East-West Airlines - The Hudson Era
This is Part 1
Airlines Ltd., formed at Tamworth NSW in late 1946, commenced
operations between Tamworth and Sydney on June 23, 1947. The
company had one of the longest and safest associations with
civil Lockheed Hudson aircraft compared with any other operator
of the type in Australia. The company went on to operate DC-3,
Fokker F-27, F-28, BAe-146-300 and B727-200 aircraft on a route
structure that at one time, crossed Australia from north to
south and east to west.|
In August 1982, control of the company passed from many small shareholders, the majority of whom were from the Tamworth region, to a new controlling shareholder. The company was subsequently re-sold twice before it was acquired in July 1987 by Ansett Transport Industries Ltd who maintained its identity with a vastly different route structure. Following substantial losses, all services and aircraft were integrated into Ansett Airlines effective October 31, 1993 with the company officially ceasing to trade on December 31, 1993 although the company structure remains as a registered identity.
Following their first successful year of operation using ex RAAF disposals Avro Anson aircraft, the company’s Directors announced they were pursuing the purchase of DC-3s to replace Ansons, stating that there was no future for the company unless they moved from a visual flight to an instrument flight operation. On November 27, a British DC-3 G-AGHN, operated by Guinea Air Traders, was flown to Tamworth for inspection by East-West Directors, company staff, local dignitaries and press.
January 1949 brought continuing bad weather to the New England region of NSW with low cloud and rain disrupting the airlines regular services through Tamworth to Armidale and Glen Innes to Brisbane. To help move the backlog of passengers and freight, the airline chartered the Curtis Madsen Aircrafts Pty Ltd Hudson VH-JCM on January 18 to operate two Sydney - Tamworth return services. Press reports stated that the passengers enjoyed the overall comfort and speed of the larger aircraft, compared with the Anson.
The Tamworth aerodrome, the headquarters of the growing airline, was not licensed for regular operations by DC-3 aircraft, nor were the other aerodromes serviced, unless the authorities embarked on a large expenditure programme. The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) had advised the company it would be at least five years before a new aerodrome could be considered for Tamworth, and suggested the company consider Lockheed Hudson aircraft as an Anson replacement. Also, the finances of East-West precluded the large investment needed to buy modern DC-3 aircraft.
A meeting of Directors held on June 26, 1948 discussed the operation of Hudson aircraft and a motion was carried:
"that fellow Director Mr. Johnson be thanked for his efforts regarding Lockheed Hudson aircraft but no action be taken in regard to this aircraft."
A further motion moved by Director, Mr. Pengilley and carried stated:
"That the company could not engage in the operation of Hudson aircraft at this juncture in view of the need for complete control over its own operations and the difficulties regarding aerodromes suitable for operation of Hudson aircraft in this district."
Interest in Hudson aircraft was again shown in September as the meeting of Directors on the 4th, again discussed the operation of these aircraft and a motion directed the General Manager to obtain an option over the best example available under offer.
The company received details of six ex RAAF Hudson bomber aircraft in dismantled condition at Camden aerodrome owned by Brigadier MacArthur-Onslow's Macquarie Grove Flying School. These aircraft were for sale by negotiation and East-West appointed Camden based Wilmore Aviation Services Pty Ltd as their agent in handling the negotiations. One of the Hudsons, A16-112, was regarded as a new aircraft as it had only a few flying hours up and had earlier been sold to the Shell Oil Company but was available to the successful purchaser of the other five. During this period, the owner of Curtis-Madsen Aircrafts Pty Ltd had offered his company to East-West including two Hudson aircraft fully converted for airline operations.
The total matter was discussed at the East-West Monthly Board meeting on February 12, 1949 where a motion was carried:
"that the company go ahead with the purchase of the aircraft and spares under offer from Mr. MacArthur-Onslow."
Another motion submitted by Chairman, Don Shand and carried stated:
"that the matter of the purchase of the material under offer from Mr. Madsen be gone into further by the Manager and that he be invited by Mr. Wilkinson (East-West founding Director) to come to Tamworth to discuss this matter."
A further motion from Mr. Shand stated:
"The Flight Superintendent, Captain A.J. Smith, in company with Mr. Wilkinson, be instructed to go into the pros and cons of the Cootamundra service operated by Mr. Madsen, in the absence of the Manager, and that he should give a report to the Directors at the next Board meeting on this and the offer of aircraft and equipment as mentioned in the previous Motion."
An announcement by Captain Smith on March 5, 1949 confirmed East-West had purchased the six Hudson aircraft at Camden, including a host of new engines and other sundry equipment. He further announced a contingent of EWA engineers would be leaving Tamworth immediately to work on the aircraft.
The acquisition of the six Hudson and their removal to Tamworth is fully detailed in Captain Archie Smith’s book East-West Eagles which covers the founding of the company and its growth until he resigned in November 1960.
The March 19 Board meeting confirmed the purchase with a motion from Chairman Don Shand:
"that the proposed agreement with Messrs. Curtis Madsen Aircrafts Pty. Ltd. as arranged by the Flight Superintendent and Manager be approved and the conversion of the Hudson A16-112 be proceeded with accordingly."
A further motion from Mr. Shand and carried stated:
"The Agreement and arrangements for payment of the aircraft purchased from Mr. E. MacArthur-Onslow be left in the hands of Mr. Pengilley." (Director)
A supplementary motion from Mr. Wilkinson:
"that Mr. Carter’s action in confirming by letter the purchase of Hudson A16-112 from the Shell Oil Company be confirmed."
The acquisition of the Hudson aircraft and their planned conversion put a strain on company finances as ways of raising additional Capital were discussed at the meeting as well as an approach to the company’s Bankers, The Rural Bank of N.S.W. for an extra £20,000 overdraft facility. One Director, Mr. Pengilley, concerned at the Company’s finances, moved a motion:
"that the heavier expense in connection with the conversion of Lockheed aircraft be deferred until such times as the additional capital has been received to ensure that the Bank account is not seriously overdrawn."
Of the six purchased, one was selected as suitable for a quick rebuild; three were suitable for future use while two were to be stripped for spares. The group of three were towed to Tamworth along mainly back roads as covered in East-West Eagles and the rebuild of the other, A16-112, commenced at a frantic pace at Camden under the guidance of Tamworth based engineer, Sid Howarth. Assistance was obtained from other operators who were licensed to operate the type. On April 23, 1949, the first Hudson, A16-112, was ferried from Camden to Tamworth after receiving a temporary permit from the Department of Civil Aviation.
Monthly meetings by Directors over the next few months resolved to continue discussions with Curtis Madsen Aircrafts Pty Ltd. However the June and August meetings involved considerable discussion about the Tamworth aerodrome and the need for the company to write to the Tamworth City Council advising:
"that the Lockheeds will be in operation in approximately four months time and the all-up operation of these aircraft will require two runways which must be at least 800’ longer than those at present available on the aerodrome. The Council to be requested to give their co-operation and to expedite work in making the additional runways available."
The request by East-West triggered a long running dispute between the Council and the Tamworth Jockey Club as the runway extensions would encroach on to their land and ruin the racing track. A compromise was eventually reached with the Jockey Club leasing a portion of their land for the extension of one runway, which led to the operation of DC-3 aircraft with a 20% weight penalty three years later.
Work on converting Hudson A16-112 for airline use continued at Tamworth over 8 months, culminating in it emerging from the East-West Tamworth hangar on December 11, 1949 as VH-BNJ. Following morning engine runs, the aircraft made demonstration flights over Tamworth during the afternoon following which it was announced the aircraft would be named Peel City. Over the next 10 days, further flying was undertaken on crew training and route familiarisation flights to Sydney.
The Hudson made its first commercial flight for East-West on December 22, 1949 when it departed on the 7.00am service to Sydney, cropping 30 minutes off the previous Anson scheduled time. Commenting on the flight, the local newspaper, The Northern Daily Leader welcomed the introduction of the modern airliner on the Sydney service and wrote:
"This is possibly the best Hudson aircraft in Australia and will provide passengers with the ultimate in comforts as a toilet is installed and a Hostess will attend the needs of passengers."
After operating a special timetable over the Christmas New Year period, the new January 1950 timetable allowed for a total Hudson operation between Tamworth and Sydney with two services daily Mon. - Sat. Connecting Anson services operated on to Armidale, Glen Innes and Brisbane. A 17.5% reduction in airfares was announced to celebrate the introduction of the Hudson.
The speed and capacity of the Hudson brought valuable extra revenue for East-West during the June 17, 1950 NSW State Election, when the VH-BNJ departed Tamworth for Sydney at dusk on Saturday using a flare path. Here it loaded newspapers reporting the election results and carried them on a night flight to Parkes and Dubbo for distribution to western centres. This was the first passenger night flight operated by East-West and created special interest from local residents.
The Hudson departed Sydney again early on Sunday morning so as to arrive in daylight at Tamworth. It carried a capacity load of newspapers which were transferred to three Anson aircraft for distribution to other northern centres.
During 1950, little work was carried out on the three Hudson aircraft which had been towed to Tamworth. Board Minutes for the meeting held on April 15, 1950 indicate work had commenced on Hudson A16-124 and this was discussed at length as part of the Manager’s Report. Mr. Pengilley moved a motion, seconded by Mr. Pringle:
"that the Manager investigate in detail the availability of engines, components, instruments, equipment etc. now in stores or on the station (could this be Tamworth aerodrome sometimes referred to as the old RAAF Station? – Author) and owned by the Company, together with estimates for labour cost of conversion, to be submitted with the April Manager’s Monthly Report for consideration by the Board. It is clearly understood that conversion of aircraft A16-124 is not to be resumed, nor any commitments made for its conversion, until all relevant facts are thoroughly considered."
| The decision
at the previous Board meeting not to proceed with the conversion
of A16-124 was overturned at the next meeting on May 13 when
the Chairman, Mr. Shand successfully moved: |
"that in principle, the Board approves of the Company entering into the field on freight carrying and the first step is to be taken by obtaining quotes for conversion of A16-124 into a freight carrying aircraft, with the ultimate intention of conversion to a passenger carrying aircraft."
Work on the aircraft appeared to languish, but it’s conversion was again confirmed at the January 27,1951 meeting when Directors advised the Manager to proceed with the work necessary on the freight aircraft in preference to a passenger aircraft. This latter instruction was rescinded at the April 7, 1951 meeting when Directors passed a resolution:
"Rescinding the Motion of the January 27 meeting and the action of the Manager, in giving priority to completion of work required on the passenger aircraft be ratified."
There was no further discussion on the Hudson conversion, nor was it ever completed. However, at the June 30, 1950 meeting, Directors agreed:
"That we dispose of the Hudson fuselage at present at Camden to Engineers Laboratories Pty Ltd for the sum of £60."
In the company’s Balance Sheet covering the 1951/52 financial year, Directors wrote off four aircraft hulks with a book value of £971.
There is no other documented evidence why there were no further Hudson conversions or what became of the three at Tamworth except one was moved to a farm at Moore Creek outside Tamworth. The fuselage of another was at the old West Tamworth aerodrome for some years with evidence of burning. The writer was told by Captain Smith some years later that the financial position of the company was such that there just wasn’t any money to spend on the aircraft. Also, by this time the company had purchased the two Curtis Madsen Hudsons at a low price and these adequately covered the present requirements.
In a letter to shareholders covering the disastrous loss of £11,096/9/5 incurred for the 1949/50 financial year, Chairman Shand wrote in part:
"the first portion of the year was extremely trying for both management and the Board owing to commitments which had been made and the colossal expenditure involved in the conversion of the Lockheed aircraft."
In a more positive vain, he continued:
"It is evident that the changeover from Ansons to Hudson Aircraft has increased public confidence in air travel, and the cancellation of flights, because of weather, which last year cost our Company a large sum of money, has now reached a minimum."
When the two examples from Curtis Madsen were acquired in December 1950, they were purchased using Director’s personal guarantees to the Bank. A few months later, the then General Manager, David Jacques, resigned following his report to the Board that the company was insolvent, which tends to confirm the reason Captain Smith gave. Captain Smith was appointed General Manager shortly after Jacques’ resignation.
Discussions with Curtis Madsen continued over many months and the August 1950 Director’s meeting discussed a possible merger between both companies. The next two meetings also discussed a proposed merger, with the East-West Directors calling for more information on the operations and routes operated by Curtis Madsen.
At their October 28, 1950 meeting, Directors carried a motion moved by Director Mr. Pengilley:
"That the Manager’s recommendation for continuing negotiations with Curtis-Madsen Aircraft Pty Ltd be approved, viz.:
The purchase of Lockheed Hudson Mark IV aircraft VH-BKY and VH-JCM plus approximately £2,500 value of aircraft spares and components, for the sum of £14,000 the lot.
delivery not yet finalised."