Bristol Freighter Meets Wau Airstrip

Bristol Freighter Meets Wau Airstrip

Ron Austin

The ex-Pakistani aircraft described by me in a previous issue of PNG Kundu was not the first of the Bristol Freighters (B170s) to fly in the Territory of Papua New Guinea (TPNG).

During this endorsement training on DC3s, we landed on the steep slope that is the airstrip at Wau. We learned to increase engine power immediately on touchdown to maintain our rolling inertia up the slope to the top of the grass field. We then swung the tail around until the aircraft was facing across the slope. The bois would then duck under the wings with the wheel chocks, fit them tightly against the front and back of the wheels and only then, securely held, could we stop the engines.In my early years in TPNG, experienced pilots conducted my flying endorsement training before they returned to Australia at the end of their posting. They taught us not only to navigate around the un-mapped Highlands, but how to survive this different aviation environment while flying in the extremely dangerous mix of mountains and cloud.

My trainer then told me about what happened to the first Bristol Freighter to fly in TPNG.

The Bristol Aeroplane Company in England sent a demonstrator Bristol Freighter 1701A, registration G-AIMC, on a sales tour of Australia, New Zealand and TPNG. It left the UK in March 1947, arriving in Darwin after nineteen sector stops on the journey from Bristol.

On take-off from Darwin for Melbourne, the upper access hatch behind the pilots broke off.

I can relate to this; I too lost a hatch, having failed to check that it was locked after a service in Madang. In my case there was no damage but in the Darwin incident the hatch damaged the tailplane. The demonstrator aircraft was repaired, and although this delayed the New Zealand tour, it commenced in July 1947. It was a huge success, as STRAITS Airfreight Express ordered twenty-three of them to carry freight between the North and South islands of New Zealand.

In October 1947, this demonstration aircraft was serviced and then loaned to Qantas for evaluation in TPNG. Part of the overall assessment was its ability to operate in the Highland goldfields of TPNG. It made several flights into grass strips at Wau and Bulolo. Remember, the Wau strip is 3400 feet above sea level and has a one in twelve slope.

On its last day the aircraft landed up the slope and parked at the top facing up, not across the slope as recommended. This was because, previously, sideways parking had been tried, but the slope distorted the aircraft fuselage and made it difficult to lock

Wau Aerodrome runway

the front clam-shell doors. Thus, nose-up parking was tried as a way to avoid this problem. After stopping, chocks were fitted under the wheels and the parking brake was applied. However, the nipple on the parking brake became detached from the brake lever and the aircraft ran backward down the hill with the personnel still on board. The engineer and one other jumped clear but the rest were carried down the hill and over a three metre drop at the bottom. No one was seriously injured.

On impact, the fuselage broke in the region of the rear door and the aircraft was damaged beyond repair. All equipment, including the engines, was removed for re-use. The fuselage remained there, and native employees of an adjacent coffee plantation used it for quarters. The aircraft had only flown 250 hours and was valued at £50,000.

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