Old friends in flight

MURRAY Wallace talks about his Cessna 180 with the special fondness of an old friend. 

He stores the ex-military aircraft in a hanger at the Kyneton Airfield and regularly flies the light aircraft in the skies over Victoria.

He knows its strengths and weaknesses, just as the plane knows his.

Mr Wallace's association with the Cessna 180-340 started when he worked as a pilot for the Australian Amry during the 1960s.

At the time of Mr Wallace's army service, Australia did not have a friendly relationship with Indonesia and troops had been stationed in Papua New Guinea to provide leadership and training to the PNG soldiers. 

Mr Wallace was responsible for dropping off supplies to troops camped in the jungle on a weekly basis. 

"There would be 100 men dropped in by the RAAF, they would bring in provisions. I would drop these provisions to various group foot patrols. Every seven days you would have to go and try to find them in the jungle and resupply them with food," he said.

"It was difficult work but it's what I enjoyed to do. I liked to fly."

Mr Wallace spent 12 months serving in PNG, with the rest of his six years in the army spent flying around eastern Australia.

At the end of his service, Mr Wallace found employment with Trans Australia Airlines - a company later renamed Australian Airlines before being sold to Qantas in 1992. 

Overtime Mr Wallace lost track of his Cessna 180, and it wasn't until some 40-odd years later he was reunited with the aircraft. 

"We were at an air show in Jamestown and our son, who is an aircraft engineer, contacted me. We were sitting around and he told me there was an old army Cessna for sale," he said.  

"We came back and two days later he rang up and said the number was 340.

"Each plane had its own serial number. Mine was 340. My wife said, "That is the plane you flew, we should have it". 

Mr Wallace bought the plane from a farmer in western New South Wales who was using it to carry spare parts to broken down machinery in his paddocks.   

"The opportunity to buy back an aircraft that I had flown in the military some 40 years ago was just an incredible opportunity. For our son it's even more unique because he can fly what I once flew.

Mr Wallace said the plane brought back good memories but also some not so good ones - in particular one experience from his time spent in PNG.  

"There was a patrol at 9000 feet and I had to climb over a mountain range at 12,000 feet to get to them. As I was spiraling down, I turned back into the hill not away from the hill," he said. 

"We actually got leaves out of the wheel and I thought at the time how long it would have taken to reach the crash scene. That gave me a real fright. I learnt from that - don't do it again.

"That is the thing with aviation, you never stop learning.  

"But there have been many good times. 

"I was in my 20s, my friends were all the same age and it was just great to fly. It was what I wanted to do."

Nowadays, Mr Wallace volunteers at the RAAF Museum at Point Cook. 

He flies over twice a month to conduct 10-minute aircraft demonstrations.

He said his love of flying began from a young age and has only grown stronger over the years. 

"I grew up in Cooktown," he said. 

"I was a young child and had (lived through WWII).

"I saw aeroplanes and thought, I could do that and I am still enjoying it."

Andrea Wallace said her husband was in the army when she first met him, and it wasn't until after the couple were married that he was sent to PNG.

She said she also shared a passion for flying, with the pair regularly attending antique aircraft shows.   

"I like it," she said. 

"I suppose I don't know anything different."

Mr Wallace said light aircraft had changed little over the years.

"The only way they really changed is that they have modernised the cockpits," he said.  

"They have now gone to a computer age. Instead of having instruments they now have a computer screen - that is the main change. 

"We are still using the same engines they designed in the 1930s. So there hasn't been that much advance that way."

Mr Wallace said his Cessna 180-340 would be passed onto his son Andrew, who lived in Darwin with his wife and two children.   

"Coming home from Point Cook, from the big military air show in March, we had this Cessna and our other ex-military trainer aircraft down there and we both flew back together," he said. 

"That was great. It's times like that I really love."

The opportunity to buy back an aircraft that I had flown in the military some 40 years ago was just an incredible opportunity.

Murray Wallace


Discuss "Old friends in flight"

Please note: All comments made or shown here are bound by the Online Discussion Terms & Conditions.