John Stanwix; Licensed Aircraft Engineer, Fixed Wing Pilot and Helicopter Pilot
Antarctica, Australia and Papua New Guinea 1960 - 1963
John Stanwix is a passionate aviator who flew helicopters in support of National Mapping field operations. He flew for Nat Map in the early 1960s and is one of only a few pilots who worked in all three areas where Nat Map undertook extensive field operations, namely in Australia, in Antarctica and in Papua New Guinea. John is also one of a fairly small group of Australian aviators who are qualified as pilots and licensed aircraft engineers on both fixed and rotary wing aircraft.
Early in his aviation career John qualified as a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer. Whether working as an engineer, a flying instructor, a helicopter pilot or later as a helicopter salesman, John Stanwix was seen as a man of great integrity.
Nat Mapper Kevin Burke who flew with John in Australia in 1962 recalled him as a quiet mannered unassuming all round nice guy and more particularly as a bloody good pilot. Nat Map surveyor Syd Kirkby flew with John in Antarctica in 1960-62 and recalled him as a true gentleman, easy going, friendly and fun to be with. Syd remembered that John also carried his responsibilities, as senior pilot with easy confidence and grace. As a helicopter pilot in Antarctica Syd believed that John did not push that last little edge of determination which tended to verge on foolhardiness like some other pilots did. At the time now over 50 years ago, Syd thought John’s carefulness was a slight diminishment but now realises that final edge of commitment is almost never needed and its exercise is excessively fraught to merit its regular use. In any case in Syd’s view John Stanwix certainly lacked nothing of courage and could very well have come up with the final commitment had it ever been necessary. In short, Syd said: the John Stanwix I worked with was one of the nicest, most decent blokes and best pilots I ever met.
John Elson Stanwix was born in Hobart, Tasmania on 6 September 1932. His parents were Jack and Rita Stanwix. Jack Stanwix was a watchmaker-jeweler who had premises in Hobart. The family home was at nearby Sandy Bay where John grew up. John attended the Alberu Street State School that had been established in 1853 on Battery Point opposite Anglesea Barracks. Later John attended Hobart Junior Technical School in Bathurst Street under headmaster Robert Hudspeth. In his final year John was one of 507 students enrolled at the school where Mr Hudspeth had been the founding headmaster in 1919. John was not a keen school student and ceased his formal school education at the age of 12 years after completing year 8 in 1944.
Marriage and children
On 13 February 1954, John’s engagement was announced to Ruve, eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs C Badenach. They married in 1955 and later had two sons. Sadly their marriage would later be strained by John’s long periods of working away from home and John and Ruve eventually went their separate ways. In 1977 John married Dale Lee and they later had two children; a boy and a girl.
Licensed aircraft engineer
John commenced training as a pilot under a scholarship at the Aero Club of Southern Tasmania. However, he later undertook an apprenticeship to become a licensed aircraft engineer and pursued this aspect of aviation for a few years.
With the McKenzie flying school
John still found some time to fly and by 1958 he was the chief flying instructor and manager of the McKenzie Flying School at Melbourne’s Moorabbin airport. This flying school had been founded in 1955 by Australian pioneer aviatrix Gertrude Josephine McKenzie (1904-1960) who was Mayor of the City of Mordialloc during 1958-59. The flying school had branches at Benalla and Shepparton. In 1961, after Mrs McKenzie’s death the flying school was sold to racing car driver Bill Patterson.
To Helicopter Utilities and helicopter conversion training with Lance Yeates
Also in 1958, John commenced flying for Helicopter Utilities Pty Ltd in Tasmania. (The company had been formed the previous year by Bill Williams and Peter Lloyd.) Another well known helicopter pilot, Pat Long, joined Helicopter Utilities at about the same time as John. In 1959, John was trained to fly a Hiller 12C helicopter by Lance Yeates at Queenstown on Tasmania’s west coast. Later that year, John moved to Darwin where Helicopter Utilities’ Bill Parry endorsed him to fly a Bell 47G-2 helicopter.
Soon after gaining his Bell 47G-2 endorsement, John Stanwix joined fellow Helicopter Utilities pilots Bill Parry and Pat Long at Mainoru station east of Katherine in the Northern Territory. Here the company had provided three helicopters to support a mapping survey by the Royal Australian Army Survey Corps. This survey continued for some five months and extended into Arnhem Land and the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
Flying in Antarctica
During the early 1960s, John Stanwix spent two summer seasons flying helicopters in support of Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions. Firstly, during the 1960-61 Antarctic summer season, John Stanwix with fellow pilot John Arthurson (a former RAAF fighter pilot in Korea) flew Helicopters Utilities’ Bell 47G-2 helicopters (VH-UTA and VH-UTB) in support of ANARE operations. They travelled south on the MV Magga Dan. The helicopter support included positioning in the field Nat Map surveyors Syd Kirkby who had wintered at Mawson and Dave Cook who was undertaking his second summer season in Antarctica. The Helicopter engineer was a Mr Marshall. There were 224 short helicopter sorties flown for a total of 34 flying hours.
During the 1961-62 summer season Helicopters Utilities’ Bell 47G-2 helicopters (VH-UTA and VH-UTB) again supported operations in Antarctica. During this season John Stanwix again flew with fellow pilot John Arthurson. They travelled south on the MV Thala Dan. The summer season surveyor was Nat Map’s Syd Kirkby who recalled the operations that season had achieved the first cracking of the extremely difficult Oates and Victoria Lands. However, Syd Kirkby noted that the 47G-2 helicopters were very marginal in the high terrain encountered and this led to the development of some highly innovative methods of taking off from high stations, namely shuffling the machine to the upwind side of mountains and hurling it over the edge and translating downward motion into airspeed and lift. Nevertheless, a total of 70 helicopter hours were flown in 329 sorties.
Recognition for Antarctic service
In recognition of this service during each of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions he flew with, John had topographic features named after him:
Stanwix Ridge is a partly ice-covered ridge extending to the south-west part of Davies Bay in Oates Land. It was first visited in March 1961 by an airborne field party from the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition on the MV Magga Dan led by Phillip Garth Law. This feature was named after John Stanwix, helicopter pilot with that expedition. Stanwix Ridge is located at 69 degrees 20 minutes south latitude and 158 degrees 23 minutes east longitude.
Stanwix Peak is a distinctive peak (2,240 metres) which surmounts the southern side of the head of Astapenko Glacier in the Bowers Mountains. The peak was used as a reference object by surveyor Syd Kirkby who was with the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (on the MV Thala Dan) in 1962. The feature was named by ANARE for John Stanwix, helicopter pilot with that expedition. Stanwix Peak is located at 70 degrees 43 minutes south latitude and 162 degrees 39 minutes east longitude.
Flying with National Mapping in South Australia
In the winter months of 1962, John flew a Helicopter Utilities Pty Ltd Bell 47G-2 helicopter (VH-UTD) to support a National Mapping field party led by senior surveyor Ted Seton. The field party carried out astro-fixes in an area around the former atomic test sites at Emu and Maralinga in South Australia, out past Voakes Hill junction to the Western Australia border and along the Trans Australian railway line. These precise astronomical observations were to establish survey control for the R502 series of 1:250,000 scale topographic maps. Other members of the field party included Kevin Burke, Neil Fenton, John Colquhoun, Alan Osborne and Terry Douglas. The helicopter also provided ad hoc support to a National Mapping geodetic traverse survey party led by senior surveyor OJ Bob Bobroff in this area.
Working in Darwin
In Darwin from late May to early June 1962, John took trained fixed pilot George Treatt through his conversion training to fly Helicopter Utilities helicopters. The aircraft used for this training was a Bell 47-2 helicopter (VH-UTA). George spent the next thirty years flying helicopters including with Nat Map in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Antarctica. George Treatt recalled that John took him through all the theory and flying requirements in just two weeks. Also in 1962, while based at Darwin John Stanwix became Helicopter Utilities’ chief pilot. His remuneration package included an allowance for use of his licensed aircraft engineer skills when no other licensed engineer was available.
Nat Map flying in Papua New Guinea
On 23 May 1963 John flew Nat Map supervising surveyor HA Bill Johnson and fellow Helicopter Utilities pilot John Arthurson from Port Moresby to the a survey mark on the summit of Mount Victoria that rises to 13,240 feet above sea level. The aircraft John flew was Helicopter Utilities Bell 47G-3-B1 turbo-charged helicopter (VH-UTJ) and it was the first flight of a helicopter in PNG with the capability to operate at such high altitudes. The flight was the start of Nat Map’s use of helicopters to carry out its part of the geodetic survey of Papua New Guinea which between 1963 and 1965 included the occupation of 31 mountains of which 22 rose to over 10,000 feet above sea level and of the remainder only one was less than 5,000 feet above sea level.
Later in 1963, John left Helicopter Utilities and spent the next five years with the then Ansett-ANA (whose main operational brand became Ansett Airlines of Australia in November 1968). For a brief period in 1968, John worked for Bankstown-based Associated Helicopters before resuming work with Ansett. During the time with Associated he taught his friend and fellow aircraft engineer Ron Newman to fly helicopters in a Hughes 300 aircraft during an intense two-week theory and flying training exercise from Camden airstrip.
Helicopter Sales (Australia) Pty Ltd.
After leaving Ansett, John became a director of Frank Sharpe’s Helicopter Sales (Australia) Pty Ltd. This company had the distributorship for Bell helicopters in Australia and John spent the next few years demonstrating and promoting Bell 47 helicopters in a range of applications including cattle musting, orchard spraying, police rescue and fire fighting.
To fulfil this role John travelled extensively to agricultural shows and field days around Australia. In December 1970, Helicopter Sales combined with Bell to form Bell Helicopter Australia Pty Ltd. Between December 1970 and June 1974, John was employed by Bell Helicopters as their senior sales demonstration pilot. Within the Bell structure, John became the chief pilot of a subsidiary company Helicopter Charter Pty Ltd. (John and fellow pilot Pat Long demonstrated the cattle mustering capabilities of Bell 47 helicopters during an extended tour to cattle properties across northern Australia in 1971.
Examiner of Airmen and move to Proserpine with Ansett
After his time with Bell Helicopter, John spent some two years with the Department of Transport as an Examiner of Airmen. (The former Department of Civil Aviation was incorporated into the Department of Transport in 1973.) Later he went back to work for Ansett Airlines of Australia. In his second stint with this company he was based at Proserpine, North Queensland. Here John flew Sikorsky helicopters to ferry passengers from the Whitsunday Coast airport to the Ansett owned resort on Hayman Island about 60 kilometres to the north-east. After Ansett sold its helicopter division, John continued with the company as a fixed wing pilot.
Hire service business
The work with Ansett from Proserpine left John with some spare time which he put to good use. With his wife Dale he established a hire service business on the Bruce Highway at Proserpine. The business hired out a range of tools and light and heavy equipment that was often used by customers in the building and construction industry. John and Dale were fortunate in the timing of their business start up as it was able to benefit from the new developments that took off on the Whitsunday Coast particularly at nearby Airlie Beach. As the business grew, they later established a branch at Cannonvale to service the Airlie Beach trade.
John eventually retired from aviation after leaving Ansett. He continued to live in Proserpine, where he and Dale ran their business for many years. The business has since been sold but John retained ownership of the property on which it operates. John and Dale still live in Proserpine and he continued to fly privately for many years. John maintains his passion for aviation. In June 2006, he became the registered owner of a 1947 model Auster J5A (VH-KSB).
John Elson Stanwix died peacefully on 25 April 2014 at age 81 years. John was survived by his wife Dale and by children Neville, Athol, Paul and Melissa and by step-children Ian, Karen and Allison. John's remains were privately cremated in Bowen.
Prepared by Laurie McLean in consultation with John Stanwix, 2013; updated October 2017.
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