Flying Doctor Operations - c.1950s

In Western Australia during the 1950s Flying Doctor services were operated by Australian Aerial Medical Services (WA Division) Inc., Perth. De Havilland DH83 Fox Moth VH-USJ John Flynn was one of the aircraft operated by AAMS and is seen above and below in flight near Meekatharra, WA, in 1959. Note the Flying Doctor Service logo on the cowling and the small red cross on the rear fuselage decking.


This aircraft (c/n 4058) was built by De Havilland at Stag Lane aerodrome, Edgeware, UK, in 1933 and was first registered in February of that year as G-AECB to the Scottish Motor Traction Co. Ltd., Edinburgh. It was one of 8 Fox Moths and numerous other types operated by SMT and was based at Renfrew aerodrome. It often flew to unprepared strips throughout the Highlands. G-AECB was the first aircraft to land on Shetland Island when it arrived at Sumburgh on 19 April 1933 carrying officials of the Commercial Bank of Scotland.

The aircraft was disposed of when SMT replaced its Fox Moths with DH84 Dragons. It passed through a succession of owners until 1935 when it was imported into Australia by MacRobertson Miller Airlines (MMA), arriving on 15 June at Fremantle, WA. It was test flown after re-assembly at Perth/Maylands on 5 July and was registered VH-USJ on 9 July.

The first Flying Doctor Service base in WA was established at Port Hedland in August 1935. VH-USJ was based in Port Hedland and operated by MMA as a reserve aircraft for its north-western services, and for Australian Aerial Medical Service (AAMS). The resident doctor, initially Dr Allan Vickers, was carried as a passenger and the aircraft flown by an MMA pilot.

This state of affairs continued until 1941, when MMA decided to replace the Fox Moth with Cessna VH-UZU as the reserve aircraft on the Wyndham-Daly Waters run. VH-USJ was sold to AAMS, the change of registration occurring on 11 August. The Government Medical Officer, Dr Harold G Dicks, had completed his two-year appointment on 30 July and was not prepared to continue unless he was permitted to fly the aircraft himself. This was not desired by the AAMS Committee, as up to date the doctor had always been a passenger only. However, no other doctor could be obtained so Dr Dick's request was complied with, and AAMS acquired the Fox Moth.

The aircraft suffered accidents in 1942, and again in 1943, with Dr Dicks at the controls. Although it was repaired each time, in 1946 it was damaged again whilst under the command of another pilot. In 1947 the registration was transferred to the Flying Doctor Service (WA Section) Inc., Perth, successor to the AAMS. By 1949, still based in Port Hedland, it had been joined by DH84 Dragon VH-AGJ, with the Dragon doing most of the work. By 1953, MMA had taken over most of the aerial medical work using an Avro Anson, with the Fox Moth being retained as a reserve aircraft. During this period VH-USJ was mainly flown by 'honorary FDS pilots' Father J F O'Sullivan, Rev. Father Edward Bryan and J R M Wolfe.

In December 1957 VH-USJ was based at Meekatharra, WA, pending delivery of a new Cessna 180 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Following the arrival of the Cessna VH-USJ remained based at Meekatharra as a standby aircraft, being flown by Don Ende. On 6 December 1959 the aircraft was damaged in a taxying accident at Mt Magnet and subsequently trucked to Meekatharra for repair. In March 1960 it was ferried to Perth/Maylands for its Certificate of Airworthiness renewal, however this was not carried out and the CofA lapsed on 12 March. VH-USJ was then placed in storage at Maylands and, by November 1960, was being advertised for sale.

The CofA was finally renewed in June 1961, the aircraft subsequently moving through a series of owners in WA until badly damaged in an accident and struck off the Register on 16 March 1964. The remains changed hands and location several times over the following years until finally shipped to New Zealand where the aircraft was re-built to airworthy condition, flying again on 22 November 2002. It has been returned to Australia and is presently (c.2003) based again in Perth, Western Australia.

(Photo: Don Ende/Geoff Goodall collection)

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