Former fighter pilot from Sunshine Coast shares war stories

Leon Brown prepares pays his respects at a previous Tewantin service.
Leon Brown prepares pays his respects at a previous Tewantin service. Geoff Potter/n21989

Ninety-one-year-old Leon Brown, as honorary treasurer, has kept tabs on the finances of Sunshine Coast Legacy for the last 33 years and on Anzac Day, Monday, April 25, he will lay a wreath for the organisation at Tewantin Cenotaph.

And no doubt, while thinking of the 1500 widows of ex-servicemen that our Coast Legacy helps, he will spare a thought about how lucky he is to be alive.

Leon's time as a fighter pilot with the RAAF could be a script for a "Top Gun" movie.

He sprinted for his life as his burning Kitty Hawk exploded in fragments in 1944 after a fatal mid-air collision; he flew Mustangs in 1950 at the height of the war in Korea and in the early 60's, during the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, he piloted B66's for the US Air Force.

Leon retired in 1975 as a Wing Commander after 33 years with the RAAF. He enlisted in the air force on December 1942 and after Tiger Moth and Wirraway training graduated as a pilot in August 1943. "I was 19 then and I wanted to go to a fighter squadron like all the other cadets. Instead, I was posted to be a flying instructor."

At Narromine air force base, he tested repaired Tiger Moths and in 1944 he was sent to 82 Squadron, Townsville, to fly Kitty Hawks. In March he had a mid-air collision with another Kitty Hawk which crashed into him from below. "We were practising line of stern chase formation flying. I was leader and this other guy came up from behind and hit me. He was killed instantly, unfortunately.

"He smashed up my aeroplane and my instant reaction was to bail out. I got half way out and my knees knocked the joystick. I discovered I had control and I could still fly the plane. There was smoke everywhere and I was at 7000 feet just east of Bowley River air strip where we were based. I crash landed on the runway in flames and, as soon as I jumped out and ran away, the thing then blew up. I was lucky but I wanted to save the aeroplane if I could as they were pretty precious on those days.

"Then on my 21st birthday my squadron was equipped with Mustangs. It was the first time I had flown them. It was a beautiful plane. I celebrated with my mates that night and we drank all the beer in the sergeants' mess.

"Just after the war in 1946 I was with 77 Squadron in Sarawak, Borneo and we were ordered to fly three squadrons of Mustangs to Japan. My squadron ran into bad weather --dense rain and fog. Three Mustangs crashed and the pilots were killed.

"In 1950 war in Korea started on July 1and my 77 Squadron was diverted from Japan to Korea to join United Nations' forces. I was 26. The first week we were there our flight commander who used to fly with me in Townsville was killed by anti-aircraft fire. On July 9 our commanding officer was shot down and killed. Shattered all of us.

"I flew 33 missions-- ground attacks with rockets and cannon mostly on road transport and troop concentrations. The North was sending occupying forces into the south and that's where we were doing most of our work. The weather was getting cold and by December there was so much snow and ice we couldn't fly any more. "

For the next few years Leon, by now a flight lieutenant, worked as a recruiting officer, flew Lincolns and was posted to 82 Squadron flying Canberras. In 1958 he got a surprise posting to the US to fly weather reconnaissance missions and flew B66's during the Cold War years and the Cuban missile crisis until 1963.

"The US was sending fighter squadrons to Germany and our job was to fly out six hours before them and send out weather reports. There was a lot night flying. I was probably the first RAAF pilot to do air refuelling. Petrol tankers were a very welcome sight when you needed gas. There's a lot of water in the Atlantic."

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