|Last updated 22 August 2022
|STINSON MODEL A IN AUSTRALIA
|Compiled by Geoff Goodall
Airlines of Australia Ltd Stinson A VH-UKK "City of Townsville" at Archerfield Aerodrome, Brisbane 1941. Photo by Charles.D.Pratt
Only four Stinson Model A trimotors were imported but they played a
signficant role in Australian airline development. They entered service during 1936 with Airlines of Australia Ltd, Sydney to
replace its fleet of Avro Ten trimotors on a route network between
Sydney and Townsville.
Airlines of Australia had been formed the previous year in a restructure of New England Airways Ltd, Lismore NSW. Founder and Managing Director Mr.George A.Robinson of the New England Motor Company at Lismore had attracted British financial backing to enable his planned expansion. With new name Airlines of Australia Ltd, the first new aircraft were small British GAL Monospars, which proved barely adequate. G.A.Robinson had his sights set on new all-metal American airliners. When the Australian Civil Aviation Board finally dropped its ban on US-built aircraft in November 1935, Robinson immediately sailed to the United States in December 1935 on the liner Monterey. Facing lengthy delivery delays for Douglas DC-2 and DC-3s, his aim was to inspect other airline types which could be put into AOA service in the meantime.
Robinson acted quickly. Impressed by the 8 to10 passenger Stinson A trimotors already in American airline use, he ordered three aircraft for early completion to be shipped to Australia, later adding an order for a fourth. The announcement was made in the Australian press on 20 January 1936. AOA's status was boosted by the arrival of the Stinsons later that year combined with route expansion north from Brisbane to Townville via enroute coastal cities. It had become a major competitor to the newly-formed Australian National Airways Pty Ltd, Melbourne.
ANA was formed by mergers of existing companies giving a route network from Sydney south, to Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide and Perth, while AOA operated from Sydney north to Brisbane and Townsville. In March 1937 this uncomfortable relationship was partially resolved by ANA buying a controlling financial interest in AOA. The two airlines continued to operate independently: ANA based at Melbourne operated all routes south to Tasmania, west to Perth and the all-important Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney. AOA based at Sydney covered routes north to Brisbane and Townsville, extended north to Cairns and Horn Island from December 1938 when AOA took over North Queensland Airways Pty Ltd, Cairns.
Finally in July 1942 ANA absorbed AOA - Airlines of Australia Ltd was no more.
When the Stinsons arrived AOA publicity emphasised their speed and modern safety features such as retracting undercarriage. But in reality they were the same welded steel tube airframe with wood decking and fabric covering as the old Avro Tens they replaced. But the passenger cabin was much improved with American attention to passenger comfort. All four were delivered in the same paintwork of all over dark blue with red trim.
AOA senior pilot, Captain Keith Virtue later said "The Stinsons were damned good aeroplanes. They had been promised to cruise at 160mph but they cruised comfortably at 165 mph, quite a different story to the disappointing Monospars and DH.86s. With their big donut tyres you could flop a Stinson on the ground and you wouldn't feel it. They had Argon fluorescent lights that you could switch on to brighten up the luminous dials on the instrument panels during night flying. It was most effective and the Douglas DC-2s and DC-3s didn't have it until much later."
1930s colour view of an Airlines of Australia Stinson A at
Mac Job Collection/CAHS
The Stinson Aircraft Corporation had been founded at Detroit in 1926 by
experienced commercial pilot Edward A. "Eddie" Stinson. Financed by a
succession of aviation business associates before and after The Great
Depression, Stinson Aircraft produced a range of airliners ending with
the Model A. The company then concentrated on the single-engined
private aircraft market with the Reliant and Voyager big-selling models. With WWII came miltary mass production of Stinson L-5 Sentinel and O-49/L01 Vigilant
models. A total of 31 Stinson A airliners were built 1935-37, at
which time Aviation Corporation (AVCO) held a controlling interest in
Stinson, in addition to Lycoming aero engines. Hence the Model A was
powered by three Lycoming R-680 radial engines, which proved to be
reliable and give a good performance.
In 1939 Stinson Aircraft became a division of Vultee Aircraft with a common parent company AVCO. In March 1943 it became the Stinson Division of Consolidated-Vultee (Convair) and wartime employment at the Wayne plant reached 2,000. Post-war Stinson continued building the civil Model 108 Voyager but sales slumped and Convair closed the Stinson factory at Wayne MI in June 1947, in December that year selling the Stinson assets, name and goodwill to Piper Aircraft Corporation.
|The modified twin-engined Stinson A-2W
early in World War II, AOA had difficulty acquiring essential spare
parts for the Lycoming R-680 9 cylinder radial engines for the two
remaining Stinson As on the Queensland coastal route. In November 1941
a major order for engine components was placed with Lycoming in the USA but
following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor only weeks later and outbreak
of war in the Pacific, military priority for factory production and shipping resulted in the order never being delivered.
The two remaining Stinsons VH-UYY & VH-UKK had been spared Government impressment for the Royal Australian Air Force. They were classified as essential civilian airliners to allow minimal domestic air services. AOA and ANA lost other airliners to impressment for the RAAF and were desperate to keep the Stinsons in service. When AOA was absorbed into ANA in July 1942 the two Stinsons were maintaining the Queensland coastal routes between Brisbane and Horn Island but faced grounding because of lack of engine parts. ANA's Senior Engineer submitted plans to DCA to re-engine the Stinsons with 335hp Armstrong Siddleey Cheetah IX radials (in plentiful supply for RAAF Avro Ansons) or alternatively much more power with just two Pratt & Whitney 650hp R-1340-S3H1 Wasp geared engines (manufactured under licence in Australia by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation for their Wirraway production). The final decision was to use two 550hp P&W R-1340-AN1 Wasps, a direct drive model available from military stocks. Suitable 2D40 metal constant-speed propellers were acquired from De Havilland Aircraft Pty Ltd, Sydney. DCA's Aeronautical Engineering Branch in Melbourne undertook stress analysis calculations and structural redesign and strengthening required to carry the extra engine weight and power.The missing centre engine was replaced by a rounded light gauge aluminium sheet structure nose.
37 Sqn ORB: 2.8.43 A61-1 Northrop Delta arrived at 37 Sqn Laverton. This was the unit's first aircraft prior to Lodestars (unit formed at Laverron 15.7.43: first Lodestar A67-5 arrived Laverton 28.8.43)
Ugly duckling. The Stinson A2W conversions to two P&W Wasps was a wartime necessity. Photo by Charles D.Pratt
The conversions were carried out by ANA in their Essendon hangars
during 1943. An analysis of the changes reveals that the three Lycoming
weighed 1,546 lbs in total, while the two P&W weighed 1,420 lbs.
Total horsepower rose from approximately 705 hp to 1,100 hp. Each wing
engine mount now carried a 700 lb P&W instead of a 515 lb Lycoming,
requiring a significant structural strengthening to allow for the
forces on the airframe. The two Stinsons were rebuilt during 1943 by
ANA in their Essendons hangars and the result was considered a success.
AOA Captain Harry Moore, transferred to ANA during the merger, said "The Stinsons went up like a rocket on the twin motors".
However the entire conversion process came under intense scrutiny in January 1945 when VH-UYY broke up in flight only 14 months after its re-engining. The DCA accident investigation found that the primary structural failure was the port wing spar caused by a fatigue crack, resulting in the port wing detaching from the airframe. Press reports of passengers on earlier flights in VH-UYY hearing cracking noises in flight and seeing cracks in the elevator attachments caused such adverse publicity that the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr.Arthur Drakeford) established an Air Court of Enquiry to review every aspect of the accident. Among its findings was that the sensational reporting of passenger comments had no basis in fact. The sole cause was the port wingspar fatigue crack which started within a weld, undectable to the eye and had been slowly extending for some years. The re-engining to P&W Wasps did not directly contribute to the existing crack progressing, other than extend the flying life of the airframe. The aircraft's high utilisation usually at full loads, particularly on the Melbourne-Mildura-Broken Hill route noted for turbulent flying conditions, probably accelerated the progress of the crack.
These were among the earliest investigations of metal fatigue causing an in-flight structural failure. As a result of their findings, DCA changed the way metal airframe structures were examined during overhauls, now requiring Magnaflux inspections. The Department also began the practice of calculating the safe retirement life of metal aircraft registered in Australia. Increased funding was provided for technical testing for airframe metal fatigue. in Melbourne the Structures and Materials Division of the Division of Aeronautics (later Aeronautical Research Laboratories) commenced a long-term program aimed at advancing the knowledge of metal fatigue in aircraft structures. Some 200 surplus wings of P-51 Mustang were tested by repeated loading to examine the characteristics of fatigue. In Sydney the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, predecessor of CSIRO) was issued with war disposals RAAF Douglas DC-2s for similar tests.
|Australian Stinson A trimotors: listed in order of entering service with Airlines of Australia Ltd:
The four Stinson As were given distinctive Australian registrations
with double last letters. Pre-WWII registrations were rigidly issued
sequentially and at the time the AOA Stinsons were imported had reached
the VH-UX_ series. Just why the Civil Aviation Board now allocated the
"double letter" registrations, which they had previously withheld from
use for equally obscure reasons, has not been found in surviving
The Departmental files for the Stinson As contain numerous detailed reports of forced landings and en-route diversions, usually due to weather or engine troubles. Such reports were madatory for airline category aircraft at the time. I have only included events in which the aircraft was damaged.
Stinson A c/n 9122 Lismore
G.A.Robinson and party pose with Stinson officials with AOA's first Stinson A NC15162 at the Detroit factory January 1936.
Photo: Bruce Robinson collection
|Stinson A VH-UGG "Lismore" flying over Sydney soon after entering AOA service.
Photo: Civil Aviation Historical Society/Macarthur Job Collection
Outside the AOA hangar at Sydney Airport (Mascot), dark blue with red trim. Ed Coates Collection
Night refuelling VH-UGG at Archerfield Aerodrome, Brisbane. Bruce Robinson collection
1937, passengers and friends chat while waiting for the boarding call.
Ben Dannecker collection
|Stinson A c/n 9126 Brisbane VH-UHH
VH-UHH having its compass aligned on the Mascot compass swing bay. Given its short flying career, this photograph
was probably taken at the time of its original assembly. Photo: AOA via Bruce Robinson collection
Airlines of Australia Ltd Stinson As and DH.89 Rapide VH-UBN at Archerfield. Macarthur Job Collection CAHS
|The mountain crash site on Lamington Plateau Queensland.
Photo: Macarthur Job Collection, Civil Aviation Historical Society
|Memorial plaque for the Stinson crash on a bush walking trail near the crash site.
Photo by Bert van Drunick
|Stinson A c/n 9128 Townsville; to Stinson A-2W Binana VH-UKK
Ben Dannecker collection
Refuelling at Mascot. Frank Walters collection
|Archerfield 1943 after conversion to Stinson A-2W with two P&W Wasps. Bruce Robinson collection
|VH-UKK after retirement arrives at Fishermans Bend airfield in 1945 by road from Essendon for metal fatigue testing.
Photo: John Hopton Collection
|Stinson A c/n 9130 Grafton; to Stinson A-2W Tokana VH-UYY
Archerfield Aerodrome, Brisbane 1938. Ben Dannecker collection
Passengers boarding VH-UYY at the Mascot AOA hangar, now repainted as
ANA. Frank Walters Collection
a major overhaul, probably at AOA's Sydney base.
Photo by Charles D. Pratt
VH-UYY repainted in camouflage at Horne Island, Far North Queensland 1942. David Vincent collection
as ANA's "Tokana", modified to Stinson A-2W, all silver scheme with
RAAF blue/white fin flash.
Photo: Charles D. Pratt
|VH-UYY at Broken Hill 1944.
John Hopton Collection
|Accident investigation diagram showing the primary structural failure site (1) and subsequent failure sites after the
aircraft broke up and fell out of control. Macarthur Job collection, Civil Aviation Historical Society
|A replica Stinson A:
During 1986 the Australian Kennedy-Miller movie production company commenced work on a TV documentary The Riddle of the Stinson covering VH-UHH's mountain crash in 1937 and Bernard O'Reilly's remarkable feat of locating the wreck and rescuing the survivors. A full size replica Stinson A was constructed and painted in AOA blue and red scheme as VH-UHH Brisbane. The end result was a highly accurate representation of the aircraft.
Scenes of passengers boarding and departure from Archerfield were filmed in May 1987 at Camden Airport, south of Sydney with temporary signage proclaiming it to be "Archerfield Aerodrome".
After filming was completed, the replica Stinson was acquired by Drage Air World at Wangaratta Airport, Victoria and added to their collection of aircraft displayed inside a large purpose-built hangar. Unfortunately this ambitious venue was closed to the public in 2003 following continuing financial losses and the collection sold off by auction.
The long-established O'Reilly family's Guest House in Lamington National Park, renamed O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, acquired the Stinson replica and displayed it alongside their guest house. It had deteriorated from weather exposure when in late 2016 work commenced on new fabric and painting to restore it to "as new" condition in time for the 70th Anniversary of the crash in February 2017.
|Action! Filming a scene with the replica Stinson at Camden Airport during May 1987. Bob Livingstone collection
|The VH-UHH movie replica later displayed at O'Reillys Rainforest Retreat near the scene of the 1937 accident.
A period picture in the late 1930s which captures the Airlines of Australia Stinson trimotor era:
Stinson at Archerfield, framed by Royal Queensland Aero Club DH.60
Bruce Robinson collection
- Australian Civil Aircraft Register, Department of Civil Aviation, Melbourne
- DCA aircraft files, National Archives of Australia, Melbourne
- Trove Australian newspaper search, National Library of Australia
- Flypast - A Record of Aviation in Australia, Neville Parnell & Trevor Boughton, CAA 1988
- Australia's Two Airline Policy, Stanley Brogden, Melbourne University Press 1968
- Virtue In Flying - A Biography of Pioneer Aviator Keith Virtue, Joan Priest, Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1975
- Charles Pratt of Belmont Common, Kevin O'Reilly, self-published 2016
- Air Crash, Volume 1 1921-1939, Macarthur Job, Aerospace Publications, 1991
- Air Crash, Volume 2 1940-1970, Macarthur Job, Aerospace Publications, 1992
- Airlines and Aircraft of the Ansett Group, Fed Niven, September 2019 edition