†††††††††† †††††††††††† †††††††††††† † RecollectionsÖÖÖ†† ††† ††††† ††††† †††††

 

When the Aerodist Helicopter Got Lost

 

In the early 1960s, National Mapping deployed an airborne distance measuring system as a timely and cost-effective means of determining the positions of horizontal control stations across vast areas of the Australian continent.† Horizontal control was needed for the small and medium scale topographic maps that Nat Map produced by photogrammetric means.† The South African sourced Aerodist airborne microwave distance measuring system technology was derived from the ground-based Tellurometer electronic distance measuring equipment already in use.† The airborne version of the technology was seen as a way of overcoming the line of sight constraint of the ground-based method that reduced the lengths of lines that could be measured and impacted on control station site selection options.

 

In 1963 and 1964, Nat Mapís Aerodist master units were mounted in a helicopter.† These master units and ancillary systems recorded distance measurement readings on a chart recorder and gathered meteorological and other data.† The Aerodist system also included four ground-based remote units.† One of these units would be operated from a survey station at either end of a line that was then measured by the helicopter flying between the two remote stations.† In Aerodist field operations there were two main organisational components: the centre party that operated the master measuring equipment in the helicopter and two-person remote sub-parties that operated remote units on the ground at survey control stations.† Typically the centre party would comprise the surveyor in charge/party leader, an electronics technician, a relief master operator (technical officer), the helicopter pilot and engineer and sometimes other support people such as when camping.

 

The following recollections by Kevin Burke and Syd Kirkby are about an incident in 1964 when the helicopter got lost in outback Queensland.

 

 

Bell 47J-2 Ranger helicopter VH-INZ used for Aerodist operations with externally mounted pod antenna.

Bell 47J-2 helicopter (VH-INZ) having its skids replaced after they were damaged in the emergency landing.

Aerodist master units mounted in VH-INZ (Operator : Len Turner).

An Aerodist remote unit.

 

When all the Noise Stops: A Comedy of Errors

 

By Kevin Burke

 

During Aerodist measuring operations in late August 1964 we were based at Woolerina homestead near Wallam Creek to the south of Bollon while working the Aerodist block between Cunnamulla and St George in south-west Queensland down to the New South Wales-Queensland border. The Aerodist centre party was operating from a campsite near the homestead rather than from a town. We had one of those days that because the ground station remote parties were changing locations by vehicles; there were no Aerodist lines to be measured.† Party leader Syd Kirkby asked that I go with pilot Andy Pryde in the Ansett-ANA Bell 47J-2 Ranger helicopter (VH-INZ), to photograph one of the Aerodist points that had been established only recently.† It was located on the border.† I always enjoyed these flights as a break from routine measuring activities but had never flown alone with Andy before this flight.

 

Andy Pryde was an ex Royal Navy pilot and had only been in Australia flying with Ansett for a short time.† So far as I knew he had not operated outside the settled areas of Victoria prior to this trip.† I had noticed on previous Aerodist work that he tended to lose height and the work was always interspersed with the operatorís calls of: Up Andy Up!

 

Andy and I took off early in the morning.† As my own navigation wasnít that hot, I always liked a fair bit of height (so the land below better resembled the map).† I remember I just couldnít get Andy to maintain height.† We would get up so far but while I was trying to reference between the map and the ground, he would lose height again.† I imagine that the profile of our flight looked something like a saw tooth roof.† Fifteen minutes or so into the flight I realised that Andy was not taking much notice of me.† I suppose as the most junior member of the centre party, I just wasnít to be taken seriously by him.† Instead of aborting the flight, which would have been the clever thing to do, a red cloud descended over my thinking and my thoughts were: Stuff you, have it your way!† Andy was, I guess, working only on dead reckoning and his preferred height above ground level seemed to be about 700 feet.† Eventually Andy reckoned we were in the vicinity of the survey station so I asked again and this time he did climb.† We circled the general area for some time but I couldnít get anything to correlate.† I realised later that Andy had expected the border itself to be marked.† But the border was only marked by the vermin-proof fence.† Eventually Andy said weíd better return as we were getting low on fuel.

 

My red cloud was now replaced by a black cloud.† I was concerned that I would become known as the person who wasted four hours of helicopter time but came back with nothing.† But then I was given a rude awakening!† Andy asked me for a compass bearing back to the centre party camp.† Until that moment I had faithfully believed that whatever else a commercial pilot may or not do, he could always find his way back to the take-off point.† To retrace our flight would have had us flying over some pretty rugged country but with not much hope of finding our camp now that the myth of pilot infallibility had been destroyed.

 

The map I had, showed an east-west road a few miles north or south of our general position.† I canít recall which now but it was at least a feature, although the road was not named on the map we had in the helicopter.† I suggested to Andy we head for that road and follow it westwards for as long as the fuel held out.† Hopefully we might find an identifying feature along the way, but at least that flight route would cut down on the distance that fuel would have to be trucked out to us.† This we did and came across a fairly new looking shed beside the road with a ute parked nearby and a couple of guys looking skyward.† We landed beside them and Andy left the helicopter engine running and got out to talk with them.† While he was out of his seat I could see the fuel gauge.† I donít remember the reading, but it was single digits in US gallons.† Andy came back with a name for the shed, but the two locals didnít seem to have a name for the road.

 

At this stage I should mention that the aircraft had been fitted with one of our Traeger high frequency transceiver radios for Nat Map use during measuring operations.† It was set up for the Weapons Research Establishmentís dedicated frequency of 7465 Megacycles.† We were using the 7Mcs frequency instead of the usual 5Mcs frequency as it was less likely interfere with the Weapons Research Establishmentís transmissions from Woomera in daylight and because it was a less used frequency.† This transceiverís microphone was mounted on the rear of the pilotís seat.

 

Andy asked if I had called our base camp but at that stage I hadnít because I wanted to be able to let the centre party know where we were going to finally stop the helicopter flight.† Besides, the high frequency transceiver could not reach the centre party from the ground on the 7Mcs frequency, so we would have had to take off again.† I suggested to Andy and thought he understood that we should continue westwards as long as Andy deemed it safe to do so.† But before landing again Andy would give me enough notice so I could contact base-camp while still in the air.

 

We took off again and headed west with me doing mental speed and time calculations for west of the shed.† (We knew its name at the time, but the shed will have to do now.)† Somewhere after flying about five minutes down the road, Andy suddenly swung left and headed off across scrub covered country.† I tried to switch to calculating south-west but guessed I wasnít doing very well.† Also I grabbed the microphone off its bracket and had it at the ready with my thumb on the transmit button.† After maybe six or seven minutes the noise stopped!† I started calling on the transceiver and continued doing so almost all the way to the ground.† I was trying to stop my voice from shaking but was thinking that if we get out of this the boys will give me hell for the quavery voice.

 

We landed still with some forward speed.† I donít recall the landing being rough, just a cloud of dust and small stones hitting the front of the helicopterís Perspex bubble.† Importantly we didnít hit any trees.† Really I suppose Andy had executed a pretty near perfect auto-rotation.† All was now quiet.† We asked each other if we were okay.† Then Andy asked had I contacted the base.† I told him I had called all the way down but he said: Oh that wouldnít have got out as I turned off the switches as soon as the engine faltered.† Of course he had.† We had a look around the helicopter and all appeared okay.† There was just the cross bar on the front of the skid mount that had been bent down a bit, making the front of the skids look splayed.† I tried the Nat Map radio but couldnít get out.† The radio was hooked onto the wire aerial that ran down the length of the helicopter to an outrigger near the tail-rotor.† I unhooked this wire at the back and hoisted it into a vertical position with a tree branch.† I was then very relieved to hear Sydís voice in reply to my next transmission attempt.† I told Syd as much as I could including my guesstimate of our position with relation to the shed and arranged for another radio schedule later in the afternoon.

 

In the meantime Andy said he had turned away from the road because he had seen the roof of a homestead in the distance.† He figured it was now only a mile or less away and wanted us both to walk there to a get to a telephone etc.† I told him all the horror stories I could muster: we might miss the house and then not be able to find the chopper (both outcomes were quite likely with our demonstrated navigation skills).† Also one of us might get bitten by a snake, or a scorpion or a red back spider or any other nasty creature you could name.† Or we might get to the homestead to find it abandoned, etc.† Finally I quashed the idea by telling him that he could go but I would be staying with the helicopter so he would be on his own.

 

Next Andy wanted to try the aircraftís very high frequency radio but I explained that he wouldnít be able to contact anyone because the VHF required line of sight and that the VHF sucked too much battery power and would leave us with nothing to power the Nat Map radio.† (The VHF radios in those days had an electro mechanical tuning arrangement that physically rotated components into operating mode and they did suck lots of power.)† Andy kept on about it a bit but we never got to the arguing stage.

 

In the afternoon radio schedule, we made contact again using the Nat Map radio.† Syd told us they had made enquiries as far as possible and nobody had heard of the shed.† An aerial search was going to start next morning.† We arranged another radio schedule for the next morning.† Meanwhile, Andy had got the emergency rations out of the helicopter.† We had about 10 litres of water, some jube style lollies and a double ended flare that had one end for night and the other for day use.

 

We dragged heaps of wood close by to keep a fire going for warmth during the night and at Andyís suggestion, took the doors off the helicopter to lie on during the night and act as barriers from the teaming ants.† Andy amazed me.† I expected that he would be tense and nervous sleeping in these conditions as he was obviously out of his territory in the Australian bush; but he slept like a baby.† On the other hand, I was awake most of the night so kept the fire going.† I did go to sleep somewhere before dawn.† When I was coming out of my sleep I could hear a noise which I couldnít at first recognise but alas it eventually penetrated.† Andy had decided to try his luck with the helicopterís VHF radio.† The noise I could hear was the channel changer slowing down as the battery flattened.† We closed everything down hoping that the battery would bounce back enough for our morning schedule time but it was not to be.

 

VH-INZ after emergency landing.

VH-INZ after emergency landing.

VH-INZ pilot Andy Pryde.

(All four photos here courtesy Kevin Burke captured with Nat Map Nikon)

Andy Pryde in the early hours (note helicopter doors used to keep off the ground)

 

Being now without any communications, Andy was even more keen to go off in search of the homestead.† I was not sure how much longer I would have been able to dissuade him but then we heard the search planes for the first time.† While Iím now not sure about this, my memory tells me we could hear two search aircraft some distance apart doing zig-zag patterns but getting closer.† Then we could see one of them coming toward us then turning back but each time a little closer.† I was stoking our fire up as much as possible.† I had never seen such a clean burning fire.† Didnít matter what I put on it just no smoke!† As the aircraft came toward us on one run we decided that on the next they would be close enough to see our flare.†

 

The plane came toward us, and then turned away.† It was half way down its away leg when we were suddenly surrounded by huge clouds of bright red almost luminous smoke.† Andy had misinterpreted the instructions for the flare: to ignite pull off cap or something like that.† He had thought that we had to remove the cap and then light the flare with a match.† By the time the plane was on its return leg, the magic smoke had cleared.† We tried the night flare but it didnít do much in bright morning sunlight.

 

Eventually, in spite of our best efforts we were spotted and it was then just a matter of waiting for the trucks to turn up.† The trucks were AB 120 Internationals driven by Brian Daenke and Terry Douglas.† Brian had the helicopter engineer and a DCA accident investigator with him and Terry brought in some helicopter fuel.† The helicopter was refuelled and jump started probably by using Aerodist batteries and Andy and his engineer flew it out.

 

Terry Douglas took me in his truck to a homestead (not the one Andy thought he had seen the previous day) but one which must have figured in the search arrangements.† The thing I remember there was that the lady of the house sat me down in front of a huge bowl of thick, hot meat and vegetable soup; it was magnificent.† From there we went on to a town probably Dirranbandi where we arrived just after dark.† I had my head and shoulders in the back of our International truck outside a pub and was pulling out a bag when a laconic sounding voice behind me asked: Do you wanna fight?† There was a carnival in town that was offering money for people to get up in a ring and bash each otherís heads in.† I was the only person this fellow had spotted in his weight range.† I declined, opting instead for a quiet night and a few beers. We finished the survey on 31 August 1964.

 

 

 

 

The Dread of a Worst Case Scenario: The Party Leaderís Perspective

 

By Syd Kirkby

 

During Aerodistís helicopter-borne era we measured significant blocks around Gayndah, Roma-Springsure and between Cunnamulla and St George.† During work in the latter block we had an aircraft down; it was the Ansett-ANA Bell helicopter VH-INZ.† Andy Pryde was, while a quite adequate flyer, a hopeless navigator and helicopter operator who had to be virtually flogged to operate at any reasonable altitude.† One afternoon in late August 1964 Kevin Burke (or KR as he was then known in the field) went off with Andy Pryde from a fly camp at Woolerina homestead in the middle of the scrubby mulga-bore drain country to spot photograph a recently established Aerodist station.† But due to flying too low in near featureless country they got lost.† We were on radio watch, of course, but heard nothing of this and became concerned by latish afternoon.† They ran out of fuel, out finish, no more noise, and fell out of the sky into a tiny open spot in the mulga.† If theyíd had 15 minutes fuel I doubt they could have found another hole in the scrub.† The crazy part was they had already landed at a homestead or similar settlement to ask some locals where they were and according to KR, Andy could see the fuel tank was practically empty.† Nonetheless he took off and headed cross country rather than along the road and got only about a third of the way to our camp.

 

We checked with the Department of Civil Aviation in Charleville but they had heard nothing from the aircraft either (turned out no problem with the radio).† DCA put in place a hugely impressive search and rescue operation that was to start at first light next morning.† Meanwhile we hopped on the radio and sent vehicles out to check if homesteads and seen or heard anything.† Remarkably just about everyone between central New South Wales and the Gulf of Carpentaria and from Birdsville to the east coast had heard a helicopter which had a racing, coughing or smoking engine.† We would have needed 50 aircraft to chase up all the reported hearings or sightings.†

 

The first search aircraft picked me up at a station strip about 10 minutes after first light and by about 8:00 am there were five aircraft involved in the search that I must say was beautifully organised.† We found the missing machine about 0930, from the air it seemed to be on a funny angle with damaged undercarriage.† Both doors were off and there was small smoky fire, but no sign of people.† Round and round, lower and lower we circled calling on radio until eventually KR came out from under a mulga tree where he was lying on one of the doors and Andy was sitting on the other.† Two attempts were made to drop emergency bags with first aid, food and fags.† The first went off into the scrub but the second landed 20 metres from KR.† But he just got up and walked over to the helicopter, reached in and then went back to his door in the shade, ignoring the goodies bag.† O God, the poor brave boy, heís nearly dead but is nobly trying to use the aircraft radio!† Within about an hour we had guided a truck nearby and they had walked in and reported back that KR and Andy were unhurt.† KR was later to explain that he knew they were found, needed nothing and he was content to just wait until he was picked up.† Talk about laid back.

 

Aerodist operations with airborne and ground units.

Aerodist remote (Operator : Terry Douglas).

 

 

About the Authors

 

Kevin Burke joined National Mapping as a Field Assistant on 26 March 1962 after completing an apprenticeship in radio and television with Electronics Industries Ltd and spending a year with the Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera in South Australia.† At WRE, Kevin was a radio technician whose responsibilities included maintaining the transmitters for the communication station VL5BW.† Kevin did four field seasons with National Mapping where he spent most of his time with the then Topographic Survey Branch including Aerodist measuring operations.† He was promoted to Technical Officer Grade 1 prior to leaving Nat Map on 1 December 1965.† He then joined the Army Design Establishment at Maribyrnong and eventually became a Senior Technical Officer Grade 1 in the Department of Defence.† Kevin left there in 1975 and moved to New Zealand where he ran a town-carrying truck operation in Wellington for a few years.† He has been happily settled on New Zealandís Great Barrier Island (north-east of Auckland) since late 1979.

 

 

Syd Kirkby grew up in Western Australia where he qualified as a surveyor.† He joined National Mapping in August 1959 after wintering at Mawson base in Antarctica in 1956-57 where he was the first to venture into the Prince Charles Mountains with dogs.† He again wintered in Antarctica in 1960.† He participated in further Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions during the summer seasons in 1961-62, 1962-63 and 1964-65.† Initially engaged by Nat Map solely as an Antarctic surveyor, Syd became progressively involved in Australian mapping activities from 1961.† During 1962, he formally became a member of Nat Mapís Australian operations.† Later in the 1960s he became the senior surveyor in charge of Nat Mapís Aerodist airborne distance measuring system and spent much time running field operations.† In 1970, Syd became a supervising surveyor in charge of mapping operations at Nat Mapís Melbourne office.† In 1976, he became an Assistant Director responsible for the running of Nat Mapís Victorian office operations.† Syd again wintered in Antarctica as the officer in charge at the Mawson station in 1980.† For his service in Antarctica Syd was awarded a Polar Medal in March 1958 and was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in January 1966.† Syd retired from National Mapping in October 1984 and now lives at Flaxton in Queenslandís Sunshine Coast hinterland.

 

Prepared at Great Barrier Island, New Zealand and Flaxton, Queensland in August 2013