August 1955: Unpiloted ‘Runaway’ Plane Shot Down By Navy After 3-Hour Flight Over Sydney

A close call for the NSW capital...

August 1955: Unpiloted ‘Runaway’ Plane Shot Down By Navy After 3-Hour Flight Over Sydney

Image: RealEstate

The story of a pilotless Auster plane flew over Sydney for three hours before being shot down by the Navy.

We’ve covered some incredible aviation-gone-wrong stories here at DMARGE — just consider Vesna Vulovic, the flight attendant who survived a 30,000-foot fall from the commercial jet she was working on or Juliane Koepcke who survived alone in the jungle for 12 days at the age of 17. None, however, have involved a passengerless plane that went rogue…

On a tranquil August morning in 1955, the residents of Sydney were glued to the sky, anxiously watching a pilotless Auster plane as it drifted above the city. What began as a routine practice flight for Mr. Anthony Thrower from Granville quickly became an aviation nightmare when his rented Auster aircraft took off without a pilot.

RELATED: Flight Attendant Survives 30,000 Feet Fall From Plane Without Parachute

The Terrifying Ordeal Takes Off

As you can imagine, the incident began innocuously enough. Mr Thrower, renting the Auster from Kingsford Smith Aviation School, was enjoying a practice flight when the engine failed just 10 feet from the ground. He landed the plane, exited to restart the engine by hand, and in a twist of fate, the brake failed. Suddenly, the plane roared back to life and became airborne, narrowly missing the control tower and airport buildings. With no one at the controls, the Auster began its perilous journey, circling Bankstown Aerodrome before drifting towards Sydney.

An Auster aircraft similar to the run-away… Image:

As the unmanned aircraft quickly gained altitude and headed towards the city, emergency services swung into action. Police, firemen, and ambulance crews were on high alert, ready to respond to a potential disaster. The suburbs were on high alert as parents hurriedly brought their children indoors, and everyone watched the sky with bated breath…

The Military Response

The Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) soon became involved in the pursuit of the rogue aircraft. Commander J.R.W. Groves, flying near Bankstown, spotted the Auster at 1,500 feet, unoccupied and spiralling upwards. The Navy’s light plane followed the Auster as it climbed over Sydney’s suburbs, drawing ever closer to the city’s heart, tension mounting as it went…

By 10:10 AM, a RAAF Wirraway joined the chase, and shortly after, a RAAF Meteor from Williamtown arrived to assist. The Meteor made several attempts to divert the plane’s course using jet wash but to no avail. Finally, two Sea Furies from the Naval Air Station at Nowra, piloted by Lieutenants J.R. Bluett and Peter McNay, were dispatched to bring the situation to a long-overdue close.

Image: Useless Information

Approaching the runaway plane, Lieutenant McNay confirmed it was unoccupied before firing a short burst from his cannons. Lieutenant Bluett followed with additional shots, igniting a blaze in the cockpit. At 11:42 AM, the plane spiralled downwards, crashing into the sea five miles off the coast.

The aftermath saw a heady mix of relief and scrutiny. The incident prompted questions in Federal Parliament about the military’s response time, and an inquiry by the Department of Civil Aviation ensued. Despite the criticism, the coordinated efforts of the Navy and RAAF prevented what could have been a catastrophic disaster for Sydney…