The War Years
The Hawdon started life as a C47, being built at Long Beach California USA in late October 1942, as a US Army Air Corps C-47 registered No. 6021. It was allocated US serial number 41-18660 and was commissioned and dispatched for courier duty with the Fifth Air Force, whose operational base at this time was in Australia.
The C47 arrived at Archerfield (QLD) in January 1943.
It was nicknamed "Shanghai Lil" and re-assigned to 374 squadron for general duties.
Shanghai Lil prepares for takeoff from Ward's Drome airfield New Guinea April '43
So began the career of an aircraft which was to play a major part in Australian aviation history.
Unfortunately many early flying records were misplaced over the war years, but it is known that between its arrival and its last courier flight, "Shanghai Lil" accrued 1,716 hours flying in Australia, including 2 trips across the Pacific to the USA.
The first major overhaul was conducted in 1943, by the then Australian National Airlines - Aviation Engineering facility in Melbourne.
Around this time the Australian Government recognised that all existing and available passenger aircraft in Australia were obsolete and needed to be replaced.
It was also realised that with the end of hostilities in the Pacific, many aircraft would become surplus and could be converted to serve the needs of this vast continent, to overcome the isolation, distance and time, in travelling to remote areas.
The Australian Government approached the Far East Air Services Command (responsible for all US aircraft and other military equipment in the Pacific) and sought permission for three aircraft (currently within Australia) to be released immediately, and a further 9 aircraft when hostilities came to an end.
General Mcarthur and Prime Minister Curtin sign the transfer papers under Lend Lease arrangements.
One of the three released was "Shanghai Lil" and it was re-registered to the Australian Government, Department of Civil Aviation, as VH-AES on September 4 1944.
Initially VH-AES was handed to ANA on August 24th 1944, and it was specified that this aircraft was to operate as a freighter, carrying mail and general cargo over the ANA network.
DCA gave permission to carry passengers only after VH-AES reacted to an urgent request to carry a passenger due to family illness, and later carried a second passenger, also for emergency reasons.
On the evening of 5th November 1944, with the possibility of a storm rolling in from the south west, ANA Flight 347 loaded with 600lbs of mail, cargo and general freight, and a supernumery crew member, attempted to depart a windy Mascot airport.
The Captain realised the control column was not functioning correctly and aborted the takeoff. Avoiding a ground loop, the aircraft collided with an earthen bank at the end of the runway.
VH-AES sustained extensive damage, the crew suffered cuts and bruises, and the supernumerary a broken leg. It was later found that one of the two cleats (locking pins) used to secure the elevators from storm damage had not been removed.
It was agreed that the aircraft would be repaired, and that during this repair period it would be modified to meet the specifications for a DC-3 passenger aircraft.
Repair costs were estimated at £7000, and work commenced in November 1944, including cabin modification, and was completed by the 17th April 1945.
VH-AES returned to service 24th April 1945 and began daily service between Brisbane Archerfield and Cairns FNQ.
Engine problems again required the aircraft to be delivered to Essendon where it received a complete engine overhaul.
When returned to service this time, the aircraft was based at Essendon, flying daily service on the east coast to Brisbane, via Sydney, with "ad hoc" stops in Canberra and returning the following day.
In order to support the newly formed Australian National Airline Commission (ANAC), the Government recalled VH-AES and two other aircraft VH-AEO, and VH-AEV transferring them to DCA then in mid June 1946 they were officially transferred to the register of the ANAC.
Hawdon arrives in Sydney 9th Sept 1946.
On September 9th, 1946, VH-AES now renamed "Hawdon" operated the first ever passenger flight for Trans Australia Airlines departing Melbourne for Sydney at 6:00am.
Between September 1946 and June 1959 the "Hawdon" was in service with TAA mainly in Queensland.
On the 26th June 1959 the aircraft was withdrawn from service.
In mid 1960 the aircraft was refurbished and restored to flying condition for service in New Guinea.
On the 12th August 1960 the aircraft was flown from Melbourne to Lae to commence service in New Guinea. It was the first TAA aircraft to go to New Guinea.
While in New Guinea it was registered as VH-SBA and painted in Sunbird colours.
The aircraft served in New Guinea from its delivery to 7th June 1970 when it was once again withdrawn from service.
Between june 1971 and August 1971, the aircraft was again restored to flying condition in Brisbane.
On the 9th September 1971 the aircraft was flown to Melbourne where it flew Melbourne Sydney Melbourne to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the airlines inaugural flight. Passengers included 13 of the original 21 on the inaugural flight, plus the grandson of the explorer, Joseph Hawdon.
In October 1971 the aircraft was loaned to Air Nuigini and was then withdrawn from service on the 19th July 1973.
From July 1973 until July 1979 it was parked against the fence at Melbourne Airport.
It was refurbished to static display condition and on 13th December 1979 it was suspended from an arch in the Melbourne Airport car park as a static display.
There it remained until 29th April 1987 when it was removed, and again parked against the fence.
Starting in January 1988, volunteer labour from Australian Airlines staff (in 1986 TAA changed its name to Australian Airlines) restored the aircraft to flying condition and on 9th September 1988, a commemorative flight to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the first flight was undertaken. There were 6 of the original 21 passengers on board this flight.
From then to now the aircraft only flies on promotional flights for Qantas such as airshows and charity flights.
The aircraft is currently flown and maintained by volunteers, many of which are retired TAA/Australian/Qantas staff.