A company owning a seaplane had lent me shelter in their hangar for my Gipsy Moth, which had been wheeled in on an axle. The floats were in a bad way; I could see daylight through the keel of the starboard one, and the port float had a bad bump. Long scores could be seen inside, caused by the coral reef. The first thing to do was to detach the floats. This company had two pilots, and the one on duty that morning was a bony- faced German with a sloping forehead and thin hair brushed back from it, who talked abrupt sentences of run-together words. I thought the obvious way to remove the floats was to sling the seaplane from the principal beam of the triangulated framework supporting the roof. The German came out of his office and refused to let me do it. I suggested something else, but he would not have that, either. I decided that he just plainly loathed the sight of me, and I could understand his viewpoint; why should an amateur be the spoilt pet of Manila when there were far more deserving veterans of aviation? I went into his office to talk to him and was astounded at his flying experience; he had flown nearly every type of machine, had flown right through the First World War. ‘What squadron was he with?’ I asked. ‘Was it the American Lafayet
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‘I wasn’t fighting for you, I was fighting against you,’ he said. I was full of interest and wonder at his experiences. What he did not know about aeroplanes was not worth knowing. I asked what he thought would be the best way to lift my seaplane: he suggested tilting it up on to one wing tip. I observed that perhaps the Gipsy Moth was flimsy compared with the important types he was used to handling, but he retorted briskly that he had handled dozens of them in China. We talked on without actually doing anything, and it was a depressed and baffled amateur pilot whom Williamson’s boy fetched for lunch. After lunch the company’s other pilot, MacIlroy, an American, was on duty. We had the seaplane suspended from the roof in about thirty minutes, and both the floats and the propeller off soon afterwards.
The floats were in a bad way; in places only Roley Wilson’s paint was keeping the water out. I decided that my only hope was the US Air Corps. But had their offer of assistance been merely a conventional politeness? I rang up Nichol’s Field, and it was at once clear that the US Air Corps meant what it said. Major Duty, the officer in charge of Ordnance, came round at once. He was extremely efficient, and next morning at 7 a.m. an army lorry took the floats away. I set to work on the engine, wearing overalls only (I found them cooler than shorts) and a handkerchief round my eyebrows. An English engineer lent me an excellent mechanic to grind the valves, a job I detested. The exhaust valve in No. 3 cylinder was so pitted that we threw it out.
Major Duty invited me out to Nichol’s Field. They had made a splendid job of the propeller by splicing in a piece of wood, and then sheathing the tips in copper. This made the propeller heavier, but by now it was obvious that only metal would stand up to the constant slashing through spray and wave crests. The propeller was on a spindle, and it was so well balanced that when I breathed on one tip it began to revolve. I was delighted. The floats would take some days; on their turning a hose into one, the water had gone straight through. The riveter wanted to cut a hatch in the top of the float in order to drive home the last rivets, but to avoid this it was finally agreed that he should screw the last plates home to a block inside the float, instead of riveting it. If only I could have foreseen the consequences of this petty detail!