Ferrying a 1946 Auster J2 through Australia

God was on my shoulder. The problem being I was not sure on which shoulder and who was on the other one!

The aircraft ferry game is both interesting and where one always expects the unexpected. My card reads “Can Ferry, Will Travel.” Flying an older aircraft cross country is more than just throwing your bag in the back and departing. To do the job properly means planning ahead.

Now for a long time I had always wanted to get to fly an Auster J2. I had seen the J2 pair of VH-PUK and VH-PUL around Victoria with various owners over the years but had never set foot in one. I had flown several Austers but for some reason I had a fancy to fly the two-seat J2. Maybe that was because I had flown a Taylor J-2 and a Piper J-3. Who knows?

Then I heard that VH-PUL was for sale in Queensland. I contacted the owner and said if the new owner needed an experienced tailwheel pilot to ferry the aircraft anywhere please pass my number to him. I had hopes that the new owner was located in Western Australia. I could wish!

Sorry, was the reply, but the aircraft has been sold and the owner has his own tailwheel-endorsed pilot to assist him. Oh! I know what crestfallen means.

Time passed. Somehow I made the contact with the new owner and told him that I was an instructor, had good tailwheel time, and had flown Austers amongst other older aircraft.

OK, thanks, was the reply.

Time passed. I got a call from the new owner, Rod. Would I be interested in ferrying VH-PUL from Moree to its new home near Bendigo?

Hmm, YES, was the reply.

The die was set. I made my way to Sydney in a 737 and then to Moree in a QF Dash -8.

Now somewhere in the first ferry south from Gympie, Qld., PUL had an issue on landing at some strip north of Moree and the left gear leg got bent.

VH-PUL
Time to get acquainted.

Campbell Briggs of Statewide Aviation, an ag operator, took kindly to Rod and his pilot and ground transported the bent machine to Moree. There it was nursed back to good health.

On arrival at Moree I checked in at a motel. Next day the airport. There I met PUL. After a good look over, I went for a test drive. I did a half hour of general handling and shot a few circuits on runway 01. The wind was rather much a northerly so I did not have to work too hard to keep the aircraft straight with its drum brakes and heel brake pedals.

I saddled up and departed. The forecast was for low cloud and haze along the route that I had planned, Moree–Narrabri–Narromine and a refuel, some 189 nm.

As I flew south the cloud base progressively lifted and from Narrabri it was plain sailing. Past Coonabarabran and a big area of trees—not good for a forced landing. I skirted west of the Siding Springs Observatory and the nearby mountain that had a spot height of 4,344 ft. Over Gilgandra and onto Narromine. There was a westerly wind so I elected to land on runway 29 with a tad of crosswind.

I touched down and the left wheel instantly flattened and I pulled up with a bumpty bump. A flat tyre!

There I was on Narromine’s runway 29, stuck like a shag on a rock. No one around and the cold wind must have come direct from the Antarctic. I called Rod and give him the good news.

I tried to get the airport manager but he was on his day off. Then low and behold he trundled up in his work truck. Soon after≤ another fellow turned up. He got a trolley used to raise gliders with the gliding club and we slowly manhandled it to a hangar. There we spent almost an hour trying to get the tyre off the wheel.

A guy working on a Mooney in the hangar showed how you have to take off the outer rim, then push back the tyre casing to get access to a circular circlip. Once that is removed the tyre can then come free and give you access to the tube inside. Sound easy? Not for an Auster wheel newbee.

Now with the tube in hand, it was easy to see how it had been pinched when the out rim had been put on. The secret is to have some inflation in the tube before fixing everything in place. Hmm! So we were in need of a 600 x 6.5 tube. Only the Brits could have an odd size. The manager took me into town to a tyre shop.

“Nope, cannot help you with a 600 x 6.5 tube but I have a 6.0 and a 7.0. Which one do you want?” I took the 600 x 7.0 tube. Then we trundled by a hardware store to try and get a tyre pump. We got the tube and tyre on faster than Superman could. The tube got inflated and I was ready to go. I was too late to get to the next stop, Temora. I did not like dickering around a strange airport in a strange aircraft close on last light. If the headwind slowed me down I could have had my blood pressure hitting red line trying to shoot a landing in the gloom or darkness.

Overnight in the nearby cabin park. I got a special deal with a taxi into town for a feed at the Veterans club and back again as his last customer for the night.

Next day it was a refuel and then I was off to Temora, 137 nm to the south. The weather was fine. I took off from runway 29 and bumbled along with an enroute top-up from the aux to the main. As the fuel moved from back to front and was burnt off, I adjusted the trim with the lever in the cabin roof above the left door.

Past Parkes and Forbes and on to Temora. I landed on runway 18 at Temora, a breeze with the headwind. It had been a slow flight from Narromine, so I taxied in for a top up. A young fellow my age got to chatting about how he was taking flying lessons, and what sort of aircraft was PUL? We traded notes. He was all smiles.

J2 cockpit
Not a lot of avionics to worry about.

I departed from runway 18 for Tocumwal and a refuel then on to Bendigo and the nearby new home base for PUL.

I landed on runway 18 at Tocumwal, taxied up to the fuel station and got fuel. There was no one around. I started up and taxied out and started backtracking on runway 18. I was halfway to the keys when I felt a lurch and PUL swung to the left. The tyre had gone yet again!

Same issue. Here I was stuck on a runway with a blown tyre. No one in sight. A curse?

I got on my portable VHF radio and called up on area. Silence. I made the call again and then a fellow replied and said he was listening. I asked him to advise centre of my problem. Centre must have wondered how airworthy this Auster was with two blown tyres in two days. He acknowledged the call and then asked if I needed a hand. He was a training flight out of Mangalore airport to the south. He landed and with his student we pushed PUL off the runway onto the grass verge.

I then called Rod on my mobile: “Err Rod, I have this tyre problem, again.” Now what to do?

An SUV came towards me. The driver introduced himself as Jamie Ball. He was a Toc A&P and saw my problem. “Need a hand?”

We managed to jack the left gear leg up to remove the tyre. Jamie said he had worked on an Auster wheel only a week before so he was current on how to remove them. Gold! The tyre casing was still intact even after this second adventure. We had the tube and tyre off in five minutes flat.

OK, now what to do. “I think that I have a 600 x 6 tube back in the workshop,” said Jamie. He found one in his store.

We fitted the tube and tyre and then another problem. How could we get some air into the tube? The penny dropped! I had that electric air pump that I had bought at Narromine. We connected up the power cable to the SUV and quickly inflated the tyre.

I was mobile again. I taxied PUL to Jamie’s hangar. He offered to house PUL for the night and then in the morning he was off to Kempsey on the far east coast in his Thorp T-18.

Jamie drove me to the motel and arranged to pick me up in the morning. I checked in and walked next door to the local golf club for a meal. Next day we hauled PUL out of the hangar. Jamie waited while I cranked up. He fired up his T-18 and departed for Kempsey.

I taxied out and as I passed yesterday’s blown tyre location I offered a silent prayer for no repeats. God, the good one, heard me.

I launched and departed south to Bendigo. Some minor cloud enroute, then past Shepparton and on to the southeast of Bendigo. Rod had said call him inbound; I did and he steered me to his strip at Myrtle Creek.

He had a smudge fire burning at one end of the strip to give me the wind direction. I came in over the tree line, dropped a nice side slip (the J2 has no flaps) and pulled up well before the end of the strip.

The ferry was over.

I taxied to Rod’s hangar. We put the aircraft away and over a cuppa I gave Rod the saga of my adventures.

I had kept both blown tubes. The second one, the Narromine special, had split all the way around it. No reason that we could figure.

It was too late in the day to give Rod a check flight. I returned a week later and we did some flying and shot some landings and ground handling to get him comfortable with flying his aircraft.

Dave Prossor
Enjoying every minute.

I have now flown an Auster J2 Arrow Special. An interesting machine. Drum brake shoes with heel brake pedals in the cabin. Not one but two blown tyres. Good memories for the future.

Tech stuff

Auster J2 Arrow Special, c/n 2384, was built in 1946 at Rearsby, Leicestershire in the UK by Auster Aircraft Ltd. It first went to Belgium as OO-AXF before coming to Australia, where it became VH-KAY on 31 May 1951. In 1958 it was re-registered as VH-RQL with the Royal Queensland Aero Club at Archerfield. The 75 hp Continental C-75-12 engine was replaced with a Lycoming 0-235-C1B of 115 hp. It then became an Auster J2 Special. In 1963 it became VH-PUL.

The J2 was built as a low cost private owner aircraft. Only 42 were made. In part this was due to financial problems with the Brits obtaining American engines for their aircraft.

The max. takeoff weight is 771 kg and the empty weight is 518 kg. There is a baggage shelf behind the seats for up to 20 kg of gear.

The main nose tank carries 60 litres of fuel and behind the seats there is a 40 litre auxiliary tank. An electric transfer pump moves around one litre a minute from the aux to the main tank. The extra fuel gives the aircraft real range. It is best to check the pump before start up to ensure that fuel can be transferred during a long flight. The main feeds to the engine by gravity. There is no engine driven pump.

Designed as a private aircraft, it had dual heel brake pedals installed later. Cruise is 95-105 kts IAS at 2350-2400 rpm. Plan on 25 LPH fuel burn.

Glide is 50 kts. Crosswind limit, said to be 8-10 kts. Climb is 52 kts, stalls at 30 kts. There is a small battery for the starter and the cabin roof mounted Bendix-King KY97 radio.

The panel has an ASI, Altimeter, VSI, Tacho, TC and Oil T&P gauges. No AH. The bat and ball TC is driven by an external venturi. Plan on 500 ft. after takeoff before it becomes reliable. There is an American compass on the top of the panel. The original P-12 compass must have been retired due to old age. Give three shots of the Ki-gas primer for a start up. Under the panel there is a cigarette lighter socket for use with an iPad in flight. I navigated with my iPad. The charts were in my flight folder ready at hand.

VH-PUL had done some 7,340 hours to June 2019 when I flew her.

Tags from the story

3 Comments

  • Wow! I learned to fly in this very aircraft from a windswept paddock called Lovely Banks, just north of Geelong, in Victoria, Australia, in 1975. It cost me half my weekly wages for an hour lesson each weekend right through winter, and I think it was the best pure fun I ever had in an aircraft. My instructors were wonderful…Simon Kyper and Bev Rodger.
    One certainly learned about taxiing a taildragger in a cross-wind!
    I am now 6 months from retiring as a Line Training Captain on 747-400. Little acorns!
    Ian Goldie

  • It kind of looks like the gauges are set up for the aircraft to be flown from the right seat. Is that typical for Aussie/British aircraft of the era? Or maybe just an optical illusion?

  • Steve, Hi,
    An illusion. The aircraft was set up to fly from the left. Initially there was no brakes pedals on the right or indeed rudder pedals on the right. Both got fitted later. Most instruments are in the centre of the panel but never any AH. The Brits must have been fair weather flyers. It was sold basically to be a private owner aircraft but it did a lot of flight school work over the years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *