In 1953 Australian aviation consisted as a small and close knit group of friends. That is when Aden Wickes commenced his flying career with the RAAF.
In the 70’s, Australian aviation was still a very close community, rather like a large family where everyone knew somebody you knew. That is when the Cohen brothers, Steve and Arnold, became part of Australia’s aviation history.
Arnold who is somewhat younger than Aden, commenced flying hang gliders in 1973 at the young age of 13. The younger brother of Steve Cohen (a Legend in Australian aviation), Arnold gained his knowledge and passion for flying from Steve, who commenced building successful hang gliders in 1972. Steve later adapting them with engines. Arnold worked with Steve creating these magnificent flying machines, thereby building a wealth of aircraft knowledge at Steve’s factory in Taren Point. It was there that the well known Thruster was developed.
And it was there that Aden met Arnold, little knowing the importance that Arnold would become in his future life.
Other great names associated with Steve and Arnold at this time were, Bill and Steve Moyes and Rick & Shane Duncan.
Some early pioneers of the sport were Steve Hague, Glenn Woodward, Steve Powter, Dave Hodge, Ken Grieves, John Ogden, Ray Dunkerly, Rod Stevens, Tom Brown, Doug Sole, Kevin Cowie and Midget Farrely. These men set an example in the art of hang gliding that Aden sought to copy.
Aden commenced flying with the Australian Airforce in 1953. Legends such as Blackjack Walker and Lionel van Prague were a dominant part in Australian aviation then, and they were Aden’s introduction into the wonderful world of aviation. In 1953, Australian aviation was a close knit community. Flying was basic with most small aircraft being hand started by swinging the prop and aircraft control was mostly by light signals. Radios were rarely found in small aircraft. The first aircraft Aden flew with radio was the Wirraway in 1955.
How did all this end up with the making of “On a wing and a Prayer” ?
Dick Dennison of Orana Films, came up with the concept of flying ultra-light aircraft to Cape York to make a documentary. The name had not yet been decided.
Dick Dennison was a close hang gliding friend of Steve’s in the 70’s. Knowing that that Steve was developing ultra light’s in his factory at Tarren Point. Dick suggested to Steve that he use 3 ‘Thruster’ aircraft in the documentary and asked if Steve knew of any pilots. That is when Steve mentioned that Arnold would be interested. (Arnold had gained his Private Pilots licence in 1980.)
Dick, a well known voice on radio was making documentaries with his company, Orana Films. Dick was seeking suitable pilots to fly the Thrusters in the making of a trail blazing epic along the far North Qld beaches following Capt Cook’s route. Following Steve’s suggestion, he invited Arnold to fly one of the Thrusters. With an eager and infectious smile Arnold replied, “Yes.”
During this run up period, Dick was putting together another documentary to be made in the Himalayas. This idea came from Chris Dewhurst. Chris was an expedition leader in Nepal and a balloonist. Chris would trek thru the Himalayas looking at Mt Everest and dream of flying across the world’s highest mountain in a balloon. Aden and Chris had been ballooning together for some time and had discussed the possibility of ballooning over Everest. When this documentary was hung up in red tape, Dick asked Chris if he knew a pilot who would be interested in the Queensland documentary. Chris answered, “Try Aden.”
And so the closeness of Australia’s aviation family brought together, a team that would make a stunning documentary called “On A Wing and A Prayer.”
With the help of Captain Alan Terrell, Director Flight Ops Qantas, three Thrusters were loaded in a 747 and flown from Sydney to Townsville’ with Capt Wickes at the controls.
At Townsville the aircraft were assembled under the Arnold’s guidance. From then on the cameras commenced rolling and the making of “On A Wing and A Prayer” was taking place.
Enthusiasm was high amongst the team. The Senior Air Traffic controller at Townville gave permission for the Thrusters to take off and start the flight north. Possibly the first ultralights in Australia to legally fly in controlled airspace? Aden had flown the SATCO to Bali on a 747 and had invited him to the flight deck. Again the close family of Australian aviators.
From then on, the wilderness of the far North Qld coast was to present the two pilots with excitement, beauty and moments of “Oh my goodness.”
A selection of photos from the trip