Old aircraft with a big story


Radio 8HA & SunFM
Many people don’t realise that Alice Springs Airport didn’t always occupy its current spot, south of the Gap.
The town’s rich aviation history is celebrated at the site of its first airport on what is now Memorial Avenue.
The Central Australian Aviation Museum has recently acquired an aircraft that played a big role for the airline that was founded here in 1939, Connellan Airways, or Connair as it later became known.
The de Havilland Heron with call sign Charlie Lima Whiskey was purchased from a collector near Sydney, after flying for years in the Pacific Islands (under a different registration) following its long service in the Centre.
For former Connair pilot David Frederiksen, it’s like an “old mate” coming home.
“I did 3000 hours in Herons and a lot of it was in Charlie Lima Whiskey. You did a lot of Ayers Rock runs – sometimes two or three times a day to the Rock and back – and a lot of it was done in Charlie Lima Whiskey, so I have a close affinity with this aircraft.”
Mr Frederiksen says he once decided to get his log books out and count up the number of trips he made to the Rock. The answer was 430.
The Heron was manufactured in England, but those bought by Connellan Airways came via all sorts of locations, having done all sorts of jobs. Mr Frederiksen says two or three came from India, “but CLW came from Germany where it had been Chancellor Adenauer’s personal aeroplane”.
With such an illustrious history, it was an acquisition worth taking good care of as the Central Australian Aviation Museum’s Brian Eather explains.
“We unloaded it here and thought we wanted to make a proper display so we better think about a protective cover for it. So we started with the idea of a sail cloth, which are hugely expensive so we had to give that idea up.
p2222-Heron-1“We had some drawings done for a custom design but that was expensive too. In the end we settled on a pre-fabricated shelter and a small group of volunteers took on the task of assembling it.”
The construction of the shelter is well underway, and while history is on display, there’s living history at the museum too.
Iits president is the Grandson of Connair’s founder, EJ Connellan. With flying in Edward Connellan’s blood, he’s become the Chief Pilot for Mengel’s Heli Services, as well as teaching people how to fly gliders at the weekend.
But he holds the aviators of the past in high regard: “In those days there was still very much a pioneering spirit … but when we go flying today we take multiple satellite trackers, satellite phones. Everyone will know where we are at every minute along the journey, whereas in those days there were a lot more risks involved.
“People did land aircraft in the bush and were lost, and there are an awful lot of very interesting stories where people went back to get people who they’d left behind and limped home in a wounded aeroplane.”
But, as Mr Connellan explained the Heron is very significant in the Centre since it required great technical expertise to adapt the aircraft for use in the outback.
“The original engines in the Herons were designed to be used in Europe, and when faced with Central Australia’s conditions they really weren’t up to the task. So they had to be redesigned using lighter, more powerful Lycoming engines which ultimately gave them much greater endurance, lower fuel consumption, a lot more power, so they could handle the hotter and higher conditions.
“The interesting fact of the time was that all that expertise was available in Alice Springs, and it was quite a hub of aviation experience.”
Having brought an aircraft across the planet, to then have to convert its engine sounds like an awful lot of effort, but according to pilot David Frederiksen, it was certainly worthwhile.
“All these de Havilland aeroplanes were beautiful to fly. When you fly them every day they become like a glove nearly, an extension of your body and you can nearly fly them like a bird. It does exactly what you think you want to do, and all pilots who flew de Havilland aeroplanes will tell you the same story.”
There’s no date set on when the shelter and display will officially open, as it’s taking a huge volunteer effort to build.
[You can listen to Andrea Johnston’s radio feature on the Heron and the construction of the shelter on Friday, on Sun FM at 0900 or 8HA at 0930 or on the stations’ websites after the broadcast.]


  1. Excellent story, Andrea. Well put together, as many Alice Springs residents are not aware of the significance of this site.
    The heritage and history of a Town Like Alice can only be told when these places are preserved and maintained.
    That also goes for the importance of aviation in the development of the Territory and people who made it happen.

  2. Well done Andrea, it certainly brings back memories of the early days in the 70s, flying out to the Rock in those mighty Herons (note they were stretched versions) and the big joke was if you wanted first class you sat up front so you got there quicker.
    Also Connair employed shorter flight attendants so they did not have to stoop so much as the Herons did not have much headroom.
    It was always fun to fly with pilots like Freddo and Christine Davies, looking forward to the final display, resting place being completed.

  3. Good story, Andrea, and nice to see Freddo’s comments about the old Heron. I accompanied my brother “Mouse” on the delivery trip taking CLW from Bankstown in Sydney to the Alice some years back. Freddo was there when we unloaded the old bird from “Mouse’s” truck and returned her home.
    “Mouse” will be inducted into the Truckies’ Hall next month and several of his family, including my wife and I will attend. It will be good to see where the old DH Heron is up to now. Hope to see Freddo again then, too.

  4. As a staff member I flew a lot – CLW, CLR, CLN. I flew with Freddo, Pat Harrison, Jim Hilder, Larry Olajos, Tim Georgetti, Terry Barnes, and one very young copilot, Anderson.
    I worked Darwin and Mount Isa. Drove Capt. Kreig up the wall. I wanted us to buy a Russian Yak 40 27seater jet, could land on all our landing strips.
    E. J. was shocked at the thought of dealing with the Russians. My motto was we either grow or we die. We then had Ayers Rock tied up. The Russians made a fantastic offer, financing and spares including spare engine.
    Aristotle Onasis bought the Yak 40 flying to all the Greek Islands. The Yak 40 still flies.

  5. I helped with the conversion whilst an engineer with Eddie.
    I did the cabin heater conversation amongst other tasks.
    A real big job the company took on doing these conversations.
    I also was employed by the CAAM to restore, along with other volunteers, the DC3 in the hanger at Alice.
    About 20 weeks and three trips there and back from Sydney in my trusty Hilux Ute.

  6. Looks like you need a team of old engineers to rebuild the Heron? Like my brother Fredo the fixer.
    Pilots are not much help in that area – they tend to bend them. I helped maintain D.H. Herons and Doves at the old London Airport at Croydon and on Heron Mk1s in Sydney with Butlers.
    After they were taken over by Ansett the Herons were sold about 1959. Not sure who purchased them. I think Humphreys Yak 40 could have been a real Red Heron he should have recommended the Fokker F27 Friendship the only really good replacement aircraft for the Douglas DC 3s and DH Herons.

  7. Well hello Brother Bill 🙁
    We both used to be apprenticed to Sammy Morton and serviced Morton Air Services Herons, Doves, Airspeed Consuls, Rapides (oh boy, all that fabric and wood stuff).
    I got to do the conversion work on a Philip’s Heron 2 and their Dove, with the Heron coming from Cambrian.
    As well we had Shell Aviation’s Heron and Dove plus Mr Douglas Bader’s Miles Gemini to keep in the air and looking schmick. From memory Brother Bill repainted it. I did the Morton’s Heron 2 paint jobs.
    Nice to catch up Bill and its good to see the names of so many pilots who I met years back.
    For one year I was the President of the Connair Social Club and I still have my membership card.
    I left for Sydney and Qantas, selling up my house at The Gap .
    Connair just got the Fokker and I lost a lot of friends in the disgusting hanger attack.
    I still have picture of me in Christine’s Tiger Moth dressed up in Roger Connellan’s flying suit and leather helmet, and one on the apron with one of our Herons alongside.

  8. Well done Andrea.
    To Davo: Those mighty Herons (note they were stretched versions).
    Not so Davo, just good old every day DH114 Herons.
    Yes, developed from the DH104 Dove.
    Prinair did a stretched Heron and engine conversion (a lot of their Heron purchases were just engine conversions).
    Its basic history.
    Saunders ST-27 and 28. I think one of Connair’s Herons was sold to Saunders?
    Interesting to note that the ST28 was a new development aircraft, with Heron tooling and jigs etc supplied by Hawker Syddeley (De Havilland )(Wiki).
    Interesting that we have had the Prototype Mk 1 here in Australia for many years, G-ALXL now VH-CJS, now in Moorabbin, Vic.

  9. I was a hostess on the Herons (and a “first/second officer” with several pilots) in 1970/71.
    It wasn’t the headroom of the Herons we worried about; but stepping over the spar in high heels with cups of tea or coffee was always a challenge.
    Especially challenging was trying to anticipate when the pilots might drop the aircraft as one was astride the spar!
    I flew on the Herons before they had the conversion to Lycoming engines.
    They were faster and not as noisy and did not labour around the hot skies of the Territory once they were equipped with the Lycoming engines. Ah the good old days.

  10. Hi, nice to read your comments. I’ve been doing some research on the Saunders ST-27 Heron conversion and have been posting a few Saunders Aircraft Canada articles to my blog at https://saundersaircraft.blogspot.com/
    I am looking for more Heron / Saunders ST-27 information, photos, anecedotes, etc. You can email me at kenkalynuk@gmail.com.
    The initial Saunders ST-27 engineering work was done at Aviation Traders (Engineering) of Southend-on-Sea. I am looking for a copy of the ST-27 British Air Registration Board type certificate No. BA-5.
    Thank-you, Ken Kalynuk

  11. Ken, one of Connair’s original Herons (VH-CLR) went to Saunders and was the last one they converted to ST-27.
    The rest of Connair’s Herons, and VH-KAM (for Kendall) had the Riley conversion and were re-sparred by Connair to extend life. All but one are in Australia, a few where scrapped or derelict, the rest stored or displayed in Museum. That one went to a museum in the UAE (as it had done time there).

  12. Great to learn about these aircraft and the people who flew in them and maintained them. Keeping the history alive.


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