HISTORY – The First Fifty Years

Late 1920's to late 1930's

The main stay of aviation pioneering in Rockhampton was Captain Harold Fraser. Harold Fraser was born in Rockhampton in 1891; he joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1917 and became a Lieutenant on September 8 1917. After the First World War he worked the land, grazing cattle. He became tired of this and planned to return to flying. He had been issued with a civil pilots licence and was planned  to acquire an aircraft that he knew was for sale in new Guinea - a Cirrus Mk 1 Moth.

Fraser got his Moth VH-UFU and barnstormed with it around Rockhampton and the near west using Black Ridge Flat as his base.  He gained his Commercial Pilot Licence in 1928 and was the founder of Rockhampton Aerial Services. Later that year John Hobler and two other enthusiasts, Terry McLaughlin and Dan Hempenstall, asked local real estate agent George Connor for the use of a disused racecourse, Connor Park, as a landing strip. Connor was very willing to help with the birth of aviation in Central Queensland and agreed to rent the land for a nominal fee.  In 1929 Harold Fraser applied to the Rockhampton City Council for permission to start a flying training school in Rockhampton, there were a lot of keen young men ready to have a go.

On February 9 1930 the Rockhampton Aero Club was formed.

The committee was;

Terry McLaughlin, Clive Boland, John Hobler, Dan Hempenstall, Robbie McLaughlin, Brian Hempenstall, Doug Cousins and Ray Osborne  

Pictured - Original Rockhampton Aero Club members - Bob Cousins jnr, H Alsopp, Dan Hempenstall, Doug Cousins, Arthur Moyle, Clive Boland, (unknown), Terry Mclaughlin, Capt Harold Fraser, John Hobler, (unknown), - sitting - (unknown), Ben Goodsen

Robert Cousin Snr was our first Patron and our first Chief Flying Instructor was Cliff Brown. The first training aircraft was a DH60 Gypsy``` Moth VH-UPK, on loan to the Rockhampton Aero Club from RAAF No 3 Squadron at Richmond.

Our first aircraft had a long service with the Club, plus quite a few mishaps. On December 7 1930 it was damaged at Yeppoon when landing, on September 3 1931 damaged in an accident near Emu Park and on October 20 1932 badly damaged at Rockhampton Airport. It was then stored in a hangar for a period or two years and on October 26 1939 was written off at Archerficid Airport when it undershot a landing.

In 1936 Rockhampton Aerial Services was taken over by Airlines of Australia, later Ansett Airlines.

  Rockhampton Aerial Services fleet in front of the company's hanger prior to the take over.

  After a period of time the original Rockhampton Aero Club ceased to operate but was to be reformed after WWII.

Late 1940,s onward

On 5 December 1946 a Public Meeting was held and was presided over by the Deputy Mayor, Alderman A K McLeod and attended by 33 people to discuss the reformation of the Rockhampton Aero Club. At the meeting a Provisional Committee was formed and this Committee held its first meeting on 17 January 1947 at which Mr. G W Byrne as elected first President and Dr. N C Talbot, Patron.

A house on the Applegarth estate, which had been used by the RAAF, was purchased from the Commonwealth Government for $380.00 with the intention of shifting it on to the airport for use as a Club House. In an endeavor to raise funds to pay off the money, borrowed to finance the house and it’s removal, raffles and social functions were held.  An Aero Club Ball was held in the red Cross Rooms and dances in the Club House which resulted in losses more often than profits with the result it was decided eventually to sell the house. This sale resulted in a profit of $840.00.

In January 1947 Mr. D McColl was elected President. In these early years, aircraft and instructors were supplied by the Royal Queensland Aero Club, just as they had been in the late pre-war years.

In 1950 navigation courses were commenced for students in the Club House.

In September 1951 Mr. C E Johnson was elected President. The following year a Public Appeal was launched and canvassing for funds was done by Mr. John Ross to raise funds for the Club to purchase its own aircraft. A very successful Gymkhana was held at the Rockhampton Showground and an order was placed with the Royal Queensland Aero Club for the purchase of a Tiger Moth. In these days, Instructors were very few and far between and it was a constant battle to get an Instructor and get a Flying School Licence simultaneously.

When we applied to the then Department of Civil Aviation for a subsidy for Flying Training we were told without previous warning, that it would be necessary to have two aircraft to ensure continuity of training in the event of damage to one of the aircraft.

In May 1953 Mr. W B Campbell was employed as our Instructor, the Rockhampton Aero Club was incorporated as a Company limited by Guarantee. Aircraft, VH-BJE and VH-AYW were procured and the Club was granted a Flying School Licence.

Flying training commenced although it was some months before the Department agreed to subsidise our Flying Training activities. Eventually the subsidy was received and backdated to the date of our commencement of Flying Training. Finances were severely strained during this period and continued to be so when subsidy payments were sometimes months in arrears.

The Club tendered, unsuccessfully, to purchase two aircraft from Disposals in 1953. Aircraft from this source were fairly cheap in those days and at one stage following two Tiger Moth accidents, the Chief Flying Instructor was given approval to endeavour to procure six but his efforts were not successful as the demand for them was heavy.

Fuel storage to be used on cross country flying was arranged by the Club at Thangool, Theodore, Springsure and Emerald. In our first difficult year some much needed ready cash was earned, by Chief Instructor Campbell and C E Johnson, aerial seeding Mr. Jarvis Collins' property north of Rockhampton, by tipping seed out of bags carried in the cockpit of the Tiger.

As the Tigers were difficult to control on the bitumen strips and in fact were mostly banned by The Department of Civil Aviation from using them, operations were confined to the grass strips alongside. We had frequent trouble getting the department to keep them mowed and serviceable.

June 1954 saw the purchase of a third Tiger Moth VH-CEJ and the employment of Rex Laver as Junior Instructor. In that same month the Club was approached by the Central Coastal Graziers Association re the formation and operatation of an Aerial Ambulance Service. A committee was subsequently formed, in which the club and the Jacyees played a significant part in raising funds and purchasing a Cessna 182 Aerial Ambulance aircraft, which was operated by the Rockhampton Ambulance.

A fourth Tiger was purchased from the Mackay Aero Club and in July 1954 the Club set up its own workshop with Mr. R W Cripps, the holder of "C" and "D" Tickets as Engineer. This venture was short lived, unfortunately, as Mr. Cripps left Rockhampton five months later.

In February 1955 Rex Laver went to Mackay to open a Flying Training centre on behalf of the club. This year unfortunately saw a series of accidents to the Club's Tigers which resulted in greatly increased Insurance premiums. At one stage we were compelled to insure our aircraft for $1,600.00 on which the premium was $400.00 and we had to stand the first $400.00 of any loss.

On 9 July 1955 we held a very successful Air Pageant in Rockhampton and on 16 July a similar one in Mackay. These Pageants provided a moderate but very acceptable increase in clubs Funds or more correctly, a reduction of overdraft.

In February 1956 Mr. G W Byrne was re-elected as President and was to hold this position until March 1978. In May 1957 Flying Training was commenced in Gladstone and  the Club's fifth Tiger VH-AJM was purchased.  The sixth Tiger VH-RLJ was purchased in 1958.

In 1958 Morris McMullen joined the Aero Club as Chief Flying Instructor.  In December 1958 the Club purchased its first modern cabin aircraft a Piper Tri-Pacer VH-WAT and the following year a JIB Auster VH-KAZ. The club also purchased from Disposals an Auster VH-RKA, which took twelve months getting its Civil Certificate of Airworthiness and then was sold shortly afterwards.

In August 1960 the club purchased a Cessna 150 VH-PKB and in March 1961 its first Cessna 172 VH-RKC and in 1962 it’s second VH-RKD.

1963 saw the introduction of Commonwealth flying scholarships and while they lasted, several Club members received awards, although some were unable to do their flying through the Club. In that year also it was decided, because of a request from the Annual Meeting, to hold a General Meeting every three months. After a few meetings these lapsed because of poor attendance on the part of members other than Committee members. In fact at the first meeting only one attended apart from the Committee members.

December 1963 saw the Club's first Victa arrive -VH-RKE, and the following April, the Club's first retractable - a 21C Mooney VH-RKF. It was intended that this aircraft would boost the Club's charter operations. In the first year its utilisation for charter and club flying was excellent but later utilisation dropped to a very uneconomical level and it was sold in 1968.

1964 saw the first of the series of very successful Annual Dinners.

In 1965, the Club purchased its second Victa VH-RKG, and in 1966 two more, VH~RKH and VH-RKI, also two more Cessna 172's - VH-RKJ and VH-RKT. 1966 saw the club operating five aircraft concurrently and having four full-time Instuctors and one honorary Instructor.

In October 1966 the Club experienced an unfortunate fatal accident at Monto when a pupil and Instructor collided with power lines in a Victa.

In 1967, the Club purchased two new Victas - VH-RKL and VH-RKK. However flying entered a quieter period and 1968 saw the Club owing four aircraft and employing only one Instructor.

That year, however, saw a noticeable increase in Club spirit and during the year, Victa VH-VMO was traded on VH-RKF when it was sold. The year saw the very successful first 4RO Flying Scholarships, which attracted a large number of entrants.

1969 was another bad year for the Club but in January 1970 the second 4RO Flying Scholarship was run. The Club also took part in the Capricornia Air Pageant and in September opened its satellite airstrip at Mt Jim Crow. Club members had cut down trees and graded the strip and some enjoyable Field Days were held there.

About this time, several attempts were made to have regular newsletters prepared to send out to members but unfortunately these always seemed to lapse after a relatively short period.

In 1972 the Club received a great deal of publicity from sponsoring the "Walter Dickman" night at the Leichhardt Hotel and July saw another successful 4RO Flying Scholarship.

In March 1973 the Club sponsored a meeting to form a Gliding Club and after some delays this Club is now very active. 1973 and 1974 saw many improvements carried out at the Club House by the Social Committee, the start of re-equipping the Club's aircraft fleet, the re-introduction of the newsletter and an improvement in the hours flown. In March the club purchased a used Cessna VH-WKB and in September VH-KUW. In July 1974, Cessna 172 VH-FYM and in 1975 a Piper PA28-180 VH-BJB which the Club had had on hire from a club member Bob Bauman, a grazier from Dingo.

1975 saw the removal of freight subsidies on aircraft fuel, with the subsequent large increases in fuel costs at inland centres. In fact, it was the start of the great escalation in fuel costs, which is still continues today. March saw a very successful field day held at Emu Park Airstrip followed by an even better one in July, when thirteen visiting aircraft attended. This year the Club had an aircraft on display at the Rockhampton Show, which attracted a good deal of attention. The annual dinner in August recorded an attendance of 150 people. This year also saw the demolition, by the Department of Civil Aviation, of the Clubs hangar which had served general aviation for over 40 years.

Our charter operations fell away noticeably in 1976 due somewhat to more sophisticated aircraft used by our competitors. The Club had VDO's fitted to all aircraft to more accurately record times flown.

Flying Training was resumed at Thangool and on 1 July the Club stationed an aircraft and in instructor at Emerald. In August the Club traded VH-BJB on a Cessna 172 VH-UWA. In October, VH-UWA suffered major damage on the ground in a storm and it was traded on another Cessna 172- VH-RKE.

Maintenance costs continued rising to the extent that a lot of time was given to considering the desirability of the Club once again doing its own maintenance but no immediate action was decided upon.

In March 1978 the fourth 4RO Flying Scholarship was commenced.

The striking relevant factors in the early years were the shortage of Instructors, high Workers Compensation costs and high Insurance rates on aircraft and airport unserviceability.

All through the years our charges for aircraft have been too low and at meeting after meeting the decision to increase charges was deferred. This of course, resulted in a continual cash shortage, and the need to borrow when the replacement of Club aircraft became essential.

In recent years the Committee has been able to instigate improvements that have resulted in a small but good fleet of aircraft, high quality staff and a lot of support from members. The Club has continued to prosper with a strong committee and meet its aim of providing flying training at the lowest possible cost to students.

We have faced repeated frustration in our attempts to have "communication" go out to members by means of newsletters over the years but now have a regular newsletter compiled by a committee member that uses email for distribution. Copies of newsletters are available for download from our "newsletters" web page. Should you wish to receive this email please contact the club.

In the thirty-one years under review, the Club has owned 28 aircraft and our highest monthly total hours flown was 423.

The complete record of the Minutes of the club since 1946 are available to anyone wanting a more detailed study. The next part of our history will put compiled when somone in the Club has the time to extract the information from our records.

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