|Above is a photo of
Eileen & Bob taken after
my surprise arrival for
Bob's 90th birthday.
friends Doug Sklenars
and his partner Phyl.
During my brief employment at Fieldair, I had heard of Bob Allen on a few
occasions. He was one of the first pilots to fly the first Beaver AZB and
was chief pilot on the "heavies" in Napier. When I was organising the
Fieldair Reunion in 2009, I contacted Bob who was now living in Cooroy,
Queensland with wife Eileen. I made several calls after this and Bob was
always obliging, sending me photos of his days with the Tiger Moth,
Beaver, Lodestar and DC3.
I made the trip up to Queensland to be part of Bob Allen's 90th
birthday celebrations in February 2014. This was secretly arranged
between myself and Doug Sklenars, with the help of Bob & Eileen's son
Mark and daughter Dana. I had known Bob for about 8 years but had only
spoken to him on the phone and exchanged e-mails. I thought his 90th
birthday would give me motivation to make the 11 hour drive.
I was lucky enough to have access to his many logbooks and took
photos of pages that were of significance. He flew Oxfords, Miles Whitley
Straights and Halifax's during WW2.
After the War, Bob returned to Auckland. In December 1951 he saw an
advertisement for an Engineer posted by Lawson Field, founder of
Fieldair and arranged to meet at Mangere. Upon arrival, Bob noticed 2
Beavers being assembled, AVL which went to James Aviation and AZB
which Lawson had purchased. Accompanying Lawson was Noel
Marshall, then Chief Pilot. Bob was hired and after a few weeks started
flying for Fieldair February 1952. He flew Tigers initially then started on
the conversion to the Beaver 30th January 1953 in BBX. He got his rating
through Noel Marshall in Beaver BBX 23rd June 1953 and went on to fly
AZB full time 2nd July 1953. He flew AZB until BFN arrived September
1954. He flew BFN on post-dropping sorties for a short time as evidenced
by a photo in January 1955, inbetween topdressing in AZB. BFN was
fitted with a hopper after these trials and also a newly designed clamshell
hopper door system which Bob had a large involvement in designing.
This improved the performance of the Beaver remarkably, Bob claiming it
made it a totally different aeroplane to fly. April 6th 1955 seems likely
when BFN was first used on topdressing.
He went on to Lodestars mid 1955, converting in BJM at Gisborne with
Lionel Van Praag. As he already had 500 hours on twins, Lawson Field
capitalised on this experience as it only took a short period to get rated
on the Lodestar. Bob was the sole Lodestar pilot until he went to
Bankstown, Australia 22nd October 1956 to test fly BMC and then fly it
back to N.Z. He trained James Austin-Greene in BMC but this aircraft was
destroyed in a crash in 1957. He again went back to Bankstown in mid
April 1958 to test fly Lodestar BUV, which Fieldair needed to replace BMC.
After 2 weeks of test flying and checks, he took off from Mascot on the
2nd of May, heading for Gisborne. This flight was aborted due to radio
failure. This was rectified and the following day, with Charlie Brodie and
N. Toms aboard, departed Sydney for Gisborne direct, taking 7 hours 40
minutes. This was Gisborne's first and last International Flight!
4 days later he was topdressing in this Lodestar in the Gisborne area and
he went on to fly BUV for 5 months, moving to BVE in September. He flew
both of these Lodestars until 1964 when Fieldair's first DC3 CHV came on
line and joined the Airland group. Prior to this, he converted to DC3's in
August 1962 with Jack Humphries in James Aviation's AZL. He did fly
APB and BYF occasionally for Airland and went full time in DC3's in CHV.
He also flew Lodestar CGV and then got DC3 AWO 11th November 1968.
He was based in Napier at this time and flew AWO until APK arrived fresh
off overhaul mid October 1970. This remained his main aircraft until Bob
resigned in November 1975.
On the 2nd of November 1970, he flew Lodestar BVE from Palmerston
North to Whenuapai as it had been retired after a belly landing due to an
undercarriage failure. Bob had to fly it to Auckland with the wheels locked
down, just in case, taking 2 hours. BVE was then transported to the
MOTAT Museum in Auckland where it is still undergoing restoration.
He also flew Lodestar BUV on it's last flight, to Gisborne from Palmerston
North early 1973. It is now part of the GAPS Museum's display.
The only "incident" I am aware of is as follows. He recalled working off
Lawson Field's Makiri strip which was curved with a bank on the blind
side. Allan Mayfield was working on the same job, both men flying Tiger
Moths. The day was going well with the Tiger on the ground having the
right of way. They had a good routine going. After a refuel, Allan took off,
Bob was waiting to be loaded, there was a hiccup with the loader which
delayed Bob's take-off. Mayfield must have thought that Bob had already
taken off as he couldn't see around the curve and landed, not knowing
that Bob was under full power, thundering around the curve, only to see
Mayflower heading straight for him. Bob couldn't stop, Mayfield couldn't
go anywhere, all 4 port wings were destroyed in the impact. Bob ended
up upside down, Mayfield managed to stop after looping, both were
surprised to be ok after the dust settled.
Bob trained many pilots converting on to Lodestars and DC3's, among
them Ted Brown, Murray Sanderson and Jim Irving in the Lodestar.
Perusing the logbooks, amongst the DC3 "trainees" were Bill Olsen, Ian
Rankin, Ray Misson, Jim Irving, Bob Cranston, Neville Worsley, Charlie
Down, Basil Martin and Harley Cadwallader.
So glad to have finally met Bob, Eileen and family and also Doug Sklenars
after only conferring over the phone or e-mail.
A wonderful man with many fascinating stories. Thanks "Boy" and "Darl"
for the hospitality....... and a beer!!!
Bob & Eileen had to move from Cooroy and ended up in Loganholme,
South Brisbane in 2015. Their daughter Dana was living in the area and
is/was their carer. Bob's health was on the decline and during the early
part of 2016 both he and Eileen were admitted to Hospital. Bob sadly
passed away on the 7th of June 2016, aged 92 years. They had 4 children
together, were married for 69 years and knew each other for 70. They
have 14 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. Eileen remains in the
home and will still be cared for by Dana and her partner Neville.
R.I.P. wonderful man, I will never forget you.
|Bob 50 years ago
with AZB in
|Above 2 photos
show Bob in AZB
again at Waipaoa
Station North of
They had just
arrived in Napier in
Circa mid 1956.
|In 2009, Bob wrote an
article for Pacific
covering his flying
career. Click on the
link below to open it.