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It would be hard for people to imagine now, but during the period from WW1 to the mid 1930s, aircraft made heavy use of both Greenmount and Kirra beaches, and the area now taken up by the Greenbank development, as landing places.

Perhaps the two better known aviators in the early days were Captain Edgar Percival, who always favoured Greenmount, and Captain P. W. Snell, who operated from Kirra beach. Capt. Percival was an aircraft engineer and had a shop at Richmond, NSW, which he used to set up imported aircraft. Each year he headed north, and did a brisk trade taking some of the thousands of holiday makers in the Twin Towns on joy flights over the town.

Captain Percival with his plane on Kirra Beach with Mayor R. G. Johnston circa 1920. Tweed Regional Museum Collection TH202.31

On arrival over Greenmount, Percival would make a low pass over the beach to signal his intention to land and as the crowd dispersed he would land and taxi his aircraft to a position right against the hill. He had an arrangement with the Greenmount Surf Club who canvassed the customers and sold tickets, whereby they were given a percentage of the take for their club funds. A joy flight varied in price but mostly cost one pound ($2) or ten shillings ($1).

Percival also had contracts with Brisbane and local business houses to distribute advertising material from the air. It was a fantastic sight to see these thousands of leaflets falling from the air and the crowds rushing from the surf and chasing all over the beach to retrieve one. Certain leaflets contained lucky numbers or a free flight pass.

Joy flight over Kirra Beach. TH160-23

Both Percival and Snell worked in close co-operation with the surf clubs and acted as shark spotters during their flights. In fact they were probably the first aerial patrols in Queensland. They had various signals, from wobbling their wings to dropping notes attached to bolts or other heavy objects.

Captain Snell was quite a dare devil and he often flew over the Twin Towns with his partner Lieut. S. W. Bird dressed in a bathing costume sitting astride one of the aircraft’s wings waving a towel to the crowd.

Late in 1923, Percival was taking off from Greenmount when a child ran across his path. Swerving to avoid the child, the aircraft ground looped and was severely damaged, necessitating it to be returned to Sydney by road. A few years later Percival returned to England where he was to become a very successful aircraft designer.

The sand spit across the back channel where the Greenbank development now stands was also a popular spot for aircraft. As the bi-plane circled Tweed Heads, the towns people crossed the bridge in droves where the Mall now stands, to be in position when the aircraft touched down. This was a smaller area than the beaches and the planes often had to taxi to the southern end and with the crown holding the wing tip, the plane was turned into the wind for take off. Often the aircraft only just skimmed over the causeway carrying the road from the bridge to the crane wharf. It wouldn’t be Christmas in Tweed Heads without the aeroplanes across the channel. At night time the aircraft were taxied up to a high spot near the bridge, where they were tied down with sand bags.

The building of the aerodrome at Bilinga in 1936 and the tightening of regulations put an end to flying from the beaches and Greenbank.

Ref: Abridged from “Look Back” by Peter Winter. Gold coaster / Daily News June 11, 1987.
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