wave you goodbye.
As we were walking towards our Hudson for the Oodnadatta trip,
the assembled departure "committee" began to laugh and yell out
.Two Hudsons were outside the hangar, the one we were taking,
which I was walking toward and the other, undergoing major overhaul
and minus wings which Lionel was heading for! Oh well, the poor
guy, if I correctly recall, was over 60!
After correctly identifying the "serviceable" aircraft, a brief
pre-start was carried out, engines fired up and we were on our
way. After taxiing out to the runway, the radio decided to "throw
a wobbly" and gave up. We taxied back to the hangar, but alas,
the place was locked and everyone had gone home. Any Adastra hangar
employee worth his salt knew how to get through the locked hangar
doors! The problem was though, we couldn't access the telephone,
as the office was locked. But was Lionel going to give up? Not
on your life! "Who owns that motorbike there?" asked Lionel. "It's
mine!" chirped the undercarriage pump. "Well, take me to AWA"
demanded Lionel, "I can't, I only have a learner's permit, not
allowed to carry a pillion" said I, apologetically. "Jump on the
back, I'll ride", barked Lionel. I knew that Lionel was some sort
of motorcycle champion from the 'dark ages' (remember, I was not
quite 17 at the time), but surely this 'old codger' didn't know
how to ride a modern motorcycle! "Maybe the bikes he rode didn't
even have gears" thought I. "Should I give him a few pointers?"
I asked myself. "Nah, he might get offended, seems a cranky old
bloke, better let him work it out for himself" I concluded. Boy,
was I in for a surprise! Not only did he work it out and get it
started in a matter of seconds, we were off in the blink of an
eye and negotiating the corners, almost scraping the footpegs
in the process! The old bugger put the wind up me but he certainly
knew how to handle a bike. It was many years later that I finally
found out just how good he had been, World Speedway Champion!
Well, to carry on, we finally got to AWA and a technician came
back and "resuscitated" the more than obsolete radio and we were
finally on our way. Due to our delayed departure, we decided to
aim for Condobolin, although our original destination was Broken
Hill. We circled Condobolin and even before we taxied to a stop,
I noticed dozens of cars heading towards us. We parked the aircraft
and were greeted by a large crowd who gathered around to admire
the "old warbird". I felt like Charles Lindbergh or Kingsford
Smith (OK maybe Charles Ulm then!) I just couldn't believe that
I was actually getting PAID to do this.
The two "crew" had no trouble getting a lift into town with our
new-found "fans". We checked into a motel and when Lionel filled
in the register, the bloke couldn't believe what he was reading.
"Not THE Lionel Van Praag?" queried the bloke. "Yes", replied
an embarrassed Lionel. I then asked myself "just who is this bloke?"
The motel proprietor kept shaking his head in amazement. In the
four subsequent years that I got to know Lionel, I never once
heard him mention his motorcycling exploits or his WW2 heroism.
I read all that later.
During the rest of this, my first trip away, there was only one
more event that I suppose would be considered to be out of the
ordinary. When flying in the Hudson, the "co-pilot" (OK, well
not quite! The second crew member or emergency undercarriage pump.
You get the picture!) wouldn't sit in one of the cabin seats.
No way! That was for pussies. The "cool" place to sit was on top
of the fuse box alongside the pilot. Who needed a seat? Or for
that matter, a seat belt! (I don't know what DCA would have done
if they knew we did that! Highly dangerous stuff I reflect, now
that I'm more than 30 years older and wiser). Lionel was asking
me to get something from his bag in the cabin. Even with him only
six inches away screaming as loud as he could, I couldn't hear
a word he was saying. Such was the noise inside this uninsulated
beast. "Now I know why the old bugger's deaf " I concluded. He
gave up on me and decided to fetch whatever it was himself. I
looked backward and he was sitting down reading something. He
remained there for a few minutes before I heard the starboard
engine cough and splutter. He seemed oblivious to it. I ran down,
grabbed and beckoned him to return to the cockpit. He dawdled
back, looked at the tacho, noticed the fluctuating RPM and without
batting an eyelid, switched fuel tanks, switched on the booster
pumps and the engine roared back into life. What did he do then?
Went back to the cabin seat and left me with what felt like, my
heart pounding louder than the Wright Cyclone 1820. Such was Lionel!
14th February 2003