THE PUFFLESS DRAGON
by Bill Mitchell
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
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.
16th. June 2003.
If you wish to contribute your experiences,
please contact Ron