Leonard Cooper 'Len' Dobbin 1910-2000

Len Dobbin was born in Sydney on 13 June 1910 and remembered as a young boy their elderly neighbour across the road. He was Lawrence Hargrave (1850 – 1915), who developed airfoil wings and rotary engines for aircraft. Thus Len was introduced to flying by the father of Australian aviation. The family later moved to Berwick (Melbourne).

In 1926 Len Dobbin joined the Shaw Ross Engineering and Aviation Company at Fisherman’s Bend as a rouseabout, as Len described himself in those days. Although he was not apprenticed to the company, he nevertheless gained valuable experience in working with aircraft engines.

Right: Len Dobbin looking at his collection of aircraft photos on his retirement from DCA in 1971.


In 1930 Len moved to Sydney to work for the original Australian National Airways. He worked for a time in the engine shop, under Hewitt, on Avro 10 aircraft.

In 1932 Len Dobbin transferred to Larkin’s Australian Aerial Services Ltd. workshops at Coode Island, doing assembly and maintenance work on Lasconder and Lascoter aircraft. He started to learn to fly, and obtained a D Ground Engineer’s Licence to work on Lynx 4C engines. Soon after, he obtained a C Licence. He also spent some time in Camooweal, Qld., as the resident AASL engineer.

In 1934 he served as co-pilot and flight engineer on Avro 10 aircraft flying between Sydney and Melbourne.

Left: A young Len Dobbin refuelling the one and only Lasco Lascondor, VH-UMY, c.1932-33

In 1935 Len Dobbin obtained a Ground Engineer’s Licence for the pre-flight inspection of aircraft and installation and inspection of aircraft engines. During 1935–1937 Len worked as a ground Engineer with Holyman’s Airways.

During 1937-1939 Len Dobbin went to Papua-New Guinea and was employed by Guinea Airways as ground staff, servicing aircraft flying supplies from Lae on the coast to Wau. There he worked on Junkers, Fokker and Ford aircraft.

On 24 September 1938 Len married Jess Hobler at Wau. Len and Jess went to Canada prior to the Second World War where Len worked as Maintenance Engineer for Canadian Pacific Airlines. He now obtained experience in conditions of snow, blizzards, frozen carburettors and ice on the aircraft wings. In September 1939 Canadian Pacific Airlines gained a servicing contract for the Royal Canadian Air Force. During 1940–1943 Len Dobbin served as Superintendent of Maintenance at 2 Air Observer’s School, Alberta, part of the Empire Air Training Scheme, later becoming Superintendent of Maintenance with Canadian Pacific Airlines at Montreal during 1943–1944.

In 1945 Len and Jess returned to Australia where Len joined the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) in Melbourne as an Aircraft Surveyor, and soon moved to Brisbane. His duties included examining aircraft to ensure compliance with airworthiness and investigating defects and accidents.

In 1954 Harold Gatty recruited Len as Manager and Chief Engineer at the newly formed Fiji Airways, which carried 28,000 passengers per year. He was there for five years, but when Gatty died control of Fiji Airways fell into new hands and Len, Jess and family returned to Australia.

In 1959 Len re-joined DCA in Melbourne as an Aircraft Surveyor, with particular emphasis as an assessor and aircraft accident investigation. In 1963 he was seconded from DCA to serve with the United Nations during the transfer of West Irian from the Netherlands to Indonesia. He was Chief Airworthiness Officer there for two years. In 1965 he returned to Australia and was promoted as Sectional Airworthiness Surveyor with DCA.


Above: Len Dobbin refuelling a Cessna 170 at Enarotali, Irian Jaya, in February 1963.

Len Dobbin retired on 19 March 1971. He was made an honorary member of the Royal Aircraft Engineers’ Institute. In all, he spent 44 years in aviation, 20 of them with DCA. Len retired to Tweed Heads, and died at Murwillumbah on 20 March 2000.

Len Dobbin was also a collector of aircraft photographs, particularly of between the wars Australian civil aircraft, and his name lives on in the Len Dobbin Collection of the CAHS.

(Photos: CAHS/Len Dobbin collection)

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