Robert Connor (Royal Australian Air Force), Caribou Pilot
Robert Connor flew transport aircraft in Vietnam. It was an important and varied role transporting everything from ammunition to livestock.
When Robert Connor flew into Tan Son Nhut Airport in Saigon in 1969, it was the busiest airport in the world.
"There were hundreds of aircraft in revetments, on the ground. Everything from piston engine A1s all the way through to American Martin Canberras, tactical fighters, transports, the whole lot. It was just a mass of aircraft everywhere you looked. There was probably three Australian Air Forces on the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut. That's how big it was."
Robert was serving with No. 35 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, flying Caribous.
"It's essentially transport yeah, which does all the military transport roles. People, ammunition, fuel, supply dropping, para-trooping; and we used to use it also as a medevac and rescue aircraft as well. And because we were a trash hauling type unit, carrying everything that you could tie down, it became known as Wallaby Airlines and we kept that call sign all the way through.
We all loved flying, and it was a case of just getting in the aeroplane and doing what you wanted to do. It was the Australian way of doing things; we worked as a team, there was no rank on the aeroplane. There was respect, but there was no rank. And the respect went two ways: you respected your troops, you respected your loadmaster and your crew down the back and they respected what you did. They mightn't be happy with it all the time, but they respected it. The average pilot would drag in around about twelve hundred hours and anywhere from two thousand to two and a half thousand operational sorties."
Wallaby Airlines even carried livestock for the South Vietnamese Army, though that produced unique problems.
"One of the interesting things was carrying pigs. They used to put them in wicker baskets and to keep the stink down we'd crack the windows in the cockpit and open the rear ramp door, just a little bit. And sometimes these pigs would get out of their wicker baskets and they'd see the daylight and go racing out the ramp "" you suddenly had a skydiving pig."
Like many, Robert's homecoming was an anticlimax.
"We landed in Sydney, loaded up with gear, walked out a quick walk through Customs. The movements guys met us and said, 'There's a taxi waiting for you outside.' That was about two in the morning. We walked outside, hopped in the taxi, the taxi took us home and I knocked on the front door. That was it.