Eventually I was back at Funafuti airport waiting for the plane to Suva, which is the capital of Fiji.
Large international airlines use Nadi, but as my aircraft would be a propeller aircraft our destination would be Suva.
The airline that was supposed to fly us (fourteen passengers) failed to arrive, so a substitute had to be found –
A couple of things went through my mind when I saw the aircraft, such as Biggles & Indiana Jones.
The aircraft was built in 1956, 31 years before I was asked to board for a long flight over water to Fiji.
In 1957 this aircraft was flying for the Luftwaffe of West Germany, supposedly flying Chancellor Conrad Adenauer within West Germany.
The above photograph is thanks to Robin Walker
In 1963 it was returned to the UK, and in 1964 was sold to Portugal to operate in Portuguese Guinea as part of their national airline.
From Portuguese Guinea it was sold in 1970 to Connellan Airways of Alice Springs in Australia. It was registered to Connair after a company name change.
In 1976 the aircrafts went to Kendell Airlines of Australia . . .
In 1980 it was leased to Executive Air Services of Australia
and in 1981 it was sold to Air Tungaru of Kiribati
and later, in 1984, sold to Sunflower Airlines of Fiji – the aircraft was named Belo Vula (White Heron) by Sunflower Airlines.
By this time the aircraft had flown for 18,953 hours and I was wondering if it was perhaps just a little too tired for the next leg of the journey.
My chariot to Fiji.
The passengers seating was seven down the port side and seven down the starboard side with a small aisle in the middle. The crew consisted of a pilot and a co-pilot.
Forget the idea of any cabin crew, and the rear toilet was out of bounds due to access to the cubical being blocked by cargo and passenger bags.
The above picture shows the aircraft at Suva airport in Fiji, not the grass strip in Funafuti.
Once all on board we taxied out to the end of the grass runway. The door between the two pilots on the ‘flight deck’ and the passengers would not close and banged and banged as we trundled along the runway in the hope of gaining enough speed to lift off the ground. At last I felt the plane rise in to the clear blue sky.
The distance to Suva was 915 miles and our top speed was around 183 mph according to the manufacturer in 1956 . . . so we had five hours in hope that nothing would go wrong.
The noise of the engines killed all hope of conversation across the aisle, so I watched the pilots manhandling the joystick to keep the aircraft level in a slow climb. We never did get too high, and I found it fascinating to watch the ocean waves break the surface of the ocean not all that far below.
I believe the maximum height for this aircraft to fly at was 9000 feet when it was new- a normal jet flies at 36,000 feet, and I doubt that we reached our maximum 9000 feet on the way to Fiji.
The view below was something one did not normally see unless you were coming into land over water. The breaking waves accompanied us all the way to Fiji.
Two hours in to the flight the co-pilot came out of the flight deck and shouted that it is lunch time, and bends down to pull a cardboard box from under the seat of the first passenger. He then walks slowly down the aisle and hands to each passenger either a coca cola or a lemonade. None of the passengers were offered a choice.
I was handed a lemonade and was about to open it when the passenger across the aisle spoke to the co-pilot stating that he didn’t like coca cola. Immediately my lemonade was whisked from my grasp and replaced with a coca cola – the guy across aisle received my lemonade.
The co-pilot returned to the front of the plane and brought out another box from under the first seat on the other side of the aircraft. This was our lunch – plastic wrapped sandwiches – and he was not going to get into a conversation about likes or dislikes, because the sandwiches came through the air and the passenger who he was aiming at was expected to catch his lunch.
It was fortunate that we were only given one small drink because there was no way we could have climbed over the cargo to get to the lavatory.
In 1995 Sunflower Airlines became Sun Air & then Pacific Sun Airlines, and in the same year the aircraft was sold to Heron Airlines of Australia.
Once in Australia it never flew again, and I found the above photograph of Belo Vula (White Heron) at Bankstown Airport not too far from where I live.
Later it was donated to the Australian Aviation Museum of Bankstown who later donated it to the Central Australian Aviation Museum in Alice Spring. The aircraft did not fly there but went on the back of a truck.
The above picture was taken in 2004.
After two years of restoration the aircraft is a now a museum piece in the hanger from where she flew when owned by Connellan Airways of Alice Springs.
She is in the colours of Connair of the 1970’s.
The above photograph is from the web site of the Central Australian Aviation Museum in Alice Spring.
I wonder if Harrison Ford picked up a few ideas from a certain airline . . . fortunately we did not require a life raft.