Flying high with her 10th book
Pat Studdy-Clift has some fascinating tales to tell about the mission plane St Paulus, her favourite being when it landed in the jungle of Papua New Guinea in the mid 1930s.
“The Indigenous people still lived in a stone-age culture then - they had never seen white men or planes - so they decided it must be a bird,” Pat said. “When it landed they were confused why it didn't have plumage. They grabbed pieces of grass to feed the bird and ran their hands along the undercarriage to try and work out what gender it was.
“When the pilot emerged dressed all in white with green flying goggles they thought he must be a God. The Indigenous people wore sparingly little, a gourd for modesty and a bunch of leaves on their buttocks. I'm not sure who was more surprised!”
This Friday Pat, who lives in Lismore Heights, is launching her 10th book The Incredible KLEMM, which is a biography of the plane's adventurous life.
It was built in Munich in 1934 and after being christened St Paulus by the Bishop of Cologne it was sent to New Guinea to fly for The Divine Word Mission near Madang. Eventually, after dodging Japanese fighter planes during WWII, the little wooden and fabric plane was chased out of PNG, the pilot Stan Johnson making a marathon 17-hour journey to Cairns.
It was then owned for some 44 years by Gunnedah aviator Alex Oliver, who was friends with Pat's family. It was here that Pat first encountered the Klemm while working on her parents' farm.
“I was about two mile from the house on the tractor when Alex flew in behind me. I didn't hear him initially because of the tractor engine and he scared the daylight's out of me,” Pat recalled. “He had flown out to get me for afternoon tea, so I hopped in. I was quite nervous and asked did he have a parachute and he said, 'You don't have time to use one in a plane like this'. It wasn't exactly the reassuring answer I was looking for!”
The plane was used to hunt wild pigs, and Pat said the pilots would work the joystick with their knees so they could hold a rifle in their hands.
“I've heard of flying by the seat of your pants, but I'm not sure what that's called!” she laughed. “On one occasion when the plane returned from hunting pigs, the pigs had destroyed their beautiful clean camp and left a calling card on all their beds. So I called that chapter The Pig's Revenge.”
When Alex moved to Port Macquarie he began using the Klemm for search and rescue missions.
“It's a plane that can fly low and slow in howling gales, pelting rain and thick fog so he would take it out to search for fishermen when they went missing,” Pat said.
The plane is now owned by Dr Roy Fox, who lives on the Hawkesbury River. When Pat told him she had flown in the plane he suggested she write its history.
“It's now the oldest airworthy mission plane in the world and recently went to the Oshkosh air show in America where it did several flyovers,” Pat said. “It's incredible that it's still in the air - it's been shot at, survived cyclones and perilous pig shooting safaris, hazardous mission work in the most dangerous flying conditions in the world, and many other adventures. I never expected it to be this special when I started writing.”
The book will be launched this Friday, September 25, at the old Lismore Airport on Three Chain Rd at 11am. It will be officially launched by WWII Spitfire pilot Teddy Sly.
“Teddy's got some good stories - he said he's missed death by a whisker so many times in his life that he decided to call the book he wrote By The Luck of the Draw.
“He's very colourful is Teddy,” Pat laughed. “I just hope he doesn't swear too much!”
Signed copies of The Incredible KLEMM are now available from Goonellabah Newsagency.