|111. GOLDEN QUEST II the. VH-UGX.|
|"where the hell he got such a bottle-oh-looking thing".|
|Blakeley. Dream Millions. 128.|
The Golden Quest II was the second aircraft used by the Central Australian Gold Exploration Company in the search for Lasseter and his reef. The plane had a chequered and sometimes obscure career and was first registered to De Havilland Aircraft Pty Ltd on the 15th of March 1928 as a DH Single Seater, model 'X' Moth with British markings G-AUGX, constructors number 425 and powered by a Mk. II Cirrus engine. Phillip Lawrence Taylor, one of Australia's most competent ground engineers of the era, assembled the plane and carried out various modifications to increase the range and streamlining, adding a 50 gallon fuel tank to the front cockpit, "which is now completely cowled in, making M/c a single seater". The newly formed Civil Aviation Department, no doubt thankful that Taylor was responsible for the modifications, immediately issued Certificate of Registration No. 193. valid for twelve months.
Apparently the plane remained in De Havilland's hands and based at Essendon until the 9th of November 1928 when it was sold to D. G. Officer and O. B. (Pat) Hall, who intended to use the plane on the country 'joy flight' circuit. Of necessity the plane was converted to it's original dual seat configuration with a 19 gallon fuel tank and a Cirrus Mk II engine, No. 140 installed. there's an inference in the paperwork that this was not the original engine, but the modifications were to Civil Aviations satisfaction and G-AUGX was registered and certified airworthy from 14/11/28. A fortnight later Hall made a forced landing in a paddock at Orange, N.S.W. as a result of a broken piston. The port wing and the tip of the propeller were damaged in the landing and the passenger was unhurt. But the resulting accident report did alert Civil Aviation that Hall and Officer may be using the plane for other than private purposes and if so then "Certificates of Safety should be issued for each day on which such flights are carried out".
The aerial cowboys ignored Civil Aviations instructions, despite reminders, and only occasionally complied, citing difficult communications and doubtful whereabouts in country districts for late mail and later response, and future correspondence should be addressed to the Vacuum Oil Company in Melbourne. On the 1st of January 1930 Officer and Hall notified the authorities that VH-UGX, (now registered under the Australian registration system) had been sold to Hart Aircraft Services Pty Ltd. This Company applied to have the plane reregistered and certified airworthy on the 14th January, noting that these certificates had lapsed last November and the plane was now powered by a Cirrus Mk. II engine No.366, and this may explain the sale to Hart Aircraft, Officer and Hall could not afford a replacement engine after another mishap. In due course VH-UGX received the appropriate certificates valid from 28/01/30.
On August 21st 1930 the plane was sold to the Central Australian Gold Exploration Co. Ltd. as a replacement for the 'Golden Quest' that Coote had crashed at Ai Ai Creek a fortnight earlier. Registration and Airworthy certificates, subject to endorsement by Civil Aviation but valid for a year from the 26th of August 1930, noted that the plane was a DH 'X' type Moth with a Cirrus Mk. II engine, presumably No.366. With a fair dash of imagination the plane was named the 'Golden Quest II', and Pat Hall, a previous owner, was hired to fly the plane to Alice Springs.
While waiting for Coote to recuperate, Hall took the opportunity to fly Father Long to Loves Creek, when taking off some slight damage was done to the struts and the petrol tank, fortunately speedy repairs were carried out by sleeving the damaged struts with spares taken from the wrecked VH-UMR. Hall and Coote, arrived at Illbilla on the 2nd of September to a cool reception from Fred Blakeley, who thought "it looked dirty, scaly and scabby: it had not had a coat of paint for years". Coote noted that the plane only had a range of 350 miles, "which meant that we would have nothing to spare in reaching Illbilla", when Hall checked the fuel tank there was less than a gallon left.
The pilots conferred and decided the plane had insufficient range for aerial exploration in central Australia and a larger fuel tank should be fitted to the front cockpit, and as extra speed meant greater range, then the Gypsy engine from the crashed Golden Quest should be installed in the Golden Quest II. After a reconnaissance with Lasseter aboard the following day, the plane would be flown to Adelaide to have the necessary modifications carried out, which prompted Blakeley to ask the perfectly obvious question as to why the plane had not been flown to Adelaide for this work in the first instance. There was no satisfactory answer, and one would have thought the flight from Sydney to Alice Springs would be sufficient to indicate the plane's limited range. Next morning Hall and Lasseter flew to the south west of Illbilla and were away for approximately two hours, Lasseter returned with his Lake Christopher yarn for Coote's ears only.
Coote and Hall returned to Alice Springs, on their way to Adelaide, where they arrived on the 6th of September, the plane was handed over to Horrie Miller for modifications, he thought the work would take about a week, if the necessary spares arrived from Sydney on time. And the story of those modifications makes a very shady tale indeed. in his book 'Hell's Airport', and in correspondence to Civil Aviation, Coote makes several pointed references to having the more powerful Gypsy engine, No.593, from the wrecked Golden Quest installed in the replacement plane and this was the main reason for returning to Adelaide.
According to Coote, on arrival in Adelaide the plane was delivered to Horrie Miller at Parafield aerodrome for the necessary modifications, yet there is no record of this work being carried out by Miller at this time, and there's a sense of administrative obfuscation on the part of Coote and Ernest Bailey in complying with the directions and correspondence from Civil Aviation. the reasons for avoiding officialdom are obscure but may have a lot to do with Coote's "private information" that Fred Blakeley accused him of harbouring.
For many years Adelaide had been the administrative and financial base for numerous inland expeditions in the search for gold. Earle's 'Cave of Gold' had it's genesis in the city and Michael Terry's Endeavour Company was based there, as well as Herbert Basedow, Larry Wells...and Lasseter's sister, there may have been several sound reasons for Coote to visit Adelaide other than aircraft repairs. Besides the wrecked Golden Quest with it's severely damaged engine did not arrive in Adelaide until mid October.
Coote set off on the return to Alice Springs on 19/09/30 and immediately encountered problems with the allegedly modified aircraft, north of Port Augusta the plane developed a severe fuel leak in the newly installed 25 gallon fuel tank, petrol fumes and carbon monoxide from the shortened exhaust made for a very groggy pilot, when he arrived in Marree he was "violently ill". Repairs to the fuel tank caused a days delay and with further delays in Oodnadatta due to bad weather Coote did not arrive in Alice Springs until 24/09/30. There were several days idleness waiting for the expedition to return from Illbilla and for Blakeley and Sutherland to inspect Simon Rieff's gold show, and while waiting, the plane suffered yet another mishap, although securely pegged down at the aerodrome "A willy-willy had caught it and hurled it on it's nose thirty feet away ~ the engine bearers were smashed beyond repair".
Fortunately Phillip Taylor was still in town, and with a piece of Oregon timber purchased from an Afghan he was able to manufacture a replacement bearer as sound as the original, "in fact stronger, as when I was leaving Adelaide, Horry Miller had cautioned me not to make a heavy landing, or I would run the risk of the engine dropping out; the engine bearers were so old and perforated with screw holes". So leaking fuel tanks, misdirected exhausts and weakened engine bearers causes one to think that competent aircraftman Horrie Miller never laid a hand on the Golden Quest II, but it would not be the first time Coote had taken another's name in vain or created red herrings to cover other agendas.
After much procrastination Coote finally took off for Ayers Rock where he intended to set up a base and continue the search for Lasseter. When landing on a rough grassy plain about five miles south west of the rock on 28/09/30, a stick flew into the propeller, severely damaging one tip of the blade, grounding the aircraft until Phillip Taylor arrived and carried out repairs. Taylor's repairs were a measure of his ingenuity, the shattered tip was sheathed in thin metal from a fuel tin and the sound blade balanced by inserting short lengths of wire and a bolt in the boss. The temporary repairs were sufficient to allow Coote to return to Alice Springs but not much further.
Coote received bad news when he returned to Alice Springs on 8/11/30, the Company had sacked him for the safety of the citizenry and his own sake and the reputation of C.A.G.E. He was ordered to return to Sydney immediately, when he attempted to fly to Adelaide the following day, the vibrating propeller caused the carburettor to malfunction and the plane to gradually lose speed. Coote was forced to return to Alice Springs and order a new propeller from Adelaide. In due course Coote was underway and returned to Sydney on 20/11/30.
Meanwhile a paper trail of confusion ensured between Civil Aviation, Hart Aircraft and C.A.G.E. regarding Airworthiness and Registration certificates for VH-UGX, a remarkably similar circumstance had occurred with the purchase and transfer of the Golden Quest VH-UMR. And with a very nice sense of timing, Ern Bailey, the Company Secretary, wrote to the authorities on 19/09/30, the day Coote left Adelaide for Alice Springs, informing them that the missing papers were with the log book of the Golden Quest II. Coote deigned to reply to Civil Aviation on 7/10/30, six weeks after the plane was purchased and mentioned that, "The machine is no longer an X type Moth, having had the Gypsy engine from VH-UMR installed". This has been done to give the machine greater power and speed in a country where it is badly needed, and immediately the job is completed, the old Mark II Cirrus engine will be reinstalled, and the Gypsy engine be placed in VH-UMR, now being repaired in Adelaide."
The Golden Quest II began another round of Centralian adventures in mid December 1930 at the hands of Leslie Pittendrigh as pilot and S. J. Hamre as passenger when they force landed the plane about thirty miles north west of Haasts Bluff on 20/12/30. Pittendrigh had been commissioned by C.A.G.E. to fly Hamre to Illbilla and with Taylor, continue the search for Lasseter. Pittendrigh apparently made few preparations for this journey, travelling without maps and adequate supplies, he failed to locate Illbilla after five hours flying, possibly mistaking Mount Russell for the Ehrenbergs. Both men were forced to walk some thirty miles through rough country until they arrived at a waterhole on the Dashwood Creek where they eked out a precarious existence until rescued on 11/01/31. In his undated accident report on the incident Pittendrigh stated that Horrie Miller had worked on the plane on 16/12/30, perhaps Miller had installed the engine from VH-UMR. The abandoned plane was relocated by Taylor on the 24th, dismantled and loaded onto Fred Colson's truck minus the tail plane and hauled into Alice Springs, the tail plane was recovered the following week and Taylor had the plane reassembled by the 1st of February and stored in Windles garage, waiting for R. T. Cropley to fly the plane to Sydney for reconditioning.
By this time the plane's airworthiness certificate had lapsed, placing C.A.G.E. in an awkward position, there being no 'B' class ground engineer in Alice Springs to sign the necessary paperwork. Despite the usual warning from Civil Aviation that "the aircraft should not be flown contrary to the provisions of the Air navigation Regulations", the next communication from Ernest Bailey on the 8th of May 1931 informed the authorities that the plane had been sold to Adastra Airways Ltd, and significantly "the Cirrus engine with which the machine was fitted had been replaced by a mark 1 Gypsy engine". Bailey and C.A.G.E. again blatantly ignoring regulations by stating in writing that the plane had been flown to Sydney and unauthorised modifications carried out.
The plane was reregistered to Adastra Airways from 25/05/31 with the papers clearly showing a Mk. II Cirrus engine as the power plant, but the airworthiness certificate took somewhat longer to complete and the Aircraft Inspection Report dated 26/07/31 finally makes a specific mention of the Gypsy engine number 593. from the Golden Quest, VH-UMR, the engine was undergoing an extensive overhaul, apparently work was completed by the end of the month and passed by Aircraft Inspector Johnson, although he did mention that the Gypsy engine had been installed in South Australia. Depending on how one interprets a remarkably obscure record, The Golden Quest II either had three engine changes in less than a year...or none.
The following month the plane was sold to Norman Weir and after extensive modifications he intended to fly the plane to England, he also renamed the plane 'Edith', after his mother. Weir left Darwin on the 6th of June 1932, by now an experienced pilot and very well prepared for the journey, that unfortunately ended at Karachi in early July due to serious illness, plane and pilot returned to Australia by ship. In April 1933 Weir had the plane overhauled including the installation of a Gypsy Mk. II engine and in December sold VH-UGX to Derek Rawnsley who had the plane registered from 02/01/34. Rawnsley too had plans to fly to England, but not before one more serious incident. At Hay in New South Wales on 22/01/34, "Landing in the dark on strange aerodrome m/c bumped hard and the second landing was from approx. 30 ft. high." Extensive repairs and yet another overhaul were completed by the end of the month and Rawnsley was underway.
Rawnsley's return to England was an unhurried journey of 12,000 miles, leaving Darwin on the 7th of February and arriving in Lympne on the 22nd of April. The plane was struck off the Australian Register in July and reregistered as G-ACXF, hopefully quieter times and softer landing grounds were the plane's lot thereafter. Rawnsley sold the plane to Mr. Ian Scott in 1935 who in turn sold to Mr. Reginald J. Bunning in August 1938. The Golden Quest II finished her days with a short military career, being impressed into service in August 1942 and allotted the serial number HM582. The plane was struck of the United Kingdom Civil Aircraft Register in December and broken up for spare parts, the final act being struck off the Military Register in July 1943.
© R.Ross. 1999-2006