Miss Flinders: Launceston's pioneering plane
In March 1932 the first regular air passenger service between Tasmania and Flinders Island was introduced by pilot and flying instructor L. M. (Laurie) Johnson.
His Desoutter II single-engined monoplane, given the name Miss Flinders, had been flown out from England between December 1931 and February 1932.
The plane, which could only carry two passengers, had a cruising speed of 140 to 160 kilometres an hour and the trip to Whitemark from Western Junction took about an hour.
Laurie Johnson had been the Tasmanian manager of Essendon-based Matthews Aviation who in 1930 had started a short-lived air service between Melbourne and Tasmania.
The Flinders Island service ran on Tuesdays and Fridays and on other days he offered joy flights from Western Junction and other airstrips.
In the first three months of operation Laurie Johnson’s Flinders Island Airways made 56 return flights to Whitemark carrying a total of 85 passengers as well as mail and freight.
Victor Holyman, who had been a World War I fighter pilot and was a ships captain in his family’s shipping company, watched the progress of the new air service closely.
Holymans, based in Launceston, operated numerous vessels across Bass Strait, including services to Flinders Island.
In September 1932 Holymans took delivery of a new de Havilland Fox Moth bi-plane to also service Flinders Island. The Fox Moth could carry four passengers at a maximum speed of 170 kph.
The Holymans called their plane Miss Currie.
Within weeks Laurie Johnson had agreed to merge with Holymans in a new company called Tasmanian Aerial Services.
The merger enabled the fledgling airline to expand its services along the Tasmanian coast to Latrobe, Wynyard, Smithton and King Island.
The success of these new services encouraged the airline to buy two eight-seater de Havilland biplanes they named Miss Launceston and Miss Hobart.
A service to Melbourne was introduced with the main pilots being Laurie Johnson and Victor Holyman. Tragically, in 1934 Victor Holyman and his passengers in Miss Hobart disappeared near Wilsons Promontory.
In 1935 Miss Flinders was sold back to de Havilland.
Laurie Johnson continued flying with Tasmanian Aerial Services which under Holymans management would grow into Australian National Airways, the biggest airline in Australia in the 1940s.
In later life Miss Flinders returned to Launceston, being on display at Launceston Airport and then a major exhibit at the Queen Victoria Museum at Inveresk.
In a revamp of displays at QVM, Miss Flinders was to be removed and its future is unclear.
It would be a great pity if such an important part of Tasmania’s aviation history was lost to Launceston.