Home' Australian Aviation Magazine : October 2009 Contents 67
OCTOBER 2009 AUSTRALIAN AVIATION
Inspection of all the
squadron’s Mar aude rs re vealed
similar ominous black f riction
marks on the fins of a number
of the aircraft. Because the
squadron operated at sea level
to keep below radar cover-
age, there would have b ee n
no time after the fin failed for
the radio ope rator to send any
Another 11 years were to
elapse before the De H avilland
Comet stor y set the whole
aviation world talking ab out
metal fatigue and airf rame
failures. But here its fatal ef-
fects were b eing demonstrated
Following that accident,
it was my privilege to work
closely with a nearby main-
tenance unit on a ‘fix ’ for the
problem . The engineers had
diagnosed the fatigue failure,
but the boffins needed m ore
precise data on the nature and
the exte nt of the vibration that
cause d it.
They proposed an inflight
film of the fin area, and a
cine-camera was set up in the
upper turret of a Marauder that
had been intensively inspected.
And inspected again – and yet
again! A very apprehensive and
reluctant pilot took the aircraft
into the air, using the ‘red hot ’
rudder pedals most gingerly
throughout the flight and gen-
erally handling that aeroplane
with a loving care of the kind
that no Marauder has received
The film clearly showed
high frequency vibration at
the tip of the fin while the
aircraft was in flight. Recti-
fication work b egan and the
‘fix’ was finally achieved by
inte rnally strengthening the
fin and re- skinni ng it with
heavier gauge metal.
On June 23 1943, I took
the modified Marauder on its
initial test flight. The fix was
proved and the squadron was
back in business!
But what does the title of
this little story have to do with
Six weeks before, I had used
the Marauder that crashed
at Abu Sieur for a period of
night dual instruction with two
officers who were ne w to the
squadron. Satisfied with their
progress at about 2145 hours,
I asked them whether they
wished to continue flying or to
terminate the exercise –- doing
so would enable us to get back
to the mess in time for supper
before it closed in 15 minutes.
Another circuit would involve
about 20 minutes flying. Their
vote was for coffee.
The following morning, only
15 minutes after the newly con-
verted crew took off for their
fighter liaison exercise, the fin
of that Marauder failed!
For the three of us, that cup
of coffee was a life saver!
The late Rod Lapthorne remembered being one of a group of schoolchildren who streamed from the playground to see a
Farman pusher biplane that had landed in a nearby paddock. Wide-eyed, he stayed looking at it too long, receiving ‘six cuts’
of the cane from his irate headmaster for his trouble!
He learnt to fly in 1937 after winning a flying scholarship, his instructor being former WW1 AFC pilot Eric Roberts. Enlisting
in the RAAF in 1939, he gained his wings at Point Cook, and after completing OTU training on Bristol Blenheims in Kenya,
was posted to the RAF’s No 14 Squadron in the Western Desert. Serving with that squadron until 1944, he was twice
Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the DFC.
On his return to Australia shortly before the end of WW2, he joined Australian National Airways, staying with the company
after the Ansett takeover in 1957. In 1969 he was appointed to the Department of Civil Aviation as an Examiner of
Airman (airline aircraft), and remained with the Department until he retired for health reasons in 1977 – with 20,000
hours in his logbook.
The entry in my log book on May 10 1943: “Marauder B-26 – pilot-
in-command, self – to Abu Sieur to view fatal crash”, was to mark the
beginning of the most dramatic and intense period of my RAAF ser vice
but one in which the enemy played no part!
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