One of Transfield's key characteristics was that of taking up the challenge of new, risky, yet stimulating enterprises. Reaching for the sky was one of them.  



Page Media:

1967. Franco on the top of Transfield House, playing with a model of the Airtruk.

1967. Franco on the top of Transfield House, playing with a model of the Airtruk.

Chapter One

In 1964, the directors of Transfield decided to back the idea of manufacturing a new agricultural airplane, to be called the Airtruk, and to build at Seven Hills a modern factory and an airfield for its production and test flying.

The idea of plunging into the yet commercially untested activity of aircraft production came to Belgiorno-Nettis and to Salteri following their meeting an Italian aircraft designer, Luigi Pellarini. Early in 1964, Transfield registered the subsidiary company Transavia Pty Ltd.



Page Media:

Early 1960s. Franco and Pellarini with an Airtruk model. Early 1960s. Franco, Carlo and designer Luigi Pellarini examine a model of the Airtruk. 1964. Franco Belgiorno-Nettis discusses the Airtruk with its designer, Luigi Pellarini.

Chapter Two

By May of that year, a 16,000 square feet plant and a 19,000 feet airstrip was completed, and work on the prototype of the new craft had commenced.

On 15 April 1965, the first prototype took off from the strip at Seven Hills. An elated, yet apprehensive Belgiorno-Nettis declared to the Press: "We have already made a plane, the Airtruk, which looks like a baby elephant... I have sunk a quarter of a million pounds into the plane. I want it out of the red".



Page Media:

1970. Aerial view of Seven Hills factory complex. In the middle is Transavia’s airstrip. December 1975. An Airtruk taking off from a rough airstrip at Newcastle, NSW.

Chapter Three

The first overseas order came from New Zealand. An aerial topdressing company purchased five Airtruks to drop superphosphate. By December 1968, fourteen planes were operating in New Zealand. At that time, the Airtruk was the only aircraft being produced commercially in Australia.

Production of the Airtruk stepped up in the following years: by August 1969, 29 planes had been produced; over 50 by December 1973 and a total of 101 were built by June 1981.


Page Media:

1974. The Airtruk production line at Seven Hills.

1974. The Airtruk production line at Seven Hills.

Chapter Four

International interest in the unusual craft grew quickly. In 1969 the Airtruk was shown in South Africa, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Pakistan and Kenya. In 1971, demonstrations of the Airtruk capabilities were held in Denmark and Hungary, in 1973 at the Paris Air Show, and in 1976 the new plane was shown in California.

In 1977, Transavia began manufacturing Airtruk components in Taiwan. The parts were re-imported in Australia for assembly at Seven Hills.


Page Media:

1970’s. Franco shows Transavia’s factory to a group of visitors. 1985. Skyfarmers ready for delivery to the People’s Republic of China.

Chapter Five

The Airtruk even attracted the attention of kings and dictators. In 1971, Thailand's King Bhumibol imparted a Buddhist blessing to the first craft purchased by that country and, at the end of that year, Sudan's President Nemeiry inspected a plane at Khartoum airport.

By 1985, 75% of the aircraft produced had been exported to Denmark, South Africa, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, New Zealand, China and Yugoslavia.

At the beginning of 1980, fifteen years after the prototype first flew, the Airtruk still was the most efficient agricultural aircraft in the world. The plane could lift a one-ton payload, more than its own weight. Its strange configuration earned it various nicknames, including "the flying Mango". It could be loaded in 20-30 seconds and land and take off from very short, rough country airstrips.



Page Media:

December 1972. President Nemeiry of Sudan inspecting an Airtruk at Khartoum Airport. 1980s. Airtruk in flight over Seven Hills.

Chapter Six

In 1983, Transavia engineers researched into the adaptation of the aircraft to a military role. The new model was designed to operate from rough strips, to carry weapons and forward stores, to perform field ambulance work and to support border patrol and counter-insurgency operations.

However, this attempt at breaking into the profitable air defence industry did not meet with success. The Federal Government afforded only lukewarm support to Transavia's efforts to expand and to build on the undisputed technical success of the military version of the Airtruk. Already in 1967, a frustrated Belgiorno-Nettis bitterly remarked that "with the combined efforts of the Government and the Department of Civil Aviation, the industry had been brought to a standstill".



Page Media:

Military version of the Airtruk. Medevac, ambulance version of the Airtruk.

Chapter Seven - Image Gallery

The world recession that badly affected the agricultural sector during the 1980s put an end to Transavia's hopes to mass produce the Airtruk. Orders dwindled and the plane was produced only on commission.

By 1988, Transavia reached the end of its commercial life and ceased producing the aircraft in its several versions, the Airtruks PL12, PL12U, PL12M300, T-300, T-300A and T-320. In total, 117 airplanes had been built at Seven Hills over twenty years of production.  



1960s. Airtruk in flight over Seven Hills. 1960s. Airtruk in flight over Seven Hills.