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General Aviation

The term 'General Aviation Industry' refers to the mix of (generally) non-airline operators who use smaller aircraft to perform the broad range of services required by our community. They range from basic pilot training to helicopter charters supporting the mining industry in the north-west, and include a massive range of other activities in between.

Because of the breadth of operations, it would be impossible to include anything like all the companies. The ones detailed here are included because of their historical significance.

Aero Club, Maylands 1935;
(Courtesy State Library of Western Australia,
The Battye Library 022841PD)

Royal Aero Club

Western Australia's main flight training centre commenced operations in 1929, as the Australian Aero Club, Western Australian Section. As detailed in a West Australian newspaper article at the time, the club took over training from WA Airways, who had started the school in 1927.

Their initial two aircraft were DH60 Gipsy Moths, a fleet which was extended later, with a 1935 photo showing VH-ULD (acquired 1931), VH-UJX and VH-UAO. These aircraft were probably all impressed into the RAAF when World War II commenced.

The club rebuilt after World War II, and moved to Perth Airport in 1957. The Club then owned six Chipmunks and four Cessnas (mainly 150 models).

In 2010, the club conducted most of its pilot training using 15 Cessna 152 Aerobats, with 7 Mooney M20Js and two twins (Paratenavia P68B and Piper Seminole PA44) available for advanced training. It also operated 14 Cessna 172s and 182s for charter and similar work, as well as a Chipmunk and Tiger Moth for scenic flights and aerobatics.

Royal Flying Doctor Service

This organisation commenced as the Australian Aerial Medical Services in 1934. The Victorian section established a base in Wyndham in 1935, shortly before the Western Australian Section commenced operations, on October 10, 1935 (although the WA section was not officially registered until June 14 of the following year). Its first base was Port Hedland, using a de Havilland Fox Moth.

An Eastern Goldfields Section was established in 1937, although medical flights had been operating there since the early 1930s. The RFDS web site indicates there are records of services in 1931 or 1932, which would probably make it the first such operation, after Flynn's own Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service which commenced in 1928 in Cloncurry, Queensland.

A Flying Doctor Service King Air
(Courtesy State Library of Western Australia,
The Battye Library 215569PD)

An account of the history of the RFDS (see References) includes a good indication of the job of the flying doctors -

"In 1936, Dr Vickers (at Port Hedland) recorded a day's work at Marble Bar:

Yesterday I went to Marble Bar, 100 miles from Port Hedland, where I saw 12 patients, performed two minor operations, held an inquest as coroner on a man who had been found dead in his camp, renewed the licence of five hotels (as chairman of the licensing board), and reviewed several applications for mining leases (as mining warden). Not a bad day's work."

With the passage of time, the RFDS has moved to greater sophistication in its aircraft. For a time, it chartered Avro Ansons from MMA for its north-west operations, but more recently it has used increasingly larger twins of its own, such as the Beech Baron (in the 1960s) and King Air.

Agricultural Aviation

Western Australia's wide expanses of land in the wheatbelt made the region an ideal location for use of aircraft in agriculture. Work through the 1940s and 1950s led to use of light aircraft for both aerial spraying of weedkillers, and spreading of superphosphate fertiliser.

Over this period, several companies were formed with Maylands as their base, including Doggett Aviation, Aero Service (later Wesfarmers Aero Service, then Agricultural and General Aviation), and David Gray & Co.. Many commenced by modifying aircraft like the Tiger Moth, replacing the forward cockpit with a spray tank or superphosphate hopper. Over time, more modern aircraft were used, and still later, purpose-built aircraft like the Piper Pawnee, Cessna Agwagon and Callair A-9 became available.

But, in the 1970s, there was a fall in the price of wheat, and that meant farmers started to think carefully about the economics of aerial spraying and crop dusting. As a result, the demand for these services fell; some of the operators moved into other general aviation endeavours, while others simply went out of business. While there remain some aerial crop spraying companies, they are now generally rural-based, and small in size.


Short history of the Royal Flying Doctor Service
Medical Journal of Australia article on the history of the Royal Flying Doctor Service