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Tingwell takes off
Lack of air time nipped in the Bud

11 April, 2002

Charles 'Bud' Tingwell, prepares to fly with the Royal Australian Air Force Roulettes. Pictured with Bud are (left to right) FLTLT Micheal Briggs, FLTLT Andrew Greaves, FLTLT Rick Reid, Squadron Leader Greg Frisina, FLTLT Michael Wijnberg, FLTLT Col Wells and rear FLTLT Ian Wilson.
For Charles 'Bud' Tingwell, there has been a lot of 'air time' between flying RAAF Spitfires and Mosquitoes during World War II, and receiving acting accolades, achievements in the arts and induction to the TV Logie's Hall of Fame as one of Australia's most distinguished performers.

The years of 'air time' have all been on the stage and silver screen, and there's been no 'air-borne air time' - until recently.

'Bud' has not flown in command, nor has he touched the controls of an aircraft, since leaving the Air Force in 1946. After 75 combat missions, Bud had 'simply had enough'. Last month, though, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of receiving his RAAF Pilot's Wings in 1942, Bud was invited to 'shoot the blue' in an RAAF PC9 with the Air Force Roulettes over Melbourne.

All of a sudden, the glint in the eye of the former Flight Lieutenant returned.

After passing his medical and sitting through the pre-flight brief, Bud 'was excited beyond imagination'.

'I felt the instincts of tactical flying, the safety checks and the sheer thrill of high performance flight all kick in,' the star of movies such as The Dish and The Castle said.

Bud proudly displayed his original WWII leather flying helmet and goggles to Roulette 6, FLTLT Michael Briggs, whose duty it was to fly the icon of Australian stage and screen.

It was quite a talking point while he was being kitted out with a CFS helmet and mask, along with instructions on ejection seat procedures. After being shoe-horned into his 'G' suit, a trim looking Tingwell was ready to greet the task ahead, as he did over the skies of Australia, Canada, England and the Middle East all those years ago. FLTLT Briggs, while remaining in control of the PC9, allowed his special guest to follow through on the controls.

'He was as smooth and as in touch as anybody could be,' FLTLT Biggs said, adding that Tingwell's ability to use the correct amount of control input from his hands and feet for balanced flight was 'exceptional'.

Back on the ground, the veteran actor was delighted with the experience and said he felt privileged to have been afforded the opportunity to celebrate 60 years since receiving his RAAF Wings and to go back into the sanctity of space - a world he left behind years ago.

In a long and distinguished career, the closest Tingwell came to being type-cast on screen as a war time pilot was when he played an air traffic controller in the 1945 film Smithy, the story of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

Just before the end of WWII, he was a flying instructor with the Operational Training Unit, based at RAAF Williamtown. One day, his mum phoned to say he should get down to Sydney Airport; a film company was making a movie about Smithy and he would get the part if he wore his uniform.

Bud applied to his commanding officer for a day off and clinched the role. It was his first speaking part after years of hanging around Cinesound Studios in Bondi as a youngster, during the 1930s. The years that followed Smithy have taken Bud to the top in his somewhat 'accidental' profession, with numerous film credits to his name.

And when asked where the nickname 'Bud' came from, Tingwell smiled.

'Before I was born, a family member noticed my mother appeared to be expecting, and quipped, "what's budding there?"' Tingwell explained. 'That became, "how's bud coming along?" - the rest is history.'

Story by Peter Meehan
Photograph by SGT Troy Rodgers