Fifty Years Ago - 1953

Nineteen-fifty-three was a memorable year. The Coronation on 2 June, the ascent of Mount Everest a few days before, and in Australia the first atomic tests at Woomera.

On the aviation front, 1953 also witnessed the first flights at Avalon (Victoria) of two Australian-built aircraft; the "Canberra" jet bomber and the "Avon-Sabre" jet fighter. It was during a test flight of the Sabre, on 14 August, that the sound barrier was broken for the first time in the Southern Hemisphere. Test pilot W.H. Scott (later a DCA pilot) achieved the distinction as he dived the plane from 42,000 feet to 20,000 feet. Two "Canberra" bombers were also to make headlines later in the year during the London to Christchurch air race.

What happened in the field of Australian civil aviation fifty years ago, and in particular, what was DCA’s contribution?

ICAO Regional Meeting
Thirteen member States were represented when the second South East Asia and South Pacific Regional air navigation meeting, held at Melbourne University in January 1953. A major task of the conference was to formulate a long-term plan for the aeronautical fixed telecommunications network. Other recommendations included:

Long-range aircraft to be available at Durban and Perth for search and rescue operations from Maritius and Cocos Island.

High intensity approach lighting recommended for seven airports in the region: at Essendon and Mascot in Australia, Tokio, Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi and Aukland.

Interim procedures for reporting weather observations by high-altitude aircraft should be developed. A schedule was prepared for a network of 600 weather stations.

All navigation aids should be operated on 24-hour basis.

England – Australia airspeed record
The rush to bring pictures and films of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II to Australia was responsible for the lowering of the London – Sydney air record by three hours and two minutes. A Qantas Empire Airways "Constellation" made the flight to Sydney in 53 hours 28 minutes

Approach landing lights at Essendon Airport
A new high intensity approach lighting system at Essendon Airport was commissioned for use by airlines on 4th July, 1953. Three airport lighting systems – the British Calvert Cross Bar System, the French Approach Light System and the United States Slope-line Approach Light System – were first evaluated. It was decided that the Calvert system was best suited to Australian conditions. The Essendon installation was to be the prototype from which to gain operational experience, and to decide on the number of systems to be installed at other major airports. The Calvert system was capable of landing aircraft in object visibility of 250 yards by day and 110 yards by night.

Renaming of Airports
In accordance with recently accepted practice, major Australian airports were renamed after the capital cities, or the major towns adjacent to them. The only exception was Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport.

Jet Fuel Terminal at Nadi
A new 1.7 million gallon bulk jet and general aviation fuel terminal was opened at Vude Point, Nadi, for Fiji’s international airport. Australia was involved in two ways; the Standard-Vacuum Oil Refinery at Altona (near Melbourne), produced the first consignment of bulk jet fuel for export. The other was the building by Swanson Brothers Pty Ltd of a twin-screw barge with a capacity of 20,000 gallons, for service between the new terminal and the waterside depot.

Debate on Civil Aviation Estimates
Australian domestic airlines were carrying more passengers per head of population than the airlines in any other country of the world, Civil Aviation Minister Anthony told the Federal Parliament during the debate on civil aviation estimates – totalling £A10,850,000.

Air Race
On 9 October, Australians opened their morning papers to read that the London to Christchurch (NZ) air race was in progress and that five Canberra jet bombers were streaking their way across the world in an effort to make the journey in twenty-four hours. Interest had been building up for weeks in Australia, for the aircraft were to fly over Australian controlled airspace, and four of them eventually touched down at the Australian airport on Cocos Island – where W/Cdr. Cuming blew a tyre and left S/Ldr. Raw to carry Australia’s hopes to the finishing line. Click here to see a photo of the BEA Viscount at Essendon.

An information centre was set up in the basement of Henty House – DCA’s Head Office – to provide up-to-date progress reports to the press and radio. A departmental navigation officer worked with representatives of the competing organisations to obtain the latest information quickly and accurately. The Australian Broadcasting Commission provided a direct line to their Mont Park short wave station and fed race broadcasts from other parts of the world to the Melbourne Information Centre. The winners were: Speed Section – Canberra PR.3 in 23 hrs 51 minutes; Handicap Section – Douglas DC-6A in 37 hrs 30 minutes.

The Henty House press and radio Information Centre

‘Joyrides’ attract First-flighters.

Night flights organised by TAA and ANA to give the public an opportunity to see the Coronation illuminations in Melbourne and other capitals from the air were patronised by more than 12,000 people who paid £1 each for twenty minutes in the air. So many of these passengers (estimated at 80%) were making their first flight that the major airlines introduced Sunday afternoon scenic flights. Result: 5,500 passengers in two weekends.

Departmental Structure
Following a reorganisation of the duties among the senior officers, the new structure was:
Minister for Civil Aviation: The Hon. A.G. Townley, M.P.
Director General: Air Marshal Sir Richard Williams, K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O.
Assistant Director General (Regulatory): Captain E.C. Johnston, D.F.C.
Assistant Director General (Operations): C.S. Wiggins, C.B.E.
Assistant Director General (Ground Facilities): R.M. Badenach.
Assistant Director General (Admin., Personnel and Estab.): D.G. Anderson

Regional Directors were: A. Hepburn (NSW); A.R. McComb (Victoria/Tasmania); A.W. Doubleday, (Queensland); C.A.J. Lum (South Australia); D. Ross (Western Australia); F.W. Collopy (Northern Territory); J.S. Arthur (Papua-New Guinea).

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