The Australian Warbird movement had its genesis in the 1950s with individuals such as Titus Oates, Sid Marshall, Jack McDonald, Harold Thomas and Col Pay to name a few. These were people of passion, vision and with strong personalities, required to overcome the inevitable bureaucratic and financial hurdles faced by the early pioneers of the movement.
It was (and still is) quite difficult to acquire, restore and preserve “Warbird” type aircraft which the mainstream Military and Aviation Industry generally regarded as redundant or obsolete scrap. Although these pioneers had the foresight and capacity to form the basis of magnificent collections such as those of Harold Thomas at Camden and Sid Marshall at Bankstown there was a need for an emergent generation of Warbird specialists to take up from the beginnings of this movement and build upon it. Fortunately for Australia there have been a few “true believers” emerge and continue this work into the next generation and more continue to do so ensuring a small but dynamic industry in this country.
Several prominent personalities in the current Warbird community emerged in the early 1960s and have gone on to establish themselves as doyens of the movement through their work and knowledge. Whenever a group of Warbird enthusiasts or restorers gather, the name Ralph Cusack inevitably comes up as “Mr Warbirds”. He is highly regarded and respected for his experience, knowledge and ability in all areas of the restoration of antique aircraft particularly military aircraft. Ralph is currently best known for a mammoth Warbird restoration project of what will be the world’s only flying Beaufort Bomber. However he has in fact been very involved in the restoration of many historic aircraft dating back to the early 1960s.
Ralph Cusack was born in northern Sydney (we don’t need to say when!) and educated at various schools in that area. Ralph’s first memory of an interest in Warbirds dates back to his high school days when a budding artist seated alongside him created a painting of a crashed Boomerang. Ralph rapidly read up on the subject and visited various historic aircraft and collections around Sydney including Sid Marshall’s collection which was growing at Bankstown airport and at Sid’s house! Included in the collection were 3 Ansons, 3 DC2’s, 2 Spitfires, Short Scion, DH Dragon, Oscar, ME109 and others.
In typical “Ralph style” he pestered Sid and was allowed to work on the aircraft in his spare time and became a firm friend. Ralph worked on the Ansons, Spitfires and others and became very knowledgeable and skilled under the Guidance of Sid and other helpers at the collection. At this time the hanger alongside the Marshall collection housed Illawarra Aviation which operated CAC Mustangs VH-BOY and BOZ and Sea Fury VH-BOU. Following High School, Ralph commenced work with Repco in their automotive spare parts area and undertook various mechanical and business courses while continuing his restoration work at Sid Marshall’s. Ralph also formed ties with various other enthusiasts from the new generation such as Dennis Baxter and Robert Grienert and began discovering and acquiring aircraft and components in his own right. These recoveries are now legends of the Australian Warbird movement and resulted in the preservation of numerous aircraft which would otherwise have been scrapped. Warbirds recovered included several Beauforts, Beaufighters, a Spitfire, Proctor, Boomerang, Wirraway, DC2 and several Avro Ansons, along with numerous parts from a host of WW11 era RAAF aircraft. Expeditions have been undertaken over the years in the South Pacific sourcing Beaufort parts and other WWII components for aircraft such as P38, Corsair, and P40 etc.
Ralph continued to work for Repco for 7 years and later went to work at an automotive brake specialist in Taren Point Sydney, however in 1976 he started his own automotive brake business at Hendra Qld near Eagle Farm. Following Sid Marshall’s death in the early 1970’s Ralph had acquired several airframes when the collection was broken up. These included Anson LT771 and DC2 A30-14. These aircraft and a vast holding of parts moved to Queensland with him when he started up his new business. Whilst the brake business continued to thrive Ralph continued to acquire aircraft parts and spares, eventually however Ralph decided to divest himself of several aircraft; The Avro Anson which had been partly restored was sold and eventually was completed and is on display at the RAF Museum Hendon UK whilst DC2 A30-14 eventually went to the Avidrome, Holland and Proctor VH-BCX which is now in NZ under restoration.
In the early 1980s Ralph decided to focus on a Boomerang and the Beaufort and moved into larger accommodation at Hendra and collaborated with Greg Batts and Mathew Denning who were also restoring Boomerangs. Subsequently Ralph sold his Boomerang project to Kermit Weeks of Florida USA and concentrated on the Beaufort (which was now to be rebuilt to fly instead of the static project originally planned) whilst scouring the world for parts adding to his vast spares holdings for many different types of aircraft.
Ralph has continued with the Beaufort as detailed in a previous edition of Flightpath however in an effort to fund his project Ralph has also run an aircraft spares business for both WW11 types as well as contemporary aircraft parts. In 2009 Ralph formally established his spare parts business as ASAP Aircraft Spare Parts. At the same time Ralph moved the Beaufort Project (now established as a trust Australian Aviation Heritage Centre (QLD) Inc. and the Parts Business to a large Hanger at Caboolture Qld Airport. Spares have been provided to some of Australia’s most important aircraft including Col Pays Spitfire for which Ralph was able to supply a brand new Prop hub and gearbox still in the crate!!
Ralph continues to be a huge resource to many Warbird restorers who source parts and advice from him on a daily basis. Indeed it is very interesting to sit in his office and listen as he takes calls from numerous restorers and Aviation Businesses sourcing “hard to get” parts or advice on how to complete a certain task. He is rightly regarded as a foundation member of the Australian Warbird movement not only through his own restoration projects but even more significantly for the huge impact he has had on the movement as a whole through his friendly and knowledgeable input – he is always ready to lend a helping hand. Ralph recently sustained serious injuries as the result of a fall, but true to form he has now recovered and is back at the helm. In the future Ralph has a vision for an even larger project which is in the development phase but more of that at a later time. The man never rests!
© John Parker 2013