Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Widow Maker

Tiger Moth DH 82.
Gippsland. Victoria. Australia.
Before I tell this short story, I think I should give you a bit of the back ground on the DH 82.
They  are/were a training aircraft (a biplane) and about 4000 were built in the war years by the British Morris Cowley Motor Company; the aircraft was being used by a few Air forces worldwide, as a first trainer for new Pilots. After the war they were stored all over the place, and eventually they found their way to the open market, as time expired and cheap!

Most of them entered the Agricultural Flying Industry, where they were killed off over time, taking a few pilots with them.
Built in the 1930s and fitted with a 120 horse Powered Gipsey engine; I'm not sure how much of that power got to the propeller? but not all of it did, of that I'm sure! also I can't remember the brakes ever working? they had a system of setting a lever and then pushing on the rudder bar, I do remember they were murder to stop and we had welded sharp pieces of steel across the rear skid to dig into the ground to stop them.

Jan my fellow Pilot (from my Blog "Hangar")  brought about 6 of them for his crop spraying business and used them successfully for a few years, although its fair to say! they were permanently crashing and rebuilding them. they were under powered and with a load in them, they were just flying around looking for a place to crash. For me, they were unsuitable for ag-flying and dangerous when landing on short strips on mountain tops.
There biggest failing was that the fuel tank was just above your head, causing the pilots nightmare, Fire! On impact the attachment brackets on the fuel tank would rip out, spraying fuel onto the hot engine and pilot? Now excuse me? when I say" that's not what you want in a crop spraying aircraft" they were just about as useless as tits on a donkey!

As you may have gathered by now? I'm not a big fan of this cables and fabric flying disaster, but my mate Jan loved them, but that's Jan!

It was the end of the Victorian spraying season and I was making plans to go the UK for their season, I had been offered a seat in a new Cessna Agwagon (a modern aircraft?) and I was looking forward to it.
Jan phoned to say he was a bit behind due to the weather and would I come and fly for him for a while, so he could get caught up, I told him I could give him two weeks as I had made arrangements to be in the UK in 3 weeks. So off I went up to Jan's place and climbed into his old Tiger Moth and helped him complete his season . During that short time I decided that all my thoughts about the Tiger, were well founded and I decided I would never fly one of these Widow Makers again and I never did?

Let me just say; the Tiger Moth was and is, a perfectly  good training aircraft, landing and taking off from  open fields into wind, where there is enough room to manoeuvre and see where your going. But when you place it into an agricultural aviation environment where it is expected to  fly low, around trees, under cables,
and climb in hilly terrain and land back on hill strips in changing weather conditions? without crashing and falling to bits? plus it was a tad unstable and seriously lacking in power? so you can imagine what it was like? it was crap.

Back in Aussie about a year later I received a call from Jan he was in a Melbourne hospital with a broken leg, and asking me to spray his Tobacco customers over in the Emerald area,  about 30 miles outside of my area using his aircraft? I said yes of course I will, but in his aircraft never! I would use the Piper Pawnee,
He whinged  like a cut cat, but agreed.
Then I thought to myself ? where's Jan's partner? why isn't he flying? well it turns out! that he was also in hospital with a broken leg! Seems they both tried to spray the same field and both struck the electric cable. He never mentioned that to me! Jan and his pride?
Anyway I got on the phone and arranged to meet the farmers on Jan's strip the next day, to get their farm maps and details of their crops and any obstacles in or near the fields,

Most of these farmer's were growing Tobacco as a cash crop, the farming industry was in dire straits with crops failing due to drought, also the sheep prices where at rock bottom, the whole industry was in a state of collapsing, all around them, so the Tobacco was a much needed crop for them, but it suffered from insect problems and had to be sprayed.

My brother Michael just lived a few miles up the road, closer to Melbourne, and I made a mental note to visit him, as soon as I got a chance, which I never got around to doing at that time. Michael is my big brother and my favourite, he is married to Patricia and they have a lovely family.
Emerald is South East of Melbourne in green rolling hills, very nice, later some of the farmers moved into growing potatoes there, I believe it's just about a suburb of Melbourne now, In the old days it was farming land that got the occasional visit from Bush fires?
Back to the spraying.

So I set about spraying the Tobacco, most of Jan's work was ok, but there were a few of the fields that were unsuitable for spraying due to their location to obstacles, when I told the farmers they started crying and complaining about their loses and then I had Jan on the phone saying he was receiving lots of complaints from his customers, about my not doing some of the fields?
I told him it was his fault for agreeing to spray some of these fields they were unsuitable and dangerous and I am not looking to join him in hospital thank you?

Anyway as always I compromised and sprayed the inaccessible fields late in the day when there was no wind and the cooling air was allowing the chemical to sink  into the crop.
So everybody was happy even Jan? well he was ? up until he got my invoice that is, he said "he could have done it for half the price using the Tiger Moth".

The next year Jan joined the company I worked for, and they gave him a new Pawnee 235 horse power, it flew the balls off of his DH82, but he never admitted it! that's my friend Jan.
As far as I know Jan stayed in Gippsland spraying and topdressing every seasons until he retired and moved up north and faded away, out of my life.



  1. You must love your friend Agman, always willing to run to his aid.

    1. Life without a friend is no life at-all, what can you do? he's a friend


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