AFTER five years of poking around under the bonnets of Fords and Holdens, Trevor Wallace had enough.
After all, his first love was not even cars but aircraft, and if he didn’t start chasing his dream soon it would be too late.
At age 24, Trevor farewelled the suburban Sydney garage where he worked to become an airframe fitter at Qantas.
The flying kangaroo, however, didn’t suit Trevor, so after 16 months he decided to join that other great Australian aviation institution: the RAAF.
Trevor qualified with a deep knowledge of both engines and airframes, before being posted to 38SQN.
Five years later, the now-corporal answered the call for personnel to serve in the conflict in Vietnam.
Not knowing what to expect, Trevor thought the experience would at least be an interesting one and was philosophical about the dangers of operating in a conflict zone.
Trevor spent a year in the steamy climate at the combined United States and Australian air base at Vung Tau, near Saigon, where from the middle of 1969, his job was keeping the Caribous in the air.
The Canadian-built Caribou was famed for its remarkable short take-off and landing capabilities, allowing it to land and take off from even the smallest of jungle airstrips and clearings.
Trevor formed part of a team of airmen looking after up to seven aircraft at a time.
“They flew out just on daylight, and wouldn’t come back till dusk,” he recalled.
During the day, the aircraft needing servicing and repairs were toiled on in the heat of the hangar, which was shared with the Huey helicopters of 9SQN.
The men worked six days a week, rarely in anything more than shorts and boots, only resting on Sunday if conditions permitted.
On occasions, the aircraft would return with battle damage from small arms fire, but only once did Trevor send an aircraft out that never returned.
After his return from Vietnam, Trevor worked on the Mirage jet fighters of 77SQN at RAAF Base Williamtown, eventually leaving the RAAF after nine years of service, followed by 14 years in the Reserves.
Today, despite having been “retired” for 20 years, Trevor is as busy as ever, with his working life with aircraft having come full circle. As part of the team at the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society at Shellharbour Trevor is still using his skills in making sure one of those same aircraft he sweated over at Vung Tau remains in the air: the venerable A4-234, one of the world’s last flying Caribous.
These days, as well as checking her over before each flight, Trevor is usually invited to come along for the ride.