3XY and the Falling Door

Soon after midday on Monday August 15 (2022), a metal object fell from a passing passenger airplane on an international flight and it landed with a loud bang near the State House in Augusta Maine.  The falling metal object weighing six or seven pounds was described as a wing flap, and as it landed on the ground it almost struck a nearby Security Officer.  The City of Augusta is the state capital in the American state of Maine.

The Maine State House. Photo: Maine Office of Tourism

A wing flap is located on the trailing edge of an airplane wing, and it aids in the control of the plane, particularly during take off or landing.  Large planes have more than one wing flap, the movement of which is controlled by the Flight Captain.

In the aviation industry, pieces of an airplane falling off during flight movements are described as PDA (parts departing aircraft) or OFA (objects falling off airplanes).  When this happens, the FAA in the United States requires a close investigation, which sometimes leads to a modification in the manufacture of that model of airplane.

During each year, there are some 40 million airplane flights throughout the world, more than 100,000 daily, and the number of occasions when parts have fallen off an air plane in flight is infinitesimally small.  However, occasionally some significant damage has been caused on the ground by a falling aircraft part. 

For example, an Air Canada plane lost part of an engine while flying over Toronto ten years ago (2012) and it damaged four cars in the parking lot at the air terminal.  However during the past century of aviation history, there has not been one occasion in which an object falling off an aircraft in flight has injured or killed some one on the ground.

Back towards the end of World War 2, there was an interesting occasion when a large door fell from an aircraft flying over the city of Melbourne in Australia.  The event was described on radio as it was happening; a radio announcer from the local mediumwave station 3XY was in the plane at the time.

1941 QSL card from 3XY. © John Stuart Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

Mediumwave radio station 3XY was originally installed on the top floor Ballroom of the multi-level Princess Theatre at 163 Spring Street in Melbourne and it was inaugurated on September 8, 1935 with 600 watts on 1420 kHz.  The original owner was Frank Thring Sr, and the first manager was Tom Holt, whose son Harold (Holt) was subsequently the Prime Minister of Australia.  Station 3XY was licensed to Efftee Broadcasters, with the Efftee indicating the ownership by Frank Thring.

Princess Theatre, Melbourne, Australia. By Mat Connolley (Matnkat) – Own work, CC BY 2.5, Link

In the middle of the next year (1936), Frank Thring Sr died and his second wife Olive, together with their 10 year old son Frank Jr, inherited the radio station 3XY.  Young Frank became an announcer on 3XY, along with two other well known subsequent announcers.

During World War 2, announcer Brian Carlton enlisted in the Australian army and he was posted to serve with the Australian army mobile radio station 9AC at Torokina on Bougainville Island in the western Pacific.  Another announcer at 3XY was Barry Seeber who later joined the international shortwave service of Radio Australia.

The twin towers of 3XY were installed on top of the Princess Theatre and in 1948 they were blown down by stormy winds.  Then 6 years later, (1954) the station was again off the air for a while due to a disastrous fire.

In 1965, station 3XY was moved into a specially built studio facility on Faraday Street in suburban Carlton, with the transmitter at Heidelberg.  The studios were subsequently moved to St. Kilda Road, then into the Age Building on Spencer Street in downtown Melbourne.

1970 QSL card from 3XY. © David Ricquish Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

During that era, 3XY was often heard with a good signal by the staff at the Australian Wilkes Base in Antarctica, and overnight announcer John Waite would play request music for their entertainment.  This was the era in which radio station 3XY in Melbourne was described as the most successful and most profitable radio station in Australia.  However, change was on the way.

In 1986 the station was sold for £15.75 million; then two years later (1988) it was sold for £10 million; then one year later again (1989) it was sold for £1 million; and finally two more years later (1991) it was sold to AWA for $600,000 and closed.  Mediumwave 3XY had lost its value due to the introduction of FM broadcasting.

1980 QSL card from 3XY.
© David Ricquish Collection, Radio Heritage Foundation.

At that stage, 3XY was on the air from a temporary location at Altona-Galvin, some 10 miles southwest from downtown Melbourne.  The antenna was no more than a windup mast, the ground mat was simply laid on top of the ground, and the operational transmitter power was reduced to just 2 kW.

The historic and one-time highly successful mediumwave station 3XY was shut down at 1:00 PM on Monday September 23, 1991.  After more than half a century on the air in Melbourne Australia, the old original 3XY was gone, gone forever.

Now back on April 19, 1944, there was a military parade through the downtown streets of Melbourne city with soldiers marching, a musical band from the Royal Air Force playing, and aircraft flying in formation overhead.  A prominent announcer from radio station 3XY, Alwyn Kurts, was in one of the accompanying aircraft and he was describing for listeners what he was observing in the parade on the city streets below.

The aircraft in which Announcer Kurts was in, was a very special aircraft.  It was a Douglas DC-3 and work on it was completed (as number 67 of that model) at the aircraft factory in Long Beach California USA in April 1937.  It was flown out as a passenger airliner for KLM with Dutch registration as PH-ALW.

In 1942 the plane was flown to the Archerfield Airport in Brisbane Australia, where it was made available for Pacific wartime usage with the new Australian registration VH-CXE.  General Douglas MacArthur flew in that aircraft to the national capital Canberra for government consultations.

For subsequent wartime usage, the callsign was changed to VH-CXL.  However in 1944, that aircraft was no longer needed for the war effort, and it was then taken over by the national airline ANA with the callsign VH-ANR, and that was subsequently changed to VH-ANQ.

DC-3 VH-CXL in dual USAAF and Australian National Airways markings. Note that the aircraft also carries the code W1944 which is derived from the manufacturer’s serial number 1944. Image © QUEENSLAND AIR MUSEUM www.qam.com.au Picture: QAM Q246/3a

The Douglas plane was withdrawn from service on July 27, 1972 and because of its historic value, it was ultimately donated to the Queensland Air Museum for permanent display.  The plane was dismembered and carried by two trucks to the museum airport at Caloundra, south of the city of Brisbane where it was restored by volunteer labour.  That historic old Douglas DC-3 is now on display as VH-ANR.

Now while 3XY announcer Alwyn Kurts was giving a live commentary about the parade below in the city streets of Melbourne, he suggested to the pilot that he should perform a few acrobatics.  When the pilot swung the aircraft suddenly, the radio announcer was thrown off his balance, and he landed against the aircraft door.  The aircraft door was dislodged, and it fell to the streets below, damaging a car on impact.  Fortunately however, not one person was injured.

The falling aircraft door event became a major news feature in the daily newspapers in Melbourne, though fortunately the 3XY radio announcer himself was not injured, and neither did he fall from the plane.

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of October 9, 2022

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  1. For Adrian Petersen,
    A slight correction to you account of 3XY’s history.
    She started life at the Princess Theatre , then moved to Faraday St Carlton and circa 1972 moved to the Age building on Spencer Street, then circa 1980 moved to St Kilda Road.