back in the 60s was a pleasant, idyllic, beautiful island with
the inhabitants going about their business in an unhurried manner.
For the past 10 years (and more to come), an Adastra aircraft
would be based somewhere on the island to carry out high level
aerial photography for mapping purposes.
In the happening that I am referring to in late '62, the aircraft
was Lockheed Hudson VH-AGS and although manned by an eager crew,
because of the usual cloud coverage, they were not having much
success with mapping photography. At the time the only flying
accomplished was the weekly test flight to eradicate cobwebs and
fungus from the machine and equipment.
This left the crew with much time on their hands, so when a local
trader asked me if I had time to service his Cessna 180 (VH-SLS)
and issue a Maintenance Release I readily agreed. He then stated
that he needed a part time pilot and asked if I knew of anyone?
I said that I would check and get back to him. When I mentioned
this to our camera-op he jumped at the idea as he was licensed
on the type, had a modest number of hours and was keen to log
more. Our camera-op was known amongst his workmates as V.H. The
remuneration we asked for was ridiculously small by todays standards,
but the real reward was occupying our time and achieving something
useful for all concerned.
The reason for this activity was that the trader was supplying
indentured labour to various plantation operators and needed the
aircraft to go to outlying villages, collect the labourers and
bring them back to where we were based at Wewak, a major seaport.
It was also his responsibility to return the workers to their
home villages when their contract was completed.
Everything was working fine, and our little airline went into
business when we were not required for survey work. Aircraft hours
were building up and I was using the facilities of another operator
to carry out the Cessna servicing, their field (and base) were
a few miles away from Wewak so we would ferry the aircraft across
when need be, carry out our inspections and return to Wewak when
finished; this was where the enterprise become unstuck!
On one of our return flights (call it our last), my colleague
said to me quite earnestly, "Show you a new way to land matey!"
I mumbled something like, "Your normal landings are good
enough for me", to which he replied, "No, this way will be
We approached Wewak, came into the circuit, turned onto final,
and were cleared to land; we flared out, wheels touched nicely
without swerving, bong, bong. And the runway disappeared! the
prop spinner at this stage was the only part of the aircraft attached
to the ground; then the dynamics changed and we were flying once
more but this time inverted with the tail flying ahead. In quick
time we did a perfect three pointer i.e. rudder king post and
port and starboard wing tips simultaneously. SILENCE. I was puzzled,
stunned and shocked. Why was my arse strapped to the cabin roof
and my feet resting on the windscreen?
V.H. turned the fuel off and then flipped the switches off as
I slowly supported my bodyweight and undid the seatbelt, luckily
it was the H type shoulder harness, which probably saved us both
from serious injury. Neither of us suffered any physical hurt
and on exiting the aircraft all V.H could utter was "look what
happened to my beautiful aeroplane" and burst into tears. He later
spent the night in hospital and the best I could think of was
retiring to the Mess bar for a late night.
V.H. had been listening to Mission pilots giving their method
of stopping a Cessna 182 on the short strips in the N.G. back
blocks; simply that means, "stick hard forward and stand on brakes!"
Fine for nosewheel aircraft but not recommended for a tail dragger
such as a Cessna 180. VH-SLS was written off by the insurance
company, and the labourers reverted to walking.
17th April 2003