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by Geoff Linfoot


My uncle and aunt, Joe and Josephine Linfoot, had been killed in the crash of Hudson VH-AGO in 1957. Although I was only a toddler at the time, I still remember seeing the slides of the crashed aircraft and strange as it may seem, an interest in aviation began. I joined Adastra as an Apprentice Aircraft Engineer in January 1970, this being my first job (earning a massive $18 a week!). As a description of events involving myself only, would be rather bland reading, I would rather convey to the reader events involving the real Adastra characters of the time, people like Jack McDonald, Lionel Van Praag and of course, the Hudson.

Lionel Van Praag

I had never flown in an aircraft before and I still remember vividly, my first flight, with none other than Lionel himself, in the Cessna 185 VH-AGE.

The Hudson required a second person to be on board at all times during flight. The reason as I can best recall, was to operate the emergency undercarriage pump, located on the starboard side of the cockpit bulkhead. The pilot couldn't reach the handle without getting out of his seat. Therefore, who did they usually call upon for test flights? The $18 a week apprentice, of course! After all, they weren't about to let an "expensive" tradesman go "merely" flying around just as an emergency undercarriage pump, were they? Hence, there was an abundance of opportunities to fly around in Hudsons. Jim Page and I (he was an apprentice also, a year or so above myself) would just about push each other out of the way to be on each test flight, but it generally evened itself out.

I was asked to go with Lionel in one of the Hudsons to Oodnadatta, SA. It was a "difficult" decision, but I decided to do the firm a "favour" and agreed to go. After all I was a fully trained emergency undercarriage pump operator! Adastra was like a family. When an aircraft departed, most of the hangar staff would wave you goodbye. As we were walking towards our Hudson for the Oodnadatta trip, the assembled departure "committee" began to laugh and yell out .Two Hudsons were outside the hangar, the one we were taking, which I was walking toward and the other, undergoing major overhaul and minus wings which Lionel was heading for! Oh well, the poor guy, if I correctly recall, was over 60!

After correctly identifying the "serviceable" aircraft, a brief pre-start was carried out, engines fired up and we were on our way. After taxiing out to the runway, the radio decided to "throw a wobbly" and gave up. We taxied back to the hangar, but alas, the place was locked and everyone had gone home. Any Adastra hangar employee worth his salt knew how to get through the locked hangar doors! The problem was though, we couldn't access the telephone, as the office was locked. But was Lionel going to give up? Not on your life! "Who owns that motorbike there?" asked Lionel. "It's mine!" chirped the undercarriage pump. "Well, take me to AWA" demanded Lionel, "I can't, I only have a learner's permit, not allowed to carry a pillion" said I, apologetically. "Jump on the back, I'll ride", barked Lionel. I knew that Lionel was some sort of motorcycle champion from the 'dark ages' (remember, I was not quite 17 at the time), but surely this 'old codger' didn't know how to ride a modern motorcycle! "Maybe the bikes he rode didn't even have gears" thought I. "Should I give him a few pointers?" I asked myself. "Nah, he might get offended, seems a cranky old bloke, better let him work it out for himself" I concluded. Boy, was I in for a surprise! Not only did he work it out and get it started in a matter of seconds, we were off in the blink of an eye and negotiating the corners, almost scraping the footpegs in the process! The old bugger put the wind up me but he certainly knew how to handle a bike. It was many years later that I finally found out just how good he had been, World Speedway Champion!

Well, to carry on, we finally got to AWA and a technician came back and "resuscitated" the more than obsolete radio and we were finally on our way. Due to our delayed departure, we decided to aim for Condobolin, although our original destination was Broken Hill. We circled Condobolin and even before we taxied to a stop, I noticed dozens of cars heading towards us. We parked the aircraft and were greeted by a large crowd who gathered around to admire the "old warbird". I felt like Charles Lindbergh or Kingsford Smith (OK maybe Charles Ulm then!) I just couldn't believe that I was actually getting PAID to do this.

The two "crew" had no trouble getting a lift into town with our new-found "fans". We checked into a motel and when Lionel filled in the register, the bloke couldn't believe what he was reading. "Not THE Lionel Van Praag?" queried the bloke. "Yes", replied an embarrassed Lionel. I then asked myself "just who is this bloke?" The motel proprietor kept shaking his head in amazement. In the four subsequent years that I got to know Lionel, I never once heard him mention his motorcycling exploits or his WW2 heroism. I read all that later.

During the rest of this, my first trip away, there was only one more event that I suppose would be considered to be out of the ordinary. When flying in the Hudson, the "co-pilot" (OK, well not quite! The second crew member or emergency undercarriage pump. You get the picture!) wouldn't sit in one of the cabin seats. No way! That was for pussies. The "cool" place to sit was on top of the fuse box alongside the pilot. Who needed a seat? Or for that matter, a seat belt! (I don't know what DCA would have done if they knew we did that! Highly dangerous stuff I reflect, now that I'm more than 30 years older and wiser). Lionel was asking me to get something from his bag in the cabin. Even with him only six inches away screaming as loud as he could, I couldn't hear a word he was saying. Such was the noise inside this uninsulated beast. "Now I know why the old bugger's deaf " I concluded. He gave up on me and decided to fetch whatever it was himself. I looked backward and he was sitting down reading something. He remained there for a few minutes before I heard the starboard engine cough and splutter. He seemed oblivious to it. I ran down, grabbed and beckoned him to return to the cockpit. He dawdled back, looked at the tacho, noticed the fluctuating RPM and without batting an eyelid, switched fuel tanks, switched on the booster pumps and the engine roared back into life. What did he do then? Went back to the cabin seat and left me with what felt like, my heart pounding louder than the Wright Cyclone 1820. Such was Lionel!

Geoff Linfoot
14th February 2003



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