Lew Blackmore’s Aircraft

Lew Blackmore was born in 1917 and until he was 12 years old lived at “Landsdowne”, Wattamondara, near Cowra in NSW. In 1929 he moved with his parents Jack and Edith to “Mt View”, Clandulla, near Rylstone, also in NSW,

His father, Jack, was more interested in growing Merino sheep for fine wool than farming wheat at “Landsdowne”. The property was named for it’s view of Haystack Mountain on the northern boundary.

From June 1929 to May 1932, Lew attended the Kings School, Parramatta as a boarder.

During WW2, Lew enlisted in the RAAF in 1940 at age 23 and trained as an Aircraft Fitter at Ultimo, Canberra, Ascot Vale and Wagga Wagga.

On the 2nd July 1941 he was posted to RAAF Station Darwin. He was there for the first two Darwin bombings that included the RAAF Station on the 19th February 1942 and another subsequent 10 bombings (6 of which targeted the RAAF Station). He was then posted to Daly Waters on the 4th April 1942.

Lew was discharged from the RAAF on the 25th February 1943 under AFR 115 (t) to “take up civilian employment” at Gregory Downs, Burketown.

His great uncle, Robert McGregor Watson, the last surviving of the three Watson Brothers had passed away on the previous day at 83 years of age and Lew was to inherit and take over the running of the property. This however was delayed for a few years as the estates of Harry and Greg Watson were wound up in the hands of Trustees.

After the war, Lew married Louie Suttor and they lived initially at “Rosedale” Kandos. During this time Lew and Louie learnt to fly in Tiger Moths with George Campbell at Mudgee.

DH Tiger Moth

George had learnt to fly while on a holiday at Mascot. He was friendly with Bill Wilson, a WW1 pilot, who use to drive aviator Nancy Bird Walton’s father’s horse team. George played an active part as an instructor in WW2 and later, he became a civil flight instructor. George was awarded a British Empire Medal for services to aviation, not long before he passed away in 1988, after 40 odd years flying and instructing.

Lew employed managers at Gregory Downs and administered the running of the property from “Rosedale” initially and later “Chester” by driving up and back from there. He usually visited at least once a year for the annual Bullock sales and often used the opportunity to deliver a new Land Rover to Gregory Downs. Sometimes he would drive to Sydney and catch a commercial flight to Mt Isa (TAA, Lockheed Electra or Viscount aircraft) and then charter Cliff Lanham and his Cessna 182 to Gregory Downs. After a number of years he decided to use his own aircraft to commute and went back to George Campell, at Mudgee, to train for his Private Pilot’s Licence on Cessna aircraft. It is probably due to this training and Georges’ contacts that his first aircraft purchased was a Cessna.

1962 Cessna 182E Skylane VH-WAT

1962 Cessna 182E Skylane VH-WAT

Lew Blackmore’s first aircraft, a Cessna 182E Skylane, was purchased from George Campbell of Mudgee and registered new in September 1962 as VH-WAT, in recognition of his great uncles the three Watson Bros, who settled and owned Gregory Downs from 1875 till 1943.

A hangar was erected for the aircraft and an airstrip constructed at “Chester”.

Lew was also heavily involved in Rotary International as a member and President of the Rylstone -Kandos Club. In 1964-1965 he was Rotary District Governor for District 267 (later 967 and 9670) and used the Cessna to commute around the District Clubs.

Lew and Louie also purchased a holiday home at Toronto, on the shores of Lake Macquarie and they used to commute from “Chester” to Cessnock airport where they kept an old Zephyr car. This home was sold in 1986.

1962 Cessna 182E Skylane VH-WAT at “Chester” airstrip with Bob and Pat Jones and daughter, possibly Jennifer. Bob and Lew were in Darwin together in the RAAF.

1965 Beechcraft V Tail S35 Mk 2 Bonanza VH-DHJ

1965 Beechcraft V35 Bonanza VH-DHJ with Lew Blackmore at “Chester”.

Sometime after May 1965 Lew Blackmore purchased a V tail Beechcraft V35 Bonanza registered VH-DHJ. The new price paid with radios and options was 17,543 pounds less the trade in of the Cessna Skylane 182 at 8,500 pounds. The registration had no significance other than Hawker De Havilland were the dealer and had secured a block of DH_ registrations. The aircraft was flown up to “Chester” for a demonstration by their sales rep/pilot and wartime fighter pilot Group Captain Brian “Blackjack” Walker.

In 1966, Lew purchased “Clovernook” a 12,700 acre cattle fattening property at Bauhinia Downs, west of Moura and it already had an airstrip near the homestead that enabled him to commute from “Chester”.

VH-DHJ at “Clovernook” Moura.

1968 Beechcraft V35A Bonanza VH-FWY

1968 Beechcraft V35A MKII Bonanza VH-FWY

Another V Tail Purchased by Lew in March 1969 from G. W. Campbell Aircraft Sales of Mudgee and Cessnock.. The purchase price of $50,336 less trade in of S35 Mk2 Bonanza registered VH-DHJ of $27,000.

It was at this time that Lew and Louie moved to “Cootharaba”, a 4,400 acre cattle property near Noosa and built a new home, hangar and airstrip to enable commuting to Gregory Downs and “Clovernook.

The property “Chester” at Clandulla was sold a couple of years later, as was Jack and Edith Blackmore’s property “Mt View”. Jack and Edith had retired to Manly after Jack suffered a stroke.

VH-FWY at “Clovernook” airstrip, Moura.
VH-FWY at Ayers Rock with Louie Blackmore and Bob and Pat Jones.

1970 Beechcraft A36 Bonanza VH-FMY

1970 Beechcraft A36 Bonanza VH-FMY

Originally registered in the USA, the third Bonanza purchased by Lew in August 1972, from Beechcraft Australia, was a straight tail with extended fuselage and club seating in the rear. The purchase price was $58,500 less trade in on V.35A Bonanza Reg VH-FWY of $37,000.

VH-FMY during one of Lew’s trips.

1974 Beechcraft A36 Bonanza VH-BKM

1974 Beechcraft A36 Bonanza VH-BKM

A straight tail with extended fuselage and rear club seating purchased in May 1974. This was an unintended aircraft purchase by Lew, made when Hawker De Havilland invited and paid for him and other clients to visit the Beechcraft factory at Witchita, Kansas, in the USA. Hawker De Havilland became Hawker Pacific in 1978 and in 1985 they purchased the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation.

On the 3rd March 1983 Lew undertook a short 30 minute flight from Caloundra to Archerfield where there was an incident on landing when Lew either inadvertently landed with the wheels up or selected landing gear up instead of flaps immediately after touchdown and before the pressure sensitive switches had taken effect and prevented a gear retraction.

Entries in Lew’s Log Book cease after that date except for a biennial flight review for a Licence renewal in another Beechcraft A36 Bonanza, registered VH-TLB, in January 1984. It appears that VH-BKM may have been sold by that time. Lew’s Log Book hours showed a total time of 3,200 hours.

This aircraft was later sold in 1991 to experienced commercial pilot, David Knight, of Coonabarabran, and they had the aircraft for 14 years before it crashed on the 24th September 2005 near Tenterfield on a flight from Murwillumbah to Coonabarabran. Knight and his wife both lost their lives. It is believed that the 71 year old pilot became incapacitated in flight.

Due to Lew’s long term relationship with Hawker De Havilland and later Hawker Pacific, they agreed to support the publication of his 1990 biography of famous aviator, designer and test pilot, Harry Hawker MBE, AFC. Lew was so impressed with Hawker’s service over the years that he had also became a shareholder of the company. In 1989 the airport at Moorabbin in Victoria was renamed the Harry Hawker Airport.

“Cootharaba” (Yalanga) was sold in 1974. Lew had moved to Buderim to live in 1973. VH-BKM was then kept at Maroochydore Airport. “Clovernook” was sold during the cattle depression in 1976. Gregory Downs was sold in 1979 and a 2,000 acre farming and irrigation property, “Emerald Plains” at Gunnedah, was purchased in 1979.

Lew passed away in November 1995.

Other Aircraft

1957 Cessna 172 VH-RDP

1957 Cessna 172 VH-RDP at Gregory Downs homestead airstrip in 1976.

In 1973 Lew’s son Greg Blackmore obtained a Private Pilot’s Licence at the Rockhampton Aero Club and then in May 1973 purchased for $4,300 at a 1957 model, straight tail, Cessna 172 VH-RDP also from George Campbell at Mudgee. This aircraft was used by Greg to commute between “Clovernook” Moura and his home in Rockhampton and later for cattle spotting and mustering at Gregory Downs.

Cessna 172 VH-RDP in original paint scheme and Beechcraft Bonanza VH-BKM at “Clovernook”, Moura.

McCulloch Aero Resources Super J2 VA-18 Gyroplane VH-BLD

Hawker De Havilland training Gyroplane VH-MGP at Maroochydore in 1974. Pilot Instructor Patrick Lewis

In 1974 Lew ordered a new McCulloch Aero Resources Super J2 VA-18 Gyroplane from Hawker DeHavilland. He saw this new rotary wing aircraft as being suitable to assist mustering operations on Gregory Downs. The Gyroplane had a Hughes rotor system and a Lycoming 180 HP aircraft engine that was widely used in light aircraft. In April 1974, Lew, Greg and Mick Robbins (who was to fly the aircraft at Gregory Downs) went to Maroochydore to learn to fly the Gyroplane. The training aircraft was VH-MGP and instructor from Hawker DeHavilland was Patrick Lewis. After training, Mick Robbins took delivery of the new gyroplane VH-BLD (construction number 77) and started out for Gregory Downs. Unfortunately when the aircraft had been last serviced a fuel union was left loose and a leak developed over Wumalgi, just north of Marlborough and fuel leaked back on to the exhaust stacks, as the engine was in the rear in a pusher configuration. The fuel ignited and the first Mick knew about was when he felt his seat back becoming hot and his coat behind the seat was smouldering. He was able to land the aircraft successfully on a clay pan near the railway line, with the door held open with his foot to keep his head out of the smoke coming from his melting jacket that was behind the seat. Mick had turned the fuel off and shut down the engine in the air and done an autorotation in to land and then tried to extinguish the fire with the fire extinguisher. Major damage was done to the engine and the A frame supporting the rotor system and the aircraft was at first thought to be repairable but was subsequently written off. The remains were put on a railway wagon and moved to a road crossing where, Allan Rose, the engineer from Rockhampton (Anstey Rose Engineers) trucked it back to their hangar. Allan nick named it the “Black Looking Doover” after it’s registration. That ended the Gregory Downs experiment with gyroplanes and it also effectively killed off the potential of the aircraft in Australia for other buyers.

McCulloch Aero Resources J2 Gyroplane VH-BLD at Rockhampton.
Gyroplane at Anstey Rose Aircraft Engineers, Rockhampton.

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