A Barellan farmer is saving vintage aircraft from the scrap heap to establish an aviation museum in his paddock.
Robert Walker rescued a De Haviland Dove and Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer from the defunct Australian Aviation Museum at Bankstown, to join his on-farm collection which boasts a Clancy Sky Baby monoplane once flown by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.
Transporting the huge planes proved a major logistical task with a film crew from “Outback Truckers” capturing the long haul of the Pioneer’s fuselage to the Walker’s farm, Whispering Pines, in March.
A qualified mechanic, Robert’s love of planes was encouraged by his father from an early age. He has converted a portion of the farm’s old stables into Walker’s Aviation Museum.
“I started off with plastic aeroplanes, moved on to free flights and control-line aircraft then radio control,” he said. “This was followed by the real ones which are a bit more expensive to play with.
“I have been collecting for many years and it’s no good leaving things in a cupboard. Some model planes here are 50 years old or more.”
Rare items include a Wenmac fitted with a plastic gasoline engine, Aeroflyte kits and old radio sets by Futaba and Orbit.
Robert and his wife Betina host bus tours to the aviation museum and their value-add flour mill enterprise.
When the Australian Aviation Museum closed, Robert and his mate Randall Crowley worked to rehome several aircraft at Barellan. At that stage, the collection comprised aircraft including a 1963 Cessna 172D, a replica Spitfire and the Clancy Sky Baby, reputedly flown by pioneer aviator Charles Kingsford Smith.
Robert said the Clancy Skybaby had been bought from Mascot by two Narran-dera brothers but tragically they were killed in an accident. He said Narandera aircraft engineer George Louie had the Skybaby mounted on the wall of his business. When George retired, he gave the aircraft to Robert who is now restoring the timber frame using spruce milled at Beechworth, following the original plans.
“The plane is pretty primitive – the fuel gauge is a cork on the end of a bicycle spoke,’’ he said. “In those days, they used what they had – a Henderson motorcycle originally powered the plane.’’
In 1931, brothers Jack, Allan and Bill Clancy had no previous flying experience but built a small parasole mono-plane at Sydney and it is now housed in the Powerhouse Museum.
“I also have the last aircraft the Clancy Bros built, the one-off ultralight Clancy II,’’ Robert said. “This has no struts at all, it is held together with cables, and the ribs are timber.’’
The British designed and built de Havilland Dove dates back to 1954 and was used by the Australian Navy while the Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer was used for freight runs from Bankstown to Tasmania. The Pioneer was also used by the Malaysian Airforce for the early part of its life.
It took Robert two months to dismantle the planes ready for transportation to Barellan.
“Once the planes are reassembled, I will have plaques with information detailing the history of each one,’’ he said. “I’ve always had a dream of having an aviation museum – these planes would have been cut up for scrap otherwise.
“The time and effort getting them here was enormous, there was thousands of rivets we had to cut. The best thing that has happened to these planes is getting away from the coastal salt air to Barellan. They will be treated with a preservative oil, and the wings and tails reattached.
“I am hoping down the track I can access sponsorship or funding to put up a shed to preserve the collection.’’
Other aircraft on display include a replica SE5A, 1956 Cessna 172 , the first to be registered in Australia, an early Australian built Winton Jackaroo ultralight, Wheeler Scout and Wheeler Tweetie hang gliders and a Beechcraft which competed in the England to Australia air race. The Beechcraft ended up ditched in the Moruya River while taking off from Moruya airport in 1994 after engine failure.
Aerocare Agricultural Aerial Services, Griffith, have donated a radial engine to the museum. Aside from planes, Robert has also collected an old steam traction engine, vintage tractors, Jaguar, Holden and Peugot motor cars, an Austin Healy Sprite, and two door Mercedes Coupe.
“I never smoked, never drank much – I put it all into my hobby,” Robert said. “My favourite plane is the Spitfire – I love them – and the Dove.”
Once restored, the Dove will carry the name of airline operator and Robert’s mentor Laurie Crowley.