Ian Leslie AM (1922 - 2014)

Ian Leslie AM, photographed in October 2003

(Photo: Phil Vabre/CAHS Collection)



Ian Leslie was born in Melbourne on 11 February 1922 and attended Melbourne High School. Upon leaving school he joined the Bank of New South Wales in 1938.

The coming of war saw Ian join the RAAF in 1941. He was posted to Initial Training School at Victor Harbour, S.A., for ‘square bashing’. There the trainees were sorted into pilot, navigator or wireless/air gunner streams. With Ian selected for pilot training, he was sent to Elementary Flying Training School at Parafield, S.A., on Tiger Moths.

The demands for aircrew in Europe then saw Ian Leslie posted to Canada for advanced training on multi-engine aircraft at the Service Flying Training School at Saskatoon, flying Cessna Cranes. At the conclusion of the course Ian received his ‘wings’ and a commission. He was then posted to the General Reconnaissance School at Prince Edward Island, on Avro Ansons, before moving onto 111 Operational Training Unit at Nassau in the Bahamas. Here they flew B-25 Mitchell aircraft before converting on to B-24 Liberators.

On completion of Liberator conversion, Ian and his crew were attached to 45 Air Transport Group at Montreal, Canada and subsequently crewed a Liberator to ferry to India via the U.K. Their route took them via Gander to refuel and then to Prestwick in Scotland – a flight Ian remembers as "a long cold night". From Prestwick they proceeded to Ras el Mar in Morocco and then to Egypt's Cairo West aerodrome via an unofficial look at the battlefields of El Alamein where the Battle had recently been won by the Allies. After a delay in Cairo due to illness they resumed their flight via Habbaniya, in Iraq, to Karachi.

Following the successful delivery of their aircraft, Pilot Officer Leslie was posted to 354 Squadron RAF at Cuttack, in Orissa, in November 1943. For the next year he flew in operations from Cuttack and from bases in Ceylon, throughout the Bay of Bengal, including convoy escorts, anti-submarine patrols and reconnaissance/bombing trips along the Arakan coast of Burma. In December 1944, following completion of an operational tour, Ian was posted to Headquarters RAF Bengal/Burma in Calcutta where he became an aerodrome inspector working at various locations such as Cox’s Bazaar along the India/Burma border.

In 1945 Ian Leslie returned to Australia where he was de-mobbed. Ian chose to return to the Bank of New South Wales, however he continued his interest in aviation with the Royal Victorian Aero Club (RVAC) where he flew "for pleasure and, sometimes, for hire and reward". He became a member of the RVAC Committee and was involved with the move of the Club from Essendon to the newly-constructed Moorabbin Airport. Whilst with the RVAC, Ian flew various Moths and Austers, the Ryan STM and the Miles Whitney Strait.

The lure of aviation was eventually too great and in 1950 Ian left the Bank for "a full time life in aviation". Soon afterward, he replied to a newspaper advertisement by Connellan Airways, based in Alice Springs, which offered ‘a remarkable opportunity for a young man with management possibilities, capable of looking after the books’. His application was successful and Ian joined Connellan Airways as accountant.

Being short of pilots, however, it was not long before Ian was flying in addition to his office job. During his time with Connellans from 1950 to 1961, Ian flew extensively throughout the outback of the Northern Territory, South Australia Western Australia and Queensland. In 1955 he was appointed Manager and oversaw a period of considerable expansion for the airline.

Operations were carried out in very basic conditions, however the airline managed to maintain a good safety record. Aircraft types operated during Ian’s time included the De Havilland D.H.89 Rapide and D.H.90 Dragonfly, Beech 18, Twin Bonanza, Travelair, Baron, Cessna 180/182 and also the Beech D17 (Staggerwing). Connellans also operated a Tiger Moth which could be converted into an ambulance for Flying Doctor work. On occasions the Tiger Moth was also pressed into service on mail/passenger flights, always flown by Ian, and Ian thinks hat he may be the only pilot in the world to have operated a Tiger Moth on a scheduled airline service! [Read more about Ian Leslie's experiences with Connellan Airways.]

Seeking new pastures, in 1961 Ian accepted a position with the Department of Civil Aviation, based in Adelaide, where he was engaged in the investigation of accidents and incidents. Three years later he became Senior Inspector of Air Safety in Central Office in Melbourne, then Director, Accident Investigations and later Assistant Secretary, Air Safety Investigation (i.e. head of the Air Safety Investigation Branch). As an investigator in Melbourne, Ian took part in major investigations including the F.27 accident at Launceston, Viscount crash at Port Hedland, Lockheed Hudson crash at Tennant Creek and the Pan Am overrun at Sydney. He was also involved in representing Australia at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), among other things being a member of the team which developed the ICAO Manual of Aircraft Accident Investigation – the investigator’s ‘bible’.

In 1977 Ian was promoted to the position of First Assistant Secretary (Flying Operations and Airworthiness). This division was responsible for the safety regulatory side of aviation, i.e. the development and maintenance of flight standards and airworthiness standards. Ian comments, "In later years I frequently had people from the industry discussing many problems with me and more than one said that, of course, I just would not know of the difficulties faced by aircraft operators as I was a civil servant!" Ian also represented Australia at meetings of ICAO and led the delegation at the Divisional meeting which selected TRSB/INTERSCAN as the international standard for a Microwave Landing System (MLS).

In 1983 Ian retired from the Department and was then engaged as a consultant on transport matters, some with ICAO projects in developing countries in South-East Asia and Africa, and he also served as a member/Chairman of Boards of Inquiry into fatal rail accidents involving Australian National Railways.

Ian was both a past President and Patron of the Civil Aviation Historical Society until he passed away on 17 December 2014. Roger Meyer, CAHS President, wrote this personal reflection on Ian's contribution to the Society:

All members are probably aware of the recent passing Mr Ian Leslie AM, President of the CAHS from 1996 to 1999, and then Patron from 2000 until 2014.

What a fine, clear-headed and respected gentleman Ian was. He was always available to offer advice or make suggestions when asked, but never one to tell us what to do.

It was through his skills and understanding of legal matters that he produced the Constitution for the Society, which resulted in us becoming an Incorporated Society.

This, and other initiatives, helped to raise the status of the CAHS, and other aviation history groups have since followed some of our courses of action.

It was a highlight of our second Wednesday lunchtime meetings that I would drive Ian home afterwards. (Of course, he would have rung the previous evening, asking if that would be all right – he never took people for granted). Our conversations were wide ranging, interesting and generous on his part; I was always sorry when we reached his home in East Camberwell.

I must confess to being a little in awe – if not scared - of him in the early days of our association. He had been such an important and revered officer in DoT, and I was a minnow from the Technical Officer ranks. However, he was kind, and infinitely encouraging of my faltering efforts. He had the ability to instil confidence. Ian was a mentor to many of us, individually and as a group.

To be the leader of important aircraft accident investigation was not for the timid or easily persuaded person, no matter what their technical skills might be. Ian was fearless, thorough and professional to the highest degree. Mind you, he could see the funny side too. Like relating the story of the DCA storeman who bypassed the cumbersome Departmental purchasing procedures, and went out and purchased all of the beach umbrellas in a remote town to shelter the Investigators from the hot sun at the Winton accident site.

In his 18 years of association, Ian gave us leadership, encouragement and the confidence to make the CAHS the professional body it is, and deserves to be.

Ian’s legacy will live on.


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