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Adastra and the Single Engine Survey Aircraft

by John Collins

Cessna 180 VH-ASP photographed at Moorabbin on 15 May 1967. The aircraft was white with red trim and black Adastra titles.
(Photo: David Prossor)


This new innovation commenced on or about 21 October 1965. The first single was a Cessna 180 (normally with seats for four) registered VH-ASP, with myself as pilot and Bill Sander as navigator/camera operator. It was an interesting exercise in the beginning, adapting to work in the confined space.

Bill Sander left in early November and was replaced by Tony Whybrow, another pilot from Sydney, so we shared the dual responsibilities of piloting and navigating; another interesting exercise.

Tony hung around long enough to get his instructors rating and left in early March 1966 for his new career. He was to eventually join Qantas and on retirement was a Captain on the 747. Tony was replaced by Trevor Mallon and commenced navigator training on 10th March 1966 and thrown to the wolves on 16 March. The C180 was permanently based in Melbourne for the Victoria Lands Department and continued until the end of April 1967.

Late in 1966, Peter Payens who had an interest in Adastra's Victorian operation, with myself, discovered a damaged Cessna 185 owned by Superspread Aviation and we considered that while it was being repaired, a camera and drift sight mounting should be installed. The aircraft was purchased and work commenced late 1966.

The C185 (registered VH-AGE) was bigger (six seats) with a more powerful engine (300hp) and started work in May 1967 still with Vic. Lands Department and crewed by Trevor and myself. This continued until March 1968 when Trevor departed for greener pastures. Peter Payens elected to fill in as navigator until another could be found who thought that a Melbourne base would be suitable.

It didn't take a lot of convincing for Hal McKinley to come and give it a go, with him joining me on 1 July 1968, Hal's last flight with me was on 9 September 1969.

VH-AGE continued with Adastra on and off in Victoria as contracts were won or lost to Civil Aerial Surveys. When not in Victoria, Adastra made full use of the aircraft in all manner of work, and it stayed in use with them until Adastra's demise when taken over by East-West Airlines and AGE was sold (to J. Donaghy, Vic.) on 6 August 1976.

Other aircraft I piloted whilst with Adastra were:

VH-KMF Cessna 205
VH-CFV Beech B35 V Tail
VH-DRK Cessna 320
VH-CTR Beech Musketeer
VH-CTE Beech Queenair
VH-KRA Aero Commander 680F
VH-AGA Aero Commander 500A

My last flight with Adastra was Melbourne to Tamworth with Peter Cowan in VH-CFV on 16 September 1976.


John Collins
11 May 2005