Australian Air League - Coffs Harbour Squadron Welcome Banner 180 Aviation Drive, Coffs Harbour Airport - Phone: (02) 6658 2315 - Email: coffsharbour@airleague.com.au
  Projects

All squadrons of the league rely merely on fundraising and donations by the local squadron. Members attend fundraising events to raise money for training camps, excursions, and project work.

Below is the Coffs Harbour Squadron's primary project.

Project Airborne - The Story
She started off as a desire, the desire to soar with the birds.  From that desire came hours of research and decisions—what design, how hard to build, flying capabilities and so forth.  Soon the desire became an ambition with a goal, to build a Longster, an up to date design for amateur aircraft builders in the late ‘20’s.  The design was relatively easy to build and had a good stalling speed.   She was also supposed to be very forgiving of mistakes by ham-fisted learners, so she was ideal for Mr. Russ Aldrich of Canberra to have a go and learn to fly with the birds.

The materials were purchased and a friend Ray Raymond, a qualified welder, undertook to do all the welding of the steel tubular framework.  Russ Aldrich and Ray became somewhat celebrities in old Canberra Town,  they were actually building a plane.  The local lads were fascinated and some of them offered to help.   One of them was Newton Lawson who loved aeroplanes and has maintained that enthusiasm all his life.

Slowly the bits of wood and steel turned into the shape of an aircraft.  Then came the big day when they started to cover the fuselage with fabric.  Great excitement accompanied the day when the wings were attached and the controls installed.  Finally she was fitted with a 3 cylinder radial engine mounted proudly in the nose.  All was in readiness.

Russ Aldrich  proudly contacted the Department of Civil Aviation to get his new creation registered.  That was when disaster struck the project.  The whole frame was made of commercial grade steel and had never been inspected during construction so the Department was “sorry, but the plane was not allowed in the air.”  Sadly Russ pushed his dreams and his plane into a dark corner and slowly forgot about it.  There the Longster languished for many years, remembered by a few as “Russ’s Folly.”

Many years passed with the Longster mouldering in obscurity.  Many changes occurred and of course Canberra changed as people came and went.  The whole sorry affair of the Longster built in folly, slowly sank into the past.  Newton Lawson was one of those who moved away from Canberra and eventually settled in Coffs Harbour, where he, like so many of us flying fanatics, started to haunt the aerodrome.  There he met a number of members of the Coffs Harbour Aero Club, John Naughton, the late Bill Eckford and Bill Armstrong.  They had a junior flying school running in parallel with the Aero Club.  The young people were basically “Hanger Rats” offering to do any chore for the privilege of flying in the spare seat.  The junior flying school was very interesting for Newton, as he was, at the time, an area Director of the Department of Social Security and directly responsible for young people in conflict with society.

Eventually there came a day in the 50’s when Newton remembered the Longster and decided it may be of use to the Junior Flying School.  Thus was born a new career for the plane that tried...  Newton managed to find and talk to Russ Aldrich and discovered that the Longster was still in Canberra somewhere in some forgotten corner.  Russ agreed that the plane could go to Coffs Harbour if it was of any use to the youth.  So, off to Canberra went Newton.

At last the Longster was pulled from it’s hanger and prepared for the trip.  It was the first time that the plane had been out of the area,   the ride was a bit rough, but was definitely the longest trip the plane would ever make.  It wasn't the most elegant way for an aeroplane to travel, firmly tied to a borrowed car trailer and without it’s 3 cylinder engine, but it was a trip to remember.

Back in Coffs Harbour , she was tethered to a car trailer with loose ropes, which allowed her about a metre of movement up and down and from side to side.  She was washed and cleaned of the years of neglect and a sandbag simulated her engine (weight wise).  Then her new life began.  Early each Saturday and Sunday morning, weather permitting, she was pulled out of her hanger and the trailer hitched up to a car.  A junior flying student strapped himself into her cockpit and away they went out to Runway 19 with Newton driving the car.  At 35 miles per hour (56 km/h) she flew beautifully and the student could experience the feel of taking off and landing, as well as getting the feel of co-ordination the rudder with the ailerons for a turn.  If the maneuvers the student tried got too radical, Newton would only need to slow down and she would settle back on her wheels aboard the trailer.  Sometimes an instructor would need to be on hand to correct errors in operating the controls.  This was not much of a problem as there was plenty of room on the trailer and he could stand there telling the student what to do next.  The Longster had found a career in aviation that was worthwhile and many pilots learned to fly in her.

Like all country towns, Coffs Harbour grew and eventually the aerodrome became an airport with a control tower.  Runway 19 became a taxiway and there were no more early morning outings for the Longster.  Once more she was put into a forgotten corner to slowly moulder away into dust and forgotten memories.

Coffs Harbour continued to grow and eventually in 1995 an Australian Air League Squadron was formed, with cadets as young as 9 years of age joining the squadron and being introduced to the wonders of aviation.  Once again Newton remembered the Longster and decided she should have a new and final career in aviation.   He searched  her out and found her in very poor condition but still structurally sound.   She became a restoration project for the cadets who are learning about working on and restoring a steel and fabric construction aircraft.  When the cadets finally finish her she will be restored to her original once glorious new condition of which her original owner Russ was so proud.  Unfortunately the original engine cannot be found but she will end her days as the prime exhibit in an air museum which the Air League squadron is  planning for Coffs Harbour.  She will have the proud record of being a training plane that successfully taught flying without ever leaving the runway.  She will also most likely hold the record for the greatest number of miles travelled on a runway without ever leaving the ground. 

Project Update
After searching and recovering the Longster from a virtual grave, Newton Lawson set about teaching the Air League cadets of Coffs Harbour Squadron how to apply new fabric onto the airframe. This was an expensive exercise and Newton provided all the material. Besides applying the fabric, the cadets also learned how to heat the fabric with an electric iron to shrink it so that it was tight on the frame. Newton also replaced control cables etc. This work was being done when sadly Newton passed away in 2001.

The cost of restoration is now the big problem. In addition to this the squadron has learned that a special airworthy certificate can be granted as an experimental aircraft. The Air League cadets are now determined to finish the restoration of this ancient aeroplane and to see it fly even if only once before it is relegated to the display stand. The cadets would like to finish the project as a fitting memorial to Newton Lawson who over the years did so much for the youth of Coffs Harbour and for the Air League cadets in particular.

If you think you can help the dream come true, please contact us.

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