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The Thirty-Year-Old Dragon

Question? "Mr. Nixon, aren't you worried flying that 30-year-old fabric-and-wood plane around in the bad weather?"

Reply: "Ah no, mate. You see, when the weather gets rough, the termites hold hands!"

In 1993, looking over exhibits at the Museum of Flight, East Fortune Airfield in Scotland, Richard Parke was astonished to read the sign next to a DeHavilland Dragon which explained that this particular plane was flown by Les Nixon between 1961-75 from Darwin to Perth and Portland to Derby, in far-away Australia. Maps showed where. It takes up 10% of the museum space and 60% of the patrons attention.

That's Outback Patrol's first plane and that's where it is now resting and that's where Richard Parke found it. "On the fuselage were the letters VH-SNB", Richard's card said. "Of all the people in the museum that day who,except myself, would have known who Les Nixon and Outback Patrol are? I got excited and told the curator I know you. He wanted to hear about the plane that launched Outback Patrol, and how it got there. And I was the one to tell him."

While scanning these photos, Steve was touched by the personal note written to the children at home with their Grand Parents. It gives us a peek into the personal life of Les and Martha, who chose to dedicate their lives to serve the people of outback Australia.

Richard Parke was talking about the training plane built at Bankstown Airport in Sydney, as a WWII RAAF aircraft, and after the war, flown around Darwin and the Northern Territory for the Flying Doctor. Then, 1955 it was sold privately, and came to Outback Patrol in 1961. We used it until 1975. After that, it went to a British museum and later, sold at auction. Until this letter, we thought it had died!

Ah, that old wood-and-fabric twin engine bi-plane would tell many a tale if only it could talk. Like carrying patients into Darwin during it's days with the Aerial Medical Service. It appeared in a couple of famous movies in the 50's too, including A Place Like Alice. And is a feature of today's RFDS promotional films. It's a star. And what yarns it would spin of the music floating forth from trombones, accordions, guitars and singers at 500 metres above the desert, when enthusiastic volunteers climbed on board for the first patrols outback.

 

At Birdsville one time, so says Richie Gunston, the townsfolks were outnumbered by the local dogs who loved his country and western singing too, and let out howls of yelping, and joined in with him when he yodelled. And of the Boy Scouts who rode it for joy flights at Bankstown. And the families in Victorian towns who travelled in it to tell the story of it's Gospel work outback.

Well, about the rough weather at Mt. Isa in the 70's too, and that dainty little grey-haried old lady who seemed awfully troubled that the wood and fabric plane, held by chewing gum, would fall apart in the turbulence. You know, she really believed it, and so did the wings. And the nail biting dust storms that simply convected from the Bulloo overflow near Tibooburra, upwards to 12,000 ft without a moments warning, catching the old girl in the middle, both engines gasping in that thick dust and mixing it with avgas. And yet, she struggled on at treetop level, until she found a road, a hundred metres visibility, a cattle station, a strip till the storm passed by. Well, they're her stories, and she's sticking to them.

And the first night flights in the 60's, when dark descended, too late to turn back to arrive over a darkened strip with car lights picking out the first 100 mts of the runway. Nail biting stuff, it is.... But best of all, the gales of laughter and rejoicing with enthusiastic teams coming home from a week inland with reports of families of people who'd been introduced to the Lord Jesus Christ—and given the opportunity of choosing the Way of Eternal Life—just because an old wartime plane, overlooked by the flying fraternity and headed for the scrap heap—but resurrected long enough (twelve years) to open up the work of Outback Patrol. How many individuals bowed under it's wings to protect them from the burning summer sun—and perhaps—save some from evils destructive sin?

No one kept count....

 

But Mel and Richie remember? Wanaaring, NSW. Way out west. Mid-summer. Parked overnight. Team camp. The Dragon. Midnight. Car lights penetrated through the bush; someone's coming. Turned out to be Bruno the Builder, renovating the old Wanaaring Hotel, heard our music in town, watched the men share the Gospel, and wondered? So, after a beer, he considered driving out to the plane to talk it over. The Dragon heard it all.

Questions. Replies. Philosophy. Scripture. Answers. Commitment. Bruno prayed next to the camp fire, steaming mug of tea in hand and Mel kneeling with him in prayer. Week later, he drove out to the Broken Hill airport when he knew the men were coming, invited them to his home to review the situation, and declare his new faith in Jesus Christ.

 

"Puff was SNB's kid-sister, now at Drage's Museum at Wangaratta Airport, Victoria."

Now, the Dragon rests peacefully in a Scottish Museum, surrounded by relics of early flying days. Bush rocks, scrub and sand, a Kangaroo eyeing the pilot and passenger models standing a the door. It's OOOo'd and Aaaaa'd over by gawking visitors and inquisitive school-children who can only imagine what it was like to be part of pioneering days in the land that's as big as Europe—with good people who live in places that are drier than a desert, for families who live in some of the most remote places on earth.

 
   Outback Patrol's first plane
 
Pilots will appreciate this picture*

*Pilots will appreciate this picture ... Not everybody can claim the skill to wheel a large tail dragger on, modern pilots trained with "Nose Wheel Aircraft" are particularly impressed.

It wasn't all glory though, if you meet Les ask him to tell you about the flat tire at Tibooburra ... maybe I can talk him into writing it up for the pilots story page!

"Progress always involves risk.You can't steal second base with your foot on home plate.

 
   
         
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