By Greg Blackmore
In 1965 I started flying lessons with Schutt Aircraft Flying Academy at Grovedale airfield, just out of Geelong in Victoria. This was during my first year at Marcus Oldham Agricultural College and I progressed through to my first Solo flight in October that year at about 8 hours flying time. In April the following year, with a total time of 16 hours, I was told that I should catch up on my aviation theory study before undertaking any more flying. As I was already busy studying Farm Management, I decided to postpone my flying training.
Eight years later, in March 1973, I re-commenced my flying training at the Rockhampton Aero Club with Instructors, Allan Llewellyn and Terry Shannon and in April passed my Restricted Licence test followed soon after by completing my navigation exercises and an Unrestricted Licence was issued in May. I think Allan Llewellyn had a brother flying with the local charter firm, Countryair, at the time. Paul Phelan, later to become an aviation writer, was also flying with Countryair. Other locals learning to fly and socialising at the Aero Club bar included Mick Robbins and George Dent. Mick was later to fly an Aero Resources J2 Gyroplane for my father, Lew, at Gregory Downs, however a fuel leak on the delivery flight at Wumalgi, in May 1974, resulted in an engine fire and the gyroplane was written off. George Dent came on a few flights with me and he was interested in working as a mechanic at Gregory Downs. George had even purchased a Land Rover for the trip up there, however someone else had already secured the position and George’s employment fell through.
In May 1974, I purchased, for $4,300, a 1957 straight tail C172 VH-RDP from George Campbell at Mudgee, for commuting between Rockhampton and “Clovernook”, west of Moura. VH-RDP used to belong to Rodney Shannon of Longreach (as VH-RDS) and then woolclasser, Owen Capper, also of Longreach. George Campbell was a renowned ex WW2 instructor and had previously taught my father, Lew, to fly in Tiger Moths, just after the war and was also the agent involved in Lew’s purchase of his first aircraft, a Cessna 182 registered VH-WAT, with reference to his grand uncles the Watson Bros, who had owned Gregory Downs. I also started training at the Rockhampton Aero Club in VH-RDP for my Commercial Pilot’s Licence.
One day, at “Clovernook”, I loaded a heavy Southern Cross EFD Diesal pump engine into the back of the Cessna to take it to Rockhampton for repairs. I then took off alone, with no other passengers, other the engine in the back, and found to my dismay that although the aircraft could carry the load the airstrip at 2,400 ft, was far too short, and the weather probably far too hot, to effect a safe take off and I was soon only just clearing the tree tops at the end of the strip and had to follow the creek down at tree top level for some time before gaining a safe height. The engine was brought back from Rockhampton by vehicle.
On another occasion, during wet weather with some flooding and the black soil roads into properties being impassable, we landed RDP on the Dawson Highway near the Bauhinia store to pick up mail and supplies and then did a least one mail drop to a property south of “Clovernook”.
In February 1974, along with George Dent and another observer, I participated in a Search and Rescue (SAR Search) over 5 days searching for a missing Beechcraft Barron aircraft (VH-FWR) with the owner/pilot and his wife onboard, that had gone missing enroute from Gladstone to Longreach and Alice Springs. The search, involving civil and military aircraft, over a period of 8 days, flew a total of 532 hours and searched an area in excess of 40,000 square miles. Our search area involved approximately 2.5 to 3 hours flying each day and covered areas around Baralaba, Gladstone, Stanwell, Mt Helen and the ranges around and to the east of Mt Morgan. Extensive searching failed to find the aircraft and it was not until 26 years later that a helicopter pilot found it in the Blackdown tableland area of the Expedition Ranges near Blackwater. A particularly dry season had caused the leaves on the trees to fall so that the wreckage became more visible.
In March 1975, I did type endorsements on Cessna 182 (Constant Speed Prop) and Cessna 210 (Retractable Undercarriage) at Rockhampton Aero Club.
Later in April 1974, along with my father, Lew and pilot Mick Robbins, we went to Maroochydore to undertake type conversion training with Pat Lewis on an Aero Resources J2 Gyroplane that was being marketed by De Havillands.
Lew had purchased one of these gyroplanes (VH-BLD) and planned to use it for mustering and other cattle spotting and water inspection operations at Gregory Downs. Lew had also, previously, purchased a couple of Beechcraft Bonanzas from De Havillands. Although we all completed the conversion training, on the Gyroplane, due to time constraints, only Mick was able to do the flight test with the department Civil Aviation Examiner. Mick was to be the pilot at Gregory Downs and not long after started out on the delivery flight. Unfortunately a fuel leak resulted in an engine fire and forced landing near Wumalgi, north of Rockhampton and the aircraft was subsequently written off due to heat damage to the rotor mast. The local aircraft engineer, Allan Rose at Anstey Rose Engineers, who assisted to retrieve the aircraft by truck, nicknamed it the “Black Looking Doover” after it’s registration.
For more on the “Black Looking Doover – Gyroplane Down” see Link below:- https://blackmorehistory.home.blog/2019/04/12/black-looking-doover/
My family and I, moved to Gregory Downs in late 1974 and remained there through 1975. Although there was a public airfield used by the weekly mail plane about 6 kms away, for convenience, we also constructed a new airstrip near the homestead so that RDP could be kept there.
During the wet season, myself and Dennis Bauer, the son of Gregory Hotel publicans, Kevin and Mavis Bauer, flew to Mt Isa in the RDP and pick up the mail for Gregory as well as a couple of other stations, possibly Norfolk near Camooweal and Riversleigh just south of Gregory. In order to undertake a fly over mail drop we took off the passenger side door and Dennis travelled to Mt Isa, with his foot casually resting on the wing spar. We loaded up the Cessna in Mt Isa and took off to the north on the 9,000 foot strip. Because of the heat of the day, and the poor performance of the Cessna 172, we used most of the strip and then had to travel north for about 5 miles before we could turn west to cross the small range near Hilton Mine and head towards Camooweal. At both Norfolk and Riversleigh we just flew along their airstrips low and slow with 10 degrees of flap out and then dropped the mail bags out the passenger side door.
It was at Gregory Downs that I had my only forced landing. I was on a local inspection flight and the engine stated to make a loud popping noise. I throttle back and then followed property roads back to the airstrip at the homestead. Once I touched down, I shut down the engine to prevent any further damage. Inspection of the engine cowl showed a burnt patch of paint and further inspection disclosed that the top had blown out of a spark plug, an easy fix with a new plug.
I used to get RDP serviced in the Longreach Qantas Hangar, now a museum. The engineers name was Kerry Charlton. There was also another engineer, Fred Bird, who was a brother to aviator Nancy Bird (Walton), who also owned a local Taxi. Fred worked on RDP once when it had a burnt valve. He got the valve out without taking the cylinder head off.
In August 1975, RDP was due for a major service so it was left at Longreach for a couple of weeks and by good fortune, I was able to get a lift back to Gregory Downs with the Salvos Flying Padre, Lionel Parker, in his Cessna 180-G (VH-DJS). Lionel also arranged to pick me up again from Gregory and take me back to Longreach when the aircraft service was completed. Lionel was based at Longreach from 1971 to 1977 and later in Darwin from 1982 to 1992, He has since written a couple of books on his experiences.
In October and then December 1975 I re-commenced my Commercial Pilot’s Licence training at Ingham with instructors Bob Tait and Horrie Searle (Horrie and his wife Brenda later owned an aerial agricultural business at Moura). Whilst at Ingham, we landed RDP on the beach at Zoe Bay, Hinchinbrook Island, a couple of times. On one occasion a small yacht in the bay had seen us land and as they thought it was an emergency landing, the couple immediately came ashore to see if we were alright. Both of them were topless. Now days you can not fly below 1,500 feet within 1,000 metres seaward of the beach. Also whilst at Ingham I obtained my tailwheel type endorsement on a Belanca Citabria owned by Bob Tait.
In Early 1976, I completed my Commercial Pilot Licence and an Instructors Rating at Bundaberg with instructor John McEvoy (also instructors, Allan Peterson, who was also a cane farmer and Neil Rutherford who later also owned a charter boat). Before leaving Bundaberg, I sold RDP to Brian Rutledge of “Moble” Quilpie.
I then did a familiarisation flight in property agent Bryan Blanning’s C206 at Rockhampton with Terry Shannon, from the Aero Club and then moved to Mt Isa in April 1976 to fly a Cessna 206 VH-EFI, affectionately known as “Effie”, for the North Australian Pastoral Company, on weekly mail and freight runs to all their stations. The other pilot was Peter Lehmann, who had also previously worked for Primaries and gave me a good rap for the job. Before starting with NAPCo, I did 3 flights over 3.5 hours flight instructing for the Mt Isa Aero Club, after which my new Instructor Rating became redundant as the NAPCo flying was going to be full on. The Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Scheme was in full swing and we also flew the company and contract vets to and from the stations for blood testing the cattle. We had a small Honda van for picking up freight from around town and took daily turns in flying and collecting freight. During the 6 months we still each flew an average of around 40 hours a month.
The main problem we had with the vets involved in the BTEC Scheme was that we had to advise them of the latest departure time, based on flight time and last light, that would allow them to return to Mt Isa, rather than having to stay over, which none of them wanted to do. Invariably, they would turn up to the aircraft late and here is where the words of the John Williamson song came in as, it was always “Bloody near dark when we reached the strip”. More than often it was actually dark and it was not unusual for us to call the Mt Isa tower some 30 miles out with “On long final, please cancel Sarwatch” to which the tower would reply “Sarwatch cancelled – Clear to land”.
The testing of the blood for the BTEC scheme was done in Alice Springs and on one occasion we must have missed the last regular commercial flight from Mt Isa that would get the blood there in time. As a consequence I had to fly the blood over in “Effie” and the other pilot, Peter Lehmann and the company vet, Lee McNichol, came along for the ride as well as contract vet, Murray Cameron.
Although it was to be a one day trip over and back, we did have time for a couple of ales at the pub, so that when we departed for the 3 hour trip back to Mt Isa most bladders (except for the pilot’s) were soon to need emptying. The aircraft had a number of emergency supplies including some little resealable plastic bags with sponges in them. Maybe these had been selected with extreme foresight as on that day they were used with great difficulty and then despatched via the side window towards the ground, somewhere near Jervois.
From time to time we also hired other aircraft from John Lanhams Air Charter or the Aero Club to get the work done. These aircraft were Cessna 210’s VH-EUX and VH-ERH; Cessna 206 VH-DPU; Cessna 205 VH-COY and Cessna 182 VH-CDN, (which belonged to the local Southern Cross Rep).
In June 1976 a private fishing trip was organised to Pat Delaney’s “Wentworth Station” and Tully Inlet in the Gulf by some pilot’s and local Flight Service staff. I flew a Cessna 210 with 5 passengers and the Cessna 205 was enlisted to carry 1 passenger and a number of cartons. As is usual with Cessna’s, the “tail test” was done and the loading centre of gravity found to be within limits. (The “tail test” is when you load your aircraft and then push the tail down until it nearly touches the ground. If it then rises again then all is OK). The C210 being the faster aircraft, we let the C205 take off first and watched it consume a considerable amount of the 9,000 foot Mt Isa runway. Luckily there would be no need to return this freight from Wentworth.
For more about my time flying for NAPCo see Link below:- https://blackmorehistory.home.blog/2019/04/14/why-they-called-him-sundown/
I moved back to Moura in September 1976 to work for property agent Lloyd Taylor. We initially hired a C172 from Joe Kooyman of Kooyman Engineering in Biloela and later, in May 1978, Lloyd purchased a C182 VH-EHZ for property inspections. The aircraft enabled the business to service a much larger area and soon we were selling properties to the North of Dingo on the Mackenzie River to Middlemount and further North to Barmount and as well, further West to the Arcadia Valley, Rolleston and Springsure. I worked with Lloyd, who had also obtained his pilot’s licence, for 10 years. Lloyd sold his business in the late 1980’s and the C182 was sold to another agent, Phillip Black of Longreach.
In December 1980, my wife, Maureen, and I, along with our infant children, Peter and Michael, did a family trip to New Zealand and whilst at Te Aneu, we hired a Cessna 172 from the local aero club for a flight down the Milford Track and Milford Sound, then back down the coast before turning west and back to Te Aneu.
No hours were flown in 1987 until Max Waterson joined our real estate business (Greg Blackmore Property Sales) at Cooroy in 1988 and brought along his Rockwell 114 aircraft that we then used to service property sales as well as Max’s Motel and Hotel sales, up until September 1989.
After selling the Cooroy real estate business in 1991 to Murray and Lyndal Brown, the only flying that I did after that was to fly photographer, Tero Sade, from Gympie, in a hired Cessna 172 aircraft, locally around the Mary Valley and to the Moura, Rolleston, Arcadia Valley district, taking aerial property photos over five days in February 1991 and then returning later on a road trip to call on property owners and market them the finished product.