|Last updated 25 June 2020
|MACROBERTSON MILLER AIRLINES (MMA) 1934-1980
Part 2. MMA West Australian operations
A pictorial history compiled by Geoff Goodall
|From biplanes to jet airliners: MMA Fokker F.28 VH-FKB on a scheduled service at Paraburdoo, an iron ore mining town
in the Pilbara region in the north of Western Australia, August 1976. Photo by Geoff Goodall
In early 1934 the Australian and international airline world was
shocked by the news that West Australian Airways had lost its long-established NorWest Air Service between Perth and Wyndham to a small Adelaide operator MacRobertson Miller Aviation Co.
WAA began Australia's first airline service in December 1921 when it commenced this long distance route over unpopulated harsh terrain. (See West Australian Airways in this series) WAA had developed the route into a reliable air service before launching the equally long distance Perth-Adelaide route in 1929. WAA was an impressive operation with sound financial backing, known around the world. By contrast MMA was a little-known charter company which flew modest airline services in South Australia with a single aging Fokker Universal.
The Prime Minister Mr. Joseph Lyons announced on 20 April 1934 the results of the Government review of airline routes in preparation for the United Kingdom-Australia Air Mail. The Perth-Wyndham service was awarded to MMA, including a route extention to Daly Waters NT* to meet the mail plane to/from UK. WAA would cease Perth-Wyndham in September 1934 when the air service would be taken over by MMA which had ordered three new DH.84 Dragon six-passenger airliners from England.
The background to MMA's successful bid for the West Australian service
is the stuff of Australian aviation history. WAA's dynamic Managing
Director Norman Brearley, planning an air service to Singapore in
partnership with KLM, lobbied for
Broome rather than Darwin as the Australian entry/exit port. Broome
connect with his WAA service to Perth and KLM's Amsterdam-Batavia
service extended to Bali. However the Government's final airmail
route decision, making maximum use o Government railways, was:
- Singapore-Darwin-Daly Waters-Charleville-Brisbane
- Daly Waters-Perth
Australian airlines were invited to submit tenders for the Government airmail subsidy which would be paid on all these routes. Tenders closed on 31 January 1934. Amid much secrecy, airlines worked to come up with the all-important "pence per mile" rate to undercut the competition but remain profitable. Some companies submitted multiple tenders with variations in level of service, aircraft type etc. There was also drama, such as Arthur Butler at Cootamundra finalising his tender for the Charleville-Cootamundra route too late to be mailed to the Civil Aviation Branch in Melbourne by the deadline. He flew his Puss Moth through bad weather to Melbourne to hand-deliver his tender documents in time. It was worth the effort for Butler - he was awarded the route and his newly-formed Butler Air Transport was to grow into a significant airline. Holyman's Airways, already operating Tasmania-Melbourne, kept the Hobart connection.
Qantas Ltd, Brisbane in conjuction with Imperial Airways, London was awarded Singapore-Darwin-Daly Waters*-Charleville-Brisbane, using the untried DH.86 four-engined biplanes under new company name Qantas Empire Airways Ltd.
MacRobertson Miller Aviation Co had been formed in 1928 when Adelaide
aviator Horace Clive "Horrie"Miller, who operated a one-man one-aeroplane business Commercial Aviation Co,
approached Melbourne businessman MacPherson Robertson (later Sir
Macpherson Robertson) for financial backing. MacRobertson Miller
Aviation Co was a partnership to allow Miller to establish airline
services from Adelaide while continuing his charter flying and aircraft
maintenance work as Commercial Aviation Co.
In Adelaide during 1933 Horrie Miller had watched developments with the UK-Australia air mail route review. His South Australian airline services had suffered badly during The Great Depression of the early 1930s when routes had been cut back or dropped. He was friendly with WAA pilots at Parafield flying the WAA Perth-Adelaide service, and listened to their stories of the NorWest coastal service. Becoming intrigued by the possibility of bidding for the new Perth-Daly Waters route, Miller's cost calculations allowed a bid well below the pence-per-mile rate believed being paid to WAA for the existing service. He took his figures to the manager of the MacRobertson's business office in Adelaide, where they were checked by the accountants and confirmed. Delay in gaining an appointment with Sir Macpherson Robertson in Melbourne led Horrie to make a 3am departure from Parafield in his DH.60 Moth with the hapless manager as passenger. They were waiting outside Robertson's office at 8am when "Mr. Mac"arrived at the beginning his business day. He gave them time for Miller to briefly explain his proposal, questioned his Adelaide manager about the costings, then agreed to finance this unexpected expansion for MMA. The Adelaide pair immediately flew home to commence preparing the formal Tender documents.
When advised he was the successful tenderer for the Perth-Daly Waters
route, Horrie Miller immediately placed an order with De Havilland
Aircraft Pty Ltd, Sydney for three new DH.84 Dragons to be
shipped from England to Perth. Leaving the Adelaide operation in the
care of his trusted pilot/engineer Cyril Kleinig, Miller departed
Parafield in June 1934 flying his DH.60M Moth VH-UNX to Perth, to start
the preparations. On arrival at Maylands Aerodrome, Perth he found the
site allocated for the new MMA hangar was a muddy quagmire from the
airfield's ongoing flooding problems from the adjacent Swan River. He
set about establishing a new airline organisation, eveything from a
city office, ticket booking, fuel contracts, he encountered sullen
resentment that he had taken the air service from local hero Norman
Brearley, but Miller's genuine personality soon eliminated
that. During July, Miller and Mr. G.Gregory, aviation manager of
Vacuum Oil Co left Maylands in the Moth to inspect the route and make
business arrangements at each of the ports.
*Daly Waters was substituted for the originally specified Katherine NT as the northern connection for the Perth airmail route. During his route survey in the Moth, Miller was pleased to find a substantial hangar at Daly Waters, one of the few along the route, and requested the northern MMA terminus be changed from Katharine 170 miles north. All parties agreed and by the time of MMA's first service in October 1934, the route was Perth-Daly Waters.
|Horrie Miller with DH.60M Moth VH-UNX at Port Hedland WA during his route survey flight. Graham Parsons collection
|H.C.Miller (centre) at Maylands September 1934 with his pilots George McCausland (left) and Bert Hussey.
True to character, the frugal Horrie Miller is wearing the same sweater he wore on the route survey above.
The ship carrying the three boxed DH.84s reached Fremantle on 17 August
1934. They were transported to Maylands where H.C.Miller supervised their
assembly, initially in the open weather because the MMA hangar had not
been completed. MMA was scheduled to take over the North West
route on 3
October 1934, so Miller had 6 weeks to get the aircaft ready and his
selected pilots trained on the new type. WAA senior pilot James Woods
had been appointed MMA chief pilot/route manager, but he had sailed for
England to fly Miller's Lockheed Vega in the Centenary Air Race
London-Melbourne that October. Miller had to establish the WA
service himself without Woods' experience of the the route and DH.84
The Dragons were delivered painted dark blue with silver wings and tailplanes and allocated names of WA regions:
VH-URW test flown 29.8.34 "The Pilbara"
VH-URX test flown 12.9.34 "The Gascoyne"
VH-URY test flown 6.9.34 "The Murchison"
|The first three MMA Dragons at Maylands on 29 September 1934. Horrie Miller is on the left with pilot Bert Hussey in suit
The Dragons were delivered painted royal blue, but were soon respayed in silver. Geoff Goodall collection
Sir Macpherson Robertson (left) with H.C.Miller at Maylands just prior to the inaugural flightThis rare photograph of the two together was taken by Frank Colquhoun
|The original company letterhead in Perth in 1934 with MacRobertson's chocolate curling script
|The cover of MMA's first company magazine dated October 1934.
Route distance Perth-Daly Waters was 2,252 miles
|Well-thumbed copy of the original 1934 MMA timetable with a rather misleading picture of a 4-engined DH.86 on the cover.
Flying in the north was mornings-only, to avoid severe air turbulence later each day as the ground heated up.The schedule shows a hardy traveller would take 4 days to fly from Perth to Daly Waters.
The inaugural MMA service departed Maylands on the morning of 3 October
1934 when VH-URW flown by Bert Hussey took off for Geraldton then all
stops to Daly Waters. As back-up for delays enroute, Horrie Miller
had pilot Arthur Affleck standing by at Maylands with a reserve Dragon.
It was good planning which was needed the very next day when Hussey
wiped off VH-URW's undercarriage at Onslow on the second morning of
the first northbound service. Affleck was despatched from Maylands
that afternoon carrying company engineers and spare undercarriage
parts. They reached Onslow the following day, where Affleck handed his
Dragon over to Hussey to continue the first northbound service.
This first MMA return service arrived back at Perth nine days later on
12 October 1934.
A supplementary Kimberley feeder service to cattle properties between Wyndham to Ord River Station began late that month with the Moth VH-UNX but was suspended when the Moth crashed at Ord River on 9 November 1934. The passenger died, MMA's first fatality. The feeder service resumed the next year when a DH.83 Fox Moth was based at Wyndham.
scene at Maylands on return of the inaugural MMA service 12 October
Geoff Goodall collection
The first International Air Mail from Great Britain being unloaded at Maylands 21 December 1934 just in time for Christmas.
Pilot George McCausland is on the left. Photo: Geoff Goodall collection
|The early days
of the MMA North West service were eventful and highlight the remoteness of the route:
4.10.34 Dragon VH-URW undercarriage collapse on rough surface during fast taxy and turn on to the strip at Onslow WA by Bert Hussey. No injuries. Passengers and mail tansferred two days later to a replacement DH.84 flown from Perth by Arthur Affleck carrying engineers and parts. Hussey continued the inaugural northbound service.
23.10.34 Dragon VH-URX was wrecked when picked up by a willy-willy (dust devil) while parked at Ord River Station. Pilots George McCausland and Bert Hussey were having lunch in the homestead but managed to grab an interplane strut on each wing. However the aircraft was blown into stockyards ending up on its back. Horrie Miller flew the Moth VH-UNX from Perth to Ord River to rebuild the Dragon and deliver the Moth to commence a feeder service between Ord River and Wyndham.
Working on his own, in extreme heat, Miller made major repairs to the Dragon, replacing the demolished nose section with a temporary structure he made from plywood panels from tea chests. Some weeks later a company engineer from Perth joined him to help with the lifting for final reassembly, then Miller flew it to Perth. It was fully rebuilt and back in service by mid December that year .
7.11.34 Dragon VH-URY badly damaged in a forced landing among trees and stumps following engine failure on takeoff at Halls Creek WA. Pilot George McCausland and his only passenger, CAB Inspector Jim Collopy were unhurt. The Dragon was again rebuilt by Horrie Miller, who brought a tent and cooking utensils to work on his own. The airfield did not have a hangar to give any shade. Another month's hard work in above 40C temperatures and high humidity every day took its toll - Miller collapsed from heat stroke and exhaustion. He spent time in Wyndham hospital but those close to him believed these months took a toll on his health from which he never fully recovered. He completed the rebuild and ferried the Dragon back to Perth by Christmas 1934.
7.11.34 DH.60M Moth VH-UNX crashed on landing approach to Ord River Station. Newly-hired pilot J. C. Miles was badly injured and his passenger Mr. J. Pike was killed. The nearest doctor was Dr. Ralph Cato at Wyndham, who drove for 22 hours by car on rough dirt roads to reach Ord River. Dr. Clyde Fenton from the Katherine NT hospital arrived in his Moth to fly Miles to Wyndham hospital where he was treated by Drs Cato and Fenton. Miles was flown to Perth as a stretcher patient by Arthur Affleck on the next regular MMA southbound service from Daly Waters.
8.3.35 Dragon VH-URW turned over on to its back landing on the Government-designated emergency landing ground for Wyndham when the wheels dug into the soft surface. The main airfield was under water from monsoonal rains. Pilot Arthur Affleck and his one passenger, who had been grounded at Fitzroy Crossing for the previous two two days because of the rain, were not hurt. Most of the population of Wydham came out to help pull the aircraft back on to its wheels with ropes. A telegram from the Perth office told Affleck that James Woods was flying up with an engineer in a relief Dragon and would land at Ivanhoe Station where the strip was reported to be usable. Affleck was instructed to get the airmail sack to Ivanhoe to meet him, so he rode a horse 50 miles overland to Ivanhoe. Affleck then departed with the northbound mail, taking it direct to Darwin to make up time with the connecting Qantas DH.86 service to Singapore. Woods and the engineer set off by horse to Wydham to make basic repairs to VH-URW and ferry it back to Perth. It returned to service in June 1935.
Right: The single-handed repair by Horrie Miller, who made a temporary structure using plywood from tea chests.
Photos: Durack collection, State Library of WA
The London-Melbourne Centenary Air Race October 1934An International air race from London to Melbourne was proposed as part of the 1934 Cententary celebrations for the State of Victoria. Horrie Miller's financial benefactor Sir Macpherson Robertson in Melbourne agreed to sponsor the event. Miller, at that time in Adelaide was excited and keen to be a competitor with an eye on the £10,000 prize money. Learning that a record-breaking Lockheed Vega was available for sale in England, he decided this would be a perfect aircraft for the race. His long-time friend David Robertson, younger brother of Macpherson, agreed to sponsor Miller's race entry and the Lockheed was purchased. Horrie had made a persuasive case that after the race the Vega would become a valuable addition to the MMA fleet as fast charter aircraft.
Miller had a high regard for James Woods, West Australian Airways' senior pilot, who he had come to know well during Woods' stop-overs in Adelaide while flying the WAA Perth-Adelaide service. Woods, a quiet but determined Scot, had earlier flown his DH.60M Moth VH-UPD The Spirit of Western Australia solo from Perth to Britain in July 1933 in a record attempt. Miller invited Woods to join him in flying the Lockheed Vega in the International air race scheduled for October 1934 and the pair commenced their planning.
Thus the news of MMA's successful bid for West Australian airmail service must have been a bitter-sweet moment for Horrie Miller. He was to establish a new Perth-based operation to commence services in October 1934, the very same month as the Air Race which he was eagerly anticipating.
One of his first actions in preparation for the WA airline operation was to appoint a Chief Pilot/Route Manager for MMA's West Australian airline services. The obvious choice was Woods, who had a proven record and knew the North-West route, the weather, airfields, towns and people from his many years with WAA. Woods was reluctant to disappoint WAA's Norman Brearley, but accepted MMA's offer. He flew his last WAA service Forrest-Adelaide 13 June 1934 in Dragon VH-URE. Woods wrote to his wife "I feel sorry for Norman, one of the best fellows in the world - when away from aeroplanes and hangars. We are excellent pals still."
Horrie Miller nominated Woods as the pilot in command for his Air Race entry and Jimmy Woods sailed for England to prepare the Vega and engage a copilot/navigator. They agreed he should sail via North America to visit Lockheed in California to learn about the Vega's systems and maintenance. He also ordered spare parts to be shipped to Perth for its use by MMA after the race. In England he inspected the Lockheed Vega G-ABGK which had been parked in a hangar for over a year and set to work to renew its British CofA. As his copilot/navigator, he engaged Don Bennett, an Australian flying for Imperial Airways with a fascination with accurate long distance aerial navigation techniques. D.C.T. Bennett was to go on to a remarkable civil and military flying career rising to the rank of Air Vice Marshall in the wartime RAF when he lead the Pathfinder force and post-war he established British South American Airways.
The aircraft in the Centenary Air Race (also referred to as the MacRobertson Air Race) departed Mildenhall Aerodrome, London on 20 October 1934. Woods and Bennett, as race number 36, took off at 6.39am bound for Marseilles, Rome and Athens on the first day. They departed Athens at 3.11am next morning for a daylight arrival at Aleppo, Syria. On landing the port undercarriage leg fractured and collapsed, the port wingtip dug into the ground and the Vega was thrown over on its back. Woods was trapped in the cockpit with a bleeding head injury. Bennett who had been seated at the rear of the cabin for the landing, was flung across the cabin, sustaining three crushed vertebrae and leg injuries. After a spell in hospital, Jimmy Woods arranged to have the wrecked Vega dismantled and packed in sections. It was moved by road to the Turkish port of Alexandretta where loaded on the cargo ship Zafaarar for Perth, while Woods sailed for Perth on P&O Oransay.
Right: Don Bennett in 1944 as Air Vice Marshall D.C.T. Bennett of Pathfinders fame
| Mildenhall Aerodrome at the start of the Centennial Air Race London to Melbourne
| Aleppo, Syria after the undercarriage failure on landing.
Ron Cuskelly collection
Woods with bandaged head and trust pipe
Ted Fletcher collection
The damaged Lockheed Vega reached Fremantle on Christmas Day 1934 on
board the ship Baradine
and its rebuild commenced in the MMA Maylands hangar early in the
New Year. The large British registration paintwork proved difficult to
remove and Miller wrote to the Civil Aviation Branch in Melbourne requesting VH-BGK for the Vega. The CAB
replied stating that was too far ahead of the currently allocated VH-UT
series, but obligingly offered VH-UVK to reduce some painting, which was accepted. Photographs show
the British marking could be read across the upper mainplane right up
to 1941 when it was impressed by RAAF.
The Vega's rebuild was completed in August 1935 and, painted as VH-UVK made its first test flight at Maylands on 22 August 1935 flown by Horrie Miller. This triggered ten months of bureaucratic hand-wringing at CAB Head Office Melbourne, because of the Government embargo on US built aircraft. The canny Miller had considered this before purchasing the Vega and pointed out that the British Certificate of Airworthiness circumvented the ban. Nevertheless, the CAB response was that it was required to confer with the American and British authorities before it could issue Australian certification. But it allowed the aircraft to be flown for two months.
To answer any implied doubts over the Vega's airworthiness, Miller gladly accepted a long-distance charter for the aircraft: on 13 October 1936 Jim Woods flew VH-UVK from Perth to Adelaide with two passengers in 7 hours 55 mins flying time, a remarkably fast time.
Despite the American aircraft embargo being officially dropped in November 1935, the CAB's stubborn delay dragged on into the following year. The Vega was grounded at Maylands and Miller's letters to CAB became increasingly hostile. Finally on 23 June 1936 Australian Certificates of Registation and Airworthiness for VH-UVK were signed in Melbourne and mailed to MMA in Perth. As well as local flying, these are some of the trips recorded in the aircraft's logbook, all flown by Jimmy Woods:
5.10.36 Perth-Kalgoorlie-Forrest-Ceduna-Blyth-Adelaide: charter 2 passengers: 7 hrs 10 mins flying time
9.10.36 Adelaide-Ceduna-Forrest-Kalgoorlie-Perth: 7hrs 50 mins including 30 minutes aerial search near Zanthus on Nullabor
14.10.36 Perth-Kalgoorlie-Perth, Woods: charter passenger group
17.11.36 Perth-Kalgoorlie-Forrest-Cook-Ceduna-Adelaide: charter two passengers: 7 hrs 25 mins
18.11.36 Adelaide-Ceduna-Forrest-Kalgoorlie-Perth: charter one passenger who was transferred to a waiting Fox Moth to Bunbury
28.8.38 Perth-Carnarvon-Port Hedland: to collect airmail from delayed southbound service from Darwin and carry it to Perth
10.11.38 Perth-Geraldton-Port Hedland-Broome
11.11.38 Broome-Noonkenbah-Fitzroy Crossing-Wyndham-Darwin
14.11.38 Darwin-Wyndham-Halls Creek-Fitzroy Crossing-Noonkenbah-Derby-Broome-Port Hedland
15.11.38 Port Hedland-Whim Creek-Roebourne-Onslow-Carnarvon-Geraldton-Perth
|The air race Lockheed Vega was rebuilt at Maylands by MMA maintenance staff and registered VH-UVK.
Pictured on 22 August 1935 when Horrie Miller made the first test flight. Photo: Geoff Goodall collection
A pleasing photo taken by chief engineer Frank Colquhoun showing Captain James Woods with the Vega at Maylands
|This view of the Vega from the Parafield MMA hangar roof shows the G-ABGK letters etched in the upper wing surface.
Photo: Geoff Goodall collection
|North West service consolidates with additional aircraft
When he returned to Perth in December 1934 James Woods took up his
MMA Route Manager role. First priority was additional aircraft and
engaging new pilots.
He worked closely with chief engineer Frank Colquhoun and accountant
Cyril Gare. All three were to have long careers with the airline,
although Woods' was to be unexpectedly and abruptly ended in 1946 -
Two more Dragons were acquired and three second-hand DH.83 Fox Moths shipped from England. The 3 passenger Fox Moths proved to be perfect for air mail feeder services in the far north which carried mail sacks and freight but only the occasional passenger. They were fitted to carry a stretcher patient to allow MMA to commence contracts to provide aircraft for the Australian Aerial Medical Service. Commencing with Fox Moths, then Dragons prior to WWII, an aircraft and pilot was based at Port Hedland and Wyndham, to fly for MMA but always be available to the flying doctor service, which saved many lives. MMA was to continue flying doctor operations right through to 1958, during which time the AAMS was renamed Flying Doctor Service of Australia and finally Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia.
|MMA DH.83 Fox Moth VH-UVL being assembled at Maylands in September 1935 after shipping from England.
The previous British registration G-ABXS is still on the fuselage sides. Geoff Goodall collection
in MMA service named "John Flynn", at Wyndham
State Library of WA
|DH.83 Fox Moth VH-USJ "John Flynn" at the passenger waiting area of a Kimberley airstrip. State Library of WA
|Fox Moth VH-USJ at Port Hedland 1937 with resident doctor Dr.A.H.Vickers (left) and MMA resident pilot Max Campbell
Photo: Geoff Goodall collection
Wyndham resident doctor and stretcher patient in the cabin of MMA Fox Moth VH-UTF "Dunbar
Neil Follett collection
|Northbound and southbound Dragons meet at Port Hedland circa 1937.
Geoff Goodall collection
|Port Hedland 1937. The silver paintwork gave some relief from the year-round hot temperatures in the north
| MMA Dragon VH-URF seen at Port Hedland soon after purchase from Western Mining Corp, Kalgoorlie in November 1934.
Photo: Geoff Goodall collection
"The Kimberley" after repaint in MMA silver
State Library of WA
|Dragon VH-UVN, imported new from England in July 1936, at the rudamentary facilities of Ord River Station airfield.
Photo: Horrie Miller collection, National Library of Australia
|1938 - All the way to Darwin and new aircraft types
Early in 1938 MMA placed an order for two new all-metal
10 passenger Lockheed 10A Electras powered by two 450hp P&W Wasp
Junior engines. Horrie Miller was delighted because he had long admired
the new American airliners and was frustrated by the Australian embargo
on US manufactured aircraft. The Government had been persuaded to drop
the ban in November 1935 and Miller had chosen the Lockheed Electra
as most suitable for the North West route. The
order was placed with Australian Lockheed agents Brown & Dureau Ltd
who advised they
would be shipped from California with a delivery date of December that
Meanwhile, years of talks between the Australian and British governments had resulted in the UK-Australia Air Mail undergoing major changes with land planes being replaced by an Empire Air Mail flying boat service to commence in August 1938. Qantas would operate Singapore-Darwin-Brisbane-Sydney with Short S.23 Empires. This caused a rearrangement to the Australian connecting airmail routes. MMA's contract was to be changed to Perth-Darwin return twice weekly, using two DH.86s purchased from Qantas Empire Airways, no longer needed for the land plane airmail service to Singapore. Although still fabric-covered biplanes, these 4 engined DH.86s brought MMA improved size, speed and cabin comfort over the plodding Dragons and were a good stop-gap until the arrival of the Lockheeds. The unaugural DH.86 service for Darwin departed Perth on 1 August 1938.
MMA was also contracted to operate a revised Kimberley feeder service between Wydham and Daly Waters weekly return using Dragons. This Wyndham-based Dragon and pilot would also service the AAMS flying doctor contract.
|DH.86 VH-USD "RMA Brisbane" prepares to depart the MMA hangar at Maylands for the two day trip to Darwin
MMA retained the Qantas names on the two DH.86s, probably to emphasise their previous international service.
Photo: Geoff Goodall collection
|Port Hedland 28 August 1938: Jimmy Woods in the Lockheed Vega is loading the airmail from the delayed soutbound
DH.86 and rush it to Perth to maintain the postal schedule. Geoff Goodall collection
|DH.86 VH-USD under repair at remote Fitzroy Crossing WA in November 1938 after the starboard undercarriage collapsed
in a groundloop when landing with a flat tyre. The MMA repair crew worked in average day temperatures of 46 degrees C.
Photo by MMA senior engineer Frank Colquhoun who was in charge of the rebuild
The much-anticipated Lockheed Electras VH-ABV and VH-ABW arrived on
schedule in December 1938. Because of shipping delays from North
America to Perth, they were sent to Adelaide where they were assembled
by Guinea Airways, which was experienced with the type on their
Adelaide-Darwin route. As was usual in those days, Lockheed sent two
company test pilots with the aircraft, to supervise their assembly and
test flying and carry out the paperwork for the handover to the
It was planned that VH-ABV would be first delivered from Parafield to Perth. However at 7am on 17 December James Woods taxied out for the ferry flight. While stationary prior to commencing takeoff, the port undercarriage leg gently folded and the left engine and propeller hit the ground. Guinea Airways chief engineer Jack Gething said he could have it repaired within two days, but VH-ABW was hurried readied and Woods had it in Perth in time for the first scheduled MMA Lockheed service to Darwin leaving on 21 December 1938.
After their arrival in Perth, the Electras were painted with company name, now MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Co Ltd, and names on the nose, VH-ABV RMA Gascoyne, VH-ABW RMA Kimberley. They brought much higher ground speed, sturdiness and general reliability to the Perth-Darwin route and allowed one of DH.86s VH-USD to be quickly sold in February 1939 and ferried to India by James Woods.
|The two new MMA Lockheed 10B Electras being unloaded fom the ship MV Tolken at Port Adelaide on 5 December 1938.
Photo: Frank Colquhoun
Parafield after VH-ABV was assembled: left to right: H.C.Miller, Norman Adam (Brown & Dureau Ltd), Charles Grugan
(Lockheed engineer), Marshall Headle (Lockheed test pilot), Harold Cook (Guinea Airways chief pilot), Frank Colquhoun
(MMA chief engineer), James Woods (MMA senior pilot), Bob Patterson (MacRobertson's Ltd Adelaide).
|VH-ABW at Maylands Aerodrome, Perth 21 December 1938 being prepared to operate MMA's inaugural Lockheed service .
Geoff Goodall collection
Meanwhile back at Parafield, the disheartening scene on 17 December 1938 when VH-ABV's port undercarriage leg folded
just as James Woods was about to depart on delibvery to Perth. It was quickly repaired. Photo by Frank Colquhoun
|VH-ABV "RMA Gascoyne"at Maylands circa 1941. L-R pilot Dave Campbell, engineers Frank Herbert and Allan Beatty.
Photo by Frank Colquhoun
|VH-ABV in service in the north. The MMA pilots are wearing caps.
Photo: Civil Aviation Historical Society
|MMA West Australian aircraft prior to World War II
|The War Years 1939-1945
Great Britain's declaration of war against Germany on 3 September 1939
was joined by other British Commonwealth nations including Australia.
was the beginning of World War Two which would last the following six
years. The impact on MMA's Adelaide
and Perth operations was soon felt as pilots and engineers applied to
enlist in the RAAF. Even senior pilot Captain James Woods
attempted to enlist in RAAF, despite his age 46. Jimmy was disappointed
to learn he had been "man-powered, ie. ruled essential to the
civilian war effort and not to be released for military service.
The recently-established Department of Civil Aviation (which replaced the Civil Aviation Branch and Civil Aviation Board under the Department of Defence) wrote to Australian airlines explaining the wartime regulations under which the Australian Government could summarily requisition aircraft and other facilities needed by the military. DCA would act as liaison between civil aviation and military authorities, and the senior men of the Department were to play a pivotal role in maintaining skeleton air services throughout the war.
The air force needed DH.60, DH.82, DH.84 and DH.86 types to establish aircrew training schools across the country as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. DCA attempted to balance RAAF requirements against civil operators' minimum needs to keep an airline network operating, albeit at a much reduced level. MMA was served with Impressment Requisition Notices for four of its aircraft:
DH.84 VH-URX 27.12.39 delivered to RAAF Point Cook from Adelaide by James Woods. To RAAF A34-1
DH.86 VH-USC 30.9.40 delivered to RAAF Point Cook from Perth by James Woods. To RAAF A31-5
DH.84 VH-URF 5.5.41 delivered to RAAF Essendon from Perth by Horrie Miller. To RAAF A34-9
Vega VH-UVK 11.11.41 delivered to RAAF Point Cook from Perth by Horrie Miller. To RAAF A42-1
The two MMA Lockheed Electras were spared impressment because of their strategic importance in maintaining an effective air route between Perth and northern Australia. The pair were to carry many military personnel to the northern commands and were diverted from WA to Melbourne for several weeks to fill in on ANA services when ANA's Douglas airliners were seconded to carry troops to New Guinea.
The MMA Adelaide operation managed by Cyril Kleinig was closed in late 1939. The remaining airline route was a 3 return services weekly Adelaide-Whyalla-Iron Knob (via various Eyre Peninsula towns) of which one service per week received a Government subsidy. A 1939 Government review of airline service subsidies determined that Guinea Airways at Parafield, already operating DH.89 Rapide services to other SA ports, would take over the Whyalla route effective 6 September 1939. MMA's Dragon VH-URX which had flown the Whyalla service was listed to be impressed by RAAF. Cyril Kleinig closed down the Parafield business and flew the remaining aircraft Cessna C.37 VH-UZU to Perth, departing Parafield at 3.45am on 19 December 1939. Kleinig went on to a long succesful flying and management career with MMA Perth, later replacing Horrie Miller as General Manager .
As the war effort built up, MMA was among airlines selected by RAAF as Authorised Civilian Contractors to carry out scheduled overhauls and crash repairs to RAAF aircraft. MMA was issued Tiger Moths from 9EFTS Cunderdin and Dragons from 35 Squadron Pearce. An additional hangar was built at Maylands for this extra maintenance work. Women were employed to replace men who had joined the armed services. As well as the RAAF maintenance work, MMA carried out repairs on fabric control surfaces removed from US Navy PBY-5 Catalinas based at Nedlands, Perth. US Navy Curtiss Seagull and Vought Kingfisher floatplanes landed on the Swan River along the Maylands airfield boundary on occasion to have work done by MMA.
|RAAF Tiger Moths
and airframe components in the MMA repair shed at Maylands 1944
. Photo by Frank Colquhoun
|A happy group of MMA workers at Maylands in 1943, showing some of the women employed for office and hangar work.
Photo by Frank Colquhoun
When Japan entered the war in December 1941, the MMA Lockheeds Electras
flew military charters as well as the scheduled Perth-Darwin route.
After Japanese bombing raids on Darwin commenced in February 1942, the
MMA northern terminus was moved south to Batchelor NT and only high
priority civilian passngers were carried into the northern Australia
war zone. The two Lockheeds were to be involved in events which
displayed remarkable levels of determination and physical endurance by
The following afternoon James Woods, who was flying the other Electra northbound, diverted to search for them but was unable to sight the downed Lockheed until he spotted the smoke of a grass fire lit by the crew. In several low runs Woods dropped bundles of relief suppies, then circled the Napier Downs homestead to drop a written message to the manager Ned Delower. He set off with aboriginal stockmen on horses to seach, but took two days to locate the aircraft and its miserable occupants. Delower shot stray cattle to prepare a hearty meal of grilled steak and tinned potatoes, bread butter and jam.
MMA chief engineer Frank Colquhoun had been flown up from Perth in the Cessna C.37, landing at the airstrip of neighbouring Meda Station and reaching the accident site overland. Colquhoun assessed a nearby narrow stretch of ground between billabongs as the only possible landing area for the Cessna to use to fly the passengers out. A week after their forced landing, Jimmy Woods appeared in the Cessna and landed on the rough strip to commence taking the passengers out to Derby, one at a time, followed by Captain Branch because the company urgently needed him to resume flying duties.
Colquhoun, with the help of staff from both stations, dug away the mud under the wings and extended the undercarriage. Woods kept up the shuttle from Derby with food and equipment in over 30 trips over two weeks until the Electra was ready to be towed overland by donkey team to the Napier Downs airstrip. Creeks were crossed using logs, but the aircraft wheels and the donkeys sank in mud many times. Over the next week at the airstrip Colquhoun and Bagwell installed the replacement P&W engine and checked the aircraft throughly. It was the height of The Wet season and the strip was muddy and a big effort was made to harden the surface by burning petrol. They sent a radio message to Derby and Jimmy Woods arrived in the Cessna C.37. Woods and Colquhoun walked the length of the strip and when a slight breeze developed, Woods said it was time. Colquhoun walked in front of the taxying Lockheed to the far end, guiding Woods along the best path but a wheel dropped into a hole. All station hands rushed to help and with full engine power it was moved to the far end and straightend up for the takeoff run. Frank Colquhoun clambered on board and Woods successfully flew them out to Derby. Reg Bagwell then flew the Cessna to Derby. It had been a 5 week exercise but the Lockheed reached Perth on 19 February and returned to service.
|Lockheed Electra VH-ABV being pulled by donkey team to the Napier Downs Station airstrip, February 1942.
Wood logs were piled up at creek crossings for the aircraft's wheels. Photo by Reg Bagwell
| On 3 March 1942 Japanese fighters from Timor attacked Wyndham and Broome.
That morning James Woods with young Broome-based company engineer John
Fisher as crew, departed Wyndham for Broome in Electra VH-ABW loaded
with spare parts and equipment. They became airborne just minutes
before the raid on Wyndham commenced but were not seen by enemy pilots.
Many miles out from Broome inbound they could see the smoke from burning military aircraft on the aerodrome and 16 flying boats destroyed on Broome harbour. After landing, while taxying in thick smoke, a propeller blade struck aircraft wreckage, damaging the blade tip. With another raid expected and injured civilian refugees from the Netherlands East Indies desperate to escape Broome, Woods ordered Fisher to use a metal saw from his tool kit to cut off the damaged tip and cut the other blade tip back to match, to keep the propeller balanced. Woods loaded 22 persons on board his 10-seat Lockheed and flew them to Port Hedland, returning to Broome to collect more survivors.
John Fisher remained at Broome, helping organise the evacuees anxiously waiting to be flown out. He departed several days later on board an American B-24 Liberator, being dropped off at Adelaide still in the clothes he was wearing when he left Wydham.
When returning to Broome later that day, Woods sighted a Dutch Navy Dornier Do24 flying boat on a remote beach well south of Broome. It was X-36 commanded by Flying officr Petschi who was evacuating Java carrying Dutch civilians to Broome. He could not locate Broome at night and landed off the beach. Woods circled and dropped a message written on an passenger airsick bag which he weighted and threw out with a white ribbon. Petschi contacted him on the nominated radio frequency and following Woods' instruction not to betray his position, explained their situation and that they were low on water. On arrival Broome, Woods reported the position of the missing Dornier and on his next trip south dropped a message at the Mardie Station homestead and another message to the Dornier party on the beach.
The following morning Woods again circled the Dornier and could see the occupants were still there with no ground party in sight. He landed at the homestead where the manager told him they had been out all night searching on horse back along the coast without success. Woods took off, carrying the manager to show him the exact location, and dropped bottles of water, milk for the children, a sack of bread and other supplies. He also dropped another message with a map to a windmill with water tank and to tell them to expect to be rescued that afternoon. The Captain then set the Dornier on fire to stop it falling into Japanese hands.
For his efforts helping Dutch civilians and military following the Broome attack, Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands bestowed on Captain James Woods the Chevalier of the Order of Orange Nassau.
From the Department of Civil Aviation in Australia he was threatened with pilot licence suspension for flying a damaged aircraft and from his company he was criticised for ruining a valuable propeller.
| Broome WA on 3 March 1942 after the Japanese air raid, with burning flying boats on Roebuck Bay and smoke from
burning aircraft on the airfield at the top of the picture. Photograph taken from a Japanese arcraft departing for Timor.
David Vincent collection
|USAAC B-17E 41-2448 bunt out during the attack on Broome airfield, with a Lodestar or Hudson to the right.
Frank F. Smith collection
USAAC B-24A 40-2374 on Broome airfield 3 March 1942. Photo: Lester Brain collection
The MMA Lockheeds were
now painted in camouflage on upper surfaces as required by DCA for all
Australian civil aircraft. Their civil registrations were painted in
white over the camouflage on the fuselage sides and under the wings.
Both were temporarily sent to Melbourne in December 1942 to replace ANA
Douglas airliners seconded by the military to carry troops to New
Guinea for the Buna campaign. The MM Electras flew services between
Sydney, Melbourne and Tasmania.
On 24 March 1943 VH-ABV was put out of action for five months by a takeoff accident at Port Hedland. It ran off the runway and struck runway obstructions and piles of gravel to the side of the strip, to be used to disable the runway in the event of Japanese invasion. The Lockheed's undercarriage was torn away and it ended up on its belly, although the crew and 5 passengers were not injured. Once again senior engineer Frank Colquhoun was flown in with a repair party. The temporary repair of significant structural damage took nearly three weeks before the Lockheed was ferried to Perth on 10 April for work to be completed in the MMA hangars. Some needed airframe parts could not be acquired due to the war situation, so DCA intervened to have Guinea Airways in Adelaide send the parts from their Lockheed spares inventory. VH-ABV was test flown at Maylands 18 August 1943 by James Woods and quickly returned to service.
Two views of the accident to VH-ABV at Port Hedland airfield in March 1943. Photos by Frank Calquhoun
During May 1943 with Electra VH-ABV damaged at Port Hedland and no
replacement aircraft, MMA appealed to
DCA for help.
DCA persuaded a reluctant Air Force command to release DH.84 Dragon A34-4 (an impressment ex VH-ABK) with 35 Squadron at RAAF Pearce near Perth. It was handed over to MMA at Maylands on 16 May and issued with a 3 month CofA two days later, resuming its civil registration VH-ABK which was painted in white over the RAAF camouflage. The Electra was test flown on 18 August 1943 after completing repairs at Maylands and the Dragon was handed back to RAAF five days later.
Late in 1944 with the war situation much improved, continuing
correspondence to DCA from MMA urgently requesting the release of civil
airliners impressed by RAAF finally brought good news. DCA advised that
the RAAF had handed back two DH.86s which were available "as is where
is" at RAAF Amberley near Brisbane, one in damaged ccondition. Although
MMA had concerns about the type, remembering their pre-war use of the
big biplanes, there was nothing better in the offing, so the pair were
purchased through the recently-established Commonwealth Disposals
In February 1945 Frank Colquhoun was sent to Queensland to inspect the pair. A31-4 (ex ANA's VH-USW Lepena) was serviceable and Jim Woods was immediately depatched to ferry it to Perth. However the damaged aircraft A31-6 (ex Qantas VH-USF RMA Melbourne) was far worse than expected, dismantled in damaged sections missing many parts, exposed to the weather in a compound. Colquhoun was joined by company engineer Charlie Rolandi for the job of rebuilding the aircraft. Some missing airframe and engine parts were located at Amberley, others obtained from Qantas and ANA spares held at Archerfield Airport and no longer needed. When assembled, Jimmy Woods arrived from Perth to collect the aircraft. Woods flew the short hop to Archerfield Airport where a tyre burst on landing because of grabbing brake drums. With great assistance from the ANA maintenance staff the tyre and brakes were changed.
On 30 March 1945 Woods departed Archerfield in VH-USF bound for Perth. On board were the two MMA engineers and 3 RAAF personnel on leave eager to get to Sydney. There were no seats so the passengers sat on the cargo of spare tyres and parts on the cabin floor.
Landing at Mascot in gusty winds and rain, Woods lost control and the aircraft ground-looped, stopping on the runway with the port undercarriage collapsed. The aircraft was moved to a Qantas hangar where Colquhoun and Rolandi commenced repairing the aircraft again, while Woods returned to Perth. The rebuild took 20 days, then Woods returned and with the two engineers, set off on the 3 day ferry flight to Perth with no further problems. After major inspections by MMA at Maylands each was fitted with 12 passenger seats constructed by the company. DCA at Head Office level was deeply concerned at the unexpected return of DH.86s to airline passenger use, given the type's tarnished record in Australian service, however new Certificates of Airworthiness were issued: VH-USW on 6 April 1945, followed by VH-USF on 23 June 1945.
VH-USF was scheduled for its inaugural MMA service the very next morning, Perth-Geraldton-Carnarvon, under the command of Captain H.J. "Jim" Branch, who had over 10,000 hours experience, including 900 hours on MMA DH.86s pre-war. His copilot was Don W. Rumney. After refuelling at Geraldton, the takeoff appeared normal but the aircraft did not climb and turned back for a landing. Suffering an apparent loss of control, it was seen to be flying erratically banking steeply until the left wings hit the ground, sending the aircraft cart-wheeling across the airfield. Captain Branch and one passenger were killed, the other 9 occupants not seriously hurt. It was MMA's first fatality in ten years. The accident was a terrible blow as the airline came out of the war years.
|VH-USW at Maylands in 1945, soon after entering MMA service. Behind, across the Swan River is the Perth suburb Ascot.
Geoff Goodall collection
|VH-USF wreck at Geraldton Aerodrome 24 June 1945, on its very first MMA service. Cause of the accident remains unclear.
Geoff Goodall collection
|VH-USW was sold by MMA to a British company in November 1946 and left Perth on ferry to UK by two British pilots.
This picture shows them with friends while refuelling at Kankinara, Bengal. Several days later the ferry crew refused to fly
the aircraft any further because of dangerous tail flutter and abandoned it at Allahabad, India where it went derelict.
Hand-written nose art reads "Jim and Tim's Bamboo Bomber". Frank Colquhoun collection
|A NEW ERA : POST-WAR EXPANSION
As part of its strategy for the development of post-war Australian
airlines, the Department of Civil Aviation had purchased 12 Douglas
C-47s from the US Army Air Force which would be leased to airlines as
civilian DC-3s to fill the gap before large scale disposal of C-47s by
the US Foreign Liquidation Commission. A dual motive was to have a
dozen DC-3s ready for the yet-to-be-announced formation of a
Government-owned airline whuch was to be named Trans-Australia Airlines.
During 1944-1945 DCA leased the twelve C-47s to Qantas Empire Airways, Australian National Airways and Guinea Airways, registered VH-AEP to VH-AFA. MMA was not considerd because it was felt they should be satisfied with the two DH.86s that DCA had facilitated for them. Not surprisingly, Horrie Miller and his Directors protested vigorously to Federal politicians, with the result VH-AEU which had been leased to Qantas then Guinea Airways at Adelaide, was allocated to MMA. It was collected at Parafield 20 November 1945 by James Woods and Alex Whitham, who ferried it to Perth to commence a new lease from DCA until March 1947 when it was returned for use by TAA.
MMA's inaugural DC-3 service departed Maylands Aerodrome, Perth on 28 November 1945 at the company's traditional 6am early start for Geraldton, Carnarvon, Onslow, Port Hedland, Broome to Derby. It was crewed by Captains Woods and Whitham and MMA's first air hostess Miss Anne Shooter who had been employed the previous week just for the new DC-3.
With the first DC-3 in service, MMA moved its passenger, freight and postal services from Maylands to the new Perth Airport five miles away at Guildford when DCA took over the wartime RAAF Dunreath airfield. The maintenance hangars at Maylands continued to be used for some years but a row of new hangars and workshops was established at Guildford. The southernmost Bellman hangar was fitted out as the MMA passenger terminal and was to be used as such until 1961 when the new domestic terminal building for all airlines was completed
|MMA comes of age with the first DC-3 VH-AEU in 1945.
Pilots and hostesses in new uniforms, flanked by Horrie Miller (right) and Cyril Gare, Traffic Manager (left).
first DC-3 VH-AEU at Guildford Airport, Perth
Photo by Harley Fairclough
Ed Coates collection
| With VH-AEU on lease from DCA, it was
imperative that MMA acquire its own DC-3s. The US Foreign Liquidation
Commission had an office in Manila, Philippines to dispose of thousands of fighters, bombers and transports retired in
long rows at the nearby Clark Field. Airlines in Australia, NZ
and SE Asia were sending purchase teams to Manila to begin
MMA sent senior Captain Cyril Kleinig and chief engineer Frank Colquhoun, who successfully bid for a low-hours C-47A. An import pemit was approved by DCA 18 May 1946 and it was ferried to Perth. After civil conversion to a DC-3 in the MMA hangars at Maylands, it emerged as VH-AXM, test flown on 14 March 1947 and entered MMA scheduled service on 25 March 1947 named "RMA Fitzroy". In October that year it flew MMA's first International charter to India to collect an Indian cricket team.
Field, Philippines 1946 with hundreds of C-47s in the
John Hopton Collection
|Manila, Philippines April 1946: MMA's Frank Colquoun (at right) and Captain Cyril Kleinig in the jeep, during negotiations to
purchase a Douglas C-47 for MMA from US disposals at Clark Field. USAAF Major Stormy Wooles (left) and Major Boland.
Photo: Frank Colquhoun
"RMA Fitzroy" at Wyndham in 1947 soon after entering MMA service.
Merv Prime collection
|VH-AXM parked on metal mesh at Kallang Airport, Singapore October 1947 on the Indian charter. Photo: Frank Colquhoun
More DC-3s were needed and the next two were retired RAAF Dakotas
purchased via the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. They were given
civil conversions and registered VH-MMA in October 1947 and VH-MMF in
April 1949. Another DC-3 VH-MMK
was acquired in 1949 from Silver City Airways (Australia) at
Broken Hill NSW.
at Penfoe, Timor in 1948 collecting crews for the pearl lugger fleet at
Broome. Photo: Frank Clquhoun
"RMA Kimberley" completing civil conversion overhaul at Perth Airport in 1949, being weighed in
Photo by Frank Colquhoun
| During 1949 the company decided to standardise on the VH-MM
registration series. DC-3 VH-AXM was re-registered VH-MME in April 1949
but only three months later was lost in a disastrous takeoff crash at
Perth Airport. The accident was to cause a dark period for MMA's
management and oipertations with far-reaching consequences.
Earty in the morning of 2 July 1949, VH-MME took off at Perth Airport on a delayed scheduled service to Carnarvon. The DC-3 rolled on Runway 02 at 2.14am in heavy rain and when airborne rotated violently and went into a steep climb until the aircraft stalled and fell in a disused army camp off the end of the airfield boundary. Captain W.G.Norman, his 3 crew and 14 passengers were killed.
A lengthy Court of Enquiry determined that the cause to be faulty loading of the aircraft resulted in Centre of Gravity being well behind the aft limit, causing loss of control when airborne. Worse, the enquiry found that the vital Load Sheet provided in evidence had been altered by persons unknown and that the company's loading procedures for groundstaff were lax or non-existant. It was unimpressed by evidence given by some senior company personnel, and the final report recommended that MMA's airline licence be suspended or cancelled.
The DCA Director General decided not to take action against the airline licence, but instituted close monitoring of MMA's operational procedures. The casual days had ended.
|The sad scene on the side of Kalamunda Road, Perth on 2 July 1949. VH-MME's tail section was all that remained intact.
Geoff Goodall collection
|Avro Ansons introduced
Part of the post-war expansion plan was to acquire a fleet of civilianised Avro Ansons to operate local services to small towns and properties from most of the northern coastal ports. In 1946 large numbers of retired RAAF Ansons were becoming available from Commonwealth Disposals Commission and DCA approved their use as civil passenger aircraft with a minimum of modifications.
MMA purchased six Ansons at Geraldton at prices of £250 or £350 each. They which were ferried by MMA crews to Maylands for civil conversions. Also purchased was a large stock of RAAF spares parts and Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah engines. Several one-piece wooden mainplanes were loaded on railway freight wagons at Geraldton in November 1946 by MMA groundstaff for transporting to Perth.
Two additional Ansons in poor condition were acquired for engines and parts from RAAF Pearce, 20 miles north of Perth. Frank Colquhoun sawed off their wooden wings outer of the engines then towed each to Maylands Aerodrome by road behind a jeep with the tailwheel attached to a sling. He did the tows at 3am in the morning to avoid road traffic.
The Ansons were fitted out for 6 or 7 passengers with window panels replacing the RAAF cabin perspex glasshouse. The nose was modified to allow baggage storage through a hinged nose cap. They were based between Port Hedland and Darwin to fly scheduled "station runs" to cattle stations, missions and remote towns, as well as Flying Doctor Service contracts. They also flew inland photographic mapping and coastal fishing surveys, proving to be very reliable aircraft.
|VH-AYN and AYO in bright silver finish at Perth Airport late 1946, with the newly-built MMA main DC-3 hangar behind.
Window panels were soon installed to replace the military glasshouse. Photo by Frank Colquhoun
|VH-AYO "RMA Ord", now fitted with windows, with a gear collapse at Victoria River Downs Station NT in August 1948.
Pilot Alex Whitham stands by the aircraft. Photo by Frank Colquhoun who arrived with the repair crew.
at Perth Airport
This poor quality snapshot at Perth Airport shows VH-AYP with an unusual window design. Behind is Electra VH-ABV and
the stripped airframe of ex RAAF Lockheed Hudson A16-116 purchased by MMA for engines, instruments and parts.
The Hudson was flown in from RAAF Pearce on 20 May 1947 by Cyril Kleinig and Cyril Goode. Photo: MMA
|Typical stop on a Darwin station run during November 1949. RMA Ord now VH-MMH, at Elcho Island Mission NT.
Photo by Phil McCulloch
at Halls Creek WA in 1953, ready for the next Kimberley stations
Photo by Colin Hayes
At the end of the war, the two Lockheed Electras were still in full service along the Perth-Darwin route. However VH-ABW was written-off in at Broome on 17 June 1946.
Route Manager Captain James Woods was in command for a scheduled early departure. At 5am he taxied to the runway with First officer Rodney Pyke, supernumary pilot Forrest Hammersley and five passengers bound for Darwin. It was still dark and Broome airfield was covered in a thick sea fog with visibility reduced below the minimum distance required for takeoff. Captain Alex Whitham in command of the southbound MMA DC-3 VH-AEU advised Broome Aeroradio that he would delay his departure until the visibility improved. But Woods, who had flown out of Broome since his 1920s West Australian Airways days, was unconcerned and instructed his First Officer to commence takeoff. In zero visibility they became airborne and immediately retracted the landing gear, but a propeller struck the ground and the aircraft lost speed. Woods took over to make a belly landing straight ahead in a muddy mangrove tidal swamp.
It was low tide and the occupants were able to disembark through the door and walk though mud to dry land. There were no serious injuries but Woods and Pyke were hurt and spent 3 days in Broome Hospital. The mail, passengers' baggage and freight was removed from the wrecked aircraft before the tide rose. Alex Whitham supervised removal of instruments, radio and other removable equipment.
James Woods' over-confidence that morning was to cost him dearly. DCA's accident investigation found him solely responsible and suspended his commercial pilot licence. Back in Perth he resumed MMA administration work while undergoing training and testing to renew his pilot licence. But in what must have been an extremely difficult decision, Managing Director Horrie Miller wrote to Woods on 31 December 1946 terminating his employment after 17 years of tireless service to the airline.
views of the wrecked Lockheed Electra on the Broome mud flats in June
1946. Frank Colquhoun
The surviving Lockheed VH-ABV was to continue in MMA service for
another seven years. As more DC-3s took over the main trunk
route, it was based at Derby for the Kimberley stations services
in addition to operating the Flying Doctor Service contract to take
nurses, doctors or dentists to clinics at inland communities, as well
as emergency medical flights. Although re-registered VH-MMD in October
1948 it retained the name RMA Gascoyne.
It was demanding flying. On 26 September 1949 Captain Sid Goddard made a forced landing in bush in a different area of Napier Downs Station where this aircraft had to be pulled out by donkey team in 1942. This time the gear was down and the aircraft flown out in much quicker time. On 6 October 1952 Captain Jack Murray was landing at Noonkenbah Station when the port undercarriage leg folded, damaging the port wing and propeller. It was back in service on 23 October 1952.
|This July 1951 MMA Timetable route map shows the extensive network supporting inland towns and properties
|After advertising the Lockheed for sale during 1953, VH-MMD was purchased by a Californian aircraft dealer. It departed Perth Airport 7 February 1954 for Sydney where it was shipped to the United States to become N4886V with Mountain Airlines of Burbank, California. Forty years later after many owners, the Electra was restored for display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola naval air station in Florida, painted to represent a US Navy military model.|
Electra VH-MMD at Halls Creek WA on a scheduled service during 1953.
Photo by Colin
survives today displayed at the US Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola,
Forida. Photo by Dave Prossor
| The Air Beef Project began when Mr. Gordon Blyth, owner of Mount House and Glenroy
cattle stations in the Kimberleys, approached MMA with his concept to
avoid six week overland cattle drives to the Wyndham meat works, which
was too arduous for younger stock and the mature animals lost weight
and arrived in poor condition. He proposed construction of an
abattoir at Glenroy Station,
which had an all-weather airstrip. His cattle and stock from
neighbouring properties would be slaughtered and kept briefly in a
chilling room until flown out to the Wyndham Government meatworks where
it would be processed and shipped out, mainly to Britain.
To publicise the project, in July 1946 Captain Cyril Kleinig flew Lockheed Electra VH-ABV from Mount House to Perth delivering four unchilled bullock carcases in perfect condition, which were auctioned to raise funds for Red Cross. Talks to gain Government financing began and Australian National Airways' projects manager Ian H. Grabowsky formulated a detailed plan to use ANA Bristol Freighters.
A new company Air Beef Pty Ltd, was registered in Perth on 4 November 1948 as a consortium comprising MMA, ANA and Kimberley pastoralists. The airstrip at Glenroy was upgraded to DC-3 and Bristol Freighter standard, and in January 1949 MMA commenced flying in building materials to construct the Glenroy abattoir, chilling room, canteen and wartime nissan hut living quarters for 16 butchers, 3 engineers, governmeat meat inspectors, a cook, storeman, clerical staff and aircrew. It was completed in May 1949 when DC-3 VH-MMF and an ANA DC-3 commenced 3 return flights daily from Glenroy to Wyndham, carrying 3 tons of chilled meat. Back-loading was equipment and supplies for the stations, which previously took weeks by truck. The first MMA crew based at Glenroy for the season were Captain Cyril Kleinig, Sturdee Jordan and Bill Pepper.
To maximise its load carrying capability, VH-MMF had its auxiliary fuel tanks, de-icing equipment, sound-proofing and autopilot system removed and the company issued polish for the aircrew to keep the metal gleaming during their time off. ANA used a Bristol Freighter for the Air Beef seasons April-September each year 1950-1953 when they withdrew, leaving flying operations to MMA. A second specialised DC-3 freighter VH-MML was purchased from a British dealer. MMA continued Air Beef each year until 1962 when Air Beef Pty Ltd ceased operations because the Kimberley inland road network had improved to the extent that it was now more economic to move live cattle by trucks to the coastal meatworks.
Between 1949-1962 Air Beef Pty Ltd flew 1,693 return flights Glenroy-Wyndham and 1,149 return flights Glenroy-Derby, carrying a remarkable total of 14,393 tons of meat from the Glenroy Station abattoir.
refuelling at Wyndham in July 1949 during the first Air Beef
Photo by Phil McCulloch
|VH-MML at Wyndham in highly polished finish on the 1955 Air Beef run. Windows were faired over to reduce cabin heat.
Photo by Colin Hayes
gantry system at Glenroy by which the frozen beef was moved to the
Photo by Colin Hayes
|VH-MML "RMA Gascoyne" nose art for the 1954 Air Beef season. It was quickly removed on return to Perth.
At that time MMA crews were posted to Glenroy for the full 4 month season. Photo by Colin Hayes
|MMA pilot helps with the loading at Glenroy. Photo by Colin Hayes
|DC-3 VH-MML in later markings delivering prize bulls to "Fossil Downs" Station in the Kimberleys in October 1957.
Photo: Geoff Goodall collection
| As the business of the airline developed, name changes had taken place:
- MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Company
- MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Company Ltd
- MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Company Pty Ltd
- Commercial Aviation Company
- Commercial Aviation Pty Ltd: the original Adelaide business was retained and restructured as a WA business under this name. It was used as a MMA subsidiary, mainly for accounting purposes to which MMA aircraft ownership was transferred from time to time.
|Merger with Airlines (WA) Ltd - name change to MacRobertson Miller Airlines
Airlines (WA) Ltd had been MMA's only competitor for West Australian
domestic air services. It began in 1936 as a modest operation from
Perth to Wiluna, Leonora and Meekatharra but had expanded to include
Kalgoorlie, Esperance, Albany with Ansons and DH.104 Doves. In general
terms, MMA did the routes to the north while Airlines (WA) Ltd, known
locally just as "Airlines" covered southern WA ports. That all changed
in 1947 when Airlines beat MMA's bid for a Government subsidised air
service between Perth andf Wittenoom where Colonial Sugar Refinery had
purchased the blue asbestos mine from Lang Hancock. Production was
rapidly increased for use in the manufacture of the popular post-war
fibreboard building materials. Airlines was approved to open a
Perth-Wiluna-Wittenoom-Port Hedland route to carry workers and supplies
to the remote mine site.
Government reviews of Australian airline subsidies expressed concern at WA duplication where MMA and Airlines were both receiving subsidies along variations of Perth-Meektharra-Wittenoom-Port Hedland. It came to a head in 1955 when the Minister for Civil Aviation, Mr Atholb Townley stated it could not continue and called on the two airlines to merge. Talks began to discuss how this could be achieved. MacRobertsons Pty Ltd of Melbourne still owned 62% of MMA shares while Airlines (WA) Ltd was a public company listed in Perth.
During June 1955 a new company MacRobertson Miller Airlines Ltd (no hyphen) was established to continue the merged operations of both airlines. The Managing Director position was initially shared by Cyril Kleinig from MMA and Don Cameron from Airlines. The merger included management, admin and booking staff, pilots and engineering staff in addition to aircraft and building assets. It was an uncomfortable period at first with differing management and operational procedures and staff seniority to be standardised. Although it was stressed to be a merger, not a takeover by MMA, in reality it seemed to most to be just that.
Combined operations commenced 1 October 1955 when MacRobertson Miller Airlines had a combined staff of over 400, including 49 pilots. Chief Pilot was Captain Alex Whitham, Managing Director Cyril Kleinig with James Cameron, previously Managing Director of Airlines (WA) Ltd appointed Executive Manager. Chairman of the new combined Board was Perth businessman Reginald Rushton.
Airlines (WA) Ltd's three remaining Doves became VH-MMN, -MMO &
-MMP and replaced Ansons at Port Hedand and Derby for the station runs
and Flying Doctor Service. They were operated with 8 removeable
passenger seats and a toilet.
soon after the merger, still with Airlines (WA) Ltd fuselage
Photo by Frank Colquhoun
|The standard MMA Dove scheme was polished metal finish with white roof and tail. VH-MMN at Darwin in July 1962 .
Photo by Peter R. Keating
"RMA Pallinup" after a gear-up landing at Derby WA on 3 May
Merv Prime collection
candid shot of two Doves with
MMA pilots and hostess
Photo via Reg Adkins
|MMA DH.104 Dove Mk.5Bs: acquired in the merger with Airlines (WA) Ltd in October 1955
new company name seen on DC-3 VH-MMA renamed "RMA Ashburton" landing at
Rottnest Island in November 1957.
Photo: Geoff Goodall collection
|MMA's DC-3s flew in bare metal finish despite frequent aircrew requests for white paint to help deflect the Northwest heat.
Despite the widely-held belief that Managing Director Cyril Kleinig refused stating the weight of the paint would reduce
payload, this rare picture of VH-MMM "Murchison"in March 1957 at Esperance shows that it was trialled for a period.
Photo via Nicholas Kleinig
In the north, airport facilities were still basic. Here's the passenger waiting area at Port Hedland in 1956.
Planting the desert shrubs was a a nice touch. Photo via Reg Adkins
|Port Hedland MMA office and waiting room in the town main street mid 1950s, with airport bus parked outside.
Frank Colquhoun collection
north passenger transport was more basic. The Derby Chevrolet truck in
|The Avro Ansons were now retired and sold. However one VH-MMH was retained for aerial photographic survey contracts and remained in service right up to the DCA grounding order for all Australian Ansons on 30 June 1962. General Manager Cyril Kleinig displayed his usual determination to keep aircraft fully employed by having VH-MMH stay on its survey job until the day prior to the grounding, when it was ferried from Mount Magnet to Perth and flew a farewell circuit of the city and suburbs.|
VH-MMB in the open-sided Darwin civil hangar in March
Photo by Peter Keating
|The last MMA Anson VH-MMH was donated to Fairbridge Farm School at Pinjarra WA. DCA approved its delivery flight
on 11 August 1962 by Chief Pilot Alex Whitham who is wearing his cap in the centre with Managing Director Cyril Kleinig,
handing over the aircraft's log books to the school Head Master. Sadly the aircraft was soon wrecked by student vandalism.
Photo: Geoff Goodall collection
|Avro Ansons RAAF serial CofA issued Name Re-registered|
|Into the 1960s - introduction of the Fokker F.27 Friendship
The MMA Board had been discussing ways to finance the acquisition and
introduction costs of the new generation of turboprop airliners. An
early opportunity was presented in 1959 when Trans-Australia Airlines
management decided that three new F.27s from their initial order would
be excess to needs and offered them to East West Airlines, Guinea
Airways and MMA on extended repayment terms.
MMA negotiated the purchase of VH-TFL whlle it was on the Fokker production line. It was delivered from Fokker's Amsterdam factory to Perth by MMA Captains Alex Witham and Sid Goddard, arriving at Perth Airport on 16 December 1959. It had been painted by Fokker in a newly-designed blue, white and red MMA Jetstream Service scheme.
The F.27 was repainted as VH-MMS with name RMA Swan during its pre-service overhaul at Perth. Crew training commenced and a naming ceremony on 28 December was a lavish affair which gained wide publicity. Following the ceremony, dignitaries and press boarded for a flight to Port Hedland and return, on which hot meals were served, a first for MMA due to the limited DC-3 galley facilies. The inaugural revenue flight for the Friendship was a scheduled 5am departure Perth-Port Hedland-Broome-Derby crewed by Captains Syd Goddard and Ken Beer and F/O Norm Dorrington. The F.27 took over the Perth-Darwin mainline schedule, leaving the DC-3s to cover the coastal ports and station services. VH-MMS operated an average of 10 hours flying time per day, 7 days a week logging over 3,000 hours in the first year, all maintenance at home base Perth overnight.
The Friendship proved highly popular with passengers and crews alike,
reduced flight times and the comfort of cruising above most of the
turbulence endured on the DC-3s. Additional new Friendships were
ordered, but the MMA Board's struggle to finance this expenditure was
soon to be eased by a change of ownership of the airline - Ansett
|The naming ceremony for MMA's first Friendship VH-MMS at Perth Airport 28 December 1959, complete with company bus.
Geoff Goodall collection
"RMA Ord" at Perth January 1969 in the 1960s "MMA Jetstream Service"
scheme. Peter Gates collection
"RMA Victoria" at
Photo by Graham Bennett via Peter Gates collection
|The Ansett takeover - and the WA mining boom
Reginald Miles Ansett, who founded Ansett Airways in 1935 in Victoria
had become a dominant force in the Australian airline industry. In
November 1957 he purchased the major operator Australian National
Airways to form Ansett-ANA. Other airlines were quickly taken over by
Ansett Transport Industries: Butler Air Transport in Sydney, Queensland
Airlines in Brisbane and Guinea Airways in Adelaide.
Ansett's move into Western Australia came in 1963 when MacRobertson Pty Ltd in Melbourne, the original partners, wanted to sell their 50% shareholding in MMA to finance expansion of their chocolate business. Horrie Miller, now aged 70 and living in retirement at Broome, held the next biggest shareholding. Ansett took over MMA by purchasing MacRoberson and Horrie Miller's shares plus taking over the outsanding payments due to TAA on the first F.27 VH-MMS.
On 19 April 1963 MacRobertson Miller Airlines Ltd became a subsidiary of Ansett Transport Industries. Many people of the North at first were critical of Horrie Miller, who was seen as selling out their essential air service to a big Eastern States conglomerate for personal profit. The reality was that Miller was crucially aware that the existing company simply could not finance the all-turbine airliner fleet it needed to stay in business. Reg Ansett had learned from his previous airline purchases when he changed their names and replaced experienced management that loss of local goodwill resulted in rearly reduced turnover - he assured the MMA Board that ATI would adopt a hands-off policy to allow MMA to continue under the same management apart from the two MacRobertson directors would be replaced by R.M.Ansett and Fred Pascoe representing ATI. Cyril Kleinig continued as Managing Director.
The impact of solid financial backing came at just the right time. Massive reserves of iron ore in the Pilbara district inland from Port Hedland and Dampier had resulted in huge new mining operations being built and new towns for their employees with air-conditioned brick homes boasting gardens and lawns, shopping centres, medical services and other amenities. These mining centres and their coastal iron ore shipping ports had new airports with modern facilities constructed by the mining companies and were added to the MMA timetable during the 1960s: Mount Newman, Paraburdoo, Mount Tom Price, Karratha. Port Hedland's port went from a weekly Coastal Ships visit to a vast development which loaded the largest bulk ore carriers for shipping to Japan.
The MMA Board could now place firm orders for new F.27s and consider the new medium-sized jet airliners for the future. But in the meantime capacity on services to the Pilbara were stretched to the limit. Air cargo rose by 54% in the 1965-66 financial year.
Ansett-ANA F.27s were leased to MMA for varying periods, and two Ansett-ANA Douglas DC-4s leased: VH-INX from August 1965 initially as as a freighter and VH-INY from November 1965 in 54 passenger configuration and freight, all flown by MMA crews. VH-INX returned to Melbourneon 20 July 1966 from extended MMA service.
DC-3s were leased from East West Airlines at Tamworth NSW: VH-EWE for two weeks from 17 July 1965, VH-EWD two weeks from 13 August that year, followed by VH-EWB from 6 October 1965 for three months. Each was collected from Tamworth by MMA crews and ferried to Perth. EWB was returned to Tamworth by an MMA crew on 15 January 1966.
A three year lease of a Philippine Airlines F.27 commenced in January 1966, painted in MMA Jetstream Service scheme as VH-MMU with the non-standard name "Mabuhay", the Filipino greeting. It was a Friendship Mk.1 series which did not have the performance of MMA's Mk.2s and was not popular with flight crews. It also suffered significant maintenence problems which caused so many customer complaints that questions were asked in State Parliament. It was ferried back to Manila in November 1968 by MMA Captains Bill Anderson and Sid Goddard
Airlines Fokker Friendship PI-C512 on delivery to Perth in January
Photo by Merv Prime
while on lease to MMA as VH-MMU named
Photo by Merv
|East West Airlines DC-3 VH-EWB unloading at Perth in November 1965 while on lease to MMA. Its rudder has been
temporarily replaced with a MMA spare unit. The DC-7 behind was the weekly South African Airways service.
Photo by Merv Prime
|Typical 1960s MMA DC-3 scene as passengers at Esperance collect their baggage from the morning service from Perth.
Photo via Nicholas Kleinig
|Ansett-ANA F.27 VH-FNA while on lease to MMA at Perth
in September 1967.
Photo by Merv Prime
The iron ore mining developments sparked a surge in surveying for other
minerals, oil and natural gas fields across Western Australia.
WA Petroleum Ltd (WAPET) was establishing its first oil field on Barrow Island, off the WA coast near Exmouth. It was to grow to over 400 wells and the island become Australia's leading supplier of oil and natural gas. In 1963 WAPET called for tenders to provide a dedicated air service to carry personnel and supplies between Perth, Barrow Island and other WAPET inland drilling sites, with 750 hours flying per year. After evaluating aircraft types best suited to the contract requirements, MMA prepared a tender based on an 8 passenger Piaggio P.166. The bid was successful. and the contract signed in November 1963 to be operated by its subsidiary company Commercial Aviation Pty Ltd using crews and facilities loaned by MMA. A four year old P166 was purchased from the British dealers, registered VH-MMP and delivered to Perth. The ferry pilot was Australian Captain Brian Monkton, founder of Trans Oceanic Airlines, Sydney in 1946 and now a freelance commercial pilot in Europe and Africa.
The Piaggio reached Perth on 27 February 1964 after an eventful delivery flight, culminating in Monkton being forced to shut down one engine while crossing the Timor Sea and being escorted into Darwin by a RAF Hastings and RAAF Dakota. After the engine was repaired, he was then delayed a week at Broome when the other engine failed and was replaced with a spare flown up from Perth with MMA engineers. Unfortunately engine and undercarriage serviceability problems were to plague the aircraft on the WAPET contract, when it was usually flown by MMA Captain Ron Eastman. The contract was lost after the first year's review and taken over by a Perth charter firm.
The Piaggio was then used for general charter and to carry company engineers to u/s airliners along the routes. In January 1966 it appeared in the MMA timetable substituted for the normal DC-3 on the 4 days a week return service Perth to Mount Magnet, Cue, Meekatharra, but it is reported to have struggled in the high summer temperatures and DC-3s went back on the run. In 1967 the Piaggio was retired and advertised for sale in Australia and overseas. With no sale, it finally departed Perth in October 1969 for lease to Ansett Airlines of Papua New Guinea but, true to form, went u/s at Horn Island on the delivery flight and never reached New Guinea. Ironically, VH-MMP was to go on to a long and productive life with various charter operators and by the 1990s was the last Australian Piaggio still flying.
panoramic view of Wittenoom Airport in 1964 with the Piaggio
"Pilbara" at Perth Airport in June 1968, retired pending
Photo by Geoff Goodall
The mining industry brought other closed charters and contracts.
In 1967 a DHC-6 Twin Otter VH-MMY was purchased new from Canada to
operate a lucrative contract with BHP/Australian Iron and Steel to fly
a courier service between Derby and the iron ore mines on Cockatoo
Island and Koolan Islands in Yampi Sound, which had previously been
supplied by a company Twin Pioneer. It arrived at Perth on 12 January
1968 in bare metal finish after ferry flight as N1566. After being
painted in the MMA Jetstream Service scheme and crew training, it was named RMA Yampi
in a ceremony at Derby Airport on 5 February 1968. As well as the
islands courier charter, it was to operate the Kimberley Stations
|Twin Otter VH-MMY at Perth 12 January 1968 on arrival from Canada in bare metal finish as N1566.
Both photographs by Merv Prime
|Perth 28 January 1968 now painted in MMA Jetstream Service scheme with name on nose "RMA Yampi"
Otter 100 VH-EWM was leased for 11 months from East West Airlines from
November 1971 to operate between Port Hedland and Pilbara iron ore
towns. Joining it was Twin Otter 200 VH-PGU which was delivered to
MMA on 10 April 1972, transferred from Ansett tourist services in
Queensland. VH-PGU remained with MMA based in the north until
October 1978 when it was returned to Ansett.
|VH-EWM at Perth in March 1972. It stayed in East West scheme while with MMA, with "On Charter To MMA"sticker.
Photo by Merv Prime
Twin Otter VH-PGU at Paraburdoo in June
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|VH-MMY 'RMA Yampi" at Paraburdoo
October 1971 after repaint in Ansett red and black
scheme. Photo by Geoff Goodall
|And what of Horrie Miller?
Managing Director Horrie Miller gradually withdrew from the day-to-day
management of his airline during the late 1940s. He handed the M-D role
to Cyril Kleinig, just as he had entrusted the Adelaide MMA operation
to the young Kleinig in 1934: see MMA Part One.
With a new title Regional Director, Miller moved to Broome, 2000 km north of Perth and semi-retirement.
Miller had married Mary Durack (later Dame Mary) whose family were Kimberley pioneer pastoralists. Horrie had met the Duracks during his stops at their cattle stations while setting up the MMA Kimberley services. Mary became a noted artist, author and poet, the Miller Nedlands home in Perth becoming a hub for the literary and social set of the day. Horrie, a more solitary person, later bought a house in Broome where he spent much of his time with regular visits from his family. They had six children, Julie became an MMA hostess and Robin was widely known across the north of WA as the Sugarbird Lady - as a nurse for the WA Health Department she flew her own light aircraft to remote communities administering polio vaccine in sugar cubes. Robin was later an RFDS pilot at Perth before an untimely terminal illness.
Horrie purchased a civilianised former RAAF CAC CA-6 Wackett Trainer VH-AIY from a Sydney aircraft dealer in June 1946 and flew it to Perth for his personal use. When he settled in Broome the Wackett was based at Broome Airport, maintained by MMA engineers stationed at Broome or Derby. By 1964 Horrie was aged 71 and let his pilot licence lapse. His Wackett was retired in its Broome hangar which still had bullet holes from the Japanese air raid in 1942. He held his seat on the MMA Board and traveled to Perth for Directors meetings until his formal retirement in 1972.
Part of MMA folklore was Horrie Miller's habit of meeting every MMA flight through Broome, day or night. Captain Reg Adkins describes it in his excellent book I Flew For MMA:
"I did my first flight through to Darwin in May 1955 as F/O to Captain Phil Dickson. When we arrived at Brome, an elderly man wandered over. Phil said "See that old bloke over there? He's your boss. That's Captain Horrie Miller". By now aged 62, Horrie had retired to Broome but always met every flight, wearing his standard uniform of white shirt, khaki shorts, long socks and shoes. When the stairs were rolled up he was always first on the aeroplane, with a gleam in his eye he would chat to the Hostess in his slow quiet drawl, then pick up a newspaper before greeting the Captain for a yarn to catch up on news along the track. One new Hostess who rebuked him for taking a newspaper got a shock when told that the old chap she has just chewed out was the owner of the airline.
That was Horrie in Broome - living in the peace and quiet of that little sleepy coastal town of the time - and quite happy there, just watching his aeroplanes come and go. There was always a feeling of being in the presence of history when you were with Horrie.
Shirl and I went to see him years later, back at his home in Nedlands in his final days, sitting in an armchair with a rug around him and not being able to say much at all but still that gleam in his tired old eyes. One of Australia's real pioneer aviators, he was a great bloke and the founder of a great airline."
Awards and recognition came late in Horrie Miller's life. In 1977 he was the recipient of that year's Oswald Watt Gold Medal for achievements in aviation. In 1978 he was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE). A road to the new International Terminal at Perth Airport was named Horrie Miller Drive. WA Premier Sir Charles Court later wrote "During my long personal acquaintance with Horrie Miller I could not decide what motivated him. Not for him the headlines, the notoriety or fame that others attracted. His great satisfaction was in achievement. He never boasted or made dramatic claims what he had achieved but was always generous in his praise of others.
Horace Clive Miller died in Perth on 27 September 1980. At his funeral, in an improptu action, MMA Captains and Hostesses attending in uniform formed an honour guard to show their personal respect. The next Fokker Fellowship to be delivered VH-FKG was named
RMA Horrie Miller by his widow Dame Mary Durack in a ceremony at Broome Airport in August 1981.
One can only wonder at Miller's feelings in 1963 when he agreed to sell to Reg Ansett his shareholding in the company he formed 35 years earlier. I can only assume it was Ansett's personal assurance that he would leave MMA under its current management that was the deciding factor. Reg Ansett did honour that pledge, at least for the first decade of Ansett ownership.
|Broome 1960: Horrie Miller at rear, with daughters Julie (left) and Robin, chat with MMA crew
Captain Dave Campbell and hostess Marge Kitley from the MMA DC-3 VH-MMD "Durack".
Frank Colquhoun collection
|Horrie Miller fires up the Warner Scarab radial of his Wackett at Broome in September 1967. Photo by Neil Follett
| Horrie Miller with his Wackett, Broome early 1960s Cyril N. Kleinig MMA Managing Director 1949-1977
|The Viscounts - and the New Years Eve tragedy
During 1968 Ansett Transport Industries placed orders for Fokker F.28
Fellowship jets for which MMA would be the launch Australian airline. Prior to their delivery, to help MMA with ever
increasing passenger and freight demand, an Ansett-ANA Viscount 700
series would be leased to MMA. Viscount V747 VH-RMO was ferried from
Melbourne to Perth on 18 April 1968 and promptly repainted in MMA Jetstream Service scheme with name RMA Oakover. It entered MMA service five days later, almost exclusively Perth-Port Hedland.
Despite its age, having been built in 1955 for Butler Air Transport, Sydney, the Viscount brought "big airliner" prestige for MMA. In the expectation that MMA would be operating Viscounts for some years, an extensive pilot training and endorsement program kept VH-RMO busy most evenings with circuits and instrument approaches at Perth in those days prior to Simulators.
In September 1968 Viscount 720C VH-RMQ replaced VH-RMO as part of a routine Ansett-ANA flight hours maintenance schedule.
RMO was repainted back to Ansett-ANA scheme before departing Perth 8 September for Melbourne, RMQ ferrying Melbourne-Perth on 13 September and going into the MMA paint shop that same night to emerge in Jetstream Service scheme with name RMA Quininup. This was an even older aircraft, first flown in October 1954 for TAA.
The MMA Viscount era ended abruptly on 31 December 1968 when VH-RMQ was
destroyed near Port Hedland with the loss of all 21 passengers and 5
crew. At 11.30am that morning, it was on descent inbound from
Perth in moderate thermal tubulence when the starboard wing spar failed
and the wing broke away at 7,000 feet, striking the tailplane. The
wreckage was spread over 3 kilometres on Indee
Station. The DCA investigation determined that the cause was fatigue
cracks eminating from an incorrectly installed bolt in a spar section
which could not be inspected during routine maintenance.
DCA grounded all Australian Viscount 700s. Because of different wing construction, Viscount 800s of Ansett and TAA were not affected but they were soon retired, replaced by newly delivered DC-9 jets.
VH-RMO "RMA Oakover" at Perth in July
ill-fated VH-RMQ "RMA Quininup" at Perth Airport late
1968 Photo by Ted Drake
via Peter Gates collection
During 1968, changes were afoot at ATI corporate HQ in Melbourne.
Effective 1 November 1968 Ansett-ANA changed name to Ansett Airlines of Australia with
a Delta logo and striking new red, black and white aircraft scheme. The
only immediate effect for MMA was the edict that Ansett subsidiary
airlines would lose their individual paint schemes and adopt the new
Ansett "Delta" Scheme. The order for new Fokker F.28 Fellowships jets
would be delivered to MMA in the new Ansett scheme.
The MMA operating name was changed to: MacRobertson Miller Airline Services - A Division of Ansett Transport Industries (Operations) Pty Ltd. Cyril Kleinig remained in charge but with new title Genreal Manager. It signalled a decade of increased Ansett influence in all aspects of MMA's operations which would culminate in the elimination of the MMA name.
original Friendship VH-MMS after repaint in the new corporate Ansett
Peter Gates collection
|DC-3 retirement - almost
| In January 1969 MMA announced that its DC-3 fleet had been retired.
Fokker Friendships were now operating to all main ports and the new
F.28 Fellowship jets would enter service next year. This happy
situation had had been reached by DCA agreeing in 1967 to introduce
Third Level airline services by general aviation operators under ANR
Regulation 203. DC-3 routes between Perth and Esperance, Albany,
Meekatharra, Cue were taken over by Civil Flying Services with Beech
Queen Airs and other charter companies took on various other route
Press and TV publicity was arranged for the final MMA DC-3 scheduled service on 17 January 1969 when VH-MMA operated Newman-Meekatharra-Perth on 17 January 1969. The aircraft had logged a total of 54,600 flying hours.
ATI transferred VH-MMA and VH-MMD to Ansett-MAL, which had just been renamed Ansett Airlines of Papua New Guinea. Both were repainted at Perth in an interim colour scheme and VH-MMD was first to depart on delivery to Lae on 10 February 1969 via refuelling stops at Forrest, Whyalla, Broken Hill, Rockhampton and Cairns. VH-MMA followed on 17 February along the same route.
Other DC-3s were sold to Australian Aircraft Sales, Sydney. MMA's DC-3s were considered among the best maintained examples of the type, so were quickly resold by AAS despite large numbers on the worldwide market as airlines upgraded their fleets.
"RMA Turner" seen at Perth in 1968.
Photo by Barry Colledge
| VH-MMA at
Perth February 1969 repainted in an interim Ansett Airlines of PNG
Photo by Merv Prime
|VH-MMK at Perth in Australian Aircraft Sales markings just before it departed 2 June 1969 on delivery to Taiwan.
Photo by Nigel Daw
Despite the retirement publicity, DC-3 VH-MMF was quietly retained and
kept current for occasional charter work mostly in the north. In
December 1969 it returned to Perth after a month at Port Hedand as a
freighter, to have the passenger cabin reinstalled and for the next
three months flew scheduled services mostly Perth-Kalgoorlie return and
Perth-Geraldton when passenger loadings did not warrant the usual
Friendship. VH-MMF finally left Perth on 7 March 1970 on delivery to
Ansett Airlines of Papua New Guinea.
But having a DC-3 available to fill in when needed had been very
useful. To replace VH-MMF, ATI transferred two DC-3s to MMA from
storage in Melbourne: freighter VH-ANX and 28-passenger configured
VH-ANZ. They were ferried to Perth early March 1970 where they were
repainted in the new Ansett "Delta" scheme with MMA titles.
VH-ANZ had the honour of operating MMA's final DC-3 scheduled service on 29 August 1970, Port Hedland-Perth, but the occasion received no publicity. It was parked on the grass at Perth Airport and sold to Australian Aircraft Sales. VH-ANX continued with occasional freight work for another year until March 1972 when ferried away by AAS.
DC-3s VH-ANX and VH-ANZ parked on the grass at Perth Airport in
Photo by Geoff Goodall
VH-ANZ departs Perth on 4 January 1971 with Australian Aircraft Sales logo and MMA markings painted over.
Photo by Merv Prime
|MMA Douglas DC-3s (all previously military C-47s)
|Fokker F.28 Fellowships enter service
The introduction of turbojet airliners required much preparation. The
F.28s would be operating into most of the F.27 ports. As well as
airport works to handle these much heavier aircraft carrying increased
passenger loads, existing DCA regulations requiring ATC Towers at all
airports served by jet airliners needed review - the only Tower outside
Perth and Darwin at that time was Port Hedland.
The first of the ATI order for F.28 Fellowship 1000 Series was not due for delivery to MMA until mid 1970. Increasing passenger and freight demand and the loss of the Viscount caused ATI to negotiate with Fokker to lease a Fellowship 1000 with an earlier delivery date. Norwegian airline Braathens-SAFE agreed to release a new F.28 still on the production line for a 10 month lease to MMA. The F.28 was completed in MMA paint scheme as VH-MMJ and made its first flight on 30 June 1969 with Fokker temporary test registration PH-ZAH. After the test flight program and crew training, VH-MMJ departed Amsterdam 16 August 1969 for Australia, flown by MMA Captains Sid Goddard and Nelson Hill with Ansett Captain John Withecombe. They reached Perth three days later but continued on to Melbourne for Australian certification inspection in the Ansett hangars at Essendon Airport. Emerging with name RMA Pilbara painted on the nose, VH-MMJ was ferried back to Perth on 24 August for an intense training period.
The great day came on 2 September 1969 when MMA entered the pure jet age with the first Fellowship service Perth-Port Hedland return. It should have been the previous day but VH-MMJ went u/s pre-taxy and to everyone's disappointment an F.27 had to be substituted. The new F.28 was kept on the high-demand Port Hedland run until February the following year when it continued to Kununurra, then hub of the Ord River Scheme. VH-MMJ was now achieving over 8.5 hours daily utilisation, which grew as other ports were ready for the jet.
First of MMA's own Fellowships VH-FKA was delivered to Perth on 8 June 1970 and taking over the name RMA Pilbara, entered service three days later The leased VH-MMJ made its last revenue service on 10 June and departed Perth 13 June 1970 on ferry back to Amsterdam, diverting enroute to be demonstrated to Royal Nepal Airlines.
The next F.28 VH-FKB RMA Kimberley arrived at Perth 12 July 1970, followed by VH-FKC RMA Arnhemland on 20 October 1970.
MMA operated its Fellowships with seating configuration for up to 75 passengers.
|VH-MMJ pulls in at Perth from a Port Hedland service during October 1969. The next sector's crew are in the foreground.
Photo by Geoff Goodall
at Perth June 1971, passing the freighter DC-3 parked on the
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|MMA printed timetables promoted the new F.28 fleet.
Note the revised company name
| More Fellowships were delivered and
the Friendships were phased out. During the 1970s the early high-hours
MMA F.27s were integrated into the Ansett fleet on the East Coast,
replaced by various Ansett Airlines F.27s on short-term leases.
400 VH-FNU at Perth in March 1972
while leased to
Photo by Geoff Goodall
|MMA Fokker F.27 Friendships - not incuding Ansett F.27s on short-term leases
|The 1972 MMA Calendar featured this view of all five F.28 Fellowships at Perth Airport early morning December 1971.
A photographer was called out to record this 5AM freak of scheduling. Four had departed by 6AM.
|The Fellowships proved to be the right choice for MMA and brought great stability to the airline's operations. The fourth ATI F.28 VH-FKD was allocated to Airlines of NSW and entered service at Sydney on 1 December 1970. Its introduction was hampered by lack of NSW country airports upgraded for jet operations. After four months limited to Dubbo, Wagga and Broken Hill, it was reallocated to MMA in April 1971. During the evening of 13 April VH-FKD operated its final Airlines of NSW service Sydney-Wagga-Sydney before being ferried Sydney-Adelaide-Forrest-Perth, arriving at 5.42am next morning. In a good example of the Cyril Kleinig school of aircraft utilisation, VH-FKD was scheduled to operate MMA Flight 1740 Perth-Port Hedland just over an hour later at 7am. It taxied on time to log a departure time of 7.06am.|
MMA experienced the typical range of airline jet incidents with the
F.28s but some events were out of the ordinary:
|- VH-FKC 31 July 1971:
Captain Harold Rowell was holding over Derby in the early hours of the
morning with minimum fuel, after making unsuccessful approaches to
Derby and his alternate Broome because of sea fog. The fog was not
forecast on the MET terminal weather forecasts for both airports and
diversion fuel was not carried. No other airfield with lighting was
available. Captain Rowell used his experience from years of Kimberley
station runs to head into the dark inland to Fitzroy Crossing's dirt
runway surrounded by flat terrain. Derby Flight Service Unit attempted
to phone the Fitzroy Crossing one-man police station to request
emergency flares along the runway, but in those days of manual
telephone exchanges were unable to get a line. Time was lost before
contact made with the policeman, who had just placed the first pair of
flares midway down the runway which were seen by the F.28 crew inbound
on descent. The pilots assumed the flares marked the runway
threshold and attemptrd a straight-in approach. They were forced to go
around and after a tight circuit landed, the aircraft rolling to a stop
on the runway with fuel expiry.
- VH-FKA 17 January 1974: Captain George Beamish was making a night approach to Broome at 3.38am in heavy monsoonal rain when a combination of factors resulted in the aircraft rolling off the end of the runway paved surface at low speed and the nose wheel sank into soft earth. The only damage were minor dents to the nose undercarriage doors and none of the 60 persons on board were hurt, but it looked like a serious accident. The company wanted the aircraft moved as soon as possible to avoid unwanted publicity, but the ground was too soft to get lifting equipment in place for four days. VH-FKA was then ferried back to Perth and quickly returned to service. It had 11,007 airframe hours at that time.
at Broome January 1974 with Broome-style security in place to stop
Geoff Goodall collection
|- Cyclone Tracy Darwin 25 December 1974: In the early hours of Christmas Day 1974 the city of Darwin NT was demolished by Tropical Cyclone Tracy. MMA took a strong role in the evacuation airlift which resulted in 30,000 citizens being flown out in the first week.
First airline jet to land at Darwin was an MMA F.28 flown from Perth by Captains Sid Goddard, Rodney Kralert and Lindsay Allen. Darwin-bound passengers were off-loaded at Kununurra because entry to the disaster city was barred. Ground and air communications with Darwin had been wiped out. Carrying return fuel, they flew to Darwin and returned to Kununurra with the first load of evacuees including 8 MMA flight crew overnighting at Darwin when the Cyclone hit.
MMA F.28s maintained a shuttle between Kununurra and Darwin. Ansett, TAA and Qantas joined the airlift from the Eastern States and military aircraft. A Qantas Boeing 747 with 365 seats took out 694 passengers including children on the floor secured by rope.
MMA Captain Graham Hewitt went in on 27th December when low cloud was expected. Darwin Airport radio nav aids were u/s so he tracked via Katherine to back-track into Darwin on the Katharine aids. Approaching Darwin the aircraft's weather radar identified the coastline and he descended over the sea, becoming visual at 800 feet. At the airport terminal there were thousands of anxious people. Hewitt loaded 115 people on his 60-seat Fellowship and departed to Kununurra. The following evening he was flying evacuees from Kununurra to Perth with a refuelling stop at Newman. Graham recalls his surprise on landing at the mining town; "All the ladies of Newman had come out to the airport with tea and coffee and sandwichs in the middle of the night. It was a wonderful spread for these poor buggers who were still in a state of shock". Fresh nappies for the mothers with babies were also supplied at Newman.
MMA flights averaged 80 passengers, although Harold Rowell carried 98 passengers on one flight. At Perth Airport an evacuation processing centre was set up in the DCA hangar for arriving MMA F.28s and RAAF C-130s.
|MMA Fokker F.28 Fellowship 1000s: all transferred to Airlines of Western Australia effective 1 July 1980
The 1970s saw rationalisation as MMA changed to an all-jet
airline. Cyril Kleinig retired in 1977 with Ted Karaseck taking
over as General Manaher. Twin Otter station services were dropped,
causing resentment from the Kimberley pastoralists who had relied on
the airline for so long. Roads might have been improved but
during The Wet each year they were stranded without air travel.
By the end of the decade ATI was planning more changes for MMA. It was time for a new name and a new image.
|A new name - Airlines of Western Australia
MacRobertson Miller Airline Services was renamed Airlines of
Western Australia effective 1 July 1980. The ceremony held in
Perth to announce the change, despite balloons, large F.28 model in the
new colour scheme featuring the WA state floral emblem red and green
kangaroo paw was not the exciting festive occasion ATI expected. A
press report commented that there was a certain solemnity to witnessing
the end of 54 years of an airline name. A local sentiment was that they
could have at least waited until Horrie Miller's death, which was only
Ted Karasek continued as General Manager but a new board was appointed. Chairman Neil Batt was from the TNT Group which, with News Ltd, had won control of ATI earlier that year. The airline that MMA built was now fully absorbed into ATI's corporate business.
Airlines of Western Australia was not to last for long, rebadged as Ansett WA in October 1984 and introducing BAe146s to replace the Fellowships.
|The final transition....
- Early Birds, H. C. Miller, Rigby 1968
- Flying Nurse, Robin Miller, Rigby 1971
- I Flew For MMA - An Airline Pilot's Life, R.C.Adkins, self-published Perth 1996
- Cockpit and Spanner - My recollections of early aviation in WA, Frank Colquhoun, Maylands Historical Society 2001
- Speck in The Sky, Frank Dunn, Airlines of WA 1984
- Jimmy Woods, Flying Pioneer, Julie Lewis, Fremantle Arts Centre Press 1989
- The Wandering Years, Arthur H. Affleck, Longmans 1964