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Australia Aviation History

Pilots Who Were Pioneers In Aviation - Part 4


DOUGLAS SLOANE  (1890-1917)   Sir Keith MacPherson and Sir Ross McPherson SMITH, (1890—1955) (1892-1922)    LJ Wackett   R Williams   CARL WILLIAM(BILL)  WITTBER(1879 - 1970)   UNDERLAND
No E.J. 134-N


Fought in WW1 as a gunner in the AIF in Amiens, Villers-Bretonneau and Hamel. Returned to Queensland to farm. After Hudson Fysh pulled his car out of a mess in the Outback he helped found QANTAS remaining as Chairman of Directors until 1947.( 'qantas.com.au' website and aust. Aviators) The first Australian airman to win the Victoria Cross in WW1, he landed behind enemy lines to rescue a fellow aviator who had been forced down. He retired as a RAAF Air Vice Marshal.

It is a strange thing that so many flyers , not well known in the Eastern States of Australia are ignored by aviation historians. Such is Jimmy Melrose who flew in the MacRobertson Race in 1934 ( U.K. to Australia) in a Puss Moth with his wife and came third on handicap ( 1000 pd. prize money). He only just made it to Darwin , as he glided in with the tank dry! In November 1935 , while flying in a Percival Vega Gull over the Bay of Bengal on a record solo flight to Australia, saw the exhausts of the Lady Southern Cross with Kingsford Smith on board, (the latter plane and pilot was never seen again) . Jimmy also flew again from U.K. to Darwin in April 1936 in a Heston Phoenix . Throughout his life he was supported by his mother , who bought him all his planes!

Born in Creswick ,Victoria ; brought up by his dad ,he was fascinated by cars and aeroplanes from an early age. It was his good luck that he and Bob Cousins became entangled with the 'Three Harrys', Hawker, Busteed and Kauper. As a young driver , he carried Capt. Petre and Capt. Harrison to the newly proposed flying school at Pt. Cook, Victoria in in 1913, although he crashed the car on the way, to the amusement of the occupants! He and Cousins went to England to join the other three at Sopwith's and constructed the aeroplanes they flew in, including the Schneider Trophy entrants. Disappointed at not getting into the R.F.C. at the outbreak of war , he went home to join up in Australia and just missed the first A.F.C. contingent in 1914.


So he built his own plane and actually flew it , if only for a moment or two. Enlisting , he went to England and transferred to the A.F.C. as the first N.C.O. to train to fly, in Maurice Farmans. After becoming an Officer and active flying in France, he contracted Spanish Flu and was returned to Australia to recover in mid 1918. He tested aircraft at Pt. Cook and shipped surplus aircraft from th U.K., including a DH6 (Clutching Hand).

He also flew a Curtiss flying boat along the Adelaide coastline , staying at the Pier Hotel, Glenelg. Finally he sold his Bristol Fighter to Qantas .Later still, in 1928 he formed MacRobertson Miller Aviation Co. with a chocolate millionaire and started the Adelaide to Broken Hill service as well as other regional ones within S.A..In 1929 he won the Sydney to Perth air race ( 2500 miles ) . Expanding to Western and Northern Australia the company grew before W.W.2 and finally became absorbed into the Ansett-ANA empire.( His Autobiography 'Early Birds').

Born in Scotland he went to Australia in 1928, to become a flying instructor at Adelaide Aero Club. He later joined Ansett and also did stunt flying. When Kingsford Smith and C.W.A. Scott made successive solo records for the flight from England to Australia in 1930, it was inevitable that Jim Mollison would also try. Scott and he did not get on well together, being both ex-RAF and keen boxers.

In July 1931 he attempted to beat 9 days, 5 hours of Scott's record in the reverse direction. At his first attempt in June 1931 he had too much fuel on board and he failed to take off at Darwin; but when repairs were done, he made a second attempt. After making an emergency landing in Batavia he lost his goggles over India. Over France he flew, very tired, through fog but had to land on shingles at Pevensey on the English coast. He thus sliced 2 days off the record. Amy Johnson, the Yorkshire lass from Hull, had flown solo from Croydon to Darwin in May 1930 in a similar D.H. Moth (Jason).

They met in Capetown, subsequently married and were a famous aviation couple. They were entered for the Centenary Air Race in 1934 in the fastest aircraft the D.H.88 Comet (Black Magic). At Allahabad, India, they had to withdraw due to engine overheating. Becoming competitors for 'solo' records around the world, coupled with their boisterous personalities, led to a separation and divorce. He married again twice but maintained a hectic life until arthritis made him give up and he took a London Pub instead.



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