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Australian Aviation in the 1960s - An Aeradio Operators Memories
An early Qantas B707
I was twenty-four when I joined DCA
Welcome to my Hub: Austrlian Aviation in the 1960s - An Aeradio Operator's Memories.
On completion of six years in the Royal Australian Navy and at the age of twenty-four I joined the now defunct Australian Commonwealth Government’s Department of Civil Aviation as a Communications Officer. My years as a Radio Operator in the Navy qualified me for this and, as it was, I was to find that more than half the Communications Staff in DCA were ex Navy. A few were ex Army or Airforce- very few civilians. In fact, Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport Communications Centre was jocularly referred to as HMAS Mascot.
This was in 1960
This was in 1960, in an age where DC3s, DC4s DC6Bs and a handful of the latest Vickers Viscount aircraft made up the bulk of Australia’s airliners. A few ‘Internationals’ had turned to jets. Qantas’ Super Constellations were being superseded by the earliest model Boeing 707s, and British Overseas Airline Corporation’s (BOAC) Britannia’ had already given way to their Comet 4s.
It was a great age
It was a great age in which to experience the ‘operational side’ of Aviation and, after an initially dull first year, which I largely spent handling messages in the Tape Relay Centre, I undertook my initial three-months Communications Officer Course (Later to become Flight Service) Here I learned about Meteorolgy, Navigation, Search and Rescue, Airways Operations Procedures and much more, including practical exercises in aircraft separation and the like. A month or two later I was transferred, along with my then small family of wife and one child to the New South Wales Central West Town of Dubbo. Dubbo was, in 1961, a town with a population of 9,000 people. I think it now has around 35,000 people. But the point was that it lies right on track between Sydney and Darwin and at that time – and probably now – the aircraft enroute Europe via Darwin from Sydney all overflew Dubbo Aeradio.
Two jets way up heading for Sydney
I can recall to this day standing outside the open doorway of Dubbo Aeradio – I was on watch by myself – loudspeaker on full blast and watching two contrails high, high above in an early morning sky. Two jets way up heading for Sydney. I noticed that the one at the back was very slowly gaining on the other.
A crackle from the radio and I go inside to my control console as a cultured, probably Oxford educated voice says:
“Dubbo - this is Speed Bird 701 over your station this time, flight level 330 estimating Sydney at time 27…”
Then, a fraction of a second later, before I had a chance to acknowledge, the broad tones of an Australian accent chimed in.
“Dubbo - Qantas 274. We’re also over Dubbo this time…and we’re catching up and overtaking Speedbird 701…flight level 370, estimating Sydney at time 23.” followed by laughter.
And so it was. Qantas had taken delivery of another of their brand new Boeing 707s and they were proud of the fact that they had more up-to-date and superior aircraft than their rivals “Those ‘Plum-in-the mouth Pommie pilots.”
We had lots of aircraft over the top
Of course, we had a lot more foreign-owned aircraft over the top that the British. There was KLM, Luthansa, Air India, Air Italian, Air France, and heaps of Yankee military aircraft.
Yes, Dubbo Aeradio was right under the Juliet Route, the Transcontinental Upper Control Area which ran as a huge, broad imaginary corridor in the in the sky, ranging from 26,000 feet up to 45,000 feet up in the air right across Australia. Every day the jets, the prop jets and the old fashioned piston engine aircraft would wing their way along this route. Going Northwest we took ‘em over abeam Mudgee and handed them over to Charlieville at the Queensland Border. They, in turn, handed them over to Longreach and they to the Northern Territory Stations.
Focker Friendship F27
Dubbo's FIZ was at least half the size of Texas
Of course, that was only part of it. Dubbo Flight Information Zone covered a huge geographical area from the Queensland Border in the North, 146 degrees east (half way to Broken Hill) to the west. Our southern boundry was around 34 degrees south across to Forbes, then an easterly boundry which took in towns such as Narrabri and Moree. A good quarter of the area of New South Wales fell to us for providing an in flight service to aviators. Big as Texas? Well, maybe…
I spent a year at Dubbo Aeradio
I loved it! Steep learning curve but I loved it. I spend a year at Dubbo Aeradio. Although quite busy, it was a piece of cake compared with the busiest Aeradio Station I ever worked in: Madang Airport, in Papua New Guinea, a few years later. That place was so intense that a three-hour stint in ‘the hotseat’ of Air-ground was the norm before a respite was needed. But that, my readers, is another story.