Toward the end of the war the need for pilot training was dramatically reduced and large numbers of CAC Wirraways were placed into storage. A small number of aircraft continued in Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) service as trainers at Uranquinty and Point Cook, Victoria and 17 aircraft were transferred to the newly formed Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Fleet Air Arm in 1948. Wirraways also served with the squadrons of the Citizen Air Force (a flying reserve force of the RAAF established in 1948) alongside CAC Mustangs, flying with No. 22 (City of Sydney), No. 23 (City of Brisbane), No. 24 (City of Adelaide) and No. 25 (City of Perth) Squadrons. These Wirraways saw diverse duties including training and refresher flights, weather checks and shark patrols. A 22 Squadron Wirraway patrolling for sharks crashed on the beach at Maroochydore on 30 December 1950, killing three children and injuring 14 other people.
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) retired its Wirraways in 1957, replacing them with de Havilland Vampires. After CAC Winjeels started to enter service, the RAAF commenced phasing out its remaining Wirraways on 4 December 1958 with a farewell flypast held at Point Cook Victoria to mark its retirement from that base. The last military flight was on 27 April 1959 when CA-16 A20-686 was flown to Tocumwal, NSW for disposal. Dozens of Wirraways came to an inauspicious end as targets for students at the RAAF School of Land/Air Warfare and hundreds were eventually dismantled and sold to metal scrap merchants at Tocumwal.
In 1954 “Aussie” Miller of Super Spread Aviation, purchased two CA-16 Wirraways from the Department of Air and installed tanks and plumbing for agricultural spraying operations. These aircraft were almost new, one having flown only 9 hours and the other 12 hours and although Miller was confident that Wirraways would be suitable for spraying operations, they ultimately proved to be poorly adapted for the task and both were de-registered on 10 April 1956 and later scrapped at Moorabbin Airport, Victoria. Several other operators also attempted to purchase Wirraways for agricultural uses or pilot training however the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) was unreceptive to the use of ex-military aircraft for civil operations. Despite being demonstrably airworthy after a long military career, there was no established method of documenting this fact according to civil airworthiness standards, hence the reticence of the DCA.
Around 58 Wirraways were purchased by CAC for use in the production of Ceres agricultural aircraft, the design of which was derived from the Wirraway. When the Ceres program did not yield the sales results expected many of these surplus airframes at CAC found their way into the hands of museums and private collectors.
One of these aircraft was A20-653 which was restored to airworthy condition using parts from other Wirraways by owners Ron Lee and Graham Schutt with the help of Richard Hourigan and Harry Wallace. After many months of discussion, Schutt convinced the Department of Transport to grant a certificate of airworthiness and allow the aircraft to be registered in the “Private” category, the first time that such a registration was granted to an ex-military aircraft. Other ex-military aircraft were operating on the civil register, but in the “Air Work” category, with severe restrictions on their use.
A healthy number of CAC Wirraways survive today, with four airworthy examples regularly flown on the airshow circuit. Two other airworthy examples are held by museums, one at the Queensland Air Museum, Caboolture Australia and one in the USA.
© Derek Buckmaster 2014
Images courtesy © John Parker.