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“Pietschey’s High-Wire Spectacular”

    [Adapted from ‘Air Force News’, May 2003.]

Sabre A94-962 is now a museum piece, displayed at the Aviation Heritage Centre, RAAF Base Amberley. 
This airframe was permanently grounded after an eventful flight, on 18 July 1971, with Pilot Officer David PIETSCH
[later Commanding Officer of 3SQN] at the controls. 

While leading a low-level navigation exercise, "Pietschy" was very fortunate to survive flying through power lines that had been strung across a rainforest valley near the NSW/QLD border. 

The incident occurred during a “low-level nav-ex” from Amberley. 

A pair of 5OTU Sabres on a training flight.

David was leading his No.5 OTU [Operational Training Unit] wingman Jim ROTHWELL over a ridge near Binna Burra Lodge (in the rugged Lamington National Park, south of the base) when he hit two (out of three) high-tension wires at 420 knots.

The valley near Binna Burra Lodge.  The power poles can be seen at the top of the hill.

One wire struck the air intake, slicing over 30cm into both sides of the fuselage before it snapped.

The second cable struck the bottom of the windshield and slid upwards until it hit the teardrop canopy.  The canopy disintegrated and the wire shaved the top off David’s helmet!  It then cut 20cm into the tailplane of the Sabre – until (luckily!) that wire also snapped.


The second aircraft, piloted by Jim Rothwell, missed the wires completely (most likely flying under them).

Initially, David didn’t comprehend what had happened.  Suddenly finding himself in an open cockpit, he reduced his airspeed.  A visual inspection by his wingman revealed the damage to air-intake and tail.

There was concern about debris ingestion, but the Rolls Royce Avon engine held out for the 20 minutes it took to nurse the aircraft back to Amberley.  Inbound to Amberley, David jettisoned his external drop tanks to reduce his landing-weight (for what proved to be an uneventful landing).

Dave's Sabre A94-962, parked after he landed it back safely.

A colour view from the other side .  [Thanks to Bob Treloar.]

More pieces of the puzzle were supplied by the operator of Binna Burra Lodge, Mr. Tony Groom.  He rang the base, in an unhappy state, to ask about the sudden loss of his power supply (which had not been marked on the map!).

Although A94-962’s shattered canopy has been replaced for the museum display, the damage remains visible today on the windshield, air intake and the leading-edge of the tailfin.  The structural damage means that this Sabre will never fly again.  (Although the airframe was used as a training-payload for the Chinook helicopters of RAAF 12 Squadron...)

Sabre A94-962 gets some more air-time!  [Photo by Kym Manuel]

As for the pilot, David Pietsch retired many years later as an Air Commodore, having gone on to be one of the few who has flown Sabres, Mirages and Hornets.

Air Commodore
David PIETSCH [2nd from left] was C.O. of 3SQN in 1991, when the Squadron's
"75th Anniversary Time Capsule" was buried at Williamtown. 
During the Squadron's Centennial Year of 2016, the secrets were revealed!
left is
Wazza URQUHART, who constructed the original capsule in 1991. 
centre is the then-CO3,  Johnny HALY.
To the
right:  WOFF Russell BECK and Corporal Cory EIME (who ‘cracked’ the capsule).
[Pic from the RAAF Official collection.]


A couple of weeks after Dave's brush with death, both he and his wingman Jim Rothwell were celebrating the retirement of the RAAF Sabres.

The young Dave Pietsch standing in front of a Sabre sporting the attractive blue trim carried on some of the 5OTU ships.

Pietsch on 3SQN:

I first joined the Squadron as a young Pilot Officer in 1971 at Butterworth in Malaysia.  For me it was an exciting time, since it was my first squadron, and it was my introduction to South East Asia.  Butterworth was in its heyday.  There was a dynamic enthusiasm - both within the Squadron and across the base - which was exciting to be a part of. 

Squadron spirit was strong, and a “healthy rivalry” with our sister squadron - No.75 Squadron - led to many an adventure.   (Stealing each other’s memorabilia, then devising plans to recover what they had taken, etc.)  We spent about 25% of our time on deployment to Singapore, so my introduction to the exotic East was complete.

I returned to 3 Squadron about 18 years later, this time as CO.  The Squadron had undergone a transformation.  Now located in Australia, at Williamtown, with new facilities and a new aircraft; the F/A-18 Hornet.   Few of the Squadron personnel had served in Malaysia, but at least we had the chance to visit once a year for a six- week detachment.  Squadron spirit, although different, was still strong.   Our “rival” squadron was now 77.  As with 75, they were a fine bunch of friendly adversaries!

For me, one of the highlights of my command was the Squadron’s 75th Anniversary.  To meet so many of the old hands from WW2 days, and at least one from WW1, was a thrilling experience.  

It is to these men that the current Squadron owes much.   The dedication of the Second World War members of the 3 Squadron Association, in keeping the Association alive and healthy, has added much to the history and camaraderie of the Squadron.  

I am proud to have been a part of it.


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