Aminta & Ray

Picture: “We were doing a preflight at Reykjavik, Iceland on route for Australia next stop Stornoway, Scotland.”

"When can you descend below your minimum safe altitude?"
Aminta Hennessy


Aminta Hennessy - Order of Australia Medal
I was always going to fly.

I lived in India, the USA, the UK – it was one momentous trip, when aged 7, I flew from the UK to India. I remember that trip like it was yesterday. That was it.  Whenever my two brothers provided the army and navy component in war games, I provided the air force! Somewhere along the line as a kid I knew that in order to get what one wanted one had to have this vision always in your head.  Mine was airplanes.

I learned very quickly working in London and being paid $10 pounds a week would not give me enough money to learn to fly.  Next move was to scour the newspapers and magazines to find out the cost of living in various countries and discovered that cigarettes were the cheapest in Australia by a long way so that was obviously the place to go. (Not that I smoked).  My mother told me about a 2nd cousin who was leaving for Australia on the SS Canberra so why not team up.  On Australia Day 1964 we both boarded the train and left Paddington Station in London for Southampton, saying goodbye to our parents, leaving my mother crying on the platform and travelled to join the ship.  We were on the way to Australia that evening.

My cousin got off in Melbourne and myself in Sydney.  Within a couple of weeks, via Dalgety’s stock and station agents, we landed a job for both of us. My cousin as cook and myself as housemaid on a sheep station 20 miles from Walgett called Bairnkine. I got paid more than three times my London wage.  Now I had to sus out how to learn to fly in Australia.  Walgett had an Aero Club.  They had a scholarship available but I was told I would never get it because I was a POM.

OK get moving after saving lots of money. Back to Sydney, learn the scene, where to go.  There was an AD in a magazine saying Nancy Bird was the patron of the Royal Flying Doctor Service so I wrote to her and said I will fly for the RFDS if they pay for my flying.  She took the trouble to write back and said “Aminta, come and see me, and we will discuss how things work.”  A long friendship ensued.

I poked around Bankstown had 500 pounds in my pocket but no one would talk to me at the Royal Aero Club so I thought OK.  Need more money. I wish to learn to ski, it is winter I will go to the mountains.  Wow never earned so much money in my life at Thredbo. As the summer approached, I decided to learn to fly at Cooma, and so I hitched hiked every day arriving at 1000 am.  Stan Birtus, a Polish wartime pilot was my instructor. What a privilege. I had to leave the airport everyday by 1430 in order to hitch hike back to Perisher and get past the Tailem Bend turnoff before 1600 as the traffic stopped at that time.

Next – need much more money – the Government gave out scholarships in those days and I quickly worked out that the competition was too tough in Sydney – I had to go bush.  I applied for a job in Papua New Guinea and one as a male Traffic Officer under 21 for Conair in Alice Springs.  I wrote to Conair and said I am neither male nor under 21 but I will make a great Traffic Officer.  I got the job and bingo I found myself in the Alice where I not only had the time of my life but I could keep an eye on the competition.  While I studied, they were in the pub every night. Next, I had to find out who was on the scholarship committee.  A great friend of mine in SAATAS Air Charter said I know all these guys when they come into town, which they do, I will come and get you and we will go have a drink with them.  Some how I figured I had to stop flying when I got my Private Licence, as the committee, I suspected would not give a scholarship to someone who had gone a long way down the track to the Commercial Licence.  Hence at the time of my interview with these 6 men from South Australia I had a Private Licence, 67 hours and I new them all on a first name basis.   I got the scholarship which infuriated Eddie Connellan as by that time he had fired me on two grounds.  Whenever I was around no one did any work as they were all laughing and in any case I would never make a pilot of any consequence.   Many many years later, literally (2016) Christine Davy told me Eddie fired her regularly but she just turned up for work as usual the next day.  This I did not know.  I had by now moved across to the Stuart Arms Hotel and ran the public bar and the bottle shop.  Now that was an education.

I finished my commercial licence in the Alice. I then wrote to about 40 organisations all over Australia.  I received three replies one of which was from Kingsford Smith Flying School at Bankstown where they said “if you do your instructor rating with us, we will give you a job for one month and see if anyone wishes to fly with you.”  That was a challenge. I received my instructor rating at the end of 1967 – having gone from scratch to instructor rating in two years in a foreign country.

Never looked back and went from strength to strength receiving a great deal of help from all kinds of people from Peter Brown at Kingsford-Smith, Roy Coburn at Brabham’s, Jim Hazelton and Ray Clamback at Navair, Bill Davey from Avdev Airlines, going from strength to strength, multi engine instrument rating, from aircraft type to aircraft type, multiple twins, including 4 engine Herons, to Kingairs and Bandeirantes, Citations to ferrying world-wide.

During the course of time, I started, along with Nancy-Bird and Nancy Wells the Fear of Flying clinics in conjunction with Qantas and ran them for ten years, raising money for flying scholarships for women.  I helped start the Instructor Association of Australia, and ran that for about five years. Wanting to give back to aviation what I had been privileged to receive in my adopted country.

Clamback and Hennessy was started and we built in 1985 on the southern side of the airport near the Air Traffic Control Tower, dealing with The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), Air Traffic, students, airplanes, ground school, ferrying, you name it Clamback and Hennessy were into everything we could to make aviation a better place. We were lucky that we saw the ‘heyday’ of Australian Aviation. Now – “poof” what is left of our great industry?

I was glad we found a buyer and sold in November 2018 and retired completely on 30 June 2019 my 78th birthday. The airport Authorities have pulled down the offices, got rid of all the trees that we planted and so there is nothing to show for 35 years of work on the southern side of the airport. Such is life.

However, I finished with 19,556.3 hours and had conducted 29 ferries crossing all the oceans and passed through many countries. Privileged life. Grateful.

Ray Clamback
Farmer, logger, businessman, pilot.

Born and bred on a pig farm at Bass Hill pre WW2 - I have seen Bansktown Airport from its RAAF days to now. Due to the farm being obliterated by blood scours in 1948 the course of history was changed and I passed through Terry Hills, North Sydney Technical High School, Coffs Harbour and a farm on the Dorrigo.

For various reasons, sadly I had to leave school at 15 so I worked on my family’s farm and also in the forests. I ran my own little business, cutting railway sleepers in the Eastern Dorigo forest, pulling telegraph polls from the same area which were then exported to New Zealand from Coffs Harbour.

I worked with equipment from a young age. In 1960 aged 23, I landed a job as Logging Manager at the Song Logging Company in Borneo. The equipment there was an RG Letournot electric wheeled logging arch. D6 and D7 Caterpillar tractors were used in the camps, whereby I had to teach the local Iban’s how to operate them without killing themselves including the use of chain-saws. This equipment had never been seen there. Part of my job was also to survey the forest in order to build roads and hence an airplane would become a useful tool.

From Logging in Borneo, I went to Fiji, where I started logging and built the sawmill at Malau Harbour at Labasa. It was in Fiji that I met Jim Hazelton passing through Nandi on his very first ferry flight in a single Comanche. I by that time had been for a fly in Sarawak, Borneo and moved on to Perth to learn to fly at the Millard O’Sullivan Flying School which had just started operations under the tutelage of Phil Hicks as the CFI. I gained my Private Licence and also had flown a little bit at night in the USA. I told Jim that I was going to leave Fiji as my wife did not really like being there and we were expecting the birth of our first child. He said come and see me at Navair I could do with someone who could teach a bit of night flying.

Upon return to Sydney 1964 I started my own crane hire business near Bankstown Airport and had 5 mobile cranes. I also installed a band-saw for recutting Douglas Fir which had been imported from the west coast of the USA in large “flitches” (Google “what is a flitch?”) I took up the invitation to go and see Jim Hazelton at Bankstown and so my instructing career started off with Night Flying and moved on from strength to strength through ab initio flying to multi engine instrument rating training as well as ferrying aircraft from the USA to Bankstown. Instrument training, ferrying and teaching students with flying difficulties was really how I made my name. In 1979 five of us including Aminta purchased shares in a brand new Kingair which we used for Charter and Commuter Flying.

The immense amount of knowledge that I had gained in using all kinds of equipment was instrumental in our success of always having a good engineer work on our airplanes when Clamback and Hennessy was in full swing. I could trouble shoot the engines with ease, just by listening to the sound of the engine and talk the same language as the mechanics. I could tell them what was wrong and was able to assist the engineer in locating the problem. This saved a great deal of money. Whilst ferrying I stopped moving to Australia second hand aircraft and only moved new ones. However, this did not prevent my two ditching’s which had very specific problems known to the manufacturers but not pointed out to the delivery pilots. The reasoning was that if flying within the USA you could stop and get warranty. However, warranty over the Pacific is the US Coast Guard and the ships. Piecing together the cause of the two ditching’s took about two years and the answer came from Africa.

By the time Clamback and Hennessy ceased operations under Aminta’s and my ownership in 2018 I had conducted well over 300 ferries from various countries, crossed all the oceans, most of the continents and had around 25,000 hours flying time. My logbook is in the bottom of the Pacific.

Wayne clamback

Wayne Clamback is Ray’s son, who lives in the Greater Sydney Area and owns a welding services business.

“Serving the Greater Sydney Area, I offer professional welding services to tradies, repair shops, DIY-ers and handymen.” 

A mobile service is available.


More stories

Our adventures from Clamback & Hennessy including stories on ditching.


Some photos from over the years.

Plane on grass