BOMBER PILOT, AIRPORT MANAGER
EVEN before his distinguished career as a World War II bomber pilot and later as the airport manager who helped establish Melbourne's Tullamarine airport, George Inglis had already attracted some high-profile associates.
Born in Adelaide, and while attending King's College there on a scholarship, he played cricket for the Kensington Cricket Club as a 16-year-old, replacing a wicket keeper who had broken an arm.
Captain of that club was Donald Bradman, and the main bowler was Test spin great Clarrie Grimmett. Inglis stayed in the team for three seasons. In one game he followed Bradman who had just scored 303. Inglis made 10 not out in four minutes.
With the start of World War II, Inglis enlisted in the RAAF in July 1940. A little known fact is that Bradman had already enlisted in the air force before being persuaded to take a commission in the army.
Inglis assisted Bradman with his air force homework, because the cricketer had been out of study practice for some time.
Inglis and 40 other South Australians were sent to do basic training at Somers on the Mornington Peninsula, before being shipped with a group of Victorians to southern Africa to begin flight training in Tiger Moth aircraft in what was then Rhodesia. Next he moved on to twin-engine Oxfords bomber trainers and after gaining his wings he undertook operational training in Kenya on Blenheim bombers.
He was then posted to the Middle East pool in Aden with his navigator, Tony Ward (whom he knew from Adelaide and who flew with Inglis for 3? years).
Joining 8 Squadron, RAF, they flew 66 sorties of 253 hours, undertaking reconnaissance of the Vichy French base at Djibouti, as well as convoy escort and anti-submarine work.
Convoy duty lasted six hours, and involved being away from base for up to a week, stopping off to refuel at makeshift landing grounds. This could be dangerous work, and Inglis' Australian wireless operator and air gunner, Frank Channon was shot down and killed over Djibouti when he had to fly with another crew as a replacement.
On a spell from operations, Inglis was testing a plane at Khartoum in Sudan when both engines failed, and the plane fell 1000 feet to land with "a nasty thump" (as Inglis said with characteristic understatement). Inglis sustained injuries (including to his back) which kept him in the local hospital for more than 10 weeks.
These went on to plague him later in life and complications led to his death.
Rejoining the squadron, some of his more interesting work was flying VIPs from Aden to various locations including Port Sudan, Massawa (on the Red Sea), Addis Ababa, Luxor and Cairo.
After 550 hours (252 operational) with the squadron he was posted back to Rhodesia in August 1943 to undertake a complete instructors' course. After a flying boat trip up the Nile to Cairo, Inglis spent five months instructing experienced pilots from Australia, England South Africa and Greece in landing on desert airstrips.
He returned to Australia in 1944 converting his skills to flying at first Hudson bombers, then Mitchells before being sent to Darwin's 2 Squadron.
From there the squadron transferred to Balikpapan in Borneo. Here Inglis was involved in reconnaissance to the Dutch East Indies (Bali, Madora and Java) and the South West Celebes, dropping surrender pamphlets and supplies to prisoners of war at Makassar.
After the Japanese surrender at Balikpapan, Inglis was then involved in the return of POWs, flying them from Singapore to Adelaide (via Darwin), and from Balikpapan to Mascot, and later Oakey and Amberley, Queensland.
He was discharged in March 1946, with medals including the Africa Star, Pacific Star and South West Pacific Star, and after discharge joined the department then known as civil aviation as an air traffic controller.
He worked in that capacity until 1953 when he was promoted to airport manager at Darwin and remained there until 1956. Next he was stationed in Melbourne as an examiner of airmen and investigator of air safety from 1956 to 1958. From 1958 to 1963 he was airport manager at Launceston.
Inglis then became airport manager, Kingsford Smith Airport, Sydney until 1968, followed by the most senior position of airport manager, Melbourne Airport, Essendon and Tullamarine from then until his retirement in 1980.
As such, Inglis oversaw much of the planning and development of Tullamarine. In his role as airport manager, Inglis met the Queen and other heads of state, as well as personally driving Ringo Starr from the airport during the Beatles tour. He is survived by his wife Alison, three daughters, Meredith, Diana and Cathy, and four grandchildren.
Martin Jackson is secretary of the RAAF/Rhodesia Association.