No Bristol Beaufort has been flown for more than 65 years, very few have even survived (There are seven known examples and all are Australian production survivors, no Bristol manufactured examples exist). Now all that is to change, readers will be aware that for some time Ralph Cusack has been in the process of restoring a DAP built Beaufort, A9-141 to fly and recently I visited the project at Caboolture in Queensland Australia to monitor progress.
Department of Aircraft Production (DAP) Beaufort A9-141 MkV11 was constructed at Mascot NSW in 1942 and was handed over to the RAAF almost immediately. The aircraft served with 14 Sqn, 7 Sqn, 1OTU and 5OTU. It ground looped 14/01/44 at Tocumwal NSW and was subsequently written off. The remains of the aircraft were eventually recovered in the 1970’s and a couple of years later acquired by Ralph.
The restoration of this Beaufort had its genesis over twenty years ago in an industrial shed at Brisbane’s Eagle Farm not far from Brisbane International Airport. It started out with Ralph and a small group of helpers, and although progress was made, it was slow due to a limited budget and the complex, unique nature of the rebuild. Initially it had been proposed that the aircraft was to be a static rebuild, subsequently as experience was gained and parts became available a decision was made to attempt an airworthy restoration and work continued.
Several years ago, as progress stepped up, it was decided to move the Beaufort to a larger hanger at Caboolture Airport about an hour north of Brisbane. The move north was also to facilitate the final assembly, test flying and initial basing of the aircraft there.
This is an arduous and complex restoration with a myriad of issues to be overcome including the sourcing of thousands of parts. The final restoration, whilst based on the major assemblies and identity of DAP Beaufort A9-141, includes components of over eighty different Beauforts! Ralph is well travelled in the search for parts; he has spent decades scouring the Pacific and Australia recovering wrecks. A major hurdle was the location and incorporation of a suitable main spar for the wing – and then the frustrating discovery that the one utilised was itself damaged. All the work undertaken in that area required dismantling and rebuilding, an exercise which put the project back quite a few months and consumed considerable resources.
Ralph, as always the consummate professional worked on through all these difficulties and progress over the last few years has been remarkable. We have been visiting the project for many years now and one can’t help but be impressed with progress and dedication to the task, particularly now the project has moved to the modern, more spacious accommodation at Caboolture. All parts are held in well-organised shelving and properly marked and catalogued for ease of location. The team has the use of better equipment, facilities – and there is even a decent lunch room!Recently however the project suffered a major hurdle with Ralph sustaining a severe accident when he fell from a truck and was very badly injured, requiring a considerable amount of time in hospital recovering. Ralph was told upon release from hospital to spend six weeks undergoing rehab and return to the project after that – typically, he was actually back on the project the next week a little sore and sorry, but happy to be back!
When I visited the project recently the Beaufort was on its wheels and extensive progress was evident, with the fuselage, empennage, and cockpit all mated and structurally complete. The outer wing panels await fitment. One is complete and is ready for refitting and the other is largely finished but a problem with the spar cap is delaying its completion. A new spar has been located and the team is awaiting its arrival for testing and installation, once this has been completed both wings will be fitted and the aircraft will be structurally together for the first time since it ground-looped in 1944.
The large bomb bay doors which are constructed of metal, and wood covered, have been complete for some time as have many assorted hatches and cover plates with more to come. The engine cowls (which are quite complex) are now complete and a work of art in their own right, the rear cowls are being assembled and will be fitted in due course.
The majority of the wiring and electrical system has been completed and fitted; another large and thankless task. Once all the electrics have been fitted the entire electrical system will be tested – in an aircraft of this size that is a major achievement in its own right given that most of it is a ‘one off’ construction which replicates the original layout as closely as modern standards will allow. Currently much of the aircrafts hydraulic piping and systems have been acquired, refurbished, and are being installed with dozens of hydraulic lines running throughout the airframe resembling spaghetti!
Areas of the fuselage floor have been completed and currently being finished off and as a consequence this will enable more of the final internal fit out to be carried out.
Beauforts featured Perspex wing tips and as no serviceable items exist it was necessary to replicate them from scratch and this process is a current focus for one member of the Beaufort team. This is an exacting and time consuming process as they are heat formed and moulded. So exacting are the standards of Ralphs team that 1/3 scale models are being constructed to prove the process before final full size items are produced.
Modern operating considerations
Beauforts were built to military specifications set 80 years ago with no concession to ease of operation or modern civil safety standards, so some concessions to the 21st century have had to be made. Beaufort brakes were never a positive feature of the aircraft and restoring a seventy-year old system in an aircraft of this size and weight has been decided against, modern multi-disc Lockheed units with matching wheels will be fitted. The size of these units is not radically different and they don’t detract at all from the Beaufort’s appearance. The addition of the new braking assemblies adds both safety and reliability to the aircraft’s operation. Retraction tests have been successfully carried out, and the final fitment of the axles has been completed. Modern toe-brakes will also be a feature of the aircraft as the originals rudder pedal units caused many ground loops and other problems.
The engines, Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SIC3G Twin Wasps ( Peculiar to Australian built Beauforts, UK Built versions having Bristol Taurus power plants fitted), are yet to be rebuilt. However all the necessary new parts have been acquired and it is hoped to undertake the work soon – they will be reconditioned in Australia and hopefully in Queensland. Again, for safety and ease of operation, the engines will be fitted with a pre-oiling system, a second vacuum pump and a second generator as well as oil scavenge pumps, all of which aid the safe and reliable operation of the aircraft and reduce wear and tear. The complex oil coolers have been reconstructed and await fitting in the wings. This operation was performed in New Zealand and the completed items are a sight to behold.
Propellers took some time to choose as there were a number of possible options. Ultimately in the interests of reliability and safety, Hamilton Standard Hydromatic units were chosen, rather than Curtiss props as they have a reputation for not suffering from ‘run away’ which was an issue in RAAF Beauforts in the early days of operation and caused a number of serious incidents.
The aircraft has been partly painted in the scheme it wore on its last flight. The outer wings and tails surfaces have yet to be painted and all the fabric has not yet been fitted and doped, but this is expected to be done within the next few months.
The team has extensive documentation of RAAF and RAF Beaufort operations and has addressed or removed all reported technical issues from this restoration that were identified in service. Despite this effort to make the Beaufort as reliable and safe in accordance with current civilian regulation as possible, it will also be as close as can be achieved to the appearance it had when in service – actually being restored to closely resemble its finish on the day of its final flight in RAAF use. Consequently all original equipment is being carefully restored and fitted including radios (modern radios will also be fitted but hidden out of sight) armament and bomb bay fittings, as well as all other operational fittings and equipment. Recently the front machine guns were fitted and gave the aircraft quite an aggressive stance. The bomb bay doors and bays have been faithfully restored to operational appearance including all fittings and bomb shackles. The bomb bay itself including the doors will be fully operational.
Progress would not be possible without the help of numerous volunteers who are regularly in the workshop performing the myriad of tasks necessary to complete this aircraft. Earlier this year Ralph was particularly lucky to secure the services of veteran aircraft restorer and Australian warbird identity Ron Lee who is assisting in supervising and rebuilding many areas of the aircraft – Ron is meticulous in his attention to detail and ensuring the highest standards of workmanship are achieved. The presence of Ron has allowed Ralph to concentrate his efforts on other parts of the restoration so he is in effect a ‘Force multiplier’ speeding up the whole project.
Many visitors and Aviation enthusiasts are anxious to ask Ralph when this lifes work will fly and as he has often said “When it’s ready!” On this occasion Ralph was more forthcoming; it is more a case of careful management of the project resources than time – the upcoming large capital items such as the engines mean large expenditures and as such occur when budget is available. So fund raising is (as with all these sorts of projects) critical. Ralph has succeeded over the years in securing funding to enable the project to reach the advanced stage it has, and will still have to do this in the future.
If unlimited budget were available right now the aircraft could probably be flying within two years, however in the current economic climate, funds are (and will continue to be) scarce, so it may well be a year or two longer before the Beaufort is flying.
What happens next?
The numbers of those who served in and worked on Beauforts in service are thinning rapidly – the goal has been and always will be to get the Beaufort flying before the last of the veterans has passed on so the team is very focused upon completion as soon as practical. Many Beaufort veterans have visited the project and are often very emotional in their response to seeing a Beaufort after so many decades- it is not merely a Warbird to them, it is their living history and a tangible representation of their service and in some cases suffering. All are however overcome by the efforts made in this exacting restoration.
The Beaufort will always remain in Australia and hopefully Queensland as this is a condition stipulated in some of the funding arrangements under which the restoration has progressed and is Ralph’s desire in any case. The intention is to permanently house it at Caboolture in a purpose-built museum and display it at as many air shows as possible so all can enjoy this product of the Australian aviation industry in its heyday. There is no intention to retire the aircraft at a time in the future. It is being built to fly and will do so for as long as is humanly possible.
During the restoration Ralph has also helped many other restorers of Warbird aircraft in Australia and overseas with his knowledge of aircraft and parts and assistance in constructing various components and structures for other aircraft. It is fascinating to sit in Ralph’s office (when he is not out on the workshop floor) as he takes calls from many well-known restorers who are involved in warbirds, seeking his knowledge or a hard to find part – Ralph has time for all of them and solves their problem in an instant – he is a walking warbird encyclopaedia and spare parts repository rolled into one.
Ralph and the team have taken on additional work to bring in income and assist other projects, such as the assembly of another Beaufort project and its sale to Australian Aircraft Restoration Group at Moorabbin, and work for the Australian War Memorial on their Beaufort project. Several spare cockpits cum nose sections have also been restored and sold to museums. Recently several sections of Beaufighters were being worked on in the workshop – but that’s another story.
Help and assistance
It is vital that Ralph is able to secure as many resources as possible to finish his task and as such all donations to the restoration are much appreciated. These days it appears mandatory that a project have a Web site and the Beaufort is no exception! It’s also possible to become a ‘Friend of the Beaufort’ support group as well as to donate money to help Ralph and the team finish the job. No help of any kind or volunteers are refused! The project would also like to hear from anybody who has or knows of any Beaufort parts as spares will always be at a premium in the case of an aircraft as rare as a Bristol Beaufort.
Visitors are always welcome especially from overseas if you are in Australia and travelling by Caboolture Qld it is also possible to visit the aircraft and see the work for yourself. Its well worth the effort. Just make contact through their website before you go. As the time for the Beaufort’s post-restoration flight approaches, Warbirds Online will be regularly reporting on its progress.
Beaufort Project Website: www.beaufortrestoration.com.au
© John Parker 2013