'A Special Lady'

Photo 1:  Chrissi Webb at the controls

Photo 2:  Wicko G-AFJB ready for take-off on 19 April 2010


Business Service

10 May 2010

MEDIA ITEM FOR MONARO POST (750 words & 2 photos) written by Chrissi Webb (10 May 2010)

Stranded Daughter of Aviation Pioneer gains clearance to fly in his Wicko high wing monoplane over Southampton airport

Stranded in the United Kingdom due to volcanic ash clouds, Jindabyne resident Chrissi Webb took advantage of the situation by travelling to Hampshire to see and fly in the high wing monoplane Wicko G-AFJB designed and manufactured by her father, Geoffrey Neville Wikner before World War II in England.

Aviation enthusiasts will recall that Geoff Wikner owned and flew, together with his family including Chrissi, and 18 other passengers in the Halifax Bomber 'Waltzing Matilda' to Australia in 1946. 'Waltzing Matilda' was the only Halifax to fly south of the Equator.

On arrival at the private grass airstrip on a farm, Chrissi was greeted with the sight of men polishing with love, this diminutive cream and red 2-seater aircraft.  G-AFJB has had an interesting life.  Following use during the war as a ferry plane for pilots around Britain.  It was flown by a variety of people including Lettice Curtis who raced it; and Phillipa Benett who wanted to use it for an airline service.

The original log book shows that in 1960, a previous owner overshot the runway and this Wicko fell off a cliff, after which he gathered up the parts in 'plastic bags'.   In 1973, the aircraft was rebuilt and re-registered.  It was then in 1984, dismantled and for 25 years, it remained a derelict beside a fire dump.

In 1998, the Wicko was purchased by Captain Joe Dible's brother.  Joe, an ex RAF pilot flying in Hawker Hunters, then an Aer Lingus pilot and the owner of two other light planes, is now the current owner.  He transported it to Southampton, UK, where he gave the challenge of restoration to Ron Souch and spent a small fortune in restoring the plane.  In 2005 the plane was re-registered for flight.

Today, Mike Watts is privileged to care for the Wicko with its dual controls, which he described as 'A big pussycat to be treated with respect'.  He went on to elaborate that it flies 'in a different way - it flies like an Auster and leads with the rudder.'  Mike added that the Wicko 'whistles along at 85 - 95 miles an hour.' [ I.e 137 kph to 153 kph]   Restoration work included attaching a bigger propeller and he is currently seeking a Hornet tail wheel as per the prototype.  It is one of the only two Wickos surviving and the only with a Certificate of Airworthiness which was renewed two weeks ago.  The other Wicko is minus an engine and is in Caloundra Aviation Museum.

Mike Watts is a Class A A&E with an ATR rating. He is a vintage aircraft restorer, who learnt his trade under Cliff Lovell working on Percival Gulls.  Mike had his first big break into the restoration business when he worked on the Stampe SV4 aircraft used in the film 'Out of Africa.'  He holds an ATR pilot's licence in addition to being a designated Civil Aviation Authority inspector for home built aircraft.

Chrissi confidently scrambled into the cockpit alongside Mike Watts for a flight over Southampton Airport space following clearance given by the control tower (commercial aircraft being grounded due to volcanic ash).  Regarded as a ‘special lady’ by Joe Dible and the aviation enthusiasts present, Chrissi was beaming with pride as she sat in the Wicko.

Suddenly the propeller was being spun by hand, chocks away and the plane taxied down the bright green grass airstrip in the middle of a flowering canola field below a clear blue sky.  At the end of the strip, the aircraft was stopped for the final engine check before take off.

At the pre takeoff run-up check one of the two magnetos was found to be malfunctioning so the take-off had to be abandoned.  Everybody was very disappointed as the Wicko taxied back to the hangers where several mechanics descended on the engine.  No luck, the one magneto was dead and it was too late to install a replacement.  It was then carefully wheeled to be hangared.

However, nothing could detract from Chrissi’s joy at being able to see and sit in an aircraft designed and manufactured by her father, Geoff Wikner, who died at the Sir William Hudson Memorial Nursing Home, Cooma, NSW, Australia in 1989.