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by Wal Bowles

There are pilots much more experienced than I who could write about Avro Anson operations, but perhaps having flown Ansons only in Adastra, I might have had a few unique experiences. Then again, none of us are getting any younger, and probably at this stage there are few other retired pilots with Anson experience. I recall that, if a problem was encountered in flight which required Air Traffic Control or Flight Service to be advised, invariably the question would come back "are your operations normal?" I usually responded along the lines "I expect the landing to be normal." But on one occasion with an engine failure, and having had something abnormal happen on several consecutive flights, to the question "are your operations normal?" I thought, well, for the Anson, this kind of occurrence is not abnormal, so I simply replied "affirmative."

Ted McKenzie was Operations Manager for the period of my employment with Adastra, and Ted checked me out on both the Anson and the Hudson. I have never felt more thoroughly checked on any aircraft than with Ted, a thoroughly competent and superior check and training captain.

It would need to be a very lightly laden Anson to be able to maintain height on one engine. While we never flew them overloaded, it was accepted that, in the event of an in-flight engine failure, power from the remaining engine could do no more than slow the rate of descent. So the Anson fell into the category of having a single engine performance but with two chances of having an engine failure! With fixed pitch propellers, the windmilling prop of a failed engine would create significantly more drag than a feathered prop. But even if the Anson had been equipped with feathering propellers, it's performance on one engine would not have been remarkable.

During my period flying for Adastra, between 1960 and 1964, there were two Ansons used on aerial survey work, VH-AGA and VH-BLF. BLF had a few refinements such as electric starter motors and electric landing gear retract mechanism, which made it a little heavier than AGA. Retraction and extension of the landing gear of AGA was by manually winding by the navigator. He developed a strong arm for the 140 odd rotations of the handle. The navigator also pumped down the flaps on AGA with the manually operated hydraulic system. Both aircraft were "pensioned off" during 1962, so my total Anson experience is not great. The Ansons were pensioned off because the glue which bound together the laminated wooden wing spars was considered to be time expired.

The Anson was very stable in flight and was ideal for oil survey work. The aircraft normally carried a crew of three: pilot, navigator, and either the magnetometer technician for oil surveys or camera operator for aerial photography. The navigator sat alongside the pilot in the co-pilot's seat for oil survey flights when photo-mosaic maps were used, and he was prostrate in the nose compartment for photographic navigation. Communication between crew members was by intercom. With an engineer the calibre of Bill Mitchell servicing the aircraft, the Ansons were most reliable.

When taxying, they were the most unstable aircraft imaginable. Tailwheel aircraft are inherently unstable on the ground directionally, and the Anson was more unstable directionally on the ground than any other tailwheel aircraft I have flown. When turning, immediately the turn is commenced, braking and often engine power was needed to arrest the turn from tightening into a ground loop. Anyone who has attempted to steer a houseboat, especially in conditions of variable wind and tide, will appreciate the concentration and constant corrections needed to keep straight, and so it was with the Anson when taxying.

There were a number of unusual happenings while flying Anson aircraft on oil survey work and several of these are mentioned in "Adastriana" anecdotes. I was fortunate in having Bill Mitchell as the crew's engineer on most occasions. Bill is an exceptional engineer, with an impish sense of humour. He knew his aircraft extremely well and, with VH-AGA, which had no starter motors and would normally rely on a hand wound inertia starter, Bill had his own method. To my recollection he never used the inertia starter, but see "Adastriana" for Bill's starting method. With typical Bill Mitchell modesty, he explained that this system of engine starting had in fact been devised by Des Hardy. But if Des devised it, Bill perfected it.

Even in 1960, the Anson was looked upon as something of a dinosaur with its external rocker gear which required hand greasing every ten flying hours. Occasionally one of the rockers would seize, effectively resulting in a loss of engine power and rough running. One cylinder without power might seem almost inconsequential with 6 other cylinders firing, (the Cheetah was a seven cylinder radial engine) but this type of problem had all the indications to the pilot of a total engine failure, so that down was the only direction to go. On one occasion we needed to land at Kempsey with such an engine failure. After landing, Bill assured me we would have no problem in being airborne within a matter of minutes after he changed the seized rocker component, so I went to the telephone box on the aerodrome (no mobile telephones then) to submit another flight plan. Our ultimate destination was Mackay in Queensland and our next planned landing for refuelling was Archerfield. While on the telephone, Bill explained to me that our generator drive was unserviceable and that we would be without radio. I completed the flight plan details, indicating to the Flight Service Officer that we would proceed to Archerfield "no radio" and we were soon on our way.

It was humorous the way the generator problem made itself known to Bill. While he was attending to the rocker mechanism on one engine, a local Kempsey fellow, apparently a farm worker chewing on a piece of straw, asked Bill if what he could see lying in the bottom of the cowling of the other engine was supposed to be there. With some consternation, Bill saw that it was the generator drive - and the Anson had only one generator.

On our arrival at Archerfield, rather providentially, there was a graveyard of Cheetah engines and, with the owner's permission, Bill soon found a spare generator drive. I'm not sure that the "release note" requirements were in fact met on that occasion, but we were soon on our way again to Mackay.

The last time I saw VH-AGA was a few years ago when it was suspended from the roof of the Camden Museum of Aviation at Narellan, New South Wales. I realised on that museum visit, that I too have joined the aviation dinosaurs, because there were three other aircraft registrations, of a Wirraway, a Vampire and a Meteor aircraft, now museum exhibits, which I have recorded in my log book.


Wal Bowles
10 September 2004