Last edited 20 June 2021
Compiled by Geoff Goodall

Royal Aero Club of South Australia Hillson Praga VH-UXQ landing at Parafield SA.    Photo: Civil Aviation Historical Society
                   Designed in Czechoslovakia as the Praga E114 Air Baby, this small three-seater first flew at Prague in 1934. After the second prototype made a demonstration tour to England in August 1935, English furniture and woodworking firm F.Hills and Son Ltd acquired a licence to build the type at its works at Trafford Park, Manchester. Marketed as the Hillson Praga, it was powered by a 36 hp Praga B engine built under licence by Jowett Cars Ltd, offering extremely low-cost operation for private owners or flying schools. The airframe was wood construction with plywood covering and the cabin was entered by folding back the leading edge of the centre wing section and lowering the side windscreens.
                   In Australia, airminded members of the wealthy and influential Macarthur-Onslow pastoralist family at Camden Estate, south of Sydney, had established Macquarie Grove Flying and Gliding School Pty Ltd at an airfield built on their
estate. During the 1930s it was a popular venue for private flying and socialising. The managers Denzil Macarthur-Onslow and his younger brother Andrew, were keen to foster affordable private flying and formed a company Light Aircraft Pty Ltd to import, operate and sell low powered economical light aircraft. The diminutive Aeronca 100 with its 36hp JAP engine was promising but the Aeronca agency was held by competitor Aerial Transport Co Pty Ltd, backed by another wealthy sheep breeder and Sydney businessman George Falkiner and managed by with widely known WWI pilot Jerry Pentland.
                 Light Aircraft Pty Ltd placed an early order for three Hillson Pragas and were appointed Australian sales agents. No more Pragas were imported.             

The three Australian Pragas at their home base Camden airfield NSW circa 1938.         National Library of Australia

                 A total of 28 Hillson Pragas were built. F.Hills and Sons Ltd continued with several aircraft designs and sub-contracting work until WWII when the company built several hundred RAF Percival Proctors for the Air Ministry.

                  Light Aircraft Pty Ltd at Camden later imported Comper Swift VH-ACG from England and manufactured parachutes before business was curtailed by the outbreak of WWII because of restrictions on private flying and civilian pilot training. In 1940 their Camden airfield was resumed by the Government to become RAAF Station Camden, initially for Central Flying School, which was unofficially referred to as "the Country Club". The Macarthur-Onslow aeroplanes which escaped RAAF impressment were stored dismantled in a motor garage at Camden for the duration of the war.
However home front wartime petrol rationing made the Pragas attractive to civilian owners and the three continued flying during the war, although none survived the wartime years. 

           Hillson Praga              c/n HA.20                                                                                              VH-UVP
Built by F.Hills and Sons Ltd at Trafford Park, Manchester
Registered G-AEON: F.Hills and Sons Ltd, Manchester
British CofA issued
Struck-off British Register as sold abroad

Shipped to Australia

Assembled at Sydney Airport (Mascot) by Airflite Pty Ltd
Registered VH-UVP Denzil MacArthur-Onslow, trading as Light Aircraft Pty Ltd, Sydney NSW
Owner quoted identity "1" and it was registered as such
Australian CofA issued
Stored without engine at a garage at Camden NSW.
Change of ownership: Joseph H. Bowden, Sydney NSW

Joe Bowden enlisted in RAAF in July 1938 as a fitter. Commissioned 19 May 1941 as Flt Sgt J.H.Bowden, flying training then a pilot instructor. He was discharged in September 1942 and gained civil pilot and engineering licences. By November 1942 he was flying Adastra Aerial Surveys Waco VH-UYD on an Army survey.
 Indications are Joe Bowden acquired VH-UVP as a rebuild project for resale

Change of ownership: Thomas A. Barrett, Orange NSW
DCA approval given for Barrett to be trained to fly the Praga by Joe Bowden, who did not hold a civil pilot lcience at that time, based on Bowden's RAAF pilot training experience.

Tom Barrett operated Barrett Cool Stores at Orange, a long-running family business known locally for their icecream products. After purchasing the Praga from Joe Bowden, he traded it back to Bowden the following year on the Travelair VH-UGY. After the war, Tom Barrett purchased a Wackett, Moth Minor, then the first of a variety of Cessnas followed by Pipers, some purchased from Joe Bowden into the 1960s. His son Walter D. Barrettwas killed when his PA-30 Twin Comanche VH-BFF ("Barretts Frozen Foods") crashed landing Coonabarabran NSW.
Change of ownership: Joseph H. Bowden, Sydney NSW

In May 1943 Joe Bowden was engaged by the Broken Hill branch of the Flying Doctor Service of Australia as Chief Pilot and Engineer, replacing Hugh Bond. Bowden set up his personal workshop in the town of Broken Hill where he carried out various aircraft repairs. He based Percival Gull VH-UQW and DH.87 Hornet Moth VH-UUW at Broken Hill for charter work and also to loan to the FDS when required.
Destroyed by fire Broken Hill NSW
While Bowden was carrying out work on the Praga in his workshop at Oxide Street, Broken Hill, fire broke out. Destroyed the Praga and his Percival Gull VH-UQW.

Bowden left Broken Hill in 1945 for Temora NSW where he intended to set up a maintenance and charter business. Joe Bowden operated from Bankstown 1950s-1970s engaging in aircraft sales.
Bowden Air Transport continued into the 1970s, operating various aircraft including DHA-3 Drover VH-BMU.

VH-UVP at Sydney Airport (Mascot) 1937 with another Praga inside the Airflite hangar           Frank Walters Collection

 At home base Camden airfield NSW in late 1930s.                                                     Camden Historical Society

             Hillson Praga              c/n HA.21                                                                                               VH-UXQ
Built by F.Hills and Sons Ltd at Trafford Park, Manchester

Shipped to Australia

Assembled at Sydney Airport (Mascot) by Airflite Pty Ltd
Registered VH-UXQ  Light Aircraft Pty Ltd, Sydney NSW
Australian CofA issued
Change of ownership: Royal Aero Club of South Australia, Parafield Aerodrome, Adelaide SA
A passenger was struck by the turning propeller at Parafield after a flight.  Remarkably the passenger was not hurt but the tip of the propeller was damaged.
Change of ownership: Howard T.d'Alton, Melbourne Vic
d'Alton advised DCA that he had purchased the aircraft to allow him to gain sufficient flying hours to assist his enlistment in RAAF as a flying instructor. It will be flown in the Private category in Melbourne and Myrleford Vic
d'Alton wrote to DCA requesting approval under wartime civil aviation regulations to sell VH-UXQ to Mr. Jack Pater, Melbourne. It is currently at Myrtleford and has not yet been painted in camouflage as per regulations. If sale approved  it will be flown to Essendon or Coode Islandairfield and placed in a hangar where camouflage will be applied. DCA approved.
d'Alton advised DCA the sale did not eventuate  (see VH-UXR)
Change of ownership: Joseph H. Bowden, Broken Hill NSW

Bowden also owend Praga VH-UVP. He was by now Chief Pilot and Engineer for the Flying Doctor Service of Australia base at Broken Hill and kept VH-UXQ in the hangar.
Change of ownership: William J. Porter, Temora NSW

Porter was a Temora Stock and Station Agent who in August 1942 arranged to purchase Praga VH-UVP from Joe Bowden, but the sale was not finalised.
Destroyed by engine start fire, Temora NSW.

Owner W.J.Porter landed VH-UXQ at the Junee Road Satellite Strip (used by RAAF No.10 EFTS Tiger Moths from Temora Aerodrome) and punctured a tyre. He took the wheel to a garage at Temora where it was fixed. He returned to the airstrip and refitted the wheel. He had inadvertantky left the fuel pump turned on and the carburettor was flooded. When swinging the propeller to start the engine, the en gine backfired and fuel fumes ignited.

VH-UXQ with Royal Aero Club of SA at Parafield in September 1938.                         SA Aviation Museum

Parafield 1938.                                                                                               SA Aviation Museum

           Hillson Praga              c/n HA.22                                                                                               VH-UXR
Built by F.Hills and Sons Ltd at Trafford Park, Manchester

Shipped to Australia

Assembled at Sydney Airport (Mascot) by Airflite Pty Ltd
Registered VH-UXR  Light Aircraft Pty Ltd, Sydney NSW
Australian CofA issued
Operated by Macquarie Grove Flying and Gliding School, Camden NSW

After two forced landings due to the engine crankshaft breaking in flight, the owner requested DCA approval to replace the Praga engine witha Salsom A.D.9 DCA's response was that its calculations revealed the extra weight of the installation would reduce the payload to the extent that a passenger could not be carried.
Re-engining did not proced.
Sold to Eric E. Condon, Wagga Wagga NSW.
Although its Annual CofA had expired, VH-UXR was test flown at Camden and flown to Wagga by Condon, whose pilot licence had also expired. DCA investigated the circumcumstances, Condon replied he had to move the aircraft because he was not allowed to store or fly it at Camden which was now a RAAF station.
Civil Register change of ownership Eric E. Condon, Wagga Wagga NSW

Eric Condon gained his pilot licence in 1933 and enlisted in RAAF May 1941. On discharge in 1945 he returned to the family business Great Southern Motors, Wagga. In 1946 he stated Wagga Flying School with one RAAF disposals Tiger Moth, expanding into a significant training organisation. Also established Wagga Air Taxis using a Dragon, Anson, Proctor and Auster types. Because of his many emergency ambulance flights, often for no payment, he was widely known and admired. Eric Enoch Condon died from a heart attack in July 1954, the two businesses being continued by his son Keith Condon.

Wagga Daily Advertiser newspaper 11.3.41 report with picture of VH-UXR: Eric Condon had landed after a wheel had fallen off his plane during an aerobatic flight with a passenger.
Condon replied to DCA enquiries that he it was just a short flight so the Praga could be photographed in the air before it was dismantled and stored because he was joining the RAAF.
DCA suspended Condon's pilot licence for 3 months as a penalty for flying an aircraft without a current CofA.

Change of ownership: John R. "Jack" Pater, Melbourne Vic.
Operated from the pre-war Coode Island airfield on the edge of Melbourne city. Aircraft painted in camouflage.

Jack Pater of Buln Buln, near Warragul Vic was a lifelong flying enthusiast. In 1930 he built himself a glider, then a monoplane in 1932 from Popular Mechanics magazine, gained his pilot licence in 1936 and owned Desoutter VH-UEE 1938-39. In 1940 he bought an unregistered Clancy Skybaby, the Praga VH-UXR in 1942 and Westland Widgeon VH-UKE in 1945. During WWII he worked as an aircraft inspector at Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Fishermans Bend, Melbourne where, despite wartime fuel rationing, he exchanged farm produce for enough fuel to allow him to fly the Praga and Widgeon.
John Reavley Pater was variously a farrmer, merry-go-round operator, used car dealer, fishing trawler operator, and hypnotist performing under the stage-name The Great Harvey Dane. His fishing venture was at Lakes Entrance Vic in his commercial shark fishing vessel MV Trevor John. He owned a succession of aeroplanes including Porterfield VH-UVH, Champion Traveller VH-CNC, Auster J2 VH-ACD and into the 1970s-1980s a Beech Musketeer, Piper Cherokee and Cessna 150s. His son John has followed a similar flying path.

Crashed destroyed landing Coode Island Aerodrome, Melbourne Vic
Pilot Jack Pater was returning to Coode Island from Essendon Aerodrome with passenger Stanley Carrigg, a fellow CAC aircraft inspector. As he crossed the river on landing approach, the aircaft failed to respond to the controls and dived into the ground. Both received minor injuries and
rove themselves in a car to Royal Melbourne Hospital for medical attention. Aircraft totally wrecked.
Struck-off Civil Register

Camden late 1930s, outside the MacQuarie Grove Flying and Glider School hangar.          Frank Walters Collection

Pleasant 1939 scene at the picturesque Camden airfield.                                          Frank Walters Collection

A long way from Camden, VH-UXR seen at Toowoomba Qld.                                         Photo via Murray Joel

Believed to be at Wagga while owned by Eric Condon, VH-UXR with nose art "Leo Junior".    Bob Neate Collection

This report originally appeared in the Wagga Daily Advertiser newspaper 11 March 1941 issue.

- Australian Civil Aircraft Register, Department of Civil Aviation, Melbourne: original register ledgers
- DCA aircraft files, National Archives of Australia
- British Civil Aircraft Since 1919, Vol.2, A.J.Jackson, Putnam London 1974
- Wing Tips, The Story of the Royal Aero Club of SA, Book 1, Mike Milin, Avonmore Books 2011

-Hillson Praga, Neil Follett, Flightpath Vol 26 No.4 May-June 2015
With thanks to John Willis and Dave Eyre for their assistance.

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