History : Desoutter
By Rex Woodworth
This is an outline of the part played by the Launceston Branch of the Air Force Association (as the Royal Australian Air Force Association was then known) in the presence of the Aircraft 'Miss Flinders' at Launceston Airport. In compiling this document l have to particularly thank Mr. Roger Meyer, Hon Secretary of the Civil Aviation Historical Society Inc. without whose assistance this story could not be told.
The early players in the affair were George Inglis, an AFA member and Launceston Airport Manager at the time, and Aubrey Greig, an AFA Committeeman. Both men were friends and habitues of Commercial Travellers Association Club in Charles St, Launceston. I recall many long discussions this pair had on the affair of the 'Miss Flinders' over the convivial glass.
The first official mention of the idea of bringing the unit to Launceston came in a letter dated 8th August 1962, file 037/202/5, from the Department of Civil Aviation's Launceston Airport Manager, Mr.G.D,Inglis to the secretary, AFA, Launceston Branch, which said:
"DISPLAY OF HISTORIC AIRCRAFT - DESOUTTER VH - BQE AT LAUNCESTON AIRPORT. You may be aware that it is the intention of this Department to establish a new terminal area, together with associated aprons and taxiways at this airport in the next few years. This work when completed, will give Launceston Airport the privilege of being the first jet designed Airport in Australia, and it will also give the travelling public a standard of service comparable to any other Airport in the Commonwealth. Our new Airport should then prove not only an asset to our community, but a showplace which we should all be proud to own."
"In a recent article appearing in the Aviation Historical Society of Australia journal, mention was made that a DESOUTTER AIRCRAFT VH - BQE, originally registered as G - ABOM and VH - UEE was in a dilapidated state in a hangar in N. S. W., and my thoughts were that this aircraft could prove quite an attraction if it could be displayed in some suitable building in front of, or as close as possible to, the entrance to our new terminal building."
"On my behalf, enquiries have been made by my Head Office to ascertain the condition of this aircraft and its availability, and it seems quite definite that the aircraft would be available to this Department, and that the aircraft was originally registered as VH - UEE and was flown by Captain L. McK.. Johnson in the early air services between Tasmania and the Bass Strait Islands. These air services were subsequently absorbed by Holyman Airways Pty. Ltd. which later became Australian National Airways Pty. Ltd. From the above, it can be seen that this aircraft provides an important link with the early history of domestic air services in Australia, and in particular, Launceston, and I feel that it would be appropriate to display this aircraft in some way at Launceston Airport."
"I feel that my Department may be prepared to purchase this aircraft, reinstate it's condition and quite possibly transport it to Launceston, however, this aspect would have to be taken up with my Head Office before any definite assurance could be given."
"It is estimated that a suitable building to house such an aircraft would cost between 8,000 Pounds to 9,000 Pounds. In Brisbane the 'Southern Cross' is housed in a building which was provided by public subscription, and in Adelaide the building housing the 'Vickers Vimy' was also provided by public subscription, so I feel that if we in Launceston want to display this aircraft, the cost of the building to house the aircraft will have to be provided in some way."
"In order to raise this money, a sponsoring organisation will be needed, and it is my contention that the AIR FORCE ASSOCIATION would be the appropriate body to sponsor such an appeal, I am sure that your Association would receive the fullest support from the Examiner, State Government, Airlines, and Aero Club etc., in such a venture, and I would be very pleased to hear from you regarding your thoughts on this matter."
This letter was considered at the Association meeting in late September and Mr. Inglis was informed by the Secretary, Mr. Roger Fannon on the 26th September 1962 that :-
"The Committee of the Association are definitely interested in the idea that they should be the sponsoring body, but they would like further information. It has been suggested that a sub-committee of the association comprising the President (Mr. Harris), Vice President, (Mr. E. A. Stancombe) and myself, should meet you in order to discuss further details."
On receipt of this letter Mr. Inglis then advised Mr. Fannon on the 1st October 1962 that he had taken the liberty of writing to our Airport Managers at Adelaide and Brisbane, where the 'Vickers Vimy' and the 'Southern Cross' are housed, in the hope that these gentlemen may be able to assist with some information as to the public reaction in their particular states regarding the appeal, and the methods adopted to finance such an undertaking etc,
The records available to me give no further information on the progress of the matter until the 11th June 1963 when Mr. Inglis advised the Association of his ideas for a public appeal based on Adelaide experience of a 9,000 pounds fund raising there. He also suggested in an attached, proposed press statement in which it was said that:
"Costs of the restoration of the aircraft and the erection of a suitable building have already been discussed with the Department of Civil Aviation, and they have estimated that the cost of purchasing the aircraft, reconditioning it and transporting it to Launceston would be approximately 1,200 pounds and the erection of a suitable building approximately 10,000 pounds."
"The Department has indicated that they may be able to deliver the Aircraft in a restored condition to Launceston, but the Department could not contribute to the cost of erecting the building."
Following this letter the AFA committee considered the matter further and accordingly on the 27th August advised Mr. Inglis that " they reaffirmed their decision to support the sponsoring of a fund to both purchase the Aircraft and to house it, and also advised Mr. Inglis that although the Association is wholeheartedly behind this sponsorship," the Secretary continued "I would like to stress that the Association refuses to be held responsible for the financial balance of monies required to complete this venture, should the fund fail to raise the required amount."
Nothing more is on record until 11th December 1963 when Acting Airport Manager,
Mr. R. M. Collett advised that further to the letter of 27th August, further information has come to hand................
"The Desoutter Aircraft VH-BQE which was previously registered VH-UEE and G-ABOM is at present housed in a hangar at Bourke, NSW. The owners of the aircraft are EXEC-AIR TAXIS - a subsidiary of Australian Aircraft Sales Pty. Ltd., Hangar 2, Sydney Airport, Mascot. Mr. Conelly the Managing Director of both Companies has advised that he is prepared to donate the aircraft free of charge to the Air Force Association in Tasmania."
"However as the aircraft has been housed in a hangar at Bourke for a number of years the owner of the hangar, Mr. Wetherill of Bourke Aviation Services, has advised that hangar charges had accrued on the aircraft in the sum of 250 pounds. If these charges are not met then the aircraft may be removed from the hangar."
"This Department would be prepared to transport the aircraft to Launceston free of charge, but the wing span of 36 feet, which is in one piece, would have to be cut in half to fit in our aircraft. If it is only intended to house in a display building on the airport and not for flying, then there would be no problem."
"If, however, it is proposed to restore the machine for flying, it would be necessary to retain the wing in one piece and transport by road and sea would then be required, the cost of which would then be approximately 600 pounds."
"In regard to the condition of the aircraft, it is understood that an appreciable amount of work would be necessary to restore it in a suitable condition for display purposes, and would cost, it is believed, about 750 pounds. However, with voluntary labour it may be possible to have this done for considerably less than this figure."
"In regard to the erection of a suitable building for the display of the Desoutter Aircraft, you may be interested to know that at Brisbane a building costing over 30,000 Pounds for the housing of the 'Southern Cross' was erected in 1958, the funds for which came from public subscription. This building is very modern, is glassed on three sides and has a terrazzo floor. It is surrounded by lawns and gardens and has in front a low marble monument and on two sides courts surfaced with loose freestone."
"At Adelaide Airport a display building was also constructed to house the 'Vickers Vimy' aircraft which was used by Ross Smith. The cost of which amounted to 32,000 Pounds which was again raised by public subscription."
"In both the above cases the Department has provided a rent free site and at the same time maintains these buildings and their surrounds."
"As the Desoutter aircraft is smaller than the 'Southern Cross' it should be possible to construct a display building at Launceston for less than 30,000 pounds, and it is thought depending on the design prepared by the architect the cost could be anything from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds."
"Should you require further information we would be only too pleased to assist, and if you decide to go ahead with this proposal then we are prepared to fly the aircraft and at the same time will seek Ministerial approval for a rent free site. As it will no doubt take some time to raise the necessary funds for a display building you will be pleased to know the Manager,
Mr. Van Es, of the Tasmanian Aero Club will be willing to house the aircraft in the Aero Club Hangar at Launceston, free of charge, pending the completion of a new building."
"While awaiting your decision, I must advise that this Department cannot accept responsibility for financial matters connected with this project."
Mr. N.J. Properjohn, Acting Airport Manager enquired on the 31st January 1964 of our intentions, in the light of the above letter and on the pretext of the beginning of Design Work on the new airport.
In response Mr. Fannon advised the Airport Manager on the 18th February 1964 that: following a long discussion on the subject the committee regretfully decided that the now anticipated cost involved in the project is beyond the capabilities of the Launceston Branch in sponsoring the fund.
"I am sorry a more favourable reply cannot be given and if any further correspondence is entailed would you please forward it to the President, Mr. P. H. Harris, 1 Doyle St., Launceston as I have now resigned my position of Secretary."
And that is where the records and the matter seems to have died, until contact with
Mr. George Inglis was established in June 1998. He was able to bring the matter before
Mr. Roger Meyer, Honorary Secretary of the Civil Aviation Historical Society Inc., who has been good enough to further research the subject. His extensive search of Launceston files of the Department of Civil Aviation has enabled him to pick up the story as follows:
25th March -1964
Department of Works provided a sketch of a museum to house the aircraft in the terminal building. "The room could be constructed beneath the main lounge, with access to it by a stair. When the cost estimate is available, you will be advised so the matter can be discussed with the Air Force Association."
21st October 1964
From Regional Director Vic/Tas. to Airport Manager, Launceston:
"Provision is being made in the terminal building for the display of this aircraft. Would you please make enquiries of the Air Force Association to ascertain whether or not they are still prepared to cooperate in arranging the display."
(Undated reply from Mr. R. Collett to Regional Director) Mr. Stancombe advised that his association was still interested but members were unable to commit themselves at that stage. They required further information
a) What work is involved in the restoration of the aircraft
b) Whether it can be done in Tasmania
c) The need for skilled labour
d) Estimated cost of the complete project
[Copy of Air Force Association letter of 18th February 1965]
19th February 1965
From Regional Director to Mr. Collett.
a) Rental payments for the release of the aircraft 250Pounds
b) Department would transport component parts free of charge
c) AFA to assemble component parts, rough cost 500 Pounds
d) AFA to prepare display area at cost of approx 1,000 Pounds
e) Overall cost to Association of approximately 2,000 Pounds
28th April and 24th May 1965
Further letters from AFA concerning aircraft detail.
5th August 1965
From Mr. Collett to Air Force Association:
a) Purchase price of aircraft from Mr. Wetherill is 200 pounds.
b) Transport of aircraft from Bourke to Sydney, and thence to Launceston without cost to AFA.
18th August 1965
From Regional Director to Mr Collett
Ansett/ANA have undertaken to transport the Desoutter to Launceston.
31st August 1965
Notes of phone conversation between Messrs. Collett and Greig:
1. Association to provide partitioning, spotlights, display design and extras.
2. DCA will accept responsibility for electricity, maintenance and cleaning.
3. DCA and Association to liaise with Works re extras for spotlighting.
1st September 1965
Amount of 200 pounds paid to Mr. Wetherilt of Bourke Aviation for the Aircraft.
The Desoutter was finally on its way, and its arrival in Launceston was recorded by a photograph which appeared in the Ansett-ANA magazine "Panorama" of the aircraft, minus wings and tailplane, being unloaded at the Launceston Airport, and an accompanying article which stated it had been used as a crop duster and retired under the name 'Jeerbin', around 1961.
Mr. E. A. Stancombe makes a reference in the General heading of his Annual Report for the year 1996 in which he said:
"You have no doubt heard a lot about and probably have seen the Desoutter aircraft 'Miss Flinders', which has been housed as a memorial in the new Airport Terminal at Launceston Airport."
"This little machine has quite a story behind it, but you will have read of this, through articles which have appeared in the press from time to time."
"The acquisition and restoration of the aircraft was handled by your Committee, and proved to be quite a lengthy business.
"I would like to thank all those who assisted with the project and record appreciation of the work done by Messrs. Greig, Philp, and Gooding and also express thanks to the Department of Civil Aviation, the Tasmanian Aero Club and Ansett-ANA and all who assisted with the project, space would not permit all to be listed."
"The Mayor of Launceston has opened a Fund at the Town Hall and donations would be gratefully appreciated."
From anecdotal knowledge the thanks accorded by Mr. Stancombe, particularly to the Tasmanian Aero Club and to our own members for endless hours in so meticulously restoring and preparing the aircraft for display were richly deserved as well as all those people who were mentioned in this story. Today's society owes them all a great deal.
Of course, this project needed financing and at that time 2,000 pounds was a considerable sum. With the personal guarantees of the President and some of his committeemen an overdraft was raised. It is known that the Mayor of Launceston (Alderman C. Prior) opened an appeal to the general public.
Unfortunately this was not altogether successful. As Mr Aub Greig said in a request to the Premier of Tasmania for assistance in November 1967, it was probably retarded by the 1967 Bushfire crisis with a shortfall of around 850 Pounds.
The classic reply to that letter to the Premier of the day is worth recording:
"I wish to acknowledge your letter of 28th November, seeking financial assistance from the Government to liquidate the balance of the debt incurred by your Association in establishing the aircraft 'Miss Flinders' at the Launceston Airport."
"Your request was before cabinet yesterday and my colleagues agreed that it was very desirable for the aircraft to be preserved. For this reason, it was suggested that the Commonwealth Government, because of its responsibilities in the field of civil aviation, might be willing to help your Association with the project."
"Perhaps I could suggest that you ask Senator J O'Byme of Launceston, a former member of the RAAF if he would be prepared to make representations to the Minister for Civil Aviation on behalf of your Association."
Where the money finally came from adds more mystery to the story…………
This type of aircraft began life as a version of the Dutch Koolhaven FK41. They began production in 1929 and only 41 were built by a British Company, Messrs Desoutter Aircraft Ltd London.
THE TASMANIAN CONNECTION
Greg Copley, in his book "Australians in the Air", records that L. McK. Johnson began his service from Launceston to Whitemark in his DESOUTTER (note spelling) making 56 trips on schedule in three months carrying a total of 85 passengers as well as mail and freight in competition with the Holyman Steamer which called every ten days. There was no commercial air service in Tasmania before this.
Victorians, Hart Aviation Service flew an AVRO10, "Tasman" were making a weekly flight between Melbourne and Launceston and an amphibian WINDHOVER was also used on the Launceston Melbourne route around this time.
Mr Ron Roach has produced an article from the Mercury's "The Northern Scene" of 25th February 1981 claimed that the "Miss Flinders" carried 400 letters on the first airmail dispatch on 7th June 1932 and returned to Launceston with 70 pieces of mail in the same afternoon. The same article said that the aircraft continued on the same run until it was sold in 1935. It also claimed it was built in late 1931. This information was obtained from 1933 promotional material issued by William Holyman & Sons Pty Ltd.
The Attached information on the history and technical dimensions of the Aircraft as well as an extract from The Examiner of March 23rd 1966 are part of the painstaking research done by Mr Roger Meyer, Honorary Secretary of the Civil Aviation Historical Society Inc. in Melbourne.
THE DESOUTTER AIRCRAFT
This aircraft is a Desoutter Mk III, a development of an original design of the Dutch organisation Koolhaven, with various aerodynamic refinements it was built in the United Kingdom in the late 1920s and powered with a de Havilland Gipsy Mk III engine.
It began its service life registered as El-AAD with IONA NATIONAL AIR TAXIS in Ireland in 1931 and was later acquired by two Melbourne professional men, Messrs Jeffreys and Jenkins early in 1932.
These gentlemen flew the aircraft, now registered G-ABOM to Australia in easy stages via India. Upon arrival in Australia it was purchased by Mr L. McK. Johnson, registered as VH-UEE in March 1932 and was used for the initiation of an air service between Launceston and Flinders Island. The Aircraft was named 'MISS FLINDERS' and was painted a handsome blue and silver.
In 1933 Tasmanian Aerial Services Pty Ltd purchased the aircraft, retaining Mr Johnson as Chief Pilot. This organisation was the precursor of Holyman Airways Pty Ltd which in turn was the forerunner of Australian National Airways Pty Ltd. The aircraft remained in service with this organisation until 1935 when it was accepted by de Havilland Aircraft Co. Mascot, NSW in part payment for a new aircraft purchased by Holyman Airways Pty Ltd.
Later in 1935 it was purchased for 700 Pounds by Mr. J.J. Larkin who used the aircraft in New South Wales for private and charter operations.
In 1936 VH-UEE again changed hands, the new owner being Mr G.P. Hoskings who again used it for private and charter activities. During this period the aircraft was involved in a serious accident which necessitated major rework, in particular, the port wing.
In 1938 it was bought by Mr J.R. Pater of Warrigal.
Mr. C. C. Pratt of Essendon Victoria, purchased the aircraft in April 1939 as an advanced trainer for his flying school at Coode Island. It was also used for aerial photography, the high wing being ideal for this purpose.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, and the curtailment of civil flying, the aircraft was stored in a hanger at Essendon until late 1946, when it was purchased by South Coast Airways,
Woolongong, NSW, who transported it to their base by road. The new owners undertook the renovation of the aircraft which included replacing the original engine with a Gipsy Major Engine.
This Company operated the aircraft for charter flying instruction from Woolongong. While parked in Sydney in the course of a charter the aircraft was blown against a Douglas DC3 aircraft and extensive damage was caused to the rear end of the fuselage, which required extensive rebuilding.
On 30th August 1951 the registration letters were changed to VH–BQE.
In January 1953 the aircraft was sold to Mr. W. E. Janies of Woolongong and then, after six months, it was purchased by Airmech, the holding Company for Illawarra Flying School.
Between 1954 and 1960 the aircraft had a further three owners, all engaged in charter operations. The last of these Rain Air Taxis, (who we know from earlier documentation as part of Australian Aircraft Sales Pty Ltd of Sydney) decided that VH-BQE had no further commercial value and had it transported to Bourke NSW for storage.
In 1961 the Aviation Historical Society Journal published details of the plight of this pioneer aircraft which led to it being acquired by the Launceston Branch of the Air Force Association, renovated and set up in present position in the Launceston Airport Terminal.
TIHE DESOUTTER MARK II SPORTS COUPE
TECHNICAL DATA 1
TYPE - THREE SEATER CABIN MONOPLANE
WINGS - High wing braced monoplane in one piece.
The wing rests on top of the fuselage and is attached on either side to the bottom of the fuselage by a single strut running down from the front spar and an inverted Vee strut from the rear spar.
The undercarriage legs are attached to the front spars at the same points of attachment as the front wing bracing struts.
Wing structure consists of box spars built up with spruce flanges and plywood webs and spruce ribs of heavy construction, the whole being covered in plywood.
Wing section is modified Gottingen 387, and the wing is tapered in both plan and profile.
FUSELAGE - Plywood box structure. Spruce longerons and vertical struts, copper braced cross struts form bulkheads. The plywood covering is stiffened from the outside with longitudinal triangular section spruce stringers.
TAIIL UNIT - Monoplane type, spruce spars and spruce ribs, with a plywood covering for the tail plane. The rudder and elevators have tube steel spars and steel channel section ribs spot welded to them, and are covered in fabric. The tailplane is adjustable, and the operating gear fitted with a self locking screw.
UNDERCARRIAGE - Divided axle type, Consists of two vertical telescopic legs running down from the front spars, the bottom ends of which are hinged to the bottom fuselage longerons by steel tube Vees. Springing is effected by rubber in compression..
Wheel brakes were supplied as an extra.
POWER - One Gipsy Major III, 120hp inverted engine. The engine mounting is of the simplest type consisting of two triangular side panes, braced centrally by one diagonal tube. The engine feet are carried in the Andre patent "Silentbloc" shock absorbers.
The standard fuel tank, mounted in the wing over the fuselage has a capacity of 25 gallons, sufficient for a cruising range of 4.5 hours. A larger 33 gallon tank was optional.
The oil tank is mounted externally low down on the left hand side of the fuselage so that the oil from the engine sump drains into it by gravity. This position also assures cooling of the oil by slipstream.
ACCOMMODATION - in the three seat enclosed cabin the pilot sits in front of his passengers. The two back seats are of the individual type and are upholstered in a blue leather, Under these seats there is room for two suitcases. The central window in the cabin roof gives good lighting to the cabin in the daytime and may be used as an emergency exit if necessary. From his seat the pilot can see the trailing edge of the wing.
The pilot's seat has two inch fore and aft adjustment which in conjunction with the adjustable pedals allows for accommodation of pilots of every variation of leg length and height.
EXTRACT FROM 'THE EXAMINER' LAUNCESTON,
OF WEDNESDAY 23rd MARCH 1966
RETURN OF HISTORIC OLD LADY
'MISS FLINDERS', the Desoutter monoplane which 34 years ago flew the inaugural Northern Tasmania - Flinders Island air service, is coming home.
VH-UEE as she was listed by DCA, will be freighted to Launceston, restored, and displayed in the new Launceston Airport terminal building which will open in September.
The veteran plane will arrive in Ansett-ANA's latest transport, a Douglas Carvair.
This will be an apt way for 'Miss Flinders' to come home, for in a way she was Ansett-ANA's first aircraft.
It happened like this:
'Miss Flinders' flown to Australia from England in a record attempt, was bought by the late Mr. Lawrence McKenzie Johnson.
On Saturday 19th March 1932, Mr Johnson took off from the paddock and tin shed aerodrome of Western Junction in the 'Miss Flinders' bound for Whitemark, Flinders Island.
It was an historic trip in Tasmanian and Australian aviation.
Mr Johnson was the first man to see the benefits of freighting goods and ferrying passengers between the Tasmanian mainland and the Bass Strait Islands by air instead of sea,
For some time he was without competition on his bi-weekly run between Launceston and Flinders Island.
Passengers paid two pounds ten shillings ($5) for the trip,
He gained the mail contract between Flinders Island and Launceston, and carried the first mail to the island on 7th June 1932.
A little later another Company - Tasmanian Aerial Services Pty Ltd, owned by the Holyman organisation, started a Launceston to King Island Service via Smithton. Johnson's service merged with this some time later, forming Holymans Airways Pty Ltd.
Mr Johnson was the original pilot and remained a key man in the ANA network until the merger with the Ansett group. He died in 1958.
Meanwhile, 'Miss Flinders' had been sold and passed into obscurity.
Later, the owners used the plane for general work on sheep stations ferrying animals or crop dusting.
About three years ago it was consigned to storage, a shabby and unairworthy aircraft.
TO BE RESTORED
VH-UEE owes its new life as a museum piece to the Launceston Branch of the Air Force Association, which was able to purchase the monoplane from its previous owners, Bourke Aviation of NSW.
DCA decided to grant storage space in the new terminal building at Launceston Airport.
IMPORTANCE OF THE AIRCRAFT
1. As a pioneer in scheduled passenger aircraft service in Australia to offshore islands.
2. Acceptance by Postmaster Generals Department by awarding a mail contract to Flinders Island to the operator of this aircraft. (At the time the "ROYAL MAIL" insignia was a highlight of public acceptance for regularity and safety)
3. The willingness of the Commonwealth Department of Civil Aviation to exhibit it in like manner to such icons as the 'Southern Cross' of Kingsford Smith and the 'Vickers Vimy' of Ross and Keith Smith illustrate the importance to the country's commercial aviation.
WHY THE AIR FORCE ASSOCIATION INTEREST?
The membership of the AFA, (now the Royal Australian Air Force Association) had the ability, because of their wartime service, to engage in the reconditioning necessary to bring it up to exhibition standard.
Reproduced by kind permission of Rex Woodworth.
A Retired Lady
I would appreciate any photos of this aircraft. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reproduced by kind permission of Rex Woodworth