James Edward 'Jim' Schofield AM (1921-2005)

Jim Schofield, early 1980s

(Photo: Jim Schofield collection)

This biography of Jim Schofield was written by Ian Leslie with the assistance of Jim's family.


Jim Schofield was born in Bendigo on 21st February 1921, the only son of Arch-Deacon and Mrs. Schofield. He had three sisters and the family lived in Melbourne where he attended Camberwell Grammar School and then Melbourne Grammar School. He then enrolled in Engineering at Melbourne University.

These were the War years, and he was desperately keen to serve in the RAAF. He was finally permitted by the Manpower Authorities to leave University and join the Air Force. In early 1941 he enlisted and went to Initial Training School at Somers, then to the Elementary Flying Training School at Western Junction in Tasmania, flying Tiger Moths. Then to Point Cook to the Service Flying Training School, flying Hawker Demons and Wirraways. After graduating in August 1941 with a commission, he was posted overseas to the Middle East. The only vacancies available to the newly arrived pilots at that time were in the Army Co-operation Units whose main tasks were convoy escort and artillery and bomb spotting. He attended the Army Co-operation Operational Training Unit in Palestine where he was trained on Hurricane aircraft.

Early in 1942 he joined 451 RAAF Squadron at Heliopolis in Egypt and then, as a new arrival, he was given the task of driving a truck in convoy to Rayak in Syria where the Squadron set up base. A small group from the Squadron was detached to Cyprus where the task was to fly patrols protecting convoys in the Mediterranean Sea. When some of the locals became restless the Squadron was told to remind them of the presence of the RAF by impressing them with their flying, but without firing guns. In one of these expeditions he achieved the dubious honour of being the only Australian pilot to have a mid-air collision with a domestic fowl which had taken off in alarm from a fence post.

By early 1943 451 Squadron had become a fighter Squadron and was moved to a base west of Alexandria, in support of the 8th Army offensive. During that year he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant as a Flight Commander in 127 RAF Squadron, and it was moved to St. Jean in Palestine. One interesting operation during this time was an involvement by the squadron in the arrangements for a meeting between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Teheran. During the five days of the conference the aircraft were required to circle the city throughout the daylight hours, 'to show the flag', ensuring that the red white and blue roundels on the RAF aircraft were seen.

From Alexandria the squadron embarked on a troopship to Scotland, and thence by rail to a permanent RAF base at North Weald, in Kent, where they were delighted to see 18 brand new Spitfires and excellent living conditions, a nice change from the tented life in the Middle East. Next move was to Lyme in Sussex where the squadron was engaged flying Spitfires in operations across the Channel, attacking enemy V-1 sites along the coast of France, and also 'train-busting'. On D-Day the role of the squadron was to provide air cover for the laying of the fuel pipe-line across the Channel, code name 'PLUTO'. Shortly after D-Day, several pilots, including Jim, were ordered to fly to Thorney Island in order to take part in a top secret operation. There they were told that they were to escort the Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, on a flight to France in a converted Mitchell B-25 bomber, as he was to visit D-Day troops in Normandy. After landing the General came across to the Spitfire pilots standing by their aircraft, and thanked each of them for the escort.

In August 1944 Jim was posted back to Australia and he returned by ship, across the Atlantic to New York and then, after a fortnight's break, they embarked on a cargo ship for the last leg taking 43 days to reach Melbourne.

Although he planned to return to Melbourne University to resume his Engineering course, he also successfully applied for a place on a RAAF course to train test pilots. On completion he secured a position in March 1945 with Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation as a test pilot. His first task was to test the first Australian assembled P-51 Mustang aircraft. Over the next two years he tested Mustangs and Wirraways. One highlight was the inaugural test flight he made in March 1946 of the prototype CA-15, an Australian-designed long-range fighter with a powerful Rolls Royce Griffin engine. He carried out a series of test flights but the aircraft never went into production, as it was too late with the War over and there was no requirement by the RAAF. In December 1946 he married Nan Dollery, the ceremony being conducted by his father.

Production of aircraft at CAC declined, and he resigned and embarked on a new career with Department of Civil Aviation as an Inspector of Accidents. The position was based in Melbourne and entailed investigation of accidents all over Australia. With the rapid expansion of airline activity after the War there were many accidents. He was involved in the investigation of three that were of particular significance, as they highlighted problems in the industry.

In September 1948 the DC-3 Lutana, carrying 10 passengers, and operated by ANA on a flight from Townsville to Sydney was well off course and crashed in the Liverpool Ranges. All occupants were killed. The following year another DC-3, operated by MacRobertson Miller Airlines, crashed shortly taking off from Perth, killing all 14 passengers. As with the investigation of the Lutana, the subsequent Board of Inquiry did not come to a definite conclusion as to cause but the Lutana accident resulted in a review and changes in air traffic control and airways engineering services. Then, twelve months later, the worst Australian accident so far occurred when the Amana, a DC-4 operated by Australian National Airways on a flight to Melbourne, crashed soon after reaching cruising altitude. The Board of Accident Inquiry did not establish a cause nor did it share the view of the Departmental investigation that contamination of the fuel with water was possibly a factor in the accident. So the mystery remains.

After a period as Acting Chief Inspector of Accidents, Jim Schofield successfully applied for the position of Civil Aviation Liaison Officer with the Australian High Commission in London. So late in 1953, Jim and Nan with their son, David and daughter, Sue, went by sea to London. At that time Australian airlines were purchasing Viscount aircraft and the CALO was involved in the various requirements and formalities associated with the purchase. Keeping abreast with developments in aviation required extensive Continental visits, to manufacturers and Government agencies and attendance at trade shows, all contributing to a very interesting period of his aviation career. During their stay in England another son, Jonathan, was born.

Returning to DCA in Melbourne, he spent a few months with the Organization and Methods Section before being appointed in 1958 to the position of Superintendent of Operations in the South Australian/Northern Territory Region. The family settled into the Adelaide suburb of Blackwood. This position called for lot of travel, visiting the many DCA out-stations in South Australia and the Northern Territory. Travel was largely done with Jim flying the Departmental Avro Anson and then the newly acquired Aero Commander.

The Schofield family suffered a devastating loss in 1965 with the death of Nan, wife and mother. There were understandably some difficult times ahead for Jim and his young family.

In 1968/69 Jim Schofieldwent to DCA's Papua New Guinea Region to relieve the Regional Director for several months over the summer. He was later appointed to the position and he, with Marion who he had married in 1967, spent seven years in the Region.

During that time, in order to improve the safety record of operations in the Region, he introduced a number of changes to standards, particularly in regard to requirements of pilot experience for operations in the Region. It was a period of great change as it was clear that independence of Papua New Guinea was to take place.


Jim Schofield with Aviat trainees - click here for larger

The Aviat College at Port Moresby was established during this time for the training of indigenous recruits as air traffic controllers, radio operators, and technicians. Air New Guinea, the first Government airline, with sole airline rights, was established in this period.

Jim took up sailing again, he became a member of the Royal Papua Yacht Club, and later became Commodore.


Jim Schofield at the opening of Port Moresby's new runway - click here for largerIndependence for Papua/ New Guinea came in 1975 and accordingly the responsibility for civil aviation became a matter for the new Government. A Civil Aviation Agency was created in which he was appointed Director and he had this responsibility until the following year when he retuned to Australia.

In the meantime the Australian Government had created the amalgamated Department of Transport and Jim was appointed First Assistant Secretary (Airways Operations) and this responsibility included Air Traffic Control, Flight Service, and the Fire Services. This position was in Melbourne but it was later transferred to Canberra as part of the centralising of the Department. In 1979 he acted in the position of the Deputy Secretary (Air Operations) and subsequently was appointed permanently to the position.

In the early 1980s there was again a change in the administration of civil aviation and the Department of Aviation was established, taking over all the aviation elements of the Department of Transport. The Airports element was then transferred to a Federal Airports Corporation, and in 1983 Jim Schofield retired from the Department.

He and Marion decided to live in Adelaide and there followed a succession of aviation consulting jobs, both for industry and for Government. One major task was the overseeing the construction of a replica of the Southern Cross, the aircraft in which Sir Charles Kingsford Smith had flown the Pacific Ocean. When the aircraft finally flew in 1987, it marked the successful end to a seven year project, fraught with technical and financial problems. As Chairman of the Southern Cross Memorial Trust, he then became responsible for the coordinating and planning of the movements of the aircraft as it toured widely in Australia and in New Zealand.

He continued with consulting work until 1991, when he suffered a major stroke which left him very handicapped in regard to mobility and speech.

In 1987 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). A further tribute, less formal but more in the public eye, was the naming of a street at Adelaide Airport, the 'James Schofield Drive'.

Jim Schofield died in Adelaide on 23rd November 2005.


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