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by Bill Mitchell




Bill Mitchell posing with Cessna 180 VH-SLS


New Guinea 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 better".

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.

Bill Mitchell
17th April 2003



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