Sydney, October 1947

 

Converted Warplane Bombs NSW Town
- with Newspapers!


The idea of aerial dropping newspapers to small country centres was conceived by The Sydney Morning Herald's aviation correspondent, Jack Percival, who suggested the adoption of wartime supply dropping techniques. Accordingly, Herald Flying Services was created in 1946 and famed pilot Harry Purvis was appointed manager. In addition to aerial drops, newspapers were also to be delivered by conventional air freighting methods. Initial equipment was two ex-RAF C-47s which Harry Purvis purchased in the UK. The advent of Hudsons to the Herald fleet is described in Harry Purvis' biography Outback Airman by Joan Priest:

"Back in Sydney it was decided that our base of operations should be from the village of Camden some forty-five kilometres to the south-west. From there I put in a tender to the Commonwealth government for all their remaining Lockheed Hudsons. To my astonishment we got them all - paying £200 each and £10 for each of the spare engines. We had Lockheed Hudsons all over the countryside. This turned out to be a profitable investment for the Herald, as whenever we could find some time, we did them up and resold them. The best one, other than those we kept for our own fleet, I sold to East-West Airlines for £3,000 and until very recently it was still flying. It was an exacting and hazardous job. We took off from Camden around two o'clock in the morning and flew the newspapers by the tonne through the night to all the western towns. For each big centre, we'd take half a tonne of newspapers wrapped in hessian, judge our mark, open the bomb doors of the Lockheed and let them go. We had reliable transport men who took them at each of the dropping points and the service was greatly appreciated by the big majority of country readers. Occasionally we came up against the strength of old habits and prejudices, as witness the staid old executives of a long-established store in Armidale. They had been reading their copy of the Herald for fifty years the day after it was published and instructed their secretary to put aside for them for the next day the newspaper which had been flown up through the night. They weren't going to change their habits for anyone and they had for company an elderly newsagent at a remote outback centre who held his newspapers a day before distributing them. The flying was a little too dangerous for peacetime and we did have a number of accidents and fatalities. DCA began to question the wisdom of "objects being dropped from a flying aircraft"."

In April 1947, HFS applied to the Department of Civil Aviation to register two ex-RAAF Lockheed Hudsons (A16-117 and A16-114) which were to become VH-SMJ and VH-SMK respectively. Both Hudsons were overhauled at Camden and fitted with a special door incorporating a chute to facilitate air dropping of large bundles of newspapers. Sadly, VH-SMJ crashed and burned while engaged on a trial dropping flight near Muswellbrook on 30 October 1947, killing the Captain, Geoff Hoskins and his first officer. This accident occurred before VH-SMJ was formally registered. The second Hudson, VH-SMK, came on to the register in May 1948.

To replace VH-SMJ, Hudson A16-120 was overhauled and came on to the register in February 1949 as VH-SML. Tragedy struck HFS again when VH-SMK crashed and burned on take-off from Camden on 1 January 1950 killing the pilot Dick Cruikshanks and the first officer, Bruce Purvis (Harry Purvis' nephew). To replace VH-SMK, Hudson A16-199 came on to the register as VH-SMM in December 1950.

Operations continued with Hudsons VH-SML and VH-SMM and the one remaining DC-3 (the other had crashed) until May 1952 when operations ceased. After two years in storage at Camden, the two Hudsons were returned to service in late 1954 on paper dropping and general freight work. In September 1954, just eight days after it returned to the register, Hudson VH-SML (Captain Doug Swain) was lost while on a paper dropping flight 140 miles north of Sydney. It was not until December 1955 that the wreckage of VH-SML was discovered at Barrington Tops.


Hudson VH-SMM remained operational at Camden and was leased periodically to East-West Airlines and Adastra Aerial Surveys. In September 1962, VH-SMM was joined by another aerial survey Hudson which had been VH-EWS with East-West Airlines. This Hudson was subsequently re-registered VH-SMO. Both VH-SMM and VH-SMO were leased to Adastra but maintained by HFS at Camden until 1966 when they were purchased outright by Adastra.


Flying the Herald Hudsons


[The following is extracted from a letter to the author from Captain Lloyd Maundrell dated 8 August 1973. Captain Maundrell went on to fly Sandringham flying boats with Ansett Flying Boat Services. This letter resulted from an "interview" with Captain Maundrell on the flight deck of Sandringham VH-BRF en route Sydney to Lord Howe Island on 11 June 1973.]


"I joined the Sydney Morning Herald Flying Service in late 1950, at which time Captain Harry Purvis was Manager and Captain Doug Swain was Flight Superintendent. We were then operating the two Lockheed Hudson aircraft VH-SML and VH-SMM. Both aircraft were in excellent condition, impeccably maintained, and a delight to fly. They had been stripped down of all unnecessary war-time accoutrements and the cabins inside were completely bare, as a freighter should be. They flew much faster than any previous Hudson I had flown, indicating 170 knots on cruise around 7000ft. (TAS 190 knots). They were extremely light on the controls to handle but, like all Hudson aircraft, inclined to be unforgiving of any carelessness, particularly near the ground. They were an aircraft only for the most experienced pilot, but ideally suited for the job we were doing. Again, like all Hudson aircraft, they had to be treated very respectfully in turns at slow speeds in the flap configuration. Also on take-off and landing, due to their 'stubby' fuselage and squat undercarriage, very prone to swing and a real trap for the unwary.

The newspapers were done up in jute sacks marked with each newsagent's name and location, and loaded in the aircraft in order of destination or drop. Each bundle weighed about 70 lbs. Departure was from Camden Aerodrome about 11.00 p.m. each week night and the aircraft flown to the first stop, landing at Tamworth, and the papers consigned there off-loaded. Then air drops were made at Armidale, Glen Innes, Tenterfield, Casino, Grafton and Kempsey, returning to Camden at around 6.00 or 7.00 a.m. The air drops were carried out from a retractable chute aft in the lower fuselage, the First Officer loading the chute with the papers according to destination. When ready, he signalled the Captain from his station aft by a green light showing up on the cockpit warning panel, or a red light if not. Descent was made to about 100 ft. above the terrain and directly over the drop zone, and a bell from the Captain to the First Officer signalled him to pull a lever which extended the loaded chute and dropped the papers. Drops were made on isolated parts of the aerodromes where the agents had placed a circle of white-painted motor tyres. Keen accuracy was needed at all times and care had to be taken in the height and speed at which the papers were dropped, otherwise the wrath of an irate agent could be considerable if he had to spend the night picking up newspapers spread all over the aerodrome! However, the agents were also quick to show their appreciation, and let it be known that whenever the pilot was able to land all the bundles of papers in the circle of white tyres a bottle of Scotch whisky was the reward. Scotch in those days was difficult to get but not any longer for the Herald pilots!

One incident is still vividly in my memory and concerns an early effort of mine. The drop was at Kempsey Aerodrome, then a fairly busy Aeradio station handling all northbound commercial aircraft. It was night and the terrain around Kempsey fairly frightening under conditions of low cloud and poor visibility, which it was on this night; a strong southerly wind on the ground also made things awkward. However, my keenness and early enthusiasm for the job knew no bounds and down through the cloud and mist went I - and down went the papers. On return to Camden, I learnt that the strategically placed Aeradio hut on the north end of the aerodrome received three direct hits, with holes in the roof and two very frightened and angry aeradio operators threatening legal action!"


THE HERALD HUDSONS

REGISTRATION ACQUIRED DISPOSED REMARKS
VH-SMJ 19MAY47 30OCT47 Crashed at Muswellbrook.
VH-SMK 28MAY48 01JAN50 Crashed at Camden.
VH-SML 28FEB49 14SEP54 Crashed at Barrington Tops.
VH-SMM 18DEC50 24JUN66 Sold to Adastra.
VH-SMN ? ? Registration not taken up.
VH-SMO 10SEP62 24JUN66 Sold to Adastra.


QUESTIONS


Harry Purvis' biography refers to his "putting in a tender to the Commonwealth government for all their remaining Lockheed Hudsons". He also refers to "Hudsons all over the countryside". Records show that Herald Flying Services purchased only three Hudsons directly from disposals, whereas the enigmatic Macquarie Grove Flying School acquired no fewer than eleven! Two of these eleven were subsequently acquired by Herald Flying Services as replacements for crashed aircraft and the remaining nine were eventually scrapped. This begs the question: Was there a connection between Harry Purvis and the Macquarie Grove Flying School and Herald Flying Services?

Harry Purvis' biography claims that newspapers were dropped through the Hudson's bomb bay doors, whereas Lloyd Maundrell's letter suggests that they were dropped through "a retractable chute aft in the lower fuselage". This description sounds for all the world like the Hudson's ventral gun position, the so-called "tunnel gun". Earlier it had been speculated that not all of the Hudson variants acquired by Herald Flying Services would have had the tunnel gun installation, but more recent information confirms that this facility would have been present on all of their Hudsons. There can be little doubt that the tunnel gun installation formed the basis of the newspaper delivery chute on the Herald Hudsons.

 



The Hudson Tunnel Gun Station




Issue
Date
Remarks
3 08MAY02
Added a reference to registration VH-SMN which was reserved for an unknown airframe but not taken up.


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