Lockheed 12A VH-BHH - c.1955

The Zinc Corporation's Lockheed 12A VH-BHH Silver Star (c/n 1275), seen at Wyndham, WA, c.1955. This photo was taken by DCA radio technician Colin Hayes, on posting to the Kimberley. The aircraft is reported to have been carrying Essington Lewis, a giant of the Australian mining industry who was BHP Chief Executive 1921-1950, Chairman 1950-1952 and Deputy-Chairman 1952-1961.

This aircraft was built at Burbank in October 1939 and delivered as NC18977 to the Pittsburgh Steel Co., PA. In 1942 it was impressed by the US Army Air Corps as a UC-40D-LO and given the military serial 42-38348. However, in July 1942 it was struck off USAAC charge and shipped to Britain under terms of Lend-Lease, contract No.A5189.

The aircraft was given the RAF serial LA623, one of a batch of five Lockheed 12A's LA619-LA623. Initially taken on charge by Lockheed Aircraft Co. at Liverpool, it was delivered by air on 5 Sep 1942 to 24 Squadron, RAF at Hendon. The aircraft remained based at Hendon, although from 1944 it was transferred to the Metropolitan Communications Squadron.

On 7 Nov 1945 the aircraft was disposed of by sale to the Aeronautical and Industrial Research Corp., Hanworth. This organisation was formed by F S 'Sid' Cotton who carried out secret aerial photography of Germany pre-war in another Lockheed 12. Post-war A&IR acquired several more Lockheed 12s from RAF disposals. The aircraft was added to the British civil register in Feb 1946 as G-AGWN.

The aircraft was struck off the Register in Feb 1947 having been reportedly sold overseas, however it was restored two months later and recorded as having been sold to Skyways Ltd., Dunsfold. A civil conversion was carried out by Short & Harland Ltd, receiving c/n SH.50C. By this time the aircraft was fitted with a teardrop cockpit side window designed by F S Cotton.

A British CofA was issued on 21 May 1947 and the aircraft was flown by Skyways as a communications aircraft and VIP transport for members of the Board of Directors. The aircraft was un-named although all the other aircraft in the Skyways fleet received names. G-AGWN was probably used as a crew transport during the Berlin Airlift when Skyways flew its Avro Yorks and Lancastrians in Germany.

In July 1950 the Lockheed was sold to The Zinc Corporation Ltd., London, and in 1952 it was flown from England to Australia. In October 1952 the aircraft underwent an Australian CofA inspection with Ansett Airways at Melbourne/Essendon. Long range fuel tanks were installed and the aircraft was fitted for two crew and four passengers. On the 31st the aircraft was added to the Australian Register as VH-BHH. It was given the name Silver Star, which was painted on the nose.

In October 57 VH-BHH was sold to the Anglican Church's Bush Church Aid Society and re-named S.J.Kirkby. Following an inspection and test flight, the aircraft was ferried Essendon-Ceduna by G.M. Job & A.E. Chadwick on 2 November. It was based at Ceduna and used as an aerial ambulance transporting the resident doctor to emergency cases as well as conducting regular clinics at local settlements.

On 24 June 1959 the aircraft was re-registed VH-FMS (Flying Medical Service). A heavy landing at Ceduna on 17 March 1960 caused the undercarriage to collapse during the landing roll. Incorrect assembly of the undercarriage actuating screws had led to reverse folding of the drag-struts. The pilot and four passengers were unhurt, however the aircraft suffered major damage and it was struck off the Register on 4 Nov 1960.

The aircraft was then placed in storage in various places for the next forty years. Various plans to rebuild it have so far come to naught, however parts have been used to keep other Lockheed 12As airworthy. VH-BHH is currently (c.2003) stored dismantled at Nowra, NSW, with the Australia’s Museum of Flight collection.

(Photo: Colin Hayes/Geoff Goodall collection)

Click here to see photos of VH-BHH whilst with the Bush Church Aid Society

Back to the main Items of General Interest index

If this page appears without menu bars at top and left, click here