The Aussie pilot whose job was to fly the Queen and prime minister around Australia
Ian Jacobsen says thank you to the Caribou he flew in Vietnam, at the Queensland Air Museum. (ABC Sunshine Coast: Kylie Bartholomew)
There are not many people who can say they have shared sandwiches with the Queen, but 77-year-old former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) pilot Ian ‘Jake’ Jacobsen can.
After a long career in the RAAF, Mr Jacobsen, based on the Sunshine Coast, took up what was to be his final posting in the early 1980s.
He was made commanding officer of No 34 VIP Squadron, based in Canberra, with the rank of Wing Commander, which was arguably Australia’s top aviation position.
“They do all the prime ministerial flights, governor general flights, [and] all the royal flights when royalty comes from the UK,” Mr Jacobsen said.
“I flew the Queen several times during her three tours of Australia during that period, and I was Malcolm Fraser’s primary pilot and flew two Governors-General — Sir Zelman Cowan and Sir Ninian Stephen.
“You got invited to the prime minister’s house and the Lodge for dinner once or twice a year and I never, ever expected that I would be doing any of that sort of thing. It was a nice part of my life.”
One of Mr Jacobsen’s most memorable times was flying NASA astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen. He treasures this memorabilia. (Supplied: Ian Jacobsen)
It was during a flight from Perth to Sydney in the early ’80s that Mr Jacobsen had a royal experience that he has never forgotten.
“I was invited as captain of the aircraft to go down and have tea and sandwiches with the Queen,” Mr Jacobsen said.
“Everybody jokes and says it’s got to be white bread with cucumber in the sandwich, and it was. It was so delightful to sit there one-on-one with the Queen, [and] see her absolutely relaxed.
“You look back on your life and you think ‘Hey, there’s not too many people who get that opportunity’.”
Mr Jacobsen, standing beside Prince Charles at Mount Gambier in 1981, flew royalty many times during his time as commanding officer of No 34 VIP Squadron. (Supplied: Ian Jacobsen)
The Vietnam War
Mr Jacobsen’s time on that flight with the Queen was a long way from the start of his RAAF career.
His first posting in 1968 was to Vietnam during the war where he spent a year flying a Caribou, an aircraft unique for its ability to fly slowly and land in unprepared airfields using grass or dirt runways.
The exact Caribou Mr Jacobsen flew in Vietnam currently sits in the Queensland Air Museum at Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast, where he volunteers as a tour guide.
“Every time I come to the museum I put my hand on its nose and say ‘Thank you for looking after me’,” he said.
Mr Jacobsen considers himself one of the “lucky ones” who did not suffer PTSD as a result of his time serving in the Vietnam War. (Supplied: Ian Jacobsen)
Mr Jacobsen recalled his posting as gruelling, with 12-hour days and six-day working weeks that left him feeling “pretty shattered” on his day off.
His work included support work for the Australian Army, running scheduled flights for the south Vietnamese village people, carrying the dead and wounded, as well as drums of fuel, and mail.
Mr Jacobsen said returning to the family home after a year away from his wife had been difficult because he and his wife Carroll had married only just before he was posted to Vietnam.
“My wife had been by herself for a year,” he said.
“As a couple we had difficulties when I got back to sort things out … she had her own life and all of a sudden I’m back … men in those days liked to make the decisions in the family.
“I had to learn quickly!”
After returning from Vietnam, Mr Jacobsen taught and examined pilots before embarking on a three-year exchange with the RAF in the United Kingdom, which earnt him a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.
From aviation to Antarctica
Some years later, driven by a desire for a completely different career away from aviation, Mr Jacobsen became an expedition leader with Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition.
“I picked up a newspaper and I thought, ‘What can a retired old pilot do?'” he said.
As it turned out he found not one but two postings of a lifetime, the first on Macquarie Island and a few years later at Davis Station on the Antarctic continent.
Chasing a completely different career to aviation, Mr Jacobsen ended up as an expedition leader for a year on Macquarie Island. (Supplied: Ian Jacobsen)
Both postings involved six month pre-expedition preparations in Tasmania before the year-long memorable postings.
“At the end of our voyage [on Macquarie Island] we were supposed to get on the MV Nella Dan, which was supposed to take us down to Commonwealth Bay where Sir Douglas Mawson had his hut,” he said.
The MV Nella Dan was grounded on rocks at Macquarie Island in December 1987. (Supplied: Ian Jacobsen)
“We were going to do some work on it, but a big storm came up and the Nella Dan got blown onto the rocks and eventually had to be sunk.”
His subsequent posting to Davis Station was busy, including a role leading a plateau traverse from the station to the Chinese Zhongshan Station and return.
One of Mr Jacobsen’s highlights on the Antarctic continent was leading the return trip from Davis Station to the Chinese Zhongshan Station in 1993. (Supplied: Ian Jacobsen)
Love of family, community
Mr Jacobsen said it had been a sacrifice to be away from family for that period of time at the very bottom of Earth.
“I was married and had two children in their teenage years, a big decision to make,” he said.
“However, we got through it and my children and my wife are the most magnificent people in my life.”
The 77-year-old, who also organised the 2014 Scootarbor Challenge that raised more than $78,000 for Beyond Blue, has always taken pride in giving back.
He now spends his days volunteering in the Sunshine Coast University Hospital emergency department and sharing his love of flying with aviation enthusiasts at the Queensland Air Museum.
“It’s so nice to see the young people coming through wanting to learn to make a career out of aviation,” Mr Jacobsen said.
“I find I don’t have too many hours left in the week these days.”