By ERWIN CHLANDA
Tall tales about flying can be heard in every corner of Australia. But in The Alice they include the early accounts of one of the world’s great airlines, Qantas.
Before its cadets were captaining jumbos they fronted the elements – heat, wind, dust, rain – in tiny single-engined aircraft often under the guide of Dave “Freddo” Frederiksen, from the local airline Connair.
He was one of the characters of the Aviation Museum at Tuesday’s re-enactment of the first flight to Alice Springs, from Melbourne, 100 years ago.
In The Centre the young fliers chalked up their own adventures, or became part of other pilots’ yarns.
This Heron, flown by John Myers, was dropping food in Docker River during the floods in the 70s. PHOTO by DAVID HEWITT.
One day Frederiksen evacuated a sick baby but before he could take off it died.
Soon the aircraft was surrounded by wailing women picking up rocks to self-harm. To his relief this was not to stone the plane.
Connair was a major industry in the North of Australia, not just running an airline but rebuilding the planes – sometimes from scratch – they were flying, and using them for relief work.
A Pitt Special aerobatic plane at yesterday’s re-enactment. PHOTO Ken Johnson.
To fly as a co-pilot on Qantas jet aircraft (Boeing 707) pilots were required to have at least 1000 hours in command. Some clocked up these with Connair. The first of the cadet pilots arrived in 1968 and in total 12 cadet pilots attained their quota here.
One of the young men, John Joppich, recalls: “The young men arrived from Sydney with an inflated sense of ability and were soon brought down to earth with the reality of real world flying.
“Freddo” Frederiksen was considered by us to be highly experienced and consequently became somewhat of a mentor. He has remained friends with the “Qantas boys” to this day.
“The Manager of Connellans at that time was John Cree.
“His wife, Liz, became somewhat of a de facto mother to the Qantas boys, all of whom were a long way from home and in most cases had never batched before,” Max Horton (pictured), recalls.
“Sunday roast lunches were a treat and our first Christmas Day away from home was especially memorable.
“Eighteen months flying in outback Australia with Connellan Airways was the making of us as pilots.
“The experience we gained in that time was exceptional and probably difficult to find anywhere else in Australia. In my case, air ambulance was the stand out, requiring us to think outside the box on every flight.”
PHOTO at top: Dave “Freddo” Frederiksen on the wing. John Joppich in the Cessna cockpit.