Midshipmen who were among those to take part in No. 67 Pilots’ Course in 1967 were reunited with some of their fellow pilots at RAAF Base Point Cook recently, five decades after the completion of the course that brought them together.
Lieutenant Commander Murray Smythe (retd) was joined by 19 ex-Air Force and Army pilots, most of whom had not been in contact for 50 years.
“Eight of our number are no longer with us for a number of reasons, notably aviation accidents in peace and war,” Lieutenant Commander Smythe said.
“Air Force Pilot Officer Ted Collett (pilot) and Flying Officer Ian McLean were killed in an Iroquois helicopter near Canberra in April 1969, while Les Maike, Dennis Coffee, Arnie Fox and Clive Mayo have all died of non-aviation causes.
“Pilot Officer Mike Herbert failed to return from a night bombing mission in a Canberra bomber in Vietnam in 1970, and Pilot Officer Lloyd Smith was killed in a Mirage crash in Malaysia in May 1972.”
Lieutenant Commander Smythe experienced a few daunting moments himself during his career.
“As a 23-year-old Lieutenant, in December 1972, I ejected from a Royal Australian Navy Macchi, due to engine failure, shortly after take-off from HMAS Albatross, and landed by parachute,” he said.
“My most memorable landing was also at the Nowra base, as a member of the Checkmates aerobatic team in 1974, when we tried to land four A4 Skyhawks while in formation.
“No. 4, squeezed between the leader and me (No. 3), blew a tyre; the leader veered left towards No. 2, who over braked and also blew a tyre.
“We all managed to remain in some sort of formation, using all of the runway to come to an untidy stop, without damaging any metalwork, but we didn’t do that manoeuvre again.”
During and after his training, Lieutenant Commander Smythe flew Winjeels, Macchis, Vampires, Sea Venoms and Skyhawks, but didn’t have a favourite.
“The Venom was a remarkable aircraft, and I loved every hour I flew it, the Macchi was unbeatable as a trainer, and of course there was nothing quite as exhilarating as flying the A4 Skyhawk on HMAS Melbourne,” he said.
“Deck landings were pretty exciting, except at night, when they were just terrifying.
“My deck landings, I’m pleased to say, we’re all uneventful, unlike those of my friend and course mate Sub Lieutenant Phil Thompson, who survived a night ramp strike in 1971 on Melbourne.”
Lieutenant Commander Smythe left the Navy in 1986 as Executive Officer at Sydney base, HMAS Kuttabul.
“During my naval career, I had studied Japanese and served as the Assistant Defence Attaché in Tokyo, on leaving the Navy I joined the Australia-Japan Foundation, and then worked as a business consultant in Tokyo,” he said.
Today’s Royal Australian Navy Pilots train in PC-9 fixed-wing aircraft and the Eurocopter EC135 helicopter and are employed predominantly flying in the MH60R Seahawk and MRH90 Taipan helicopters.
Information on becoming a Pilot in the Royal Australian Navy can be found at https://navy.defencejobs.gov.au/jobs/navy-pilot