The Honourable Company of Air Pilots incorporating Air Navigators

The Grand Master's Australian Medal

Awarded to an individual, a group or organisation involved in any branch of aviation in the Australian Region or to Australian nationals abroad, who or which has made a meritorious contribution to any aviation activity, either by displaying technical excellence or by the development of a procedure or operational technique of an outstanding nature.


2018 awarded to:  James Eric Thurstan

Jim’s aviation career began in 1955 as an apprentice engineer, this training culminating in the award on graduation of the Arthur Baird Shield as Dux of the Jim ThurstanQantas Technical School. Following qualification on the airframe and engines of the Boeing B707-300, Lockheed L1049 and L188, Jim was posted to Route Stations which was a rare award for a newly graduated engineer! Service throughout the Qantas network saw him gain extensions on the BOAC B707-400 & VC10 and ANZ DC8-52 with his final post being Maintenance Manager Mauritius.

In 1970 he commenced flying as Flight Engineer on the B707, finally retiring as a Senior Check & Training Engineer on the B747. After retirement, he worked as a simulator instructor at Qantas for 6 years. However, in 1993 he became Senior Project Engineer on the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society’s (HARS) Lockheed Super Constellation restoration in Tucson, Arizona. Jim supervised and worked on the aircraft while also co-developing the technical course for the aircrew who would eventually fly the aircraft trans-Pacific and subsequently within Australia. He also qualified and flew as flight engineer on this aircraft.

In 1987, a South Australian replica Fokker VIIb/3m “Southern Cross II” VH-USU was completed and flown to commemorate the inaugural trans-Pacific crossing by the original Southern Cross in 1928. She is the largest reproduction aircraft in the world ad carries the original registration. Unfortunately, in May 2002, the starboard wheel became detached on takeoff and during the subsequent crash landing approximately 3m of the starboard wingtip was broken off. After a series of negotiations for her repair, in 2010 she was trucked to HARS at Illawarra regional Airport and repairs commenced.

Jim Thurstan became the Project Engineer for the aircraft. Under the guidance of Bill Whitney, designer of the SCII, and Captain Bruce Simpson, certifying engineer, Jim has led the team through a complete engineering audit of the aircraft including modification to the tail area and repair of the airframe. The crowning glory has been the repair of the wing to airworthy standard! Using FAA data as best practice, model and prototype repairs to gauge bonding, materials, methods and failure paths, new outer spars were scarfed onto the old wing with attendant manufacture of ribs and re-skinning. Stress testing of the wing with pallets of house-bricks being forked in and positioned by enthusiastic members of the local squadron of Australian Air Force Cadets was completed and in May 2018, the wing was mated with the fuselage.

Throughout this painstaking process, Jim’s leadership, practical approach and exhausting research has enabled an aircraft considered iconic in the history of Australian aviation to once again be capable of taking to the air.

For his innovation and methodology in aircraft engineering Jim Thurstan is awarded the Grand Master’s Australian Medal.


Previous Awards

1981/82 H C Minnett Esq Dr D N Cooper Dr J P Wild CSIRO Interscan Team

  1983  Not Awarded

1983/84 Brian Hamilton Heeps Esq

  1985  Not Awarded

1985/86 Dr Henry Millicer

1986/87 Ingo Renner Esq

1987/88 Wing Commander Bernard I Fernandes

  1989 - 1990  Not Awarded

1990/91 Don M Kendell Esq

1991/92 Laurence C Gruzman Esq

  1993  Not Awarded

1993/94 Squadron Leader Kevin W Rushworth

1994/95 Captain Ernest A Girault

1995/96 Gary Lawson-Smith Esq

1996/97 Australian Mission Aviation Fellowship

1997/98 The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society Inc.

  1999  Not Awarded

1999/2000 John G Roncz & Graham Swannell

2000/01 Captain Trevor Jensen

2001/02 Bob Peake

2002/03 Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia

  2004 - 2006  Not Awarded

2006/07  C-17 Transition Team & 36 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force

2007/08  Number 92 Wing, Royal Australian Air Force

2008/09  The School of Air Warfare, Royal Australian Air Force

2009/10  816 Squadron Royal Australian Navy

2010/11 Air Mobility Control Centre RAAF

  2012  Not Awarded

2012/13 Emergency Management Queensland - Helicopter Rescue

2013/14 Royal Australian Air Force Ageing Aircraft Systems Audit Team

2014/15 Flight Training Adelaide

2016  Temora Aviation Museum

2017  Royal Australian Air Force Aerobatic Team - The Roulettes

2018  James Eric Thurstan