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Remembering a pilot from a bygone era

written by Adam Thorn | December 23, 2020

Graham Green spent his childhood weekends in the co-pilot seat next to his dad, Ralph, reading maps and going on adventures. Here, Graham pays tribute to his late father’s extraordinary passion for aviation, which inspired him to pursue his own career in the industry.

How do you remember a bush pilot? Simple really, you hire an old plane and spread the ashes over the countryside he adored in a manner that he would’ve wanted.

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Ralph Green was a pilot from another era. He learnt to fly in a Tiger Moth at a time when flying was cheap and the actual process of learning to fly was less demanding and was not under the bureaucratic restrictions that are in place today.

He was a long-term member of the Dubbo Aero Club and also had memberships in similar clubs in the surrounding region. This was at a time when clubhouses were either a tin shack or a fibro shed in some remote corner of a landing field. No air-conditioned club buildings in those days – just a simple shed adorned with creased aeronautical maps, faded pictures of aircraft and filled with mostly males chatting about all things flying while emptying the dented esky from the corner. This was the social life of a bush pilot.

Ralph’s weekends were not spent in front of the TV – nor at the pub, but instead, in the air, and if that was not practical due to weather or other reasons, then he would be socialising at the aero club.

I have fond memories being a young child and growing up in this environment. The local airport was my playground and the frequent trips in the air were all met with open eyes and sheer excitement. Flight plans were logged via paper at the local ATC tower and each flight meant we had to personally go up the tower and lodge the paperwork. No iPads or electronic mapping devices in those days – instead, Dad had to carry huge charts and maps around with him in a dedicated flight bag. Each map was covered in protective contact and had remnants of many pencil lines depicting previous flights. This was all part of the fun being the young child of an aviator.

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I remember one flight when Dad had to ferry a plane from Bankstown back to Dubbo. He tasked me with following the flight on a huge map and reporting to him the co-ordinates every time we were near a landmark. This was how I spent my weekends – I grew up sitting in the co-pilot seat, reading maps and knowing the phonetic alphabet while my friends were playing football.

Other flights consisted of trips to outback NSW. Buzzing the dirt field before landing in order to get that vital visual of any potential hazards, and of course clearing the dirt strip of any possible wildlife. These so-called landing fields were in the middle of nowhere and no cars or hangers or even telephones were in place. To communicate our presence, we were required to do a low-level pass over someone’s house before landing at the isolated strip. This low-level pass was how it was done – to tell the occupants to come and pick us up at the so-called landing strip.

Simple days and easy days. No fancy radar, no electronic devices, no glass cockpits and an old plane that went every-where.

Dad continued to fly and kept his licence active well into his 80s. The medicals always proved to be problematic but he passed them, however he did enter each medical with utterances that the process is all wrong and not needed. The same words were used when referring to constant ASIC renewals, ever-changing regulations, and of course, the complex bureaucratic process. He knew he was fit enough to fly and no-one was going to tell him what to do. To him old pilots gave up when they felt like it – not when some government process told him he couldn’t fly anymore.

His final days were spent in the backyard looking up at the sky and wondering where each plane was headed to. The family home was under many international flight paths and the advent of FlightRadar24 was heaven sent to him. He could hear the planes landing and taking off at the local airport and he was quick to say what type of aircraft was making the noise.

My last conversation with him, only a matter of hours before he died, was related to an aircraft accident I was currently researching. Knowing that his offspring had followed him into the industry made him feel very proud.

The generosity and camaraderie of the Dubbo based flying school Thomas Aviation assisted the family in taking Dad for his final flight (coincidentally, Thomas Aviation are now using the very same hanger that Noel Howell was using in the 1970s for Dubbo Flying School – a place where Dad would hire many aircraft from). It was the perfect winter’s flying day – no wind, sunny and clear skies all around. We did request the use of a Tiger Moth to carry Dad’s ashes to the heavenly skies but government bureaucracy stood in the way – something Dad would’ve sworn about. However, with a quick call around, we were able to locate a simple Cessna 172 to take Dad, as a passenger, to his final destination. Our flight over Central NSW bought back many memories of earlier and easier times and it felt that this flight just had to happen – that is, scattering his ashes in a good, reliable and simple aircraft over an area that he flew so often. As we banked over a favourite rural location, I carefully opened the window, put the funnel outside, pulled the plug out and released the ashes.

So long Dad.

Graham Green is a Canberra based aviation consultant focusing on training processes, safety systems and accident investigation methodologies. He regularly presents at conferences and conducts training programs related to training and safety management. Graham can be contacted at [email protected]

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2 Comments

  • What a lovely story. I just missed the Tiger Moth training, beginning on the Airtourer, but the Tiger was still on line at the aero club at the time. I remember a number of aviators whose ashes were released during a flight, though not all were as successful as this one seems to have been.

  • Alan K Griffiths

    says:

    A BEAUTIFUL STORY SO WELL WRITTEN AND SO FULL OF TRUTH THANKYOU FOR SHARING R.I.P. SIR

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