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Jones, Leslie John Roberts (1886–1970)

by E. D. Daw

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Leslie John Roberts Jones (1886-1970), aeronautical engineer, was born on 4 June 1886 at Bathurst, New South Wales, second son of William Henry Jones, picture-framemaker, and his wife Rosina, née Dumbrell. He was educated at St Stanislaus College and worked in his father's shop. His family later moved to Sydney, where Jones was apprenticed to Edge and Edge Ltd, electrical and mechanical engineers. He later worked as an engineer for several firms.

While a hospital X-ray operator, in 1907 Jones turned his attention to aeronautics, trying to design a steam engine. With his brother William he constructed a frame and engine, which he entered (on paper) in the Commonwealth military aircraft competition in 1910. After much testing at Penrith the aircraft flew short distances, but was damaged in a storm. Next year he constructed a lighter machine also powered by steam; it was wrecked, rebuilt with a petrol engine, but abandoned after further damage.

On 16 October 1916 Jones enlisted in the 4th Squadron, Australian Flying Corps and served in France; he was discharged in London with the rank of corporal mechanic on 20 March 1919. At Birmingham on 30 April he married Pretoria Eugesta Hinchcliffe; they were childless and were divorced in 1936. Remaining in England, Jones joined General Electric Co. Ltd and A. V. Roe & Co. Ltd, aircraft manufacturers. Back in Australia in 1921 he worked for Edgar Percival at Richmond, Aviation Service Co. Ltd and Larkin Aircraft Supply Co., then set up as an aeronautical engineer and consultant. From February 1923 he was one of the few to hold aircraft-engineer licences in all categories.

Commissioned in 1927 to design and construct an aircraft for the Australian market, and crossing the Tasman Sea, Jones designed an all-steel welded framework. A contemporary report referred to it as a 'chrysallis', concealing 'many strange innovations in the business of aircraft construction'. Usually known as the 'Wonga', it had a Curtiss engine. After successful flight tests it was damaged by a storm in August 1930 and was rebuilt using the Harkness Hornet engine. On 16 June 1932 it crashed, killing both occupants.

In the early 1930s Jones lectured on aeronautical engineering at the East Sydney Technical College, and was a foundation member of the Hargrave Institute. From May 1933 he helped to design and construct an all-Australian aircraft for the 1934 London to Melbourne centenary air race; however time and money expired and it was abandoned.

Jones for a time worked with Tugan Aircraft Ltd on the Gannet, and with (Sir) George Julius. In World War II he was project engineer for the State division of the Department of Aircraft Production, and worked on the Mosquito bomber. After the war he left the aircraft industry, and retired altogether in 1962. He died at Windsor on 28 July 1970 and was buried in the Field of Mars cemetery with Methodist forms. He was survived by his second wife Olive Marion, née Love, whom he had married at Killara on 7 November 1936, and by their son. A contemporary claimed that Jones's contribution to aeronautical design in Australia had been outstanding.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Goode, Wood, Wire and Fabric (Melb, 1968)
  • R. J. Gibson, Australia and Australians in Civil Aviation, vol 1 (Syd, 1971)
  • Aircraft (Melbourne), 15 May 1923, p 316, 20 Oct 1924, p 2
  • Australasian Engineer, 30 (Dec 1930), no 174, p 4, 36
  • Institute of Engineers, Australia, Journal, 9 (June 1937), no 6, p 247
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Dec 1931
  • L. J. R. Jones papers (privately held)
  • MP 1849/8/132 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

E. D. Daw, 'Jones, Leslie John Roberts (1886–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jones-leslie-john-roberts-6878/text11921, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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