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by Bill Mitchell


The antique aeroplane of the post war Adastra fleet was undoubtedly the de Havilland DH.84 Dragon VH-AGC — a genuine stick and string twin engined bi-plane with fixed undercarriage. The Adastra machine was in beautiful condition having been under the personal care of the hangar foreman who had served his time with Hawker de Havilland, and now the aircraft was rarely used, being a little deficient in the climb, cruise, and carry department.

My field experience with VH-AGC lasted barely more than a day but did not pass without some very interesting incidents.

The Mobil round Australia trial was on and a prominent overseas automotive and aviation accessories manufacturer had decided to promote their products by accompanying the competitors around Australia rendering assistance as and when need be. Two of the company's top engineering executives were assigned to this task and the mode of transport selected by these men was the DH.84 Dragon VH-AGC. The pilot engaged to do the flying was a well-known Australian aviatrix, Nancy Leebold (nee Ellis).

The trial race commenced at Bondi and the competitors got away to a good start, but not our Dragon crew. Due to headwinds and other niggling problems the aircraft had only got as far as Goulburn on the first day and by this time the lead drivers were already into Victoria. Also the Gipsy Major engines were giving trouble and these little Gipsies had never given such trouble before. Next day the expedition staggered on and made Parkes and a cry for help came forth. The engines were running badly and it looks like magneto trouble. Send someone to fix it.

I was dispatched to Parkes with spare magnetos and a box of tools, and after inspecting the engines it was obvious many of the spark plugs were fouled and not firing. The plugs were cleaned and refitted, engines test run and performed fine with rev drop not exceeding limits. However, this condition did not last for long, what with taxiing the aircraft and extended engine idling, the plugs slowly started to foul up again and once more gave the dreaded rev drop.

It was noted that the plugs I had removed, apart from being sooty and oily around the electrodes, were bright and shiny everywhere else. Quite obviously brand new spark plugs recently installed. Apparently these plugs had been installed since the aircraft had left the hangar. I stated that these plugs were unsuitable for the engines and I would get a complete set of reconditioned plugs sent down from our base in Sydney. This is not what the experts wanted to hear. Here was a grubby little mechanic telling the representatives of one of the foremost spark plug manufacturers that their product was at fault. I was informed that the articles in question were the result of the latest technological research and were approved for use in this particular type of engine.

However, because the cars in the trial were now several hundred miles ahead of us, an executive decision to abandon further participation in the event was made. Can we get the aircraft back to Sydney was the question asked. Yes, so long as the engines are not permitted to idle for any length of time was the answer.

So we loaded the aircraft for our return flight to Sydney. I explained to Nancy that by the time we taxied to the end of the runway prior to lining up for take-off we could anticipate further plug fouling so we should stop the engines, remove the plugs and give them a final clean. At this stage of proceedings it was necessary to hand swing the props to restart so everything had to go smoothly, plus we must not block traffic by sitting at the end of the strip for any length of time. Once the engines were fired up, Nancy had agreed to keep the revs up so I really had to scamper around the craft, as the Bendix mechanical brakes on the Dragon don't hold that well on revs.

Everything went to plan and I was able to catch the plane before it took off for Sydney. In flight magneto checks were carried out to establish that we were free from ignition problems and the remainder of the flight to Mascot was uneventful. Some days after arriving back in Sydney, I received from the company that chartered the Dragon, a package containing a small gift of one of the company's products, and a short note thanking me for my efforts and wishing me well. This I took to be a forgiveness for my artless utterances.

As the aircraft's usefulness was limited, the Dragon's days at Adastra were numbered. Not long after this flight, VH-AGC
was put up for sale and was ferried over to Camden by Bruce Sellick and Kevin Pavlich for disposal on 3rd September 1958.

Bill Mitchell
16th. June 2003.



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