A highly skilled and experienced pilot, Colin Pay was a pioneer in the Australian agricultural aviation industry and, through his passion for restoring old warbirds, a legend in the flying fraternity. Born on 26 October 1932 to Bede and Ethel Pay, Col Pay grew up in central west New South Wales. He developed his love of planes and all things mechanical as a boy. The Pay family later moved to Narromine where his father established an auto electrical business. Col left school at the age of 15 and began working in the family business. He started flying lessons in Narromine in 1951 and gained his pilot’s licence in 1952. He flew a variety of aircraft and later became an instructor at the Narromine Aero Club.
In 1957, Col Pay became a commercial pilot and began working for Max Hazelton at Hazelton Airlines, which was offering charter services from a farm at Toogong, about 50 kilometres west of Orange. He saved all his spare funds to buy his first aircraft, a de Havilland Tiger Moth, which was put to work when, in 1959, he formed a partnership with Brian Williamson to establish the aerial agriculture business Pay & Williamson Pty Ltd at Narromine. In 1963, the company purchased three former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Noorduyn Norsemans, which they converted for use in the aerial agricultural operation across large parts of New South Wales and Queensland.
The company moved to Scone in the Hunter Valley in 1964 and later reformed as Pays Air Service. It became one of the country’s largest and most successful aerial work companies, expanding to include operations outside Australia. It further diversified to encompass aerial firefighting services and aircraft sales. The latter included the acquisition and sale of a variety of ex-military aircraft, including North American T-28s from Laos, Cessna 0-1 Bird Dogs from Thailand and Vietnam, and Cessna A-37 Dragonflys from Vietnam.
Over his years in the industry Col Pay helped to develop many of the techniques commonly practised in the aerial top dressing, spraying and crop dusting industry today. He was one of the first agricultural pilots in Australia with a night rating, which allowed him to spray cotton after dark. In his later years he was committed to training the next generation of pilots.
Col Pay’s first aircraft was a de Havilland Tiger Moth and, in partnership, he owned an Australian built CAC Mustang that was kept at Narromine until sold to buy a washing machine. Years later, in 1978, he purchased another Mustang, VH-AUB, which he restored and repainted in its former RAAF markings at his Scone maintenance facility. He became a regular performer in the Mustang at air shows throughout NSW.
His interest in warbird aircraft saw him purchase from the estate of the late Sid Marshall in 1982 a Spitfire Mk VIII, which required a complete rebuild. Its first flight post the restoration was seen as a crowning achievement for Australia’s warbird movement. Col Pay operated the Spitfire from 1985 to 2000, showcasing it to enthusiasts and veterans across the country. It was sold to the Temora Aviation Museum in 2000, but he maintained his association with the aircraft, flying it at Temora whenever he had the opportunity.
Col Pay’s warbird collection also included Australia’s first airworthy P-40 Kittyhawk as well as most of the significant fighter aircraft operated by the RAAF during World War II. Scone became a key destination for aircraft enthusiasts, with the bi-annual “Warbirds over Scone” air shows drawing thousands of spectators from across Australia and overseas. He was also a regular performer at Temora’s flying weekends bringing his Mustang or restored P-40, thrilling the crowds with his professional displays.
In October 2005 in front of iconic American astronaut Buzz Aldrin and a crowd of more than 13,000, Col Pay piloted a fully operational replica of the Wright Brothers model-A bi-plane, Spirit of Flight, on its maiden public flight at Narromine. He had also provided the cables and fittings for the aircraft, which was built by Narromine father and son, Keith and Eric Hayden.
Col Pay died on 7 December 2007 when his fire-bombing air tractor crashed while scooping water from the surface of Lake Liddell. He was 75. He is survived by his wife Dianne, son Ross and daughters Jillian and Helen.
The Australian Aviation Hall of Fame proudly inducts aerial agriculture and warbird icon, Colin Pay.