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Airlines WA

The third airline in W.A. between the wars resulted from the efforts of Charles Snook. Many of the details below have been taken from his biography "Forgotten Flyer" (see the References section), which is a compendium not only of his life, but of a major part of the early years of Western australian aviation.

Snook, who was born in 1891, held an interest in aviation from his boyhood. He appears to have started to learn to fly in a Farman hydroplane (floatplane), flying from Sydney harbour. In World War I he became a Royal Flying Corps pilot, like Brearley and Miller. He was shot down over Germany in August 1916, but released on medical grounds in March 1918, in a prisoner exchange.

The Australian Aircraft Company
 

On returning to Australia, Snook formed the Australian Aircraft Company, using an Avro 504 and an Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8, both of which he had brought back from the United Kingdom. Although he tried a range of options, like rural freight and aerial photography, like many early aircraft operators most of his income came from running joyflights in country towns. Ultimately, he had to sell his business and look elsewhere for his income.

Western Air Services / Wings Ltd
 

Snook worked for a time with aviation enterprises in Melbourne and Sydney, before moving the Western Australia and taking up a farm near Brookton. This period, from 1921 to 1928, saw many changes as the aviation industry matured. Attracted by these developments and having moved to Perth, Snook returned to flying, joining the Australian Aero Club, Western Australian Section (the predecessor of the Royal Aero Club of W.A.), at Maylands Aerodrome.

In 1930 he was working with Western Air Services, who operated a de Havilland DH-60G Moth(registered VH-UKM) and Simmonds Spartan (VH-UMQ). The company prospered, and with a new name of Wings Ltd, provided pilot training (in unfriendly competition with the Aero Club!) and performed aerial survey work. On the death in 1931 of the company's founder, Charles Nesbit, in a crash, Snook took over as the company's managing director, and later took on the added role of W.A. Examining Officer for the recently-formed Civil Aviation Department.

In March 1931, Wings Ltd commenced the first regular air service to Rottnest Island, using a two-passenger Spartan. At the same time, Snook was a regular visitor to country towns, where he promoted flying schools.

In spite of all these efforts, the effects of the Great Depression were felt in falling business, and the company was wound up in September 1931. Thus ended Snook's second attempt to found an aviation company.

Marking Time
 

Dragon VH-URF 'Gay Prospector' (Geoff Goodall - via the Ed Coates Collection)

Snook found work with Western Air Taxis, with positions of Chief Pilot and Chief Flying Instructor. As the second title shows, the company was active in pilot training, in which Snook devoted many efforts to improve standards. In the following year he was contracted by the Commonwealth government to survey sites for aerodromes in W.A. country towns. These efforts kept him occupied into 1933, when Western Air Taxis was put into liquidation. Clearly, this was not a good time for the aviation industry.

However, Snook was shortly afterward approached by Western Mining, to conduct aerial surveys of mining leases in the W.A. goldfields. The project was headed by Victor Laws, an ex-RAF pilot with extensive aerial photographic experience. Two D.H. 84 Dragons were purchased for the task, VH-URG Golden West and VH-URF Gay Prospector (pictured at right). Flights commenced in late 1933, operations proceeding well until the job was completed in late 1934 and the aircraft sold, one, VH-URF, going to MMA.

The Birth of Airlines (W.A.)
 

His time in the goldfields showed Snook that there was a potential market for an air service there. But he wasn't the only one to get the message, Norman Brearley of W.A. Airways developing similar plans. However, the demands on W.A. Airways of the Perth - Adelaide service meant that the opportunity was left to Snook. It was in September 1935 that the new airline was born, with its service to Wiluna via Kalgoorlie given official approval.

The airline initially flew a small twin-engined Monospar ST.25, and a single-engined Spartan (VH-URB), flights commencing in December 1935.

In spite of providing as wide a service as possible, the new airline struggled to make a profit. In May 1936, Airlines (W.A.) was funded to carry airmail, and then in September of that year a government subsidy was obtained. These improved the prospects of the company.

But in December 1936 the Monospar was severely damaged in a forced landing - fortunately, without injury to Snook, who was its pilot, or his three passengers. It proved beyond repair, so airline operations were continued using the Spartan, but this aircraft proved inadequate on its own for the role.

A Stinson Reliant was bought, and commenced flights in February 1937. The flight network was extended to Rottnest Island, resuming the service offered by Snook's earlier company, Wings Ltd.

In August 1938, the airline's fleet was expanded by purchase of a Dragon from MMA, but in October the Spartan was lost in an accident near Mundaring Weir - with only minor injuries to its two occupants.

World War II
 

In spite of Snook's representations, the Dragon was impressed into RAAF service in July 1940, although a replacement, but smaller, D.H. 90 Dragonfly (VH-ADG) was provided. Worse, the Stinson was destroyed in the second Japanese bombing raid on Broome, in March 1942. These meant that the airline's services were severely curtailed.

Snook devoted the time that the loss of the aircraft freed up by promoting and leading the Air Training Corps in W.A.. His contribution to the war effort this way was very significant.

Airlines' aircraft shortage was alleviated by acquisition (using an insurance for the Stinson) of a Monospar ST-11 (VH-UAZ) in early 1942, and two DH-89 Rapides, in 1944 (VH-UZY) and 1945 (VH-UFF). This meant that by the end of the war, Airlines' aircraft fleet numbered four. Its routes had been extended to Esperance in the south, and Port Hedland in the north.

Post-War Expansion
 

The post-war period did not start well, with the Monospar damaged beyond repair in a takeoff accident at Maylands. Increasing competition came from Australian National Airlines (ANA), MMA and then the new government-owned Trans Australia Airlines (TAA). Airlines countered by entering into commercial arrangements with ANA, then TAA, basically becoming a feeder service for the interstate airlines.

A newspaper delivery service was started, with newspaper bundles dropped from the air to southwest towns. Also, an aerial dog baiting contract was commenced, using a Tiger Moth (VH-ARU); this was apparently very successful in controlling dingo numbers in the pastoral regions of the state.

With the advent of the four-engined DC-4 on the across-Australia service, and the introduction of DC-3s by MMA, Airlines desperately needed more modern aircraft for its routes. The company successfully tendered in late 1946 for two war-surplus RAAF Avro Ansons (to be registered VH-BAU and VH-AXV), which were converted by Airlines staff to a seven-seat passenger configuration (Later Ansons carried eight passengers). The next year, no less than twelve further Ansons were added, as post-war passenger and freight demand grew (although passenger conversion took some time, and not all were converted in the end). The airline's passenger service was improved, with a coach service from the city, air hostesses on board, and the basics of in-flight catering.

1947 also saw a return to one of Snook's earlier pursuits, of aerial photography. The Dragonfly was used for this task, along with its previous newspaper delivery run. However, the aircraft was damaged beyond repair in December 1948, when a wind gust after takeoff flipped it over - again, with no major injuries to its two occupants; Airlines remained fortunate in the lack of deaths and major injuries to its pilots and passengers. Both the newspaper deliveries and aerial photography tasks were taken over by Ansons, of which Airlines now had plenty.

While the Ansons formed the basis of Airlines' post-war reconstruction, it was clear that a pre-war design could not compete for long with the newer designs operated by the company's competitors. Snook selected the de Havilland Dove, of similar size to the Anson but of much higher performance. This choice proved wise, although the first flight in May 1947 was not as good publicity event, with the aircraft (registered VH-AQP) being accidentally landed "wheels up" at Maylands (again with no injuries and little damage). But while it was awaiting repairs, a replacement Dove, VH-AQO, was used in Airlines' routes, and second (VH-AZY) was added in January 1948.

In 1947, when its operations were moved from Maylands Aerodrome to the new Perth Airport, Airlines' operational fleet comprised two Doves, two Dragon Rapides, six Ansons and one Tiger Moth. A further Dove was added in January 1948.

1948 also saw the start of an experiment in the use of an Anson for aerial spraying, the aim being to poison warer hyacinth in Lake Monger. This continued for a second year, after which it was terminated due to difficulties using the Anson for the job. A Dragon Rapide was also used for aerial seeding, crop spraying and superphosphate spreading tests, but these showed that Airlines' aircraft were not suited to the tasks.

Airlines After Charles Snook
 

Courtesy State Library of Western Australia,<br>The Battye Library 220006PD

Snook's health deteriorated through 1947, and he died of heart disease in September 1948, aged only 57. His funeral was a major affair, both for his staff and the people of Perth. A lone Dove, filled with Airlines staff, made a final flypast salute.

The airline continued without him, under the leadership of Jim Cameron. A third Dove (VH-AQP - the one swapped after its wheels-up landing in 1947) was added, and the three Doves now formed the backbone of the company's operations.

Airlines' run of good fortune with its aircraft accidents came to an end in October, 1951, when Dove VH-AQO crashed, with the death of all occupants. All Doves in Australia were immediately grounded, and with good reason; the cause was found to be structural failure in the main wing spar, causing the wing to separate in flight.

With its remaining Doves out of service, and only two operational Ansons left, Airlines was in difficulties. A DC-3 was obtained briefly from ANA, and two other Ansons were chartered from MMA. Two further Ansons were found within Australia, bought and refurbished. These steps kept the company operational until January 1952, when the two remaining Doves were returned to service with their new, redesigned, wing spars. A replacement for the lost Dove was not obtained until early 1953, entering service in April.

Two further Doves were bought, one entering service in early 1954. The other was initially kept as a reserve, but was later upgraded and registered as a Dove Mark 5 in April 1955.

Merger
 

Through all this period, Airlines had been kept operational from a combination of government subsidies (supporting operations in rural and pastoral areas, where the service could not be expected to be profitable) and earnings from a few lucrative routes. With the closure of the Big Bell gold mine, one of the best of the latter was lost.

The state government felt that it could not continue to subsidise two competing airlines, and proposed a merger. This occurred in late 1955, the combination of MacRobertson Miller Aviation with Airlines (WA) being reflected in the new name, MacRobertson Miller Airlines. But, while it was in all respects a merger, the larger fleet of MMA in combination with the less "generic" MacRobertson Miller part of the new name led some to see it as a takeover. It certainly was not.

While Airlines (WA) had existed for only twenty years, these had proved to be the crucial years for the development of the aviation in WA. Charles Snook was the embodiment of "airmindedness", both in his efforts to get the industry going, and his support for other activities like the Air Training Corps. He most certainly takes his place alongside Norman Brearley and Horrie Miller as a founding father of Western Australia's aviation industry.

There are no large memorials to his efforts, but he is one of the pioneers with a road in his name at Perth Airport, and a small memorial on the golf course that now covers the area of the Maylands Aerodrome, where Airlines (W.A.) started.

 

References

Brief biography of Charles Snook

"Forgotten Flyer", biography of Charles Snook on Google Books

The Ed Coates Collection