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by Richard R. (Bob) Cozens


I don't remember much about the old Adastra Hangar 15 except that it was small, just big enough to accommodate a Hudson, that the Cat was just nosed into it being worked on and Eric Haynes was Works Manager and Jack McDonald was Chief Engineer.

The second time I worked for Adastra was in the relocated Hangar 13, Eric had died and Jack was the Boss. He was a hands-on chief, not above getting his hands dirty or sweeping the floor. His philosophy was that in aviation you could be Chief Engineer one day and out of a job the next and had to be prepared to do any work to earn a crust. Outside of airlines at the time that could certainly be true.

The hangar crew always seemed to be a happy lot and practical jokes the order of the day. A paper bag filled with acetylene, lit and thrown under the table tennis table at lunchtime makes a very loud noise. You had to be careful if you went into "Shifty" Sheffield's workshop as leaning against the bench or touching some innocent looking piece of equipment could result in a zap from his cunningly set up booster coil. Even at the (in)famous Thursday afternoon keg parties you had to be alert, as the icebox tap handle was sometimes "wired up". Even after I left Adastra, I went to see the boys one day and Scotty Wilson got me to hold a piece of pipe he was hack sawing and zapped me!

Remember the Honour Roll of people who had donated kegs and the list of the Crumpled Car Club that resulted from these? That was before compulsory seat belts, drink driving penalties and today's emphasis on safety.

I had an early model Morris Minor convertible which Jack was sure he had seen racing at Mt Druitt and it was using a lot of oil. Jack suggested I take the engine out in the hangar and take it over to a workshop on North Shore to get it overhauled. So I did and going over the Harbour Bridge in the old Commer van I just barely made it over the highest point in the middle because the engine was running out of water and seizing up. I was able to coast down the other side and luckily at that time there was a service station at the end of the bridge and I was able to top up the radiator and carry on. Nobody had thought to warn me about the water problem. Jack was probably right about Mt Druitt because the Minor engine was over-bored 4mm and they had to insert sleeves to bring the bores back to standard.

At one time, one of the Ansons that was not used anymore was parked round the back of the hangar and the engines run up occasionally to keep them serviceable. It was in a dilapidated state with fabric hanging off it, but still mobile. It was suggested that it should be taxied past the control tower, which at that time was nearer the tarmac than the present one, to see what the reaction would be. I don't think they ever did - did they??

Peter Kerr was an apprentice at the time when Nancy Leebold chartered the Dragon to follow the Redex Trial around Australia. He was learning to fly at the time and had strong views about not flying with a woman pilot so Jack got her to ask Peter if he would go for a flight with her. An embarrassed Peter still politely refused. Maybe he overcame his prejudice later as the last time I saw him a few years ago he was a Boeing captain.

When I was in Lae with Allen Motteram I built a control line model of the SE5a World War One fighter and when I came back I stored it up above the offices as I was living in a boarding house whilst in Sydney. Bunny Hammond saw it one day and was interested as he flew them during World War One. He reckoned that they were a good gun platform. It eventually flew some years later.

We had to weigh the DC-3 after some mods and Barry Howe was co-opted to do the CofG calculations. No electronic computers then but he had a mechanical one which involved pressing keys for numbers and winding a handle backwards or forwards, sometimes furiously, for different functions. The first calculations put the CG way back behind the wing so he must have wound that handle the wrong way or the wrong number of turns. Another attempt came up with a credible answer.

We saw some of the first Boeing 707's landing at Mascot from the hangar door which was not far from the runway and I was surprised at how small the B-17 was standing outside the Hangar, not much bigger than the DC-3 in dimensions.

Not much more I can recall but I spent some of the best days of my career in the hangar at Mascot.

Richard R. (Bob) Cozens
September 2003


If you wish to contribute your experiences, please contact Ron