British Empire Article


Courtesy of OSPA


by Tony Bennett (Administrative Officer, Hong Kong, 1969 - 1996)
Auster Mk 9
Auster over Hong Kong
Seated by the open hatchway of an Auster Mk 7 taking in the drone of the plane's single engine and staring fascinated at the coastlines of Lantau Island and Castle Peak shrinking away beneath my elbow as we continued what seemed an interminably long climb, my awestruck reverie was interrupted by the pilot's voice crackling over the intercom. "Harness tight?"

"Affirmative." This being a trial flight to ascertain my suitability for parttime aircrew duty, my imperative was to remain calm, collected and sound as confident as I could manage. That question was a clue. I braced myself. Then the intercom crackled again and over the roar of the engine with the doors removed in Hong Kong's summer heat and humidity and a less than perfect connection of the pilot's throatmicrophone or my cloth helmet's earphone, I was able to make out only intermittent words: "Now going to nose-up a bit....(crackle) throttleback.... into....(crackle).... stall....before...(crackle).."

Now somewhat more alarmed, I hastily recalled from test-flying model aircraft that a stall was a BAD thing, a situation to be avoided, except at the very point of landing, when almost on safe ground. I steeled myself and tried to stay sharp, thinking 'Whatever happens, DON'T VOMIT!' As I should have remembered from glide-testing model airplanes, what followed was a classic induced stall and perfect recovery, as the increasing nose-up attitude gave way to the (almost) sickening lurch as we were suddenly pitched down, pointing almost vertically at the sea with both airspeed (and, importantly, lift) then picking up dramatically, before Flying Officer Allan Tai of the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force pulled the stick back. He then gunned the engine as he banked the plane over for a more graceful return to straight and level flight. I then realized that the long steady climb after takeoff had been performed to gain the height needed to execute that manoeuvre safely.... The outcome was that I was told "Okay - you'll do...." This was my introduction to part-time aircrew duty flying over Hong Kong's mix of high-rise urban sprawl, water and sharply hilly terrain.

Auster Mk 9
Auster Mk 9
When I began my Government service in the territory in 1965 it was customary to join one of the part-time emergency services. My first posting being at Police Headquarters I was press-ganged into signing-up with the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Police Force (RHKAPF) Marine Division, with our auxiliary crews relieving the regular police crews on harbour and inter-island patrol launches. When I later heard of a much smaller and more specialized unit, the RHKAPF Air Observer Squadron, I jumped at the chance to transfer across. The AOS's task (mostly in RHKAAF 'Alouette' helicopters) was that of air-spotting and liaison with police units on the ground and sea, and this function called for an increase in part-time on-duty hours during the events of 1966 and the Disturbances of the following year, when the AOS' 'eyes in the sky', paired with effective radio communication, served an intelligence and monitoring function for the police units tasked with riot-control. A practical advantage of the aerial platform was that estimating the number of people in a large crowd was more accurate when looking down at the 'head-count' as opposed to the tendency to overestimate when confronted at ground-level with a crowd in motion.

Hong Kong 1970 Map
1970 Map of Hong Kong
Hong Kong Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal: October 2014


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