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Ian 'Jake' Jacobsen's amazing adventures across the globe

Ian Jacobsen on one of the two expeditions he's taken to Antarctica.
Ian Jacobsen on one of the two expeditions he's taken to Antarctica.

THE first photograph Ian Jacobsen pulls from a box is of his favourite passengers when he was commander of the Royal Australian Air Force VIP squadron.

Despite having transported a long list of dignitaries in Australia's premiere airline, it's of none of those. Nor is it of Prince Charles or Malcolm Fraser or the Queen or Prince Phillip - it's two astronauts from the NASA space shuttle program's first orbital flight.

Neither John Young or Bob Crippen are as well recognised as Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, but from the moment their shuttle launched on April 12, 1981, to when it returned three days later on April 14, after orbiting the Earth 37 times in 54.5-hour mission, the two managed to experience something few others on this planet have.

Ian loved them mostly because they were humble, but also because they were happy to share his cockpit.

"When they orbited the world in the shuttle, Australia provided some communications for them out of the Geraldton and Canberra communications centres, so they wanted to visit these communication centres to say 'thank you'," Ian says.

"They were absolutely lovely people to talk to because I was a pilot and they were both pilots, although astronauts pilots - they came up to the cockpit, they sat in the seat beside me, they saw the take-off, they knew what I was doing and I knew what they'd been through. They said, 'Words almost cannot describe was it was like up there'."

Ian's lived a life that reads like the book, Forest Gump. He was born in the Queensland town of Kingaroy to working class parents on March 27, 1941. The oldest of four children, his father wanted him to take over the family cabinet making business but Ian had other ideas. His mother too.

"The options in those days - in the '50s - if your father had a business you went to work in your father's business; my father has his own cabinet making business and I didn't see myself doing that," he says.

"So this opportunity came up to get into the aviation industry as an aircraft engineer and get away from, if you like, the influence of my father, because they always like you to put their hat on and continue with what they're doing.

"My mother actually saw the job advertisement in the paper and said, 'I think this is what you need'."

 

Ian Jacobsen in the cockpit of a jet.
Ian Jacobsen in the cockpit of a jet.

The next group of photographs Ian shows me are framed on the wall, like trophies. They are pictures of the planes he's flown with names that sound like they're from comic books: the Caribou, the Macchi, the Vampire, the Gnat, the Winjeel, the Dakota, the Bac 1-11 and the Hawker Siddeley HS.748.

 

The Caribou is his favourite. It's a two-engine tactical transport aircraft that can stop on the side of a mountain. It's his favourite because it's the one he manned in Vietnam. It's the one that kept him safe for the wife he'd married just weeks before leaving.

"(The Caribou) was a way to get to Vietnam. A lot of my mates went to fighter-type aircrafts like Mirages but they never got there. They didn't get involved in any of it," he says.

"Most of their flights were taking off and going high up, do some playing around and then back onto the same base. I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to feel as though I was taking something from A to B, whether it is a person, whether it is a box, something."

Ian went to New Guinea initially where he learnt "guts flying". It involved landing the big transporters on hillsides, in valleys, in difficult and often awkward places.

The training he got there gave him the skills he needed for Vietnam, but nothing could ever prepare him for what he saw.

"The main thing we ever really brought out was bodies," he says.

"Our job was to take bodies to Saigon to the morgues. They were all in clear plastic bags and I tell you what, the smell in there was horrific. But I reckon I really learnt to fly in those days."

Returning from the war and having learnt to fly, Ian progressed through the ranks of the air force, becoming a trainer of pilots.

In '69 he did some time in Sale, in the Gippsland region of Victoria, paying his dues, then he moved the family - by the early '70s Ian and his wife, Carroll, had two children - to England with the air force over there on an exchange program. It was in the UK that he became a flying training examiner and travelled to Jordan, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

 

Ian Jacobsen in charge of VIP Royal Australian Airforce pictured with his team next to a dapper-looking Prince Charles.
Ian Jacobsen in charge of VIP Royal Australian Airforce pictured with his team next to a dapper-looking Prince Charles.

The next photo Ian shows me is of him standing in uniform, lined up beside Prince Charles. It's from his three-year stint as head of the Royal Australian Air Force Number 34 VIP squadron - the Prime Minister's airline service.

 

Ian was head of the unit during Malcolm Fraser's term, got the gig a few years after arriving back from England. Through it he carted the Queen, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles and of course, the astronauts across the country. He was in charge of about 175 staff.

But it was to be his last role in the military. When Fraser bowed out, Ian decided it was as good a time as any to chase the sunset. He was just 42-years-old but had achieved all he'd ever wanted to.

"I agonised over that decision for quite a long time," Ian explains. "My wife and I had quite a few wines trying to make that decision because it was a joint decision. I had done all the right things and ticked all the right boxes so if I had have stayed in I probably could have become a very, very senior officer in the military…but we decided to buy an orchard on the Sunshine Coast."

The orchard didn't pan out so well, so Ian started training pilots again, privately this time. He had several students and his children were settled and enjoying life on the farm.

But after being in the air for so long, Ian was always going to find it difficult to remain settled. He got bored for the first time since his youth and on this occasion his escape would come in much the same way.

"My wife saw an ad and said, 'You've got to do something'. I was going stir crazy and I was still young," he says. "The ad was about Antarctica, to manage stations there."

Australia claims almost 75% of Antarctica as its territory. To be able to hold onto that territory, it has to have a 24/7 presence in the region and produce scientific data that is sent to universities throughout the world for study.

 

Ian Jacobsen takes in the view from a vessel in Antarctic waters.
Ian Jacobsen takes in the view from a vessel in Antarctic waters.

Ian hands me the next photo - he is surrounded by ice, snow and whiteness. As a station manager, he was part of two 18-month expeditions there. His job was to make sure the scientists had the facilities they needed to perform their work. He was also responsible for the morale of the men and women.

 

In winter, the groups were mostly confined to the stations. In summer, Ian would co-ordinate boats and helicopters to take the scientists to important research sites to study animals and the natural environment.

"One of the greatest thrills I had was taking an expedition across the ice plateau from Davis Station, where I was at, to a place called Zhongshan, which was the Chinese base," he says.

"It was supposed to be a five day trip across the plateau. The plateau is about 3000ft up and you have to climb up there and you follow around the top of the plateau and there's absolutely nothing up there, absolutely nothing. There's no water, just ice, up to two miles of ice below you."

Another photograph I come across shows one of the research boats run aground.

"I was the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Australian Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE) at Macquarie Island when the Nella Dan was swept onto the rocks during violent weather in the early evening of Thursday, December 3, 1987," he says.

"As OIC I was responsible for co-ordinating the rescue of everyone on board and accommodating them on the island until a relief ship arrived some six days later. At that time there were a maximum of 32 beds on the island before the ship went aground. During the six days there were 102 on the station to be fed, kept warm and given a place to sleep."

Since his last expedition in the early '90s, life had been relatively tame by Ian's standards. There are no more pictures chronicling his adventures. Ian and Carroll moved to Burrum Heads, became part of the Fraser Coast community and watched their children become adults. But plans are under way for another expedition, another adventure, and this time around, it's in Ian's own backyard.

Ian and others plan to cross the Nullarbor on scooters, in September next year, to raise money for Beyond Blue and to prove to younger generations that older people still have something to offer.

"It's called the Scootarbor Challenge. Our concept plan says: 'It's a group of older persons, aged 65-plus, riding 50cc motor scooters across the Nullarbor from Port Augusta to Norseman and then continue on to Perth'," he says.

The challenge is open to anyone, so everyone has a chance to take part. For details see scootarborchallenge.org.au or visit Facebook and search for Scootarbor Challenge.

Ian Jacobsen pictured with his wife, Carroll.
Ian Jacobsen pictured with his wife, Carroll.

Topics:  antarctica, burrum heads, royal australian air force



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