Vic Barkell; Helicopter Pilot

Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia and Antarctica

1969 - 1989

Vic Barkell was an outstanding helicopter pilot who flew Hughes 500 aircraft in support of National Mapping operations in remote areas of Australia between 1969 and 1974.† Vic also supported Nat Map field staff on numerous Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions during the 1970s.† Vic Barkell had exceptional skills as a pilot and handled his aircraft well.† He was also a very competent navigator.† Vic was an outgoing person who was well liked by Nat Map party leaders and party members.† He fitted in easily around the survey camps but could be a heavy user of firewood!

Victor George Barkell was born on 23 November 1925 at Yenda near Griffith in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation area of New South Wales.† At the height of World War II, Vic joined the Royal Australian Air Force in Sydney on 4 December 1943; a few days after his 18th birthday.† According to Ray Dousset (once one of Vicís trainee pilots), Vic trained as a pilot on Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft and later flew Mustang fighters as a member of 76 Squadron RAAF that was part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan.

RAAF Service in Korea

After his return to Australia, Vic undertook a flying instructorís course with the RAAF and gained further flying experience.† He also saw further service in Japan. †Hostilities in the Korean War formally ceased in July 1953.† Nevertheless, between December 1953 and September 1954, Vic was on active service as a pilot with the rank of Flying Officer in No 77 (Fighter) Squadron RAAF, based at Kimpo in South Korea.† Here Vic flew twin turbojet engine Gloster Meteor fighters. †No 77 Squadron returned to the RAAFís Williamtown base in November 1954.

Back in Australia

In Australia, Vic had to deal with some tricky aircraft situations.† One was at Williamtown on 29 October 1953; it involved the single seat turbojet DeHavilland FB.31 Vampire fighter bomber A79-440.† Although a report on the exact nature of the incident hasnít yet come to hand, it seems that Vic managed it fairly well.† The aircraft survived and later spent many years on static display outside the entrance to the RAAF base at Amberley, Queensland.

In mid 1956, Vic managed to safely recover when his Sabre jet fighter A94-929 was damaged by a ricochet strike while practicing air-to-ground gunnery on Salt Ash Range north-east of the Williamtown base.† On 27 November 1956, Vicís Sabre A94-935 suffered an engine stall and flame out south-west of Singleton.† With the flying skill that Nat Mappers would later come to appreciate, Vic managed a wheels-down landing on the abandoned Bulga strip.† The aircraft suffered major damage but was later rebuilt by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation at Fishermanís Bend.

From Nat Map staff conversations with him, Vic spent some time with the RAAFís Aircraft Research and Development Unit at Edinburgh, South Australia; probably in the early 1960s but the exact timing is unclear.† On 1 January 1967, Vic who then held the rank of Flight Lieutenant was awarded the Air Force Cross for his devotion to duty as a flying instructor.† On his 42nd birthday (23 November 1967), Vic retired from the RAAF after nearly 24 years of distinguished service.† During his RAAF service, Vic had logged some 6,100 flying hours on 14 aeroplane and three helicopter types.

Commercial Aviation

Vicís RAAF service was followed by a career in commercial aviation that was to span over two decades; during this time he was to log a further 10,000 hours on nine helicopter types.† In commercial aviation, Vic was employed by Jayrow Helicopters Pty Ltd based at Melbourneís Moorabbin airport and Vowell Air Services (Helicopters Pty Ltd) based at Tyabb.† From 1970 to 1974, Vic flew Hughes 500 helicopters in support of National Mappingís Aerodist ground marking and measuring parties.

National Mapping Aerodist Measuring and Ground Marking Surveys 1970

In 1970, Vic drew the desert straw and supported Nat Mapís Aerodist measuring party in the Simpson Desert and the Aerodist ground marking party in the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts.† Flying a Jayrow Hughes 500 (VH-BLO) out of Bedourie, Birdsville and camps on the eastern and northern fringes of the Simpson, Vic quickly demonstrated his ability to get the job done by often pushing the boundary of last light (when flying under visual flight rules had to cease).† On one occasion he pushed it too far and had to spend a frosty winter night alone beside a claypan in the desert with only the aircraftís emergency kit to sustain him.† Although he didnít say much about it, the night could not have been very pleasant.† But he more or less indicated just how cold it had been when spending the next night at the helicopter support camp between the sandhills to the west of Glengyle homestead. †Here Vic kept the camp fire stoked up to such a blaze all others had to keep well back and most of a weekís wood supply was exhausted in that single night!† Later in 1970, Vic flew Jayrowís Hughes 500 VH-SFS in support of a Nat Map Aerodist ground marking party working in Western Australia.

National Mapping Aerodist Survey 1972

In 1972, Vic was back in the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts supporting Nat Mapís Aerodist measuring party. †With this desert terrain supplementing his earlier Nat Map desert experiences, Vic once indicated that his Nat Map flying was essentially an exercise in navigation. †Nevertheless, towards the end of July 1972 and aided by the inexperienced Nat Map remote unit party on board, Vic managed to set them down at the wrong geodetic survey station along the Gunbarrel Highway well to the east of Carnegie homestead.

National Mapping Aerodist Survey 1974

During 1974, Vic supported Natmapís Aerodist measuring party in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.† On the morning of 24 October 1974, Vic was ferrying an Aerodist remote party comprising Bob Smith and Barry Wright north-west from a helicopter camp on Kimberley Downs east of Derby.† Near Oobagooma when cruising at around 5,000 feet Vicís heavily loaded Hughes 500 (VH-SFS) lost a tail rotor.† The terrain was fairly rocky and covered with scattered tall timber.† Vic skilfully managed to keep the aircraft flying and wash off most of its height and forward speed before bringing it down in a tight clearing.† Although the heavy landing badly damaged the aircraft, there were no serious injuries and the three persons on board managed to walk away.

Flying in Antarctica

As well as supporting National Mapping in Australia, Vic also gave exemplary service to numerous Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions.† Initially Vic flew in Antarctica with Jayrow Helicopters (1970-1974) and from 1975 he flew with Vowell Air Services (Helicopters) Pty Ltd.† Part of Vicís ANARE work was to position Nat Map surveyors and technical officers into the field.† From 1970 to 1989 he supported some 15 separate expeditions and logged some 2,000 flying hours flying single engine turbojet helicopters such as the Hughes 500 and the Bell 206 Jet Ranger.† Listed below are some of the Antarctic expeditions that Vic was known to be involved with; this list is not complete.

1970-71 Antarctic season

For the 1970-71 ANARE summer season expedition Vic, together with fellow Jayrow pilots Cliff Dohle and Howard Bosse, supported operations with Hughes 500 helicopters (VH-BLN, VH-BLO and VH-SFS).† The pilots were supported by helicopter engineers Dave King and Eckhardt Schneider. †The ANARE operations included positioning the Prince Charles Mountains survey party of Nat Mappers John Manning, Norm Edwards and John Ely. †The expedition departed Melbourne on the MV Nella Dan on 12 December 1970.† Helicopter flying was undertaken from 28 December 1970 and a total of over 282 helicopter hours was flown.†

Heard Island Rescue 1971

In February 1971, Vic was involved in the dramatic Heard Island rescue of Ian Holmes, a field assistant with a French-Australian expedition that was placed on the island by the MV Gallieni.† On 10 February, Holmes had fallen down a crevasse on Gotley Glacier and broken a leg.† To rescue him, the MV Nella Dan had to proceed at full speed from Davis to Mawson base, collect Vic, fellow pilot Cliff Dohle and engineer Eckhardt Schneider as well as two Hughes 500 helicopters and go on to Heard Island; a distance of around 3,000km.† Ian Holmes was trapped in a tent on the glacier for some 11 days.† On 21 February, he was winched out of the crevasse by Eckhardt Schneider from Cliff Dohleís hovering helicopter (VH-BLN).† The winch was a makeshift device that prevented access to the aircraft cabin.† Holmes was then carried under Cliffís aircraft to a safe landing area where he was transferred to Vicís aircraft (VH-BLO).† Thanks to this extraordinary rescue effort Ian Holmes was safely returned to Australia via Mawson base on the MV Nella Dan.†

1971-72 Antarctic season

The 1971-72 summer survey party in Prince Charles Mountains comprised Nat Mappers John Manning, Eddy Burke, Mick Skinner and Andrew Greenall.† These Nat Mappers and aircraft support travelled south on the MV Nella Dan.† Three Hughes 500 369HS helicopters were provided by Jayrow Helicopters, namely: VH-BLN, VH-BLO and VH-SFS.† The helicopters were based at Mt Cresswell and flew a total of 543 hours in 791 sorties. †The helicopter pilots were Peter Clemence (chief pilot), Vic Barkell and Ron Newman (pilot/engineer).† The helicopter engineers were Eckhardt Schneider and Jim Marsh.† Vic Barkell also did about 10 hours of relief flying in Forrester Stephenís Pilatus Porter fixed wing aircraft (VH-FSB) during 6-11 January 1972 as veteran pilot Doug Leckie had become unwell after contracting a virus on the voyage south.†

1972-73 Antarctic season

For the 1972-73 summer expedition, three Hughes 500 helicopters (VH-CHD, VH-CHK and VH-SFS) were provided by Jayrow Helicopters.† The aircraft and expeditioners travelled south on the MV Nella Dan that left Melbourne for Mawson on 7 December 1972.† All aircraft flew their operations from a base camp at Mt Cresswell in the southern Prince Charles Mountains.† The survey party comprised Nat Mappers John Manning, Simon Cowling and Reg Helmore.† Between 20 December 1972 and 23 February 1973 a total of nearly 462 helicopter hours was flown in 795 sorties.† The helicopter pilots were Vic Barkell, Terry Ellis and John Bicton.† The helicopter engineers were: Peter Smart and Terry Gadsen.

1973-74 Antarctic season

The 1973-74 ANARE summer season expedition was supported by three Hughes 500 369HS helicopters provided by Jayrow Helicopters Pty Ltd (VH-CHD, VH-CHK and VH-SFS).† All aircraft were taken to Mawson on the MV Nella Dan.† That summerís survey party comprised Nat Mappers John Manning, Andrew Turk, Terry Mulholland and Geoff Wood.† The helicopter pilots were Ron Newman (pilot/engineer), Gerry Leatham and Vic Barkell (who was incapacitated on 12 January 1974 after he fell at the base camp at Mt Cresswell in the southern Prince Charles Mountains when inspecting the rotor head of his helicopter and broke an ankle).† With Vic incapacitated ANARE aviation officer Col Scott did a limited amount of helicopter flying.† The helicopter engineers were Dave King and Jim Marsh.

One of the Jayrow helicopters (VH-CHK) crashed on Burke Ridge when a skid caught as the relatively inexperienced relief pilot tried to move the aircraft to the right along the ridge in the face of a severe updraught.† The aircraft tumbled over the ridge on to rocks but did not catch fire.† Nat Map surveyor Andrew Turk and the pilot Col Scott, the only persons on board, were slightly injured.† The aircraft was destroyed.

Early 1975-Relief of Casey Station

For the annual relief of Casey station in early 1975, Jayrow Helicopters provided an Aerospatiale Alouette III (VH-BLP) and a Hughes 300 (VH-GMD).† The helicopter pilots were Vic Barkell and Keith Kelly and the helicopter engineer was Dave King.† The relief expedition travelled south in the MV Thala Dan.† The Alouette flew 12 hours 18 minutes in 61 sorties and the Hughes aircraft that was there as a backup did no flying.

1975-76 Antarctic season

The 1975-76 ANARE summer season was supported by three Hughes 500 369HS helicopters (VH-BAD, VH-BAG and VH-PMY) that were provided by Vowell Air Services (Helicopters) Pty Ltd. †The expedition travelled on the MV Nella Dan that departed Melbourne on 8 December 1975 and returned on 9 March 1976. †Vic Barkell who became Vowellís Chief Pilot, John Sonneveld and Ross Hutchinson were the helicopter pilots.† The helicopter engineers were Kevin Gibson and Stefan Berson.† The helicopters flew a total of 528 hours in 819 sorties.† The summer survey party comprised Nat Mappers John Manning, Carl McMaster, Oz Ertok, Mick Morgan and Andrew Greenall.† This party surveyed in Enderby Land from a field base at Mount King.†

1976-77 Antarctic season

For the 1976-77 season Vowell Air Services (Helicopters) Pty Ltd provided three Hughes 500 369 HS helicopters (VH-BAD, VH-BAG and VH-PMY) to support ANARE summer operations based from Mount King in Enderby Land.† The aircraft travelled south on the MV Nella Dan.The helicopters flew some 1,036 sorties for the season with a total of 626.05 flying hours.† The helicopter pilots were Vic Barkell, Brian Miller and Bill English (Vowell Air Services manager).† The helicopter engineers were Jim Robertson and Steve Jacobs.

Early 1978-Relief of Casey Station

Vowell Air Services (Helicopters) Pty Ltd provided two Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopters (VH-FJC and VH-PMR) for the annual relief of Casey station.† This expedition departed Melbourne on the MV Thala Dan on 10 January 1978.† Before reaching Casey the Thala Dan called at Commonwealth Bay on 18 January where stores and people were landed for urgent maintenance work on Mawsonís Hut.† (Some 12 hours and 45 minutes of helicopter flying were involved with that task in 41 sorties.)† The Thala Dan then proceeded with the Casey relief.† Vic Barkell was accompanied by fellow pilot Steve Jacobs (a former Vowells engineer).† The helicopter engineer was: J Taylor.† The Thala Dan returned via Macquarie Island and berthed back at Melbourne on 13 February 1978.† The total of 61 hours and 19 minutes of helicopter flying was done in 259 sorties.

1978-79 Antarctic season

This expedition departed Melbourne in the MV Nella Dan on 7 December 1978 and returned to Melbourne on 10 March 1979.† Vowell Air Services (Helicopters) Pty Ltd provided three Hughes 500 369 HS helicopters (VH-BAD, VH-BAG and VH-EQJ).† As well as Vic Barkell, the helicopter pilots were Mike McCallie and Gordon Nezick.† The helicopter engineers were Kevin Gibson and Ray Buller.† The helicopters flew a total of 474.85 hours in 1,320 sorties.† The seasonís flying included support for Nat Map surveyor Brian Murphy who made extensive summer season surveys in the Vestfold Hills including Doppler fixes, a Tellurometer survey, heighting by reciprocal vertical angles and a site survey of the Davis Station.†

Polar Medal

On 4 September 1979, Vic was awarded the Polar Medal-Silver for his outstanding service to Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions to 1978 as a pilot at Casey base.

Vicís 1988-89 Antarctic season

In what was to be Vicís final season as a helicopter pilot in Antarctica, during 1988-89, he flew an Australian registered Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter in support of the firth Chinese Antarctic Expedition.† In February 1989, that expedition established the permanent Zhongshan Station on Prydz Bay in the Larsemann Hills area of Princes Elizabeth Land in East Antarctica.† The station was named for Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) (1866-1925) the revolutionary founder of the Republic of China.†


While his Nat Map and ANARE flying were by no means Vicís only commercial aviation work, it has been the focus of this article.† Sadly in 1989, Vic suffered a stroke that was to end his 46-year flying career.† Vic Barkell died on 16 August 1995 at the age of 69 years.


Prepared by Laurie McLean, 2013 with minor revision in July 2016.



Anonymous (1987), The Antarctic and Australian Aviation, article in Aurora ANARE Club Journal, Volume 7, No 1, September 1987, pp 26‑29, ANARE Club Melbourne.

Anonymous (undated), ADF Aircraft Serial Numbers A78, A79 and N6 de Havilland DH/100-DH/115 RAAF/RAN Vampire, accessed at


Anonymous (undated), ADF Aircraft Serial Numbers A94-RAAF Sabre Mk30/31/32 CAC CA-26/CA-27, accessed at


Anonymous (undated), A79 DHA Vampire on RAAF Museum Pont Cook web site, accessed at


Anonymous (undated), No 77 Squadronís History, accessed at:


Australian Government (undated), web search on Itís an Honour database for Victor Barkell, accessed at:


Budd, Graeme M (2006), Exploration of Heard Island Between 1947 and 1971, Antarctic and Southern Ocean Law and Policy Occasional Paper 10: 1-65 (2006).† School of Law, University of Tasmania, accessed at:

Department of Veteransí Affairs, (2013) Victor George Barkell World War Two and Korean War Service Records, accessed from Department of Veteransí Affairs web site at:


Dousset, Raymond Allan (2007), Rotor in the Green, Xulon Press, Maitland, Florida, USA, ISBN 9781602663169.


Ely, John Herbert (2013), Recollections of the 1970-71 ANARE summer season as retold in personal communications in February-March 2013.

McMaster, CG (1980), National Mapping Aerodist Program, Natmap, Department of National Development and Energy, Technical Report 27, Canberra, ISBN 0 642 51459 3.

National Archives of Australia (undated), Victor George Barkell Vampire and Sabre Incidents and Sabre Accident, listed at Series 705, Control Symbols 32/31/594, 32/35/80, 32/35/35, Item Barcodes 1096222, 1104552 and 3199371.† (Listings only, detailed reports not on line as of 16 February 2013.) Accessed at: