Norman Rodoni (?-?)
Norm Rodoni & Waco VH-UYD

Norman Rodoni, c.1937.

Click on the image to see the full photograph.

(Photo: Dora Payens/Ron Cuskelly collection)


In DCA circles Norman Rodoni is best remembered as the inventor of the Airways Traffic Computer, a device which became known as the 'Rodoniscope'. Not a lot is known about the life of Norm Rodoni, except the few fragments set out below.

Prior to becoming a Flight Checking Officer (as Air Traffic Controllers were known in those days), Norm Rodoni had a successful career as a pilot. He worked for Adastra Airways from 1935 to 1941 as a pilot and engineer, eventually becoming Chief Pilot.

In April 1936 Captain Frank Follett and Norman Rodoni of Adastra Airways carried out a survey of the Cobar, NSW district in a British Aircraft Eagle under instruction from the NSW Department of Mines. This was the first occasion that an aircraft had been used in NSW to assist ground parties in mineral surveys.

In June 1938 Adastra shipped a B.A. Eagle VH-UUY from Sydney to Port Moresby on the "Montoro" for a series of survey flights for Papuan Apinaipi Petroleum Co Ltd. Norm Rodoni was the pilot.

In September 1940 while Battle of Britain was reaching a crescendo on the other side of the world, Norm Rodoni, by then Chief Pilot of Adastra, was engaged on vital aerial survey work in Central Australia. His photographer was Peter V Payens and they were using Waco YKS-6 VH-UYD. The following extract from Out of Control in the Centre by John P. Kellow of Connellan Airways describes this episode:

"Prior to my departure on the 30th mail run, an Adastra Airways photographic survey plane had arrived in Alice from Sydney. It was a Waco biplane, powered by a Jacobs radial engine. It was crewed by Adastra's Chief Pilot, Norm Rodoni, and Peter Payens, the photographer. They had a contract to do a vertical survey of an area of country centred on "The Granites". They had sufficient respect for the navigational hazards of flying in the area to request that we escort them to "The Granites" and back. It was therefore arranged that they would fly alongside me on the next mail run. This was no problem, as the cruising speeds of both aircraft were about the same. We departed together on 17 September 1940, and I left them at "The Granites" and continued on. My trip went normally except for a slight delay with a tail wheel puncture at Auvergne on the return trip, and I spent the night of 19 September at "The Granites" with the Adastra crew who had completed their job. We returned to Alice Springs in company the following day. On the run, Peter Payens took a number of oblique photos of various parts of the country of interest to us, including some good ones of our Gull in the air. In due course he sent us a good selection of prints with their compliments."

By May 1942, with the Japanese well established in New Guinea, Adastra had been contracted by the Director of Surveys to perform an aerial survey of areas of the north coast of NSW. Norm Rodoni and Peter Payens were once again involved, again using the Waco. Of interest is the fact that liaison was necessary with anti-aircraft batteries to prevent the survey aircraft being shot at! On 19 June, Norm Rodoni flew the Waco from Mascot to Coolangatta to commence the work, but it was not to last long. After only three flights Norm Rodoni was forced to withdraw from the survey work, reporting that he could no longer carry on with flying at high altitude owing to trouble with his eyes.

On 7 July 1942 Norm Rodoni returned to Mascot with the Waco, and subsequently joined DCA as a Flight Checking Officer. In 1944 he was responsible for the invention of the Airways Traffic Computer, or 'Rodoniscope'. This invention halved the number of controllers needed and was more accurate than other, more cumbersome, methods of control. Despite its officially agreed merits it was not until 1950 that he was finally paid £200 by the Public Service Board and a further £250 by the War Inventions Committee.

Thanks to Ron Cuskelly for providing much of the information on which the above is based. You can find a link to his excellent Adastra Aerial Surveys website on our
Links page.

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