Vladmir Victorovich Slusarenko, the builder
of this Heath Parasol, was born at Piflis, Russia in 1889, son of Victor Slusarenko and a general of artillery in the Imperial Russian army. Even when quite a youth, Slusarenko became interested in aviation, then in it’s early infancy.
In 1911, young Slusarenko gained the first aviation license to be issued in Russia and the thirteenth international licence.
Around this time he attempted a flight of 400 miles from St.Petersburg to Moscow
at a time when flying 60 miles was regarded as a daring achievement. The Aeroplane was a Farman that looked more like a box kite than a flying machine and as often happened in those early days, engine trouble compelled a forced landing. When Slusarenko was
rescued from the wreckage, his left leg was smashed at the knee and doubled up under his armpit. The doctor’s verdict that he would be lame for life did not deter him from flying or from going up again in the same type of aeroplane.
From piloting aeroplanes, Slusarenko advanced to studying aircraft designs & construction and eventually established an aeroplane factory at Riga in Latvia however during the First World War, the factory was forced to
close. At a later date, the factory re-opened near St.Petersburg in conjunction with the famous Igor Sikorsky. Between them they employed over 500 men and built 392 aeroplanes for the Imperial Russian Government before both were forced to leave
Russia. Sikorsky emigrated to the USA to build huge flying boats and develop the first commercial helicopters, the descendants of which are still manufactured today. Slusarenko’s departure from Russia was yet to involve many more adventures.
Led by the Bolsheviks
During the Russian revolution, Slusarenko’s father and like so many right wing “white Russian” generals, was murdered by the revolutionary left wing Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks also
arrested the younger Slusarenko and threw him in jail before soughting after his supposed family wealth but after a month they released him hoping that by shadowing him they would be able to locate the secret hoard. Slusarenko, however, was well known
to many of the English residents and members of the British military mission in Russia. Through the good offices of the British consul and others, he was smuggled out of the country in the same way that so many aristocrats were gotten out of France during
the French revolution. At Murmansk he was betrayed and re-arrested, but made a daring escape one night through a small window crossing the ice with a reindeer team to northern Norway.
While at Oslo in 1918,
Slusarenko was invited to accept a lieutenant’s commission and to serve with the British Expeditionary Force. He joined the newly formed Royal Air Force as a pilot and did valuable work. When Admiral Koltchak raised a White Russian army to fight
the Bolsheviks in Siberia, he asked the British to permit Slusarenko to form a special air force.
After many adventures the Russian airman reached Siberia, only to find Koltchak’s army in retreat. Shortly
afterwards, the admiral himself was betrayed, captured and executed. Slusarenko escaped with the remainder of the army, who marched for three months in the middle of the Siberian winter, through snow feet deep and in the face of blizards to get to Harbin in
Manchuria China and there he remained for five years as an engineer in the Chinese Eastern Railway until the Bolsheviks came and once again forced him to flee however sometime later a powerful Englishman in China arranged for him to come to
“Miss Sandgate” is born
In exile in Queensland, Slusarenko found a relatively normal life. He became an aircraft Mechanic at Archerfield until he was able to purchase a garage in Rainbow Street at Sandgate with Mr. Arthur Perkins. The business was known as
the “Sandgate Motor Coy.” This garage still exists as the “Matilda Service Station” at Sandgate, the proprietor being Graeme Cromie.
A man with 7 000 hours flying to his credit, Slusarenko
could not be content to stay on the ground so he hankered once again to spread his pinions and to popularize aviation. So Slusarenko, now known as “Bill Slusar”, devoted his spare time to bring flying within the reach of the average income and
the “baby” Heath Parasol monoplane became the result, born in the Sandgate Garage, with parts stored in the Sandgate Ice Factory, now the Miter 10 warehouse across the road.
The Heath Parasol monoplane
was designed by Ed Heath of the USA around a modified Henderson four cylinder, in line motorcycle engine. The 1927 prototype sourced the 25-foot parasol wing from the top mainplane of a “Thomas Moore Scout” World War One biplane. It was designed
as an aeroplane anyone could build and fly.
Bill Slusar chose the slightly more advanced 1931 Heath “V” Parasol version with a welded steel fuselage. The plan was advertised for US$5.00 in a
popular aviation magazine along with a series of articles written especially by Ed Heath, outlining in fine detail the construction methods. “Miss Sandgate” would have been one of the first tubular steel fuselages welded in Queensland. Slusar went
to the added effort of sliding a smaller steel tube inside the main one at each weld point. This project would have preceded the manufacture of the DH60 “Metal Moths” constructed in Australia.
a proud Bill Slusar surveying his handiwork, 1932 photographs depict the already constructed and trial-assembled steel-tube fuselage and empennage, with wooden wing spars and ribs made from spruce. Bolts and diagonal brace tension wires had been eliminated
from the previous 1927 Ed Heath fuselage design. The original propeller was hand-carved from exquisitely laminated wood slabs by a Sandgate carpenter. The wooden fairings on the rear of the steel tube “V” struts were beautifully routed to fit perfectly
and add rigidity to the strut without adding excess weight. Slusar modified his Henderson engine by installing aluminum alloy pistons in order to gain more horsepower. He also cast and machined his own version of the extension housing that was required to
fit the extra bearing to support the propeller shaft. Two large magneto’s were fitted, one facing forward and the other aft, a hole being cut through the firewall to fit the latter.
There were other helpers
in “Miss Sandgate’s” construction including Bill Slusar’s partner Arthur Perkins, their apprentice Gordon Batten and a youthful Douglas Power. Doug remembered rushing to the garage after school to help Bill Slusar turn the wings as
he covered them with Irish linen, then balloon stitched and doped them. Douglas went on to learn to fly at Archerfield, and actually flew the Heath. Later in World War Two he trained with the RAAF and then the Empire Air Training Scheme in Canada where he
met his wife Jean. He later went to England with the RAF as a ferry pilot, flying many different types of aircraft. On de-mobilization back to Australia he started Powers Canvas at Toowoomba, a business that his son continues to run to this day.
On completion in 1934, Slusar’s Heath Parasol was transported from Sandgate to Archerfield by Grice’s Transport. Photographs on this occasion show the Heath equipped with a solid cross axle
and large diameter wheels. It had MISS SANDGATE proudly emblazoned in large letters down the side and is shown under the wing of an Avro 10 at Archerfield, similar to the famous “Southern Cross” Fokker Tri-Motor flown by Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith.
On this occasion the ‘plane had a trait which impeded his efforts to get it off the ground. It slewed on the take off run. A pilot, Captain Percival, watched his efforts and suggested that instead of slackening momentum
when the ‘plane started to slew, that Slusar should increase the speed. This was tried and proved to be the solution to the problem. This treatment, however, must have taken its toll, and the Heath often required modification and repair and was
necessary a number of times. With the wings removed and the fuselage tied to the back of the truck with a piece of rope, it was ignominiously towed back to Sandgate.
The Heath, at this time, was not given a
Certificate of Airworthiness, and was only under a “Permit to Fly”, issued by the Department of Civil Aviation, which restricted it’s flight to within three miles of the aerodrome.
“Miss Sandgate” re-appeared at Archerfield with a lower slung split undercarriage utilizing compression spring struts. This arrangement was similar to the Petersen Sportster, a later modified version of the Heath. It was also similar to that used
on the famous Avro Avian.
For a period, young men wanting to build up flying hours, used the Heath at Archerfield as the “local hack”. Amongst these were the aforementioned Douglas Power, and also
Bill Maddocks. Gordon Batten recalled with wonder, that one intrepid young man even looped her.
The Heath’s fate immediately after this fades from the records. There was one rather large gentleman, according
to Harold Kenny, who obtained a finer-pitched propeller for the Henderson Engine in order to try to get it off the ground with him on board. Harold swapped this propeller with him in exchange for parts from an Avro Avian. Some of these parts were possibly
later used in the Avian restored by Lang Kidby for his England to Australia 1998 re-enactment of Bert Hinkler’s flight.
Gordon Batten later heard that shortly after the Second World War “Miss Sandgate”
had been sold for a few pounds to a man who wanted it as a toy for his son. Stories abound of a small aeroplane hanging under a house, Mr NC Peterson of Sandgate is rumored to have last owned it before its migration to Gympie.
It appears Slusarenko may have been married previously to Lydia in St. Petersburg in Russia and had one son Igor, possibly named after Igor Sikorsky. It appears they both died before Slusarenko emigrated to Australia. Slusarenko’s brother
Gregory also came to Australia to live in Sydney, where his descendants George Slusarenko and Sascha White still live.
Vladmir Victorovich Slusarenko died in the Eventide Nursing Home at Redcliffe. He
was buried on 25 January 1969 at the Mt.Gravatt cemetery after a funeral service at the Russian Orthodox Church, Vulture St. Woolloongabba. He was survived by his second wife Claudia.
The Heath Parasol re-emerges
The next reference to the Heath comes from Col Pratt of Gympie who discovered it was owned
by Mr V Burton, who had a motorcycle shop in Gympie. Col Pratt and his friend Col Byrne unofficially attempted to fly the Heath on a number of occasions at Glastonbury near Gympie. Col Pratt tells of his dairy farmer neighbor’s wife, who was shocked
to see the Heath shoot past the kitchen window on a forced landing after yet another unsuccessful attempt at flight. Apparently the power from the Henderson engine was insufficient to propel it to any great altitude.
existence of the Heath came to the notice of Kevin Wilson of Smoky Creek, Jambin, via another local grazier Bruce Fawkes, who was a brother-in-law to Col Pratt. Kev, along with my brother Bill Neale, travelled from Jambin to Gympie to inspect the Heath. They
met Col at the Royal Hotel in Gympie and went on to inspect the fuselage at Mr C Burns property, Thomas St, and the wings at Mr V Burtons, Stewart Terrace Gympie.
Kevin subsequently purchased the
Heath, complete with broken undercarriage on the 14th May 1960, for one hundred and thirty-six pounds. One hundred pounds was for the aeroplane, and the thirty-six pounds was for a new propeller obtained by Col Pratt who insisted that 2,500
RPM could be gained from the Henderson engine with the new prop, against the 1,900 RPM when the last prang occurred. Kev and Bill took a cattle truck to Gympie to bring “Miss Sandgate” back to Smoky Creek.
recall, as an eight year old boy, going to see the Heath at Smoky Creek, and staring at it, wondering how anyone could possibly take to the air in such a small aeroplane. Maybe someone little like me could squirm into its tiny cockpit and fulfill the dream
of flight. Kev and his brother Ivan restored the aeroplane using Irish Linen as the wing covering and Medapolin on the fuselage. I can recall Ivan and his new bride Judy, balloon stitching the fabric to the wings during their honeymoon.
The Henderson engine again proved inadequate during Kev’s belated attempts at flight. The Heath was again retired from service and securely stored in the workshop at Smoky Creek.