THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY HONG KONG
"The Amazing Adventures of Betsy & Niki"
Captain Charles Eather
Thursday, 6 November 2008
3F, British Council, 3 Supreme Court Road
Drinks Reception 6.30 pm; Lecture 7.30 pm
(this venue is next to Pacific Place, 5 minutes from Admiralty MTR)
We are delighted to welcome back to Hong Kong Captain Charles 'Chic' Eather, who has just published an illustrated book on "The Amazing Adventures of Betsy & Niki" Cathay's first two aircraft. Captain Eather, who flew Cathay's planes from 1946, its first year of operation, is to show pictures and tell of his experiences as an aviator during the development of flying in the Far East from 1946 to the 1970s and particularly his adventures flying Betsy and Niki in the 1940s and 1950s. It is a tale from times when flying was a great adventure for passengers and staff alike and starting an airline was largely a matter of having a reasonably operational aircraft and an excellent sense of humour. His story is full of personal experiences and hilarious anecdotes and takes the audience into an earlier world of flying when planes were far less reliable and adventure abounded.
Captain Eather's story starts in Australia and takes him to Hong Kong, Vietnam and Burma. It includes approaching Hong Kong at 50 feet through the Lye Mun Gap, Betsy catching fire when being hit by small arms fire in Burma and spiriting the last Emperor of Vietnam out of that country when the French were being attacked by the Viet Minh. Captain Eather is also to tell us of the engineers who kept the aircraft flying including one occasion when a spare wing was slung under the fuselage of a DC3 for ferrying to a remote airfield in Burma.
Other stories include Betsy's flight from New York to Shanghai, where he contrasts the range and speed of a DC3 and a B777300ER and talks about the complete changes in air navigation. Captain Eather also speaks about what the planes were like to fly, including the instrument panel, control and handling an engine failure. He also speaks of his first flight to Hong Kong including the jettisoning of cargo, Burma, where he ferried troops, and how aeroplane Niki was hit by a bullet at Bassein and Betsy got a replacement wing at Bhamo.
Captain Eather started his flying training in 1936, at the Kingsford Smith Air Services, founded by arguably the world's greatest pioneer airman, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. In 1946, he joined the fledgling Roy Farrell ExportImport Company, the forerunner of Cathay Pacific Airways, and so became Cathay Pacific's fifth salaried pilot.
When the second world war began he joined the 1st Australian Antiaircraft Regiment. Captain Eather also flew during the Karen Insurgency in Burma for the Union of Burma Airways. Within range of Karen insurgent artillery the planes operated from encircled Rangoon's Mingaladon Airport dodging shell blasts and snipers. He also served in the Merchant Navy where he served on the Queen Elizabeth (then the biggest ship in the world) and the Aquitania carrying Australian troops to the Middle East battle fronts and evacuating American civilians. In addition, while transporting General MacArthur's staff for briefings and allied duties from Townsville to Sydney, his plane was sabotaged and without any power he assisted in landing her on a Sydney beach.
In 1952 he returned to Cathay Pacific Airways, flying every aircraft type with the airline until his retirement in 1975, amassing approximately 25,000 flying hours. He has written three other books: Syd's Pirates, We flew in Burma and The Airport of the Nine Dragons. Also published are a CDROM that contains The Airport of the Nine Dragons and Syd's Last Pirate.
Members and their guests are most welcome to attend this lecture, which is HK$100 for Members and HK$150 for others.