HomeWelcomeUpdatesCompanyAircraftPeopleProjectsEquipmentOperationsPhoto AlbumGuest BookSearchAdastrianaQuestions



by George Charlwood


I left school after gaining the intermediate certificate at the end of 1943. Until I sorted my marbles out in 1944, my sister Olga obtained a job for me in a greengrocer's store near the beach at Bondi. Of course my sight was set on the aircraft industry. My father contacted a man, Mr. Grant, who I think was an executive in the Dept. of Aircraft Production. He arranged an interview with us and the bottom line was that there wasn't an apprenticeship available at the time, but would I accept a job in a factory that made aircraft parts, in the interim. I accepted. The factory was at Paddington and that's why I bought a push-cycle. It was in the colder months of the year, and not being an experienced cyclist, I didn't wear any gloves. When I got to the factory, my hands were paining, and worse was to come when they began to thaw. That wasn't the only shock of the day. The "aircraft parts" turned out to be door hinges. What a disappointment!

At this juncture, I should mention that civilian jobs during the war years were controlled by the Commonwealth Manpower Dept. They wielded a pretty big stick. I started at this factory, with the management understanding that I was only there until aircraft work was available. Most of my work consisted of operating a swing press and barrels that were used for plating. It was hard work as there was a quota on each phase of work, which had to be met, and a bonus if this was exceeded. The barrel work was messy and if you didn't own gumboots your feet were wet and cold all day. The sooner to get out of that place, the better.

After three months, Mr.Grant contacted dad and advised that Adastra Airways required a young person for their workshop, and Ansett required a stores person. I selected Adastra. We went to Adastra and I was accepted. This was still a bit of a disappointment because it didn't seem that they were directly involved with aircraft. They had an office situated in a street leading down to the aerodrome gate, and behind the office, a photographic section, then a modern workshop behind that. Anyway, it was a leg in and that's why I took the job. Ansett at that time consisted of a small hangar on the drome and they overhauled Airspeed Oxford aircraft for the R.A.A.F. After the war, that operation was closed at Mascot. I had made the right choice.

I handed in my notice to the factory bosses, (a family concern) and they reneged on our arrangement. They also contacted the Manpower Office, who said that I was to stay. Now this Mr.Grant of ours must have had a bigger stick than Manpower, because, on learning of my predicament, he contacted them and the very next day I had a clearance to leave. The bosses weren't at all happy.

In 1944, Adastra Airways Pty Ltd was not an airline. The "Airways" was when the owner, Capt. Follett, an ex A.F.C. pilot, flew passengers to Moruya and Bega from Mascot prior to the Second World War. He then ventured into aerial surveying and photography. When I joined the company, things were quiet in that respect, but flat chat in the manufacture of high precision aircraft bolts etc.

I started during August and began learning machining from the foreman, Mr. Haynes. Within a couple of days, another young lad started by the name of Sydney Stanford, who became an old friend in life. The number of staff in the workshop totalled seven, which included two females. Maisie was one, and the other was Betty. Now, it took me a long time to believe that Betty was of the feminine gender.

She had short hair (not acceptable in those days for a girl) and had a strong voice of a young man. Betty was a short person and could swear like a trouper. When she worked inside the airport and had to use the public toilet, Eric Haynes the foreman, had a lot of explaining to do to security, when other women using the toilet reported a man in their midst. She was quite a character and a barrel of laughs. Just to add to her lack of femininity, she rode a man's bicycle. I got one more laugh from her antics when, some years later, after both women had left Adastra, Maisie visited us and related how she had seen Betty in the city, still riding the same old bike. When she saw Maisie she was so busy waving, that she rode up the ramp of an unloading meat wagon and was brought to a halt by hooked beef.

I will never forget the day that my dreams came true. Mr. Haynes said, "Let's go down to the hangar." We opened the doors and there was this apparition in the form of a beautiful camouflaged biplane with a radial engine. Was it real? Yes it was. I touched it, was allowed to climb into the cabin and cast my eyes over the numerous instruments and controls. The aircraft was a Waco and Adastra was the agent in Australia for the product. They had sold one or two, but the war had stopped the market. It was extremely hard settling back to the machine shop after that little jaunt to the hangar. On one occasion, I was told to leave early from work, as I was to deliver a load of bolts to Five Dock. It was a heavy parcel and barely fitted in my haversack. When I put it on my back it was extremely uncomfortable and I found that with all the weight, it tended to unbalance me. It also severely dug into my back. There was a strong N.E. wind blowing as I pedalled along O'Riordan St. and this necessitated standing up on the pedals. It was hard going, and suddenly one of the straps of the haversack broke, the load promptly swinging me off the bike in a split-second. I then had to do a juggling act on the handlebars with the precious cargo for the rest of the journey. That day I was not impressed at being a subservient apprentice.

On June the 6th 1944, the Allies landed in Normandy, and by the end of 1944 it was obvious that in the following year hostilities would cease in Europe. I was under the impression that I would be apprenticed to aircraft maintenance engineering. Therefore, I received a bit of a jolt when I was told that because of the lessening war situation, they wanted me to be apprenticed to maintenance, and not to fitting and machining which they had in mind. Phew! That was a close shave. The reason for their change of mind was that they wanted to get back into aerial photography full time, and of course aircraft production would taper off and the specialised bolts would no longer be required.

In addition to the Waco VH-UYD, they had another aircraft away in the field performing a survey. On its return I was sent to the hangar to assist the pilot Neil Gaston in some maintenance. What a beautiful aircraft! Once again a biplane, with two Gipsy Major engines. Neil was an engineer as well as a pilot and my first job from him was to clamp some aluminium sheet metal tags to the bottom of a green piece of material that was attached to two small containers. These containers were put under the wheel spats to catch oil drips from the engine. When I finished the 'big' job, he made me do it again because the small bits of metal weren't quite in the centre of the material. Boy! I thought, are you fussy or what. It was probably the best lesson at the beginning of my career that one could receive. From that day on I did not
perform any work unless it was done to the best of my ability. This aircraft was a D.H. 90 Dragonfly, VH-AAD, first registered in June 1936 to Squadron Leader the Rt Hon. Sir Philip Sassoon who was at the time not only Honorary Air Commodore of 601 (County of London) Squadron RauxAF, but also Secretary-of-State for Air. He sold it to Adastra, and it was shipped out from England in 1938. It remained with us until it was sold to Bush Pilots Airways in 1951.

Adastra sold the Waco about 1945 to Dr.Young of Forbes, and I lost track of the aircraft until, in 1972, I found the old girl in a hangar at Parafield, S.A. It belonged to the brother of a Cessna Aircraft dealer, whom I was visiting at the time. If only this old machine could talk, because a lot of water had passed under the bridge since I had last seen her.

I began my apprenticeship on the 11th Nov. 1944 and duly began technical training at the beginning of 1945. This consisted of a half-day and two to three nights a week attendance. The first year was located at Quarry St. Ultimo and the next four years at Wattle St., behind Ultimo Tech. At the end of all this five years education you were presented with a tradesman certificate, which didn't count for much. To become a licensed engineer, one had to study and sit for further examinations required by the Dept. of Civil Aviation, as it was known then. In my case this went on for many years, so as to get further endorsements and to keep abreast and have the coverage for new model aircraft etc.

It was at tech. that I met Ted Pretty and Ron Campbell. They worked for Australian National Airways. Ted had the nickname of "The Duck", and Ron, "The Phantom". Ted, because he was always talking like "Donald Duck", Ron, because he was always disappearing. These were names given to them by their workmates. There was another character at tech. by the name of Keith Hurst. Keith lived at Bondi and being a burly guy, was an avid beach lifesaver. Unfortunately, he had an affliction that caused him to quickly bring his head and one shoulder up and give a shake of the leg or a little skip, and a grunt. This all happened at the one time. A bout of the affliction, accompanied by some of his comments at the time, had us in stitches. One day, the exercise was the shaping of cowling. Keith was merrily hammering away when he went into his usual thing, and with a heavy blow of the mallet, the cowling got out of shape somewhat. Still twitching and skipping, he yelled, "Ho, ho, the job is f---- d." You had to be there to appreciate his antics and Keith took our mirth in good fun. The last I heard of him was, in his sixties, he attempted to row around Australia. I think he got as far as Nth. Queensland. He has also passed away. A lot of these trivial remarks by me don't mean much to you, the reader. They are the building blocks of my life, my memory, and I guess this is what "memoirs" are all about.

As I mentioned previously, the Waco was sold. However, not before an overhaul of the airframe, new fabric and an overhauled engine were installed. My first flight occurred with the test flight of this machine. Eric Haynes, sitting alongside the pilot decided to have a little fun with his apprentice by climbing the Waco then pushing forward to create a bunt, which had his subject nearly glued to the roof.

It was in 1945 that Adastra bought the first two Ansons to be used for civilian use in Australia. The wing and tailplane were made of wood, and the fuselage and rudder were steel tube framed with fabric covering. They were a lumbering noisy old beast, but docile to fly.

My first job was to use paint remover on all the cowlings and paint them silver. The remover was not as effective as today's strippers and had a strong smell of creosote. A hose was used, and at the end of the day the clothes were saturated and the skin would smell for days. Overalls were not supplied, and keeping saturated clothing fit enough to go to tech. that night, presented a problem. I was not financial enough to buy other clothing for work.

Talking of tech., we lost two of our classmates. One died of leukaemia, and the other, whilst learning to fly at Bankstown, was flaring out, when a wind shear generated by gaps in the hangars flipped the Tiger Moth over and it burst into flames. Later, when I was with Rex Aviation, the cleaner proved to be the chap who dragged, or attempted to drag him from the burning wreckage.

The Ansons were refurbished, which included removal of all unnecessary interior fittings and installing the photographic equipment. The "glass house" windows were removed and replaced with smaller windows set in plywood. The photographic mods. required a large hole to be cut in the flooring, with a camera mounting straddling the aperture. Eric Haynes manufactured a unique hydraulic dashpot for the mounts, which kept the camera reasonably steady should slight turbulence be encountered during photographic operations. That was the idea. However, when I left Adastra years later, he was still trying to perfect it. In addition to the camera hole there was a smaller aperture cut behind for a drift sight. A similar drift sight aperture was also cut in the nose section.

The Cheetah engines were basically a fairly reliable unit, except that the rocker gear and the valve clearance required constant maintenance. The rocker gear was not oil fed, which necessitated numerous greasing points that had to be greased every 10 hours of flying. We eventually fitted Airspeed Oxford cowlings that reduced temperatures by 15 degrees and this extended the greasing etc. to 15 hours. Boy, did that grease make a mess. It streamed over the rear cowlings, nacelle, undercarriage and tailplane. The rag spanner was in constant use. Over the years, I changed one hell of a lot of cylinders and pistons on the old Cheetahs, and even though it is 50 years plus since the last, I could still change one blind-folded. The undercarriage was wound up and down by hand, requiring about 130 turns each way. It was quite physical to do this, particularly during turbulence. With the large camera aperture it was draughty and cold, as most of the photography was performed around 15,000 feet or more. The freezing airstream blew the maps around the cabin if they weren't held by some means, and the cabin heating was ineffectual. The Aldis drift sight was mounted behind the camera, permitting the nav/camera operator to see either forward or vertically down, allowing drift to be determined.

We moved into a larger hangar that was situated directly in front of our hangar. This hangar had been used by the R.A.A.F. and it would have been erected during the war years and was located where Kingsford Smith's hangar once stood. Our machine shop was moved down from the Lord's Road building and installed in one of the many annexes of the new hangar. Unlike most aircraft engineering apprentices, I received a lot of good basic knowledge in fitting and machining, welding, carpentry and a host of other useful trade applications. I would also like a dollar for each square metre of hangar floor space that I swept. As a young apprentice, Eric Haynes would have you standing by (you must have a six inch ruler in your pocket, or watch out) and one would have to anticipate which tool he required and hand it to him, otherwise big problems came your way. I felt that I missed out on a lot of aircraft work, particularly when I had to drive into the city in the old ex-army Blitz wagon to pick up photographic supplies. Nevertheless, all this combined to make me an all round experienced engineer in my future years, and it must have projected as I attained early promotions in the companies I worked for.

Around May 1949 was the start of the aerial mapping of the Snowy Hydro Scheme. As a 20 year-old apprentice, I went with the crew to maintain the Anson. Joe Linfoot was the pilot and Jack Howard the nav/camera operator. These two people and their wives were accommodated in the Queanbeyan caravan park, and I was in Walsh's Hotel. The aircraft was parked on the open tarmac at Canberra Airport. The hotel still exists today, although altered somewhat.

Besides maintaining "Aggie", I had to fly in order to record the altitude and airspeed of the aircraft as each photo was taken. Trying to hear the intervalometer over the noise of the engines or see the light go on from a sideways position whilst drugged with lack of oxygen was difficult. The early morning frosts were extremely cold on the fingers when I had to do the water drains on the fuel tanks and volutes. To start the Anson, it required the insertion of a long handle through the cowling and into the rear case. This you wound over the compressions. It was hard work at any time, but exceedingly difficult when the aircraft had been standing overnight in freezing conditions. Once started, the blast of cold air from the propeller nearly froze you to the spot as the handle was removed and the priming cover secured. One morning, a tear in the nacelle fabric was found and this necessitated using acetone. Boy! The fingers came close to frostbite.

Once airborne, we staggered to altitude that took about 50 minutes to achieve. The old Anson was no F/A-18 jet fighter. My biggest problem was lack of oxygen. I had no oxygen outlet and the brain said, "I'm not going to let you concentrate because you can't give me the oxygen that I need so desperately". Concentration was difficult and Jack would occasionally shove his mask over me for a couple of breaths, but it didn't help. The heating was very inadequate as we only had Irish linen separating us from the outside air that was well into the minuses. My health suffered because of the oxygen situation. By law today, oxygen is mandatory when flying above 10,000 ft. We were well above this altitude for 3 hours or more.

Not long after this period of survey, Adastra started surveying the catchment area for the proposed Warragamba Dam. They decided to fit a long-range fuel tank and after the installation we had to get a licensed instrument man from Butler Air Transport to calibrate the tank. I think he did the same to the existing wing tanks.

The next day I started the aircraft and Joe Linfoot yelled:
"Do you want to come along?"
"I have to have a pee first." I said.
"No time for that, just get aboard."

Now yours truly has never had a long-range bladder. By the time we got to altitude, I really needed to see a sign on a door with the words; "MENS TOILET". No such door in "Aggie". After a couple of agonising hours, I made signs to Jack that I needed to pee badly. With that he started searching for what I expected to be an empty film magazine. I began having dreams of bliss, when suddenly they turned into a nightmare as a paper clip appeared before my eyes! After another couple of hours, the pain became unbearable, and it was at this time that clouds began forming below us. Therefore, photography was abandoned. As we flew downwind over Botany Bay for landing, one engine lost all power and as we approached the boundary fence on final, the other ran out of noise also, and a very lucky dead stick landing was achieved. After rolling down the runway we came to a stop and I had to run to the hangar to organise the truck for towing. It was nearly running down my legs as I ran through the hangar to the toilet shouting out for the truck and rope. The calibrations performed on the tanks were incorrect, but what has me puzzled is why Joe didn't calculate his fuel. Anyway, I'm able to write about it and not hidden by the tiger country that exists in the remote parts of the Blue Mountains.

I went on to do other field trips with Joe Linfoot and Jack Howard. Completion of my apprenticeship occurred on the 11th Nov. 1949. I broke ties with Adastra not long after and worked for Australian National Airways on DC-3 and DC-4 aircraft. As I was unable to sleep during daylight hours, shift work eventually affected my health and I returned to the old firm after 12 months.

During my absence, Capt. Follett had passed away and "Bunny" Hammond was the new manager. He was a distinguished looking gentleman and very easy going. I immediately liked him. His nickname was derived from WWl when he was a captured airman and he tried to escape or did escape by tunnelling under the prison fence. Other changes had occurred. An ex-Butler Airways engineer, Jack McDonald, was employed as foreman, although Eric Haynes was still overall in charge. The reason for Jack's employment was due to acquisition of Lockheed Hudson aircraft from the RAAF. The Ansons were phased out after this for numerous reasons.

I won't go into detail of the Hudson, but I got to know the engines and airframe in every detail over the ensuing years. I enjoyed manufacturing the control cables, installing and then rigging the controls. The flap cables presented a challenge. There were close to 20 cables in the system and each had to be precise in tension. The part of the system that I was never happy about, was the fibre discs that ran through tubes in the trailing edge during extension and retraction. These tubes were butted against each other and secured by an overlapping joining clip. If these thin gauge clips were not secured properly and there was a slight gap between the tubes, the edge of the round discs could catch in the gap and cause untold damage to the wing trailing edge. In later years when I had left Adastra, one of their Hudsons crashed on approach to Tennant Creek. I never did hear the crash findings. I suspect the above being the cause.

My favourite job was building up the overhauled components of the powerplants. The front, centre and rear cases were overhauled by Qantas and ANA, and the ancillary components by numerous companies. We overhauled the cylinders, pistons and valves. The most difficult work was feeding 18 ignition leads through the metal harness and elbows. I guess the worst job on the airframe was changing the Campbell hydraulic regulator that was in a very cramped head down position in the nose of the aircraft. Pipes were in the way of each other and this required the use of claw spanners with a small turn each time. Red staining oil sprayed over you and your clothing, and the stain was permanent on the clothes. The other nasty job was the sealing of the fuel tanks. Fumes from the sealing compounds in a very confined space without breathing apparatus were deadly.

Getting back to the flaps, Jack took great delight in giving me the fright of my life when I performed a manual flap operation after my overhaul of that system. I would be listening very gingerly as I operated the manual pump, when there would be a loud bang on the side of the fuselage. This was Jack, knowing of my consternation of those tubes.

There are many stories I could tell of my days with the old company. I left them in 1955 to take up freelance work.

George Charlwood
11th February 2005

After leaving Adastra, George joined World Wide Aerial Surveys and later briefly became a Flight Engineer on Super Constellations with Qantas. He returned to World Wide and did a stint on the Anson at Mackay. After World Wide closed, he worked for Morry Lawrence and Noel Notley. In January 1959, he joined the Cessna distributor Rex Aviation as a foreman. He went on to hold Service, Assembly and Technical Service Management positions with Rex. While at Rex, the company taught him to fly so that he could perform post-assembly test flights. George left Rex in 1973 for an eight months period with the Cessna Company after which he returned to Rex until his retirement in 1979. George now lives at Broulee, NSW.