Memories of Alan Mitchell

First published in SABC Newsletter April 2014

By Graham Hewitt

It was back in the 70s and pre-SEN days, that I first met Alan Mitchell at a Do it Yourself Exhibition which the then Ultra Light Aircraft Association (ULAA) supported. Bryan Davies had his Mustang 2 on display, Alan Wilkes had parts of his Emeraude, I had a collection of Corby Starlet wing ribs and I think Wal Nilan had some parts of his Jodel. I remember talking Mitch into joining our club as he appeared to show genuine interest in home building.

It was not long before we all got to know him and followed the progress of the Turbi with great interest. I helped out with the early test flying and Mitch helped me buy my first lathe and attempted to show me how to use it. After the test flying was completed we often flew together on some of his first x countries, most of these were for various reasons quite memorable.

We set off one day for a visit to Ron Knapp’s farm near Darkan. En route I sighted a friend working on his property near Dwellingup and asked Mitch if we could do a steep turn over the top. While racking the poor old Turbi round there was a loud bang from the front seat and Mitch’s head totally disappeared. For one frightening moment I thought that he had gone right through the floor and was very relieved when his head reappeared.

After landing we discovered that the structure of the front seat had completely failed and Mitch was in fact sitting on a 2mm ply floor. Not discouraged Mitch found some 5 minute araldite and while we drank beer he completely rebuilt that seat.

We departed for Narrogin on time the next morning. Mitch asked me to sit in the front as he would fly that leg. We departed for Narrogin on time the next morning. Mitch asked me to sit in the front as he would fly that leg. I well remember coming into Narrogin on a straight in approach, finally saying to Mitch, ”Hey mate this is not the airfield,see that fence in front of us, well put on some power - the airfield is on the other side!!!”

After landing at NGN all sorts of people showed great interest in the old Turbi, many having been involved in the building of it over the years. They kept turning up and as time dragged on, I finally said to Mitch, “I think that we had better get going or we will have a last light problem at Jandakot. Still they kept asking questions right up until we departed.

En route the light started to fade to the point that I realized that we would arrive after last light. A call to Perth control was made requesting a clearance to proceed to JT after last light. The reply came back “request pilot’s name”, and it turned out that he knew me, so assumed that we were all legal.

The truth was we had no lights at all and could no longer read the instruments. A request was then made to JT to turn on their rotating beacon which we did see. However, I can still clearly remember Mitch excitedly saying “look at the lights of Perth from the old Turbi!!” I was thinking “I wonder what our speed is?” A very close circuit was made and a safe landing followed except that as we stopped on the R/W the engine also stopped.

I remember yelling out to Mitch, “Quick, get out and push this bloody thing off the runway before someone lands on top of us!” Would you believe it - we swung the prop and taxied back to the hangar and put the old Turbi away. Not a single word from the tower. I am sure that he had forgotten us. I was employed at the time as an airline pilot and if one word of this leaked back, I was out of a job. Well, some 50 years later I am still waiting.

Forgive me for such a long-winded discourse but after flying for so long some people stand out and Mitch is right up at the top of my list. He was always very generous with his time and was a fountain of information for all mechanical problems. Nothing was too much trouble.

Alan was such a character, an incredibly dedicated supporter of the homebuilt movement and friend to all.

Vale Allen Mitchell

First published in SABC Newsletter April 2014

By David McCandless

Many of you will remember Allen Mitchell, founding member of SEN, homebuilder, pioneer of unmanned flight, and specialist short field lander and wonderful experimenter. Allen passed away in August 2012 and gave his body to science. Well, UWA medicine faculty have used most of Allen's remains to educate their new doctors and in keeping with his wishes, Allen wanted his cremated leftovers scattered over Serpentine Airfield, the place where he spent his happiest times.

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Rob Milton cheerfully volunteered to jettison the ashes from his Stinson on Sunday afternoon while the Mitchell family looked on. Rob rigged up a small canister attached to the Stinson wing strut and flew past the clubhouse and scattered Allen's remains along the flight strip of 23. The Mitchell family were moved by our appreciation of Allen Mitchell's contribution to our club's history by how we honoured his memory. I knew Allen well and I have one of his inventions, a metal sheet nibbler,which serves me well to this day. He was a fine man, who answered the call when his country needed him and served in the RAAF in WW2 and was the very essence of the 'homebuilder' in building his Turbi. I shall miss him and think of him often.

Farewell dear friend,

Dave


Letter from Mike Hallam in the UK regarding Alan Mitchell

First published in the SABC Newsletter of May 2014.

Dear Chris,

Thank you so much for keeping me up to date with the SABC newsletter. I was especially touched to read the articles by friends of Alan Mitchell, both written with a touch of wry humour regarding Alan's own style and of his skills at 'pilotless aviation' and 'short landings'. 

Both these episodes happened to him & his Turbi in the years I knew him and I learnt about them and the rebuilds, as we regularly corresponded. I was a lesser engineer & appreciatively cognitive that he - tool room trained with loads of experience & 20 years my senior - had a beautiful can-do nature and ability to explain & conquer technical problems. When they came more readily available & when over 80, new fangled p.c. and emailing skills were acquired so that our letter exchanges became easier, from round about 2001 onwards. I have file copies of those later mails as well of mine to him.

I'd first been to Australia in 1969 based for 1/4 year at Sydney in a small sub office of our Danish/UK heavy engineering plant supply company.  Displaced from my usual motorcycling sport I discovered & took flying lessons at Mascot. Hooked by it, these continued to PPL at Shoreham after returning to England.  

Following that introduction to your country I came to Perth in the mid 1970's on similar company business for a few weeks as we were seeking local engineering workshops as sub suppliers for a potential contract for updating the Rugby Cement Works. Being a flyer I asked around about local flying & so met up with Graham Hewitt too. Graham has a tale to tell about our flying a 'hired' Cessna 150 from Jandakot to Serpentine & back.

I'd gone on to become friends with him & Joan, corresponding and visiting each other occasionally from ever since.  I recall going with Alan down to Serpentine in one in its early days where we helped a group of guys erecting the Club house veranda.

My last visit was in 1994 when we stayed at his home & with especial help from his daughter Gemma, my wife & I acquired an old Ford station wagon which he helped prepare for our camping tour across the whole continent. Alan & Joan came to England last in 1996 and we flew & met some of his old friends in my Jodel. He was principal guest at our Annual fly-In to Jackrell's Farm airstrip in Sussex.

All the best,

Mike Hallam.

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