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On August 30, 1955, a pilotless airplane circled Sydney, Australia and its suburbs for nearly three hours. Today, we live in a time of remote-control planes, but that was not why this airplane was flying around without a pilot.

Thirty-year-old trainee-pilot Anthony Thrower was practicing his takeoff and landings at the Bankstown Aerodrome when suddenly “The motor went dead when I was 10 feet [3 m] over the runway. I got down safely and applied the brakes. I decided to start the Auster by myself.”

That’s when he swung the propeller around to start the engine. As soon the engine turned over, the brakes on the airplane failed and it took to the sky without him aboard.

“I tried to hold it by a strut but I couldn’t make it.” And, “Away she went…”

He began to run toward the control tower in an effort to alert them as the plane flew in the opposite direction. And then, “I looked over my shoulder and got a terrific fright. The plane had turned right around and was chasing me.”

Thrower was unharmed and eventually, the plane climbed to an altitude of 10,000 feet (3 km) before leveling out. Royal Australian Air Force jets were called in to pursue the runaway plane but were unable to bring it down.  Eventually, the wind pushed the plane out toward the sea where two Australian Navy Sea Furies shot it down.

Lieutenants John Bluett, RN, and Peter McNay, RN, reliving their successful action against Anthony Thrower’s pilotless Auster in 1955. Image appears on the Australian Navy website.
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