Len Taplin war hero and the world’s first budget traveler

April 20, 2021
Len Taplin, holds on to wing struts on the Bristol Tourer. Picture taken by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith in 1923 and colorized by Benoit Vienne

Len Taplin was a war ace with 14 victories, a Distinguished Flying Cross winner, one of Australia’s first airline pilots, and just maybe the world’s first low-cost or budget passenger.

In 1921 Leonard Taplin signed up as a pilot with Sir Norman Brearley’s Western Australian Airways to operate Australia’s first airline service from Geraldton to Derby via most north-west towns.

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On one occasion, Mr. Taplin needed to get from Broome to Pt Hedland to keep an engagement with Norah Kain, his bride-to-be.

However, the arrival of a last-minute passenger meant he would miss the date.

The pilot for the flight, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith found the solution with Mr. Taplin sitting on the wing for the 550km journey!

Mr. Taplin positioned himself on the leading edge of the starboard wing, clutching the strut and wires, for 3.5 hours but made the date.

After 5 years with West Australian Airways Mr. Taplin, a top-rate engineer retired from flying to build Pt Hedland’s first electric light plant and become the town’s butcher and undertaker.

He would later move to Perth in 1950 with his family but passed away in 1961, at the age of 65, from cancer.

At that time he was a director of Elder Smith and Co, later Elders Limited.

Western Australian Airways was sold to Adelaide Airways in the late 1930s and that airline merged with Australian National Airlines, which was later taken over by Ansett Airways in the late 1950s.

In 1969, Ansett would acquire the other major WA airline MacRoberston Miller Airlines.