The Center has aviation in its blood

By ERWIN CHLANDA

Great stories about flying can be heard all over Australia. But in The Alice, they include the first accounts of one of the world’s biggest airlines, Qantas.

Before his cadets were jumbo captains, they battled the elements – heat, wind, dust, rain – in tiny single-engine planes, often under the leadership of Dave “Freddo” Frederiksen of local airline Connair.

He was one of the characters in the Aviation Museum during Tuesday’s reenactment of the first flight to Alice Springs from Melbourne 100 years ago.

At the Center, young pilots recounted their own adventures or were part of the sons of other pilots.

This Heron, piloted by John Myers, was dropping food in the Docker River during the floods of the 1970s. PHOTO by DAVID HEWITT.

One day, Frederiksen evacuated a sick baby, but before it could take off he died.

Soon the plane was surrounded by weeping women who were picking up stones to self-harm. To his relief, it wasn’t to stone the plane.

Connair was a major industry in northern Australia, not only running an airline, but rebuilding planes – sometimes out of thin air – they stole and used them for relief work.

A Pitt Special aerobatic plane during yesterday’s reenactment. PHOTO Ken Johnson.

To fly as a co-pilot on a Qantas (Boeing 707) jet, pilots were required to have at least 1,000 hours of command. Some have recorded these with Connair. The first cadet pilot arrived in 1968 and a total of 12 student pilots have reached their quota here.

One of the young men, John Joppich, recalls: “The young men arrived from Sydney with an exaggerated sense of their abilities and were quickly brought back to earth with the reality of real world theft.

“Freddo” Frederiksen was considered by us to be very experienced and therefore became somewhat of a mentor. He has remained friends with the “Qantas Boys” to this day.

“The manager of Connellans at the time was John Cree.

“His wife, Liz, became somewhat of a de facto mother to the Qantas boys, who were all far from home and in most cases had never done lots before,” Max Horton (Photo), remember.

“The Sunday roast lunches were a treat and our first Christmas day away from home was especially memorable.

“Eighteen months of flying in the Australian hinterland with Connellan Airways has enabled us as pilots.

“The experience we gained during this time was exceptional and probably hard to find elsewhere in Australia. In my case, the air ambulance stood out, forcing us to think outside the box on every flight.

PHOTO above: Dave “Freddo” Frederiksen on the wing. John Joppich in the cockpit of the Cessna.

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