A certain style - tales from an open cockpit
As passengers in modern aviation, we are accustomed to encountering our pilot only via a brief welcome over an intercom system. Not so in the early days when pilots mixed freely with passengers, and planes were not sealed off from the public.
Everyone had their job to do, even Hudson Fysh, future Knight of the Realm, seen here washing the BE2E
Still, some of the feats which occurred back then may give us pause.
In the 1920s, many passengers would fly only with pilots they knew and trusted.
One wrote a will before boarding a plane piloted by Fysh.
Upon meeting Russell Tapp, a highly-competent pilot, another declared, "I'm not going. Take my luggage out".
Before insuring an aircraft against accident, the insurer always asked who the pilots were. Each pilot had his own risk rating. Certainly they brought their own personal style to the job.
Once, Q.A.N.T.A.S. pilot, A. Vigers saw his two passengers were asleep and took the opportunity to perform a loop. They awoke at the top of the loop. They were still screaming when they landed. Vigers was fired.
Fysh tells of a very down-at-heel, decrepit looking individual who walked into his Longreach office wanting a job. Eric Donaldson, ex-shearer and bush pilot had flown for the Royal Air Force. Eric adapted to situations which might faze others.
"A piston came through the side of the engine while I was flying over bad country. I was at about 5000 feet and made for an open patch. It was mighty rough but no trees and I got down with inches to spare. It was December, I think and mighty hot. I got out a book I carried and made myself comfortable as possible and waited.
He rested till the sun went lower, then wrote on the wing that he was heading north, took the compass and left.
The spinifex was hard to get through and gave my ankles and legs a bad time but after about three miles I found the main road to Isa and set off at a trot. I had not gone very far when I saw a fire. Messrs. Cronnen and Pedwell were on their way to Isa and having supper".
Eric joined them for supper. All in a days work.
Russell Tapp was flying a photographer from Brisbane over Moreton Bay. Just after take-off, Tapp saw a commotion in the front cockpit and yelled to the photographer to sit down. The photographer shouted, "There's a snake in the cockpit".
It had emerged between his legs. He tried to bash it with his camera which promptly fell overboard. The even more frightened snake went into hiding.
Tapp hurriedly landed. It was found coiled tightly inside the guard covering the plane's front throttle.
Fred Haig was flying with Phil Sullivan, when the exhaust pipe fell off. As Fred describes,
When the exhaust pipe fractured, of course we in the cockpit got the full blast and I said to Phil, "By Jove, I feel hot Are you?"
He screamed back, "Not unduly so".
I said, "Well, we'll have to make a forced landing immediately".
Phil looked down at the inhospitable country below and said, "Well I am hot now, as a matter of fact, Im perspiring".
He was always a nervous passenger.
Fred landed safely.
On 10 April 1929, K. Anderson and H. Hitchcock in the "Kookaburra" went missing while searching for the "Southern Cross" of Kingsford-Smith and Ulm, missing for ten days in north-west Australia.
Two days later, Kingsford-Smith and Ulm were found alive and reasonably well.
Another week passed with no sighting of Anderson and Hitchcock.
Lester Brain, searching in the DH50J, "Atlanta" saw smoke rising and found the wrecked "Kookaburra". Both flyers were dead. A rough diary was scribbled on the wing. They had lacked adequate supplies, especially water. Even the alcohol in their compass had been drunk.
It was a tragic lesson in not taking the land or flying for granted, but also a tribute to the ability of Lester Brain.[ top ]