A Kid at the Aero Club: Ancient History
I've been keen on aircraft forever, so when as a young teenager I was offered a job at the Royal Victorian Aero Club it seemed like a good thing to do.
Essendon Airport was within bike riding distance, so I started working at what I thought (at the time) was a most wonderful place to be.
Essendon was then the main Melbourne airport, and various "Airliners" roared off or chirped their tyres on landing in a very satisfying way. The RVAC hangar contained a number of DH Tiger Moths, a Miles Whitney Straight, a Wacket Trainer (not being used) and an exquisite Ryan STM with polished metal body and wheel covers. All the fabric covering, and metal on planes other than the Ryan was silver doped, this being the most durable finish to withstand strong sunlight. The Club colours of 2 dark blue vertical stripes with a central light blue stripe, all of equal width, adorned the rudders and the large VH- registration letters were black. Smart enough in a utilitarian way.
Swinging props to start these planes gave me an insight into how unreliable people can be.
The starting procedure was simple. Wheel chocks had to be in place (no brakes on the TMs) and we'd call, "On, off and closed." The pilot would turn the fuel 'on' make sure the ignition switches were 'off' and set the throttle 'closed' and say, "On, off and closed."
We'd pull the prop through to prime the engine, then call, "Set, contact." The pilot 'set' the throttle and flicked the switches 'on.' A lusty swing usually got results first go.
Note that the pilot has two throttle settings to do. Imagine my amazement when I once swung the sharp metal prop on the Miles only to find the pilot had the thing on full throttle.
Had it jumped the chocks I'd have been sliced like a salami. But it didn't, so I wasn't.
All part of the learning experience.
Also note the pilots said they had turned the fuel 'on.' Many, many times I had to run out to start them again when the engine stopped as they taxied out to takeoff, due to the fuel being 'off.' The long taxi situation there saved them from the dreaded engine cut on climb out; too low to turn back, no safe landing place ahead.
I'm not sure what I learned from one wealthy young lady member. She'd spend time talking to me as I worked. I adored her, and I suppose she was amused by my puppy love. Sometimes she'd take me for a ride in her big Pontiac and on one glorious occasion she flew me in a TM to and from an air show where I was required to "mechanic." I didn't see her after I left the RVAC. Later I read in the society pages of her marriage. Many years afterwards she dived a Cessna vertically into the waters of Port Philip. A stylish way to go, if you need to go. Stylish was always her style.
There was a lot of the same old same old, but we had some excitement from time to time. Once, returning from lunch, I found the awesome sight of a Tiger Moth blazing away as only a nitro doped fabric covered airplane can blaze. A static spark during refueling was the cause, and it sure made me feel for the WW1 flyers trapped without a parachute in a 'flamer.'
We also had a Tiger crash into a big water-storage dam. I was most impressed to see how the metal cowling became perfectly formed around the castellated nuts and split-pins on the front cylinder-head when it smacked the water.
Another one came back from forced-landing practice with the landing gear just dangling semi detached as a result of hitting a stone fence. It was quite comical to see the emergency vehicles trying to get as close as possible to the landing zone and the instructor trying to get away from them to give himself some room. All went OK, no one was hurt and the plane was not too badly damaged.
The wind sometimes caused us problems. Someone would see a big line of dust heading our way and there would be a mad rush to the flight-line to hold down the planes. One of the Old Timers gave me some good advice, "If you're hanging on to a plane and it's getting away, let it go. It's not worth risking a broken back for a (expletive) plane." It's good to have that sort of information stored in the mind, it can sometimes give you the fraction of a second that can be very valuable in a bad situation.
The Club aircraft had to taxi a fair distance and across a runway to use the grass field so that takeoff and landing could be into wind. None of them had radio, so the Tower would hold them with a red light or give them a 'green' to go. If the wind was strong, and from the wrong direction, we kids had to stand out at the runway and haul on a wing-tip to stop the Tigers from weather-cocking on the runway because their tail-skids had no grip on that surface.
So there you'd be, right on the edge of the runway, at the point where DC3s, DC4s, Convairs etc. were touching down. Quite spectacular.
Also spectacular, and in a way that required 100% focus, was when a gale developed when we had Tigers in the air. The planes then landed close to the hangar and 2 kids were required to be on hand to pounce on them when they touched down. The ground-speed was only 5 or 10 knots, but the flight path was most unpredictable in the turbulence and that whirling propeller commanded respect. None of us were ever hurt, and I guess that's down to youthful agility and plain old good luck.
As more and more of the Big Stuff came to Essendon the Little Stuff was booted out down to Moorabbin, the RVAC being the first to go.
This meant inconveniently long travel for me, so after a time I 'moved on' and out of aviation into photography
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