Firebombing Folklore, Fantasy & Fairytales.

Late one summer afternoon in the early 1980s, a small fixed-wing firebomber was dispatched from Benambra to a smoke sighting near Gelantipy which had been reported by the local firetower.

The experienced bush pilot took-off in the fading light and lengthening shadows to try and locate the fire but couldn’t find it.

On the return trip, he caught a glimpse of a faint wisp of smoke deep in the Snowy River valley below and without hesitation, and with characteristic daring-do, flew straight down like a Stuka dive-bomber.

Because the small aircraft was fully loaded, and because the sides of the rocky gorge were so steep, the only way out was to dump the load then pull back sharply on the control stick to climb vertically out of the ravine under full throttle.

By now it was getting dark so without checking the drop he returned to the airbase to get ready for the next morning’s flight.

Yep… you guessed it… a day or two later there was a phone call to the FCV Orbost office from some very irate kayakers who had been fatefully drying their wet clothes around a campfire that afternoon. Not only did the load of retardant put their fire out and make it impossible to relight, but their clothes got smothered in the messy red gloop.

Among his many legendary and probably embellished shenanigans, the same pioneering daredevil is said to have…

  • Crash-landed in State forest on Mt Baw Baw in 1961 after the wings of his Piper PA-25 iced-up and then walked three hours through the thick scrub to safety…
  • Dropped a load of phoscheck retardant on a group of visiting Forests Commission and CSIRO dignitaries during the early 1960s firebombing trials at Mt Raymond, leaving red splattered cars and speckled white shirts…
  • Flown Australia’s first-ever operational firebombing mission from Benambra on 6 February 1967…
  • Barnstormed under the old Snowy River Bridge at Orbost in June 1975…
  • Swooped the Benambra football team and strafed them with fertilizer…
  • Landed and refuelled his plane at a service station at Ceduna in December 1973…
  • Performed unauthorised low-level aerobatics at ESSO’s Longford heliport in 1970…
  • Allegedly buzzed an offshore oil platform in the Bass Strait like “Top Gun” and bounced his wheels down on its tiny helipad…

Needless to say, his larrikin antics and escapades often got him into big trouble with aviation authorities.

But this affable knockabout bloke also selflessly airlifted many locals to hospital in Melbourne or Albury.

I’m reminded of a quote made in 1949 by pioneering American aviator, E. Hamilton Lee who famously said….

There are old pilots… and there are bold pilots… but there are no old, bold pilots” ….

Posted on Facebook – 18 February 2022,

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