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The Gooney Bird lives on, with a bright new body

Air Niugini DC3PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - For those of us who were in Papua New Guinea before and just after independence in 1975, the old Douglas DC3 was a familiar sight at every major and many minor airports.

First built in 1935 the DC3 became the workhorse of the golden age of aviation.

During World War II the military version, called the Dakota by the British and affectionately known as the Gooney Bird by the Americans, operated everywhere in PNG.

After the war both Ansett ANA and TAA flew DC3s. So did Air Niugini when it took over from TAA in 1973. They were noisy and basic but very reliable.

Mostly you had a comfortable seat to sit on but occasionally it was a canvas affair set side-saddle against an unlined fuselage with the cargo strapped down in the centre.

I once flew in one from Mount Hagen to Madang in 1968. As we were approaching the Wahgi Divide one of the engines began to smoke and the pilot shut it down.

We skimmed over the ranges just above treetop level on the remaining engine and descended into Madang. As we were slowing down on the airstrip the engine started to emit orange flames.

A quick squirt from the fire truck put it out and we disembarked. A few days later the old girl was once more chugging up to Mt Hagen, her engine repaired.

DC3 at Palmalmal being started with a rope There’s an interesting photograph on the Ex-Kiap website taken by, I think, George Oakes, of a DC3 at Palmalmal being started by a tractor and a rope like a lawnmower or an outboard motor.

The DC3 was a tough old bird and it was sad to see her eventually retired from service.

Nowadays you only see DC3s as vintage aircraft at air shows.

That is until I came across a report on the ABC website about a Chinese base in Antarctica. In the report there were photographs of an aircraft at an Australia base that looked suspiciously like a DC3.

Why would Australia be flying an ancient DC3 in Antarctica I wondered?

Turns out that it is a re-manufactured and modified Douglas DC3 called a Basler BT-67 built by Basler Turbo Conversions of Oshkosh in Wisconsin.

The 'new' DC3 - the BaslerIt has a cruise speed of 380 kmh, a range of 1,759 km and is powered by two Pratt and Whitney Canada PT6 engines.

The old DC3 had a cruise speed of 333 kmh, a range of 2,400 km and was powered by two Pratt and Whitney Cyclone engines.

So it seems the Gooney Bird lives on.

It couldn’t happen to a nicer aeroplane.

Comments

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Michael Reeves

I started work with the Health Department in PNG in 1966. My job entailed a lot of travel within PNG and I fondly remember the DC3: some conventional seating, some side saddle.

I travelled many times from Lae to home base Moresby late evenings, crossing the Owen Stanley range at maximum height, I think 10,000 feet, in stormy weather knowing there were mountains around higher than us.

The pilots were excellent and knew the gaps and passes enroute. It was luxury when one scored a flight with an F27 Friendship.

I got to know a number of the pilots, Gus Swinbourne being one. By the way every time the DC3 started engines ground staff stood by with a fire extinguisher. Great times.

Daniel Kumbon

I flew in a DC3 aircraft from Lae to Port Moresby in early 1975. I think all the seats were facing towards the pilots' cabin. And it was in the colours of the new national airline - Air Niugini as seen here.

That was the biggest aeroplane I ever flew in from Lae to Port Moresby.

Last month, I had the pleasure of flying on PNG Air’s more comfortable, modern ART aircraft, the largest plane I have ever flown in to land at Wapenamanda airport from Port Moresby in my home province of Enga.

William Dunlop

Yes Chris - The Kinzels didn't mind getting stuck into it.
I was very good friends with Soc.

On Kokoda airstrip Patair DC3s used rocket-assisted takeoff. That way they could get more beef on the manifest for fresh meat to Port Moresby.

I missed out on Soc and Robyn's wedding in Toowomba, as I got married to Melinda on the same day in Moresby. For your interest, Phil, it was at the head spook's residence of the British High Commission. Slantie.

Garry Roche

I do remember flying in a DC3 which had the seats facing each other. I cannot remember which airline, though TAA and Ansett were still flying in PNG in the early seventies.

Richard Jones

Because this reminiscence is partly sport-based I don't believe Phil will be able to relate to it.

Except that DC3 aircraft feature in it.

We members of the Papuan Amateur Boxing Association used to fly to Rabaul for the national championships, encased in a trusty DC3 with moisture collected on the unsealed roof struts continually dripping onto us. But, of course, only when the old girl had reached a bit of altitude.

On another occasion I took my newly wedded wife on a DC3 trip just to show her what flying in one of them was like. I think we headed to Madang but it's now more than 40 years ago so maybe the end destination was closer to Mosbi. I don't recall exactly.

Anyway the highlight of the side-saddle excursion was the collection of fellow passengers. No, not locals returning to their home town or province, but the collection of livestock huddled together down the back of the aircraft.

Not just chickens in primitive bamboo cages but largish pigs tethered to the DC3's super structure.

The unfamiliar movement on take-off and landing caused the aforementioned pigs all sorts of intestinal problems so we were grateful when the old aircraft came to a stop, the doors were opened and some fresh air - humid as it was - wafted into our confined space.

The DC3 on the way back home to the Central Province did not have any of those extra passengers!

Martin Hadlow

My wife and I had the pleasure of being passengers on the last ever Ansett Airlines of PNG DC3 flight from Kieta (Aropa) to Buin (late 1973/early 1974?).

At the time, I was station manager of Radio Bougainville. However, the invitation was not for me, but primarily (and rightly) for my wife, who had been, before we married, an Ansett Airlines of Australia flight hostess based in Sydney.

The DC3 pilots out of Kieta/Aropa entered into the whole spirit of the occasion and flew low over the jungle. In fact, so low that we must have frightened six months growth out of villagers whom we saw standing outside their houses waving to us.

The flight was planned as an afternoon return excursion. However, problems arose in Buin after landing, when the DC3 became stuck in the mud of the wet airstrip.

Despite the best efforts of all concerned in physically pushing the plane while, at the same time, the only tractor in Buin attempted to pull the aircraft onto more solid ground, all attempts failed.

Given that darkness was due within hours, a decision was made by the aircrew that we had to stay in Buin overnight and fly out at dawn.

Quite an unexpected pleasure for the ADO to have to find space for 30 or so passengers, none with luggage.

The night was a classic PNG evening with lots of merriment and dancing at the local Buin Club.

As usual, the ADO and other Buin expats rose to the occasion, although a little more drinking than usual ensured that the place was close to dry by the next day.

I've often wondered how long it took the Club to get another shipment of SP Brownies and Greenies down the long, rough road from Kieta.

After breakfast, we were ready to fly and the DC3 was safely out of the mud and on relatively dry land. The flight crew seemed unaffected by the previous evening's social events (we hoped!) and the smooth take-off reinforced our belief in their professionalism.

Having said that, the flight back to Kieta/Aropa seemed at a lower altitude than the previous journey. But that might just be my imagination.

Chris Overland

Like many ex-kiaps and older Papua New Guineans, I had the pleasure of flying in a DC3. They were, as Phil points out, noisy, slow and fairly rustic beasts, but very robust and reliable.

They could land and take off on comparatively short, unsealed runways if necessary, which was an obvious benefit in PNG.

During my time at Kokoda, I saw quite of few of the DC3s then operated by Papuan Airlines (PAL) land and take off on the grass strip. As I recall, they could lift off at Kokoda with about two tonnes of people and cargo aboard.

I was present at Mamba Estate at Kokoda, then the home of the Kienzle family, on the day in 1973 that Bert Kienzle sold Papuan Airlines and its DC3s to Sir Reginald Ansett.

At a barbeque held that evening, Bert was cooking the meat. His youngest son (Wallace Jnr, aka "Soccer") casually asked his father how things had gone with Sir Reg.

"Oh, it went pretty well. We agreed on the terms of sale and he made a deposit too."

"Really", said Soccer. "How much was the deposit?"

Bert reached into his top shirt pocket, pulled out a cheque and read the amount.

It was made out for $3.6 million!

I recall being pretty impressed by the family's casual reaction to this startling announcement. The conversation rapidly turned to other things and life on Mamba Estate carried on pretty much as before.

I admired the Kienzles as tough, no nonsense operators, always willing to get their hands dirty and always chatting amiably in Motu to their local workers.

Anyway, I don't recall seeing DC3s again at Kokoda once Ansett bought out PAL. I assume that Ansett phased them out in favour of the De Havilland Twin Otters and Fokker Friendships which seemed to be the favoured work horses of the day.

A short search of the internet suggests that there may be around 600 DC3s still flying, which is pretty amazing given the design dates back to the 1930's.

I guess it is a tribute to the basic strength and resilience of the airframe that Basler chose the DC3 to become the basis of a high performance aircraft to operate in the extreme Antarctic climate.
________

According to the RBA inflation calculator, that 1973 $3.6 million equates to a cool $34 million today - KJ

Paul Oates

Ah! The tales of the old DC3,
That good old workhorse of TPNG,
Our memories may dim, but they're still flying yet,
Tho' not often used, by the current jet set.

Those incredible survivors of World War 2,
Guaranteed to produce, a sore bum or two,
With seats of webbing, aluminium and steel,
Do you remember just how hard they feel?

With that terrible noise and inevitable vibration,
T'was enough to negate, any previous libation,
Nervously consumed, just to help with the trip,
Or partaken to give, apprehension the slip.

And those freebees we know, of today's modern flying,
Were not then on offer, with conditions quite trying,
So consign them we must, to PNG's proud history,
But of how they kept flying, it’s really a mystery.

POPO

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