Norman Chapman - Australian aviator


Norman working on his DH Moth
c. 1931

Norman Morris Chapman was one of the pioneer pilots of Australian aviation.  

Born in 1898, he began his working life at sea as a 14 year old cadet officer. He worked his way up to be a ship's officer in passenger and cargo vessels on the Australian coast, and on overseas runs, and gained his Master Mariner’s certificate.

In 1925 he took up flying and left his sea-going career to fly a single-engined Curtiss JN-4a Jenny biplane that had been purchased by his elder brother Geoffrey. In 1926 the aircraft crashed near Essendon aerodrome, Victoria, during an attempt to land. Geoffrey was killed, but Norman was only slightly injured.

Following this accident, he gave up flying and returned to sea. Five years later however, when deck officer appointments were hard to find in the Merchant Marine because of the Great Depression, he returned to flying. With the help of his father-in-law, Major W T B McCormack, Chairman of the Country Roads Board (later supervising engineer for the Great Ocean Road between Melbourne and Adelaide), he bought a two-seater De Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth. Conducting joy-riding operations throughout Tasmania and Victoria, he became quite a well known aviation figure in both those states.

In the early 1930s he joined Matthews Aviation, a company based at Melbourne’s Essendon aerodrome. Flying that company’s Saunders-Roe Cutty Sark and Windhover amphibians, he was one of the Matthews Aviation pilots responsible for pioneering the Bass Strait air service between Australia and Tasmania. And flying his own aircraft, he achieved the distinction of landing on ice at the edge of the Great Lake in Tasmania. It is also believed he achieved the first landing on Tasmania's rugged West Coast.

Later in May 1934 he joined Qantas, at that time still an inland Queensland airline, but about to become Australia’s first international airline operating the Brisbane-Singapore sector of the proposed new Empire Air Route to Britain. Based in Longreach, Queensland, his duties included carrying mail and passengers between the company’s ports in western Queensland, and supporting the Aerial Medical Service (later renamed the Flying Doctor Service which at that time was using aircraft chartered from Qantas. Norman Chapman had been selected to be one of the captains on Qantas’ new four-engined DH-86 aircraft, soon to be delivered to the company to operate the Brisbane-Singapore service,but he was killed before he could take up this prestigious appointment.


Norman at about the time
of his engagement to Ella
McCormack in 1926
The accident in which he and his two passengers lost their lives occurred on 3 October 1934 when the Qantas DH-50 aircraft Atalanta he was piloting crashed near Winton in Queensland while en route from Longreach on an early morning flight.  He left a widow, Ella, and two young sons, Geoffrey and James, aged 5 and 3 at the time of the accident.

Other pages on this site provide more detail, photographs and references to relevant documents: