Lord Howe Island

Any photos, plans, drawings, directions, helpful hints on visting places where flying boats have been operated from historically, or are being operated from today. I am always interested in receiving 'Then & Now' type photographs to assist current day visitors to these place. I'm trying to record the best places to visit before they disappear for ever.

Re: Lord Howe Island

Postby flyernzl » Wed May 20, 2020 11:55 am

In 1946 the RAAF started offering surplus Catalinas for sale to private operators. The standard price for such an aircraft in airworthy military condition was one thousand pounds.

Captain P G Taylor was part of the Marinair Syndicate who bought five ex-RAAF Catalinas in late 1946. Taylor flew one of these aircraft, A24-350, from Sydney to Lord Howe and return on 28th December 1946 on a proving flight. Work then started on the converting the aircraft to civil status at Mascot airfield as VH-ALN. However, it soon became evident that the Australian authorities would not be co-operative so Marinair sold all five aircraft and was wound up in 1947. VH-ALN later flew with Qantas until 1958 as VH-EBC.

Meanwhile ex-Catalina pilot Brian Monkton had purchased five ex-RAAF Sunderlands plus a mountain of engines and spares in October 1946. He then formed Trans Oceanic Airways in February 1947 and started to operate airline charters from Rose Bay. Sunderland A26-4 was converted to civil status as VH-AKO and Monkton flew this Sunderland on a charter flight to Fiji on 30th June 1947. The return flight back to Rose Bay via a refueling stop at Noumea took the aircraft close to LHI and Monkton obtained permission from the Lord Howe radio station to alight on the islands lagoon. This was despite the official ruling that the six feet draught of a Sunderland was too deep for safe operation in the lagoon.

On returning to the mainland Trans Oceanic submitted an application for a regular flying boat service from Sydney to the Island. This service commenced on 1st August 1947.

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Commemoration plaque mounted on the side wall of 'Chichesters Workshop' - the old goods shed at the freight wharf

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Trans Oceanic Sunderland VH-AKO transferring passengers at LHI

Meanwhile Qantas had also acquired some of the surplus Catalinas, and after carrying out a survey flight on 20th November started a regular schedule of flights from December 1947 with VH-EAW ex A24-378 and VH-EAX ex A24-372.

During a storm overnight on 22nd/23rd June 1949 VH-EAX broke loose from her mooring near the freight jetty and was wrecked when it came ashore on the nearby rocky beach. The aircraft was too badly damaged to be repairable, and was stripped where she lay. A large part of the wing was used as reinforcing in a beachside retaining wall at Neds Beach, and can still be visible from time to time (but not, unfortunately, during my visit).

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(Geoff Goodall website)

Its sister-ship VH-EAW was destroyed when it blew up while moored at Rose Bay early in the morning of 27th August 1949. It was found to be deliberate sabotage, but the culprit was never identified.

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VH-EAW at Rose Bay flying boat base, Sydney (Geoff Goodall website)

Qantas then used their Sandringhams on the LHI service until the two competing airlines reached an agreement in December 1949 that Qantas would leave the Island service to Trans Oceanic in return for that airline not competing with Qantas on their New Hebrides service. There are reports that Sandringham VH-EBX was used by Qantas on the LHI route, carrying out 19 return trips under their ownership, but as this aircraft did not join their fleet until 1950 this needs further verification.

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Sandringham VH-EBX at Rose Bay

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Model of VH-EBX on display in the Island's museum

Trans Oceanic Airways were now the sole operator of the Lord Howe Island air route.
Last edited by flyernzl on Fri May 22, 2020 11:35 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Lord Howe Island

Postby AlexNortonesq » Wed May 20, 2020 10:38 pm

Interesting that Trans Oceanic airlines' Sunderland VH-AKO still had its front turret!
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Re: Lord Howe Island

Postby flyernzl » Fri May 22, 2020 12:21 pm

Trans Oceanic had converted another of their Sunderlands, A26-5, to civil standards by October 1947 and this became VH-AKP. The fleet was further expanded in late 1949 when A26-2 became VH-BKQ. Thus the airline was not only able to maintain a regular service to LHI but also service other routes from Sydney, eg Hobart, Port Moresby and the Pacific Islands.

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Sunderland VH-BKQ via Ed Coates

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[i]View of LHI lagoon approaching from the west


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The lagoon runway pattern at LHI in the early 1950s. Courtesy John Wilson

However, this happy situation did not continue.

Sunderland VH-AKO was withdrawn and scrapped in 1950. The intention seems to have been to expand the fleet by buying four recently retired Solents from BOAC. This plan, however, spelt disaster. The first Solent, VH-TOA ex G-AKNO, was destroyed in a take-off accident at Malta on the delivery flight. The other three aircraft made it to Australia, but two of them were later damaged while operating at the Brisbane River. Only the final Solent, VH-TOD, could be considered an operational success.

Meanwhile Sunderland VH-BKQ lost the port outer propeller and reduction gear on a Rose Bay to Grafton service in April 1951. It returned to Sydney for repair work, but was found to be suffering from terminal corrosion in the main spar and never flew again.

Faced with this litany of problems and from also operating a number of loss-making routes, Trans Oceanic Airways went into liquidation in July 1952.

Sunderland VH-AKP then maintained a limited service to LHI , with the final Trans Oceanic flight to the Island and return taking place on 15th April 1953.

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ZK-AKP at Lord Howe
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Re: Lord Howe Island

Postby flyernzl » Sun May 24, 2020 12:42 pm

Further north in Australia a company caller Barrier Reef Airways had followed a similar path to Trans Oceanic in establishing a flying boat service connecting Brisbane to some of Queensland’s offshore islands. In 1950-1951 this airline acquired two ex-TEAL Sandringhams ZK-AMH (which became VH-BRC) and ZK-AME (which became VH-BRD).
In order to finance the purchase of these two aircraft Barrier Reef Airways took Ansett in as a shareholder in the company.

This gave Ansett access to an active flying boat operation and the company was reformed as Ansett Flying Boat Services in May 1952. After VH-BRD was damaged beyond repair on the Brisbane River in October 1952 Sandringham VH-EBX was acquired from Qantas as a replacement, and was re-registered VH-BRE.

Around the same time Ansett also took over the remaining assets of Trans Oceanic and also the operating licence for the Rose bay, Sydney, operating base.

Thus the LHI flying boat service had now became an Ansett-run service., and was maintained by VH-BRC “Beachcomber” and VH-BRE “Pacific Chieftain”. The Australia-wide Ansett organization was able to successfully promote both the Island and the flying boat service.

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VH-BRC on approach at LHI

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Image Ed Coates collection

In July 1963 VH-BRE was moored in the lagoon on the first leg of a charter flight from Sydney to Polynesia when it was badly damaged in an overnight storm. The damage was such that the aircraft was unrepairable. After the removal of any items of value the hulk was towed out to sea and scuttled. There were suggestions about retaining the fuselage for a museum project on the island, but Ansett would not accept the proposal. Many years later serious attempts were made to locate the remains with the intention of recovering the fuselage, but these were fruitless as it became apparent that the aircraft must have ‘flown’ for some distance underwater before finally reaching the seabed.

A replacement aircraft was sought. A Solent could not be employed on the service as they needed a greater depth of water than was available in the lagoon. Eventually a stored Sunderland NZ4108 was bought from the New Zealand Government in December 1963, made airworthy at Mechanics Bay, and then flown across to Rose Bay where it was converted to 42-seat civil status. As VH-BRF “Islander” it first flew as such in September 1964.

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NZ4108 being readied at Mechanics bay for its Trans-Tasman delivery flight as VH-BRF

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VH-BRF flew its first flight to LHI and return on 9th October 1964.

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Model of VH-BRC displayed in the LHI museum.
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Re: Lord Howe Island

Postby flyernzl » Wed May 27, 2020 12:58 pm

By the late 1960s the flying boat service to Lord Howe Island was acing many challenges.

Some of these challenges were operational. As well as the difficulties of keeping two elderly aircraft in the air, the Rose Bay base was facing increased opposition. Because the service could only alight in and depart from the LHI lagoon for one hour each side of high tide the departures from Rose Bay had to vary each day. Flights often had to set off early in the morning, and many residents who had bought into the surrounding housing yesterday wanted the flights to cease - today if not sooner. The flying boats also could only operate on weekdays, as the congestion created by large amount of recreational boating activity on Sydney Harbour at weekends made arrivals and departures on Saturdays and Sundays too hazardous.

The service was now running at a substantial loss. With two large aircraft only being able to operate just a limited service on one route the total of 900 flying hours per year for two aircraft were well below break-even. By the end of the decade the Australian Government had to subsidize the operation, and it was obvious that this subsidy would need to steadily increase if the current service was maintained.

Thus it became imperative that a land runway be established on the island. Three sites were considered, and in March 1974 an Engineering Regiment of the Australian Army arrived and began work on constructing a 3000ft strip between Blinky Beach and Windy Point.

VH-BRC operated the final scheduled service to LHI on 31st May 1974, and then maintained an 'as needed'' service while the land strip was completed. During this period, on the night of 9th June, it was damaged while moored. Temporary repairs were carried out, which included the replacement of one wing float. The damaged float remained in the island and is now a display item in the LHI museum.

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VH-BRF was then returned to service until the repairs to VH-BRC were completed, and operated its final LHI flight on 15th August 1974. After refurbishment at Rose Bay it was sold to Antilles Air Boats as N158J.

VH-BRC was able to resume flying in late August, carried out the last passenger service on 10th September 1974, and did one final flight to and from the island on the 11th to collect airline equipment. It then also went top Antillies Air Boats as N158C.

Landplane services then commenced to the island, initially with Advance Airlines, then several operators later (since 1991) QantasLink. The service is still a challenge. A Government subsidy is required and due to the necessity to carry sufficient reserve fuel to be able to return to the mainland if the aircraft is unable to land at LHI, the Dash8s currently in use cannot carry a full payload of passengers and freight. However flights can operate over weekends and are less weather-dependent than with the flying boats.

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Lord Howe is a historic and nature wonderland and, while expensive, is well worth the visit.

I would like to thank several people for assistance with this project and, in particular, Peter Phillips.
Peter is an ex-New Zealander who lived in mainland Austria before migrating to Lord Howe in 1992.
As an aircraft enthusiast he has been instrumental in setting up many of the aviation-related memorials on the Island and has also published a book "The Flying Boat Days' , the early aviation history of the Island. Peter was also able to organise my C182 flight around the island, which was an unforgettable experience.
I appreciate him for permission to reproduce the runway and flight sketches from that book here. There is so much more content, and I recommend this book as a great addition to your collection.

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Copies are available, contact Peter at peterphillipps at bigpond.com or by post Neds Beach Road, Lord Howe Island, NSW, Australia 2898

Peter also operates his business - Chase'n'Thyme tours - on the island, and it is well worth while going along to learn more about the natural and human history of this most fascinating place.

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Last edited by flyernzl on Mon Jun 01, 2020 4:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Lord Howe Island

Postby dogsbody » Wed May 27, 2020 4:47 pm

What a great story with great pictures. Thank you for posting all of this.



Chris
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with a uniform to wear,
a fast aeroplane to fly,
and something to shoot at?"
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Re: Lord Howe Island

Postby MrWidgeon » Sat May 30, 2020 6:08 pm

Yes indeed, a great report !
Thank you Sir !

Bill
In water flying attitude is everything
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Re: Lord Howe Island

Postby seawings » Thu Jun 04, 2020 6:19 pm

Anyone want to guess just how envious I am of this location and Peter's photo's....!

Thank you so much for sharing them all with us here, much appreciated,
Best Regards,

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"I put the sweat of my life into this project, and if it's a failure, I'll leave the country and never come back".
Howard Hughes, re: the HK-1 Hughes Flying Boat, aka the 'Spruce Goose,' 1946.
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