To the moon and back with Air Force

As coordinator of volunteers at the RAAF Townsville Aviation Heritage Centre (RTAHC) since 2017, Flight Sergeant (retd) Michael Hartley is an essential link between volunteers and uniformed management.

CAPTION: Flight Sergeant (retd) Michael Hartley, coordinator of volunteers at the RAAF Townsville Aviation Heritage Centre. Story by Flight Lieutenant Karyn Markwell. Photo by Mr Lindsay Gordon.

“The best parts about volunteering at the RTAHC are being able to keep up with Air Force friends, and meeting a wide range of interesting members of the public when they visit the centre,” Flight Sergeant Hartley said.

After completing his training in logistics, Flight Sergeant Hartley was posted to Air Movements at RAAF Base Darwin in 1969. Darwin was the alternative splashdown site for the NASA Apollo program, if conditions proved too rough at the primary splashdown site in the Pacific Ocean.

Along with three others, Flight Sergeant Hartley’s role was operating the Telex network 24 hours a day. The network linked all air movements sections with NASA at Cape Kennedy in Florida.

“As a 19-year-old, I found this fascinating, as we could read all of the messages from the astronauts talking about what might happen when they landed,” Flight Sergeant Hartley said.

“We all got a thank-you letter from NASA for our efforts.”

Flight Sergeant Hartley was posted to RAAF Base Butterworth (now Royal Malaysian Air Force Base Butterworth) from 1972 to 1974. In 1973, with five hours’ notice, he was sent to Indonesia to assist the RAAF Sabre Advisory Unit with sorting out a logistics problem which had grounded a fleet of Sabres.

In those days, Air Force personnel travelled using their civilian passports. While entitled to semi-diplomatic status for this task, unfortunately Flight Sergeant Hartley’s passport was stamped with the wrong visa when he arrived in Jakarta.

“The first I knew about it was when civilian police arrived to arrest me and had a standoff with our Indonesian military police escorts,” Flight Sergeant Hartley said.

“Guns were drawn and I had to do some fast talking to defuse the situation.”

After a long and varied career – including being awarded a tri-service commendation – Flight Sergeant Hartley transferred from the permanent Air Force to the reserves in 2004.

He said the most important thing he had learned during his time in the Air Force was “to treat people fairly and listen to their points of view… and be prepared to change your decisions and actions where required”.


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