First Sight of an Aeroplane: De Havilland D.H.50 G-AUAB

by Stanley H. McMaster

This story originally appeared in the Department's Aviation Australia magazine for November/December 1987. Mr McMaster later donated the text and copies of the photographs to the CAHS.


Most people cannot remember their first sighting of an aeroplane. Mine was somewhat unusual and connected closely with the activities of the early days of the Department of Aviation's forerunner.

I can't remember the exact date, but it was early August, 1924. I was only 8 years old and with my brothers and sister was going to school by horse and buggy along the gravel laneways that separated the farms on the south western slopes of New South Wales. We lived on a farm about 40 kilometres south west of the town of Temora and had to travel some eight kilometres to the one room, one teacher school.

On this particular morning we were surprised to see something unusual in the paddock of Mr Bill Calwell's farm. We couldn't work out what it was because it was quite some distance away. Harold, one of my brothers, thought it was an aeroplane. Our thoughts of school quickly vanished and we all went for a closer inspection.

It was an aeroplane, a D.H.50 owned by the then Civil Aviation Branch of the Defence Department. It was carrying out a survey of possible sites for aerodromes. Cootamundra had been the next planned stop but owing to dense fog the pilot had lost his way and the D.H.50 had run low on fuel. The fog had lifted slightly and the pilot had enough vision to land in a large fallow paddock infested with tall, dry saffron thistles. It was not far from Calwell's homestead.

The Calwells’ neighbour, Mr Tom Aitken, one of the few locals owning a car, drove the crew to Temora to buy petrol and relay messages concerning their whereabouts. The aircraft drew quite a lot of interest from the little community and a steady stream of visitors arrived during the day. Luckily, Mr Les Thomas, one of Calwell's farm hands, took some photographs of the aircraft and crew.

The passengers were Lt Col H.C. Brinsmead, then Controller of Civil Aviation and Mr R.H. Buchanan an Aircraft Inspector. The pilot was Captain E.J. Jones who was then Superintendent of Flying in the Civil Aviation Branch. All three men had considerable impact on the development of aviation in this country and I feel proud to have witnessed a small part of their activities. [Note: The aircraft and crew were on the first flight around Australia by landplane - click here for more about this flight]

The D.H.50 was subsequently purchased by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and was used extensively in the early barnstorming days of the great man's career. The aircraft had a further impact on my own association with aircraft and aviation when in October 1932 along with the Southern Cross it visited Temora. It was then named the Southern Cross Midget and my brother, Alex, being the eldest received the honour of a joy-flight in it. The price was five shillings. The pilot was Pat Hall who later during the war was my Squadron Commander on Lockheed Hudsons.

The main purpose of this article is to bring to you the photographs of the D.H.50 that were taken in Calwell's paddock and subsequently at Temora. They are reproductions of prints I obtained at the time.



Top: The D.H.50 in Mr Bill Calwell's paddock near Temora in August 1924. Pictured from left to right are: Lt Col Brinsmead; Mr Bill Calwell; Mr Calwell's two daughters, Lorna and Marion; and the pilot, Capt E.J. Jones. (Note the aircraft's engine is running.)

Above: Also in Mr Calwell's paddock. Note the original registration G-AUAB at that time. The aircraft was later re-registered as VH-UAB when the Civil Aviation Branch introduced new registration regulations in 1929. Pictured adjacent to the tail of the aircraft are Mr Tom Aitken (who drove the crew to Temora for fuel) on the left and Mr Calwell, Capt Jones is in the cockpit and Mr Buchanan is leaning on the leading edge of the mainplane.



Above and below: The D.H.50, now named the Southern Cross Midget and owned by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, at Temora on 2 October 1932. Note revised livery and registration marking.



Click here to read more about the war service of D.H.50 VH-UAB

(Photos: CAHS/S.H. McMaster collection)

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