2 WARS AND PEACETIME JOYS – THE FLYING CAREER OF LADDIE HINDLEY
Leigh “Laddie” Hindley grew up in the 1930s in Goulburn, NSW. Finishing school in 1941, Laddie decided to join the Australian Imperial Force. His parents thought the RAAF would be more suitable. After initial medical checks in April 1942 he was accepted into the RAAF and was sent to Victoria to start aircrew training.
With high test scores and ready ability to learn the elements of flying, Laddie was selected to become an aircrew member. He learned ground school and how to understand the basics of flying aircraft. He was then posted to the Elementary Flying School base at Temora where he learned to fly on the DeHavilland Tigermoth. Time was spent half and half on ground school and then flying. Laddie soon learned that the Tigermoth was a near viceless aircraft going solo after 10.5hrs. He worked up 65hrs by the time he left Temora. After successfully passing his initial flight training he went to Uranquinty for further pilot training, where he began flying the Wirraway trainer.
4 months later in 1943 he passed the training course and was given his pilot wings and the rank of Sergeant.
He then went to Mildura for the Operational Training Unit (OTU) where he learnt to fly his first fighter – the P-40 Kittyhawk. He gained skills such as dive bombing, strafing and dogfighting. After he was qualified on the P-40 Kittyhawk he was assigned to 80 Sqn at Townsville. Here more training and close co-operation with the army took place.
WAR IN PACIFIC – KITTYHAWKS
In February 1944 the squadron was deployed to the Pacific Campaign in Papua New Guinea. Laddie came face to face with the horrors of war and losing friends.
He participated in many bombing missions and combat air patrols which inflicted damage to the well entrenched Japanese military.
In November 1944 his posting to the squadron ended and he was transferred to RAAF Point Cook to be trained as an instructor.
Back in Australia Laddie was found to be suffering malaria and given treatment. He was sent once well enough to RAAF base Richmond to join the Test and Ferry flight unit. New NAA P-51 Mustangs were being sent to RAAF units in Horn Island and Borneo. Laddie flew these some of the Mustangs to their new units. He flew back to Australia in worn out and under maintained P-40 Kittyhawks which was a big risk. He then joined a fighter affiliation unit at RAAF base Tocumwal until the wars end in September 1945. Post war he did a 5 year electrical trades course, gaining even more skills.
In 1951 the RAAF advertised for aircrew and Laddie again leapt at this opportunity to return to the skies. He was given refresher training and posted to 87 Sqn Photo Reconnaissance RAAF base Fairbairn, Canberra. He flew missions taking photos for mapping and surveys in NSW and WA.
In 1951 he was posted to an exchange RAF unit in Singapore where he undertook more command training.
He returned to WA after finishing the exchange and did more Mosquito photo work, including around PNG. In 1953 the squadron was decommissioned and Laddie returned to RAAF base East Sale for more flying instructor work. He was reposted to his former airfield of Uranquinty to train new pilots. By 1956 he had done further administration work as Officer in Charge of aircrew training in Victoria and had also completed some more flying at Tocumwal.
C-47 DAKOTA MISSIONS
His next posting was to 36 Sqn at RAAF base Richmond to fly the C-47 Dakota transport. He flew missions into many airfields across Australia and PNG. One mission in 1957 saw Laddie fly a C-47 over South Australia on a sample mission to monitor the British nuclear test “Antler” at Maralinga. Laddie, along with all onboard, was wearing only shorts and shirt with no radiation gear for protection. He also flew in Malaysia at RAAF base Butterworth doing transport missions in the region. By 1961 he was flight commander at 38 Sqn at RAAF base Richmond and was very proficient in leading and flying the C-47 in its varied roles.
HUEY FLYING AND VIETNAM WAR
In late 1961 he took up training on the new UH-1B Iroquois/Huey helicopter then being introduced into RAAF service. He was posted to RAAF Amberley for initial training and went to the USA to learn how to fly the Huey. In 1962 he returned to Australia to 9 Sqn at RAAF Fairbairn. Training was conducted for aircrews on the new helicopters and they soon proved their worth in rescuing people from flooded towns and helping with civil repairs.
By 1964 the war in Vietnam was heating up and Laddie submitted a plan to train RAAF aircrew in case they were to be sent to the warzone. Hueys and their crews went to PNG and Malaysia for tropical training. He was then posted to 5 Sqn at RAAF Butterworth On returning home he was again back to 9 Sqn.
With the war escalation in Vietnam, the Hueys went to provide support for the Army. Laddie was sent to South Vietnam in 1966.
The most common role was moving of troops around the province and assisting the SAS on insertions and extractions. Laddie flew Hueys spraying “Agent Orange” herbicides. He was present at the Battle of Long Tan and was part of the RAAF air support to D Company, 6 RAR who were fighting the Viet Cong. He and other pilots dropped off supplies and ammunition to ground troops. He completed his tour of South Vietnam and retuned to RAAF Fairbairn as flight commander. In December 1967 he was tasked to search for then Prime Minister Harold Holt, missing in the ocean off Victoria.
RETIREMENT FROM RAAF AND CIVIL FLYING
Laddie retired from the RAAF in February 1968 and did his CPL licenses. He was much in demand due to his extensive helicopter flying experience and went to fly in PNG. For the next 9years he flew in PNG as a contracted pilot moving geologists/mine staff around for mine surveys, ferrying parts and supplies around in helicopters such as the Bell 47, Bell 206 and Lama.
In 1978 he returned to Australia flying around NSW and WA doing varied missions in Hughes 500. In one task he flew to Witternoon, WA where he landed, unknowingly in an asbestos dust cloud stirred up by the rotor downwash. He finished flying in Australia in 1981 and again went to fly in PNG for the Police Dept where had dangerous and tough missions. He left the PNG Police work and was back into mining support from 1986 until 1989 when he finally ended his flying career, at age 66. The end saw over 18,000 hours plus many varied aircraft and helicopter types in his log books.
Laddie’s book “The Joys and Dangerous of an Aviation Pilot” was written at nearly 90 years of age and is extremely candid and powerful with very interesting insights into how dangerous and intense wartime and civil flying can be. The book published by the Office of Air Force History, was a winner of the 2012 RAAF Heritage Award. This is an amazing outcome, for when it is considered that at a younger age Laddie never had an ambition to ever become a pilot.
Shown below are some recent photos of Laddie, at his book release and with some veterans.
Thanks to the Office of Air Force History – APDC especially Martin James and Adam Braakman for their kind assistance in making this happen.