During the month of December Warbirds Online highlights an aircraft with great significance to Australia, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) CA-12 Boomerang.
Much has been written on the story of this aircraft from its inception as a concept, through to its first flight 16 weeks later and its service life. What has not been as widespread is its more recent resurrection as an aircraft type in Australian Warbird folklore, which is of itself almost as interesting as the aircrafts early service history.
Warbirds Online is keen to actively promote Australian Warbird aircraft and in particular those which have served in Australia or operated by Australians. There could be no more suitable aircraft to be celebrated in this way than the CAC Boomerang. This month we highlight the efforts of a group of individuals who have brought the Boomerang back from virtual extinction to a state now where it must be regarded as quite healthy in terms of both numbers of survivors and airworthy projects.
To briefly recap, the history of the type, the Boomerang had its genesis as a result of a number of factors which all occurred more or less simultaneously. The CAC Wirraway was a type, the design and production of which, was derived from a North American Type (the NA–16 series of aircraft) which was initiated in the late 1930s and was a highly successful type in Australian service with around 700 being produced. The Wirraway was not only a successful aircraft, it also enabled CAC and Australian industry in general to acquire the competence and confidence to manufacture relatively modern and sophisticated aircraft.
Another factor leading to the conceptualization of the Boomerang was the potential lack of American or British types for export to Australia as the signs were that these countries would be required to keep all of their production for their own needs as the European war was not going well in the opening years of the war. In December 1941 the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor further stressed the USA and it appeared that no aircraft or supplies would flow from there in the short to medium term.
There was great concern that Australia had no suitable aircraft to fight off the Japanese and as such needed to do something about it.
Studies within CAC dating back to the 1930s had examined the prospect of building a fighter version of the Wirraway powered by R-1830 Twin Wasp twin row radial of 1,200hp however this was still essentially a Wirraway two seater not a Fighter of modern concept. Three days after the Pearl Harbor raid, an in house CAC project began under designer Fred David (a Jewish German refugee) to design the aircraft that went on to become the Boomerang.
It is not our mission to document the entire project to build the Boomerang, nor its service history. However, 250 aircraft were produced and in the event more potent USA and British interceptor aircraft did become available so the Boomerang was not called upon in its primary role of interceptor; perhaps mercifully; but provided great service as a ground attack and Army cooperation type and it was a lot of fun to fly! The Boomerang also equipped Australian industry with the skills it needed to move on to more complex types such as the CAC-17 Mustang. The Boomerang was a success in a lot of ways with few faults. However at the end of the war it was virtually put out of existence by the scrap metal merchants, or so it seemed.
To all intents and purposes only one Boomerang survived into the 1960s which was the start of the modern Warbird movement. The aircraft was A46-30 which was displayed at a number of sites and was “restored “a number of times before finding a permanent home at the RAAF Museum Point Cook (RAAFM). It was very lucky to survive, as it was as it had been stored in the open on several occasions and deteriorated quite badly before it was restored and placed at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and then the RAAFM.
In the 1960s, a number of individuals were gathering Warbird material from all over Australia with a view to preserving it and restoring historic aircraft. People such as Ralph Cusack, Matt Denning, Greg Batts , Ian Whitney, Monty Armstrong and Dick Hourigan to name a few, were collecting material from a vast array of RAAF aircraft types from scrap yards, farms and backyards all over the country and indeed Papua New Guinea as well.
Discussing the collection of all this material with some of the characters of the time it appears that the majority of interest was in the Wirraway as it was seen as a readily available docile Warbird and one which could be restored to flying condition without undue effort. When Wirraway material was collected it was becoming apparent that many Boomerang parts were also turning up which were naturally similar, but not the same. It therefore appeared that the virtually extinct CAC Boomerang was in fact not quite dead after all. Over the years of collecting, it emerged that a large number of fuselage frames and components as well as a host of fittings had survived. This was largely because when scrapping aircraft the fuselage, being steel was relatively worthless compared to the alloy wing structure. This accounted for the almost total lack of wings recovered during this period. However one or two shattered wings were recovered and stored by various restorers for a later day.
In the 1970’s a group of fellow Warbird enthusiasts turned their attention to the CAC Boomerang as a viable type to restore and a little more “lively”. Amongst this group were Matt Denning, Ralph Cusack and Greg Batts who set about the task of finding what remained of the Boomerang documentation and plans. The material was collected and plans were drafted especially for the wings of which no serviceable components existed.
Warbird owner and pioneer Guido Zuccoli was also interested in the Boomerang and took a slightly different track on the Boomerang restoration process. He acquired the remains of A46-206, a CA-19 and had it restored in the USA utilizing similar, but not exact wings, derived from the related North AmericanAT-6 / Harvard series which were modified to resemble the Boomerang units. This aircraft became the first of the Boomerangs to fly as a Warbird in the early 1990s and was a regular on the Warbird scene. Sadly it is now retired to the Museum of Army Flying at Oakey Queensland following on from Guido’s untimely death in a flying accident.
Meanwhile, in Queensland Matt Denning had progressed significantly in the resurrection of the Boomerang as a type by applying the emerging CAD computer technology to construct plans for new build wings for Boomerangs this would then allow completely accurate Boomerangs to fly once again. Matt powered along with the restoration of his aircraft A46-122 a CA-13 which flew with new build wings in 2003. Interestingly Matts work also enabled him to construct new build Boomerang wings for Guido Zuccoli’s aircraft and it was fitted with these in place of the modified Harvard units. Matt then flew his aircraft at many airshows and events until it was sold to the Temora Aviation Museum (TAM) although Matt continues to fly the Boomerang when available at TAM events and other airshows.
Matt then turned his attention to Boomerang A46-63, a CA12, which he completed in 2009 as VH-XBL and is owned by Jim Whalley/James Edwards based in South Australia. Matt Denning advises that A46-63 VH-XBL is airworthy and will provide a handling display at the Centenary of Military Aviation 2014 airshow at Point Cook, Victoria on the 1st and 2nd March 2014.
Since the process of new build wings has become possible 5 sets of wings have been constructed and the plans, tooling and jigs will allow for many more to be done.
Greg Batts meanwhile was working on a host of Boomerangs both for himself and others. Greg’s work is documented elsewhere on this Warbirds Online website but suffice to say he has become the “doyen” of the CAC Boomerang in Australia and there are very few surviving Boomerang projects in Australia that he hasn’t been involved in one way or another.
Since the 1960s, the CAC Boomerang has become a popular aircraft for restorers and collectors and from the once total of one aircraft extant there are now in excess of 35 aircraft identities in existence in various states of preservation and restoration. It is anticipated that at the current pace between 8 and 10 aircraft will fly again and a significant number will be fully restored to static/ display standard.
Not bad for a Warbird type created in a panic and which almost became extinct. Our featured Warbird of the month is a real Australian success story!
© John Parker 2013