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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Follett, Frank William (1892–1950)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Frank William Follett (1892-1950), aviator and aerial surveyor, was born on 27 March 1892 at Marrickville, Sydney, son of English parents William Follett, warehouseman from Devonshire and his wife Ada, née Dodridge. Educated at Sydney Boys' High School, he joined the firm of Simpson Bros, engineers, in Sydney, and in May 1910 then joined the engineering department of the Metropolitan Board of Water Supply and Sewerage as a cadet draftsman and by 1916 was a compiling draftsman.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in January 1916, Follett saw active service in France with the Australian Field Engineers and was later promoted sergeant and assistant technical warrant officer. After training with No.29 Training Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, at Fern Hill, England, he was commissioned second lieutenant in the A.I.F. on 18 November 1917 and lieutenant in the Australian Flying Corps on 18 February 1918.

In July 1918 in France with No.2 Scouting Squadron operating out of Reclinghem (south-west of Aire) with S.E.5s, Follett saw much action harassing the enemy over the Lys in poor flying conditions. During the August Somme offensive his squadron helped reinforce British scouts in the Fourth Army and took part in the air-raids on Lille. In September he went back to No.6 Training Squadron in England.

Returning to Australia in June 1919, he resumed his pre-war job. On 24 April 1920 at St Paul's Catholic Church, Dulwich Hill, he married Helen Gertrude Molloy. On 2 February Follett was appointed superintendent of aircraft in the civil aviation branch of the Department of Defence under H. C. Brinsmead with headquarters in Melbourne; his work included the inspection of aircraft all over Australia and flight-testing new models. At Richmond, New South Wales, in December 1924, during Australia's first flying week for testing locally built low-powered aircraft, Follett flew departmental aeroplanes; he gained the highest number of points in the trials in a P.H.53 (but failed to beat Bert Hinkler's mileage record), and won the aerial Derby, in a D.H.37. He resigned from the Defence Department in June 1929 and from July 1929 to August 1930 was manager and chief instructor of the (Royal) Aero Club of New South Wales at Mascot.

In 1930 Follett founded Adastra Airways Pty Ltd which specialized in aerial surveying. In 1939, aware of the enormous potential in Australia and the lag in Australia's aerial mapping programme, he studied the latest techniques in England, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany, arriving home just before the outbreak of World War II. After the war the firm expanded. By 1949 it had the most sophisticated stereo-plotting equipment in Australia and received large government contracts including an 8000-sq. mile (21,000 km²) survey of the entire Darling River.

Quiet, retiring and somewhat dour, Follett played a leading part in the development of aerial surveying and photogrammetry. His outside interests included tennis, boating, growing orchids and Legacy. He was a member of the Imperial Service Club of New South Wales and of the Royal Society of Arts, London. In 1935 he received the silver medal of the Royal Humane and Shipwreck Society.

Follett died of heart disease at the wheel of his car outside his Vaucluse home on 25 October 1950 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. He was survived by his wife; a daughter had predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps … 1914-1918 (Syd, 1938)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Feb 1921, 4, 8, 9 Dec 1924, 22 July 1926, 26 Aug 1932, 18 Aug 1939, 20 Apr, 9 May 1949, 27 Oct 1950
  • private information.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Follett, Frank William (1892–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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