"The 100 Day Fighter". An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, February 23, 2012

"The 100 Day Fighter."

 

This week marked the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin and so appropriately, and as a tribute, I thought I would post this special memory of the "100 Day Fighter". Lest We Forget.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and the days didn’t come much darker than in 1942 for those on the edge of the Pacific War. Darwin had been bombed and sitting on the distant fringe of the Commonwealth, Australia was confronted with an advancing Japanese foe approaching its doorstep while the British Empire battled tyranny in Europe. To this backdrop the all-Australian Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) Boomerang was born in little more than 100 days.

Born of the Times.

Britain was hard pressed to meet the production needs of its own Royal Air Force as 1941 drew to a close and the American industrial arsenal was still gaining momentum with its emphasis on the war in Europe and its own requirements. Australia’s small air force was already weakened with the deployment of front line squadrons and personnel to the European theatre. Only a threadbare force based in Malaya and a variety of non-fighter aircraft at home represented the nation’s air power.

Aware of the predicament and without a foreseeable means of bolstering their stocks, the decision was made to set about producing an Australian fighter and fast! At the time, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) was producing the Bristol Beaufort bomber under licence and a derivative of the NA-33 North American Harvard, the Wirraway. At the helm of CAC was the highly regarded, Wing Commander Lawrence Wackett. Using the resources available to him and a contractual clause permitting modifications to the NA-33, Wackett and his time devised an aircraft that would be based upon the Wirraway.  This would minimise the requirements in design, manufacturing and tooling processes and open the door to use the Pratt and Whitney engine already in production for the Beaufort bomber. 

Designated the CA-12, the ‘Boomerang’ utilised the centre section, empennage, wing and undercarriage of the Wirraway, while melding it with newly designed forward section to accommodate the larger 1,200 HP radial engine. Gone from the Wirraway was the two seat configuration, replaced by a lone pilot, and the armament was moved to the wings in the form of two 20mm cannons and four .303 machine guns.

The net effect was a compact looking fighter whose appearance could be better described as stubby rather than sleek. Yet the achievement of its production and logic could not be argued with. When the first CA-12 flew in May 1942, it had taken only 4 months to grow from a concept to a living, breathing aeroplane. Furthermore, to a nation in danger of losing its supply, much of the supporting materiel was readily available to the commonality of design and production processes it shared with the Wirraway.

 

                             

Flight of the Boomerang.

From its earliest flights, the Boomerang was earmarked for its manoeuvrability. When trialled against the Curtiss P-40, which the Australian government had ordered, it out-turned its highly regarded opponent and demonstrated impressive rates of climb. However, its stubby airframe was not conducive to speed and was inferior to the Kittyhawk in this critical department. This trait was further hampered by the CA-12’s engine’s tendency to overheat, resulting in flight with the engine gills partly open and creating drag.

Originally, labelled the CA-12, the Boomerang would evolve through the CA-13 and CA-19 to tally a production line of around 250 aircraft. There was even a lone super-charged CA-14 trialled in an effort to increase the top end speed of the type.

The Boomerang’s active service commenced in 1943 and primarily consisted of patrols and convoy escorts, though its limited range proved made certain sorties difficult. With the impending delivery of the faster Kittyhawk fighters, it seemed that the Boomerang’s days were numbered and would be remembered as little more than a stop-gap measure. Yet, just as the Wirraway had been the forerunner in the Boomerang’s design, it was to prove its predecessor in an operational sense too.

The Wirraway had been serving in New Guinea with the RAAF in an Army Co-Operation role. Operating at low level, they provided reconnaissance, artillery spotting and the first generation of Forward Air Control (FAC). The Boomerang now presented itself as an ideal replacement with better armament, manoeuvrability and a zippy rate of climb. While it may not have excelled in its original design role as a fighter, the Boomerang won the admiration of many of the troops in its close ground support tasking.

Operationally, the Boomerang slid into history at the war’s end with its final posting winding up in 1946. Interestingly, the Wirraway from which it was spawned found a new life post-war as an advanced trainer, much like the Harvard. As such, it continued to serve with the RAAF while its offspring was relegated to the scrap heap.

 

                                           

The Boomerang Comes Back.

The Boomerang now seemingly filled the gaps in books detailing military fighters, much as it had done in its active life. There was not much thought in the mid-1970s of seeing a Boomerang brought back to life, other than perhaps in the archive rooms of a national museum: and in the mind of a teenager named Matt Denning.

In 1975, at only 15 years of age, Matt convinced his father to purchase the bones of CA-13 Boomerang A46-122. It was a little more than a beaten up fuselage frame, but became the catalyst for one of the most remarkable restoration stories ever. Restoring what he had and scouring the countryside for any other components, Matt gradually worked towards restoring ‘122’ to static condition. With the assistance of many across the nation he amassed such a stockpile that in 1982 he decided to undertake the mammoth task of a restoration to flying condition.

With unrivalled persistence and determination, Matt Denning saw his dream take flight on Valentine’s Day 2003; 28 years after he had first acquired the airframe of A46-122. Today, ‘122’ is owned by the Temora Aviation Museum, but is still to be found gracing the skies with Matt at the helm.

Seeing Double.

For most, such an undertaking might wear the enthusiasm levels somewhat, but not Matt Denning. On June 26th a second CA-12 Boomerang (A46-63) rolled out from his Queensland hangar and took to the air for the first time since it forced landed in 1943 following an engine failure.

Though Matt took the historic aircraft into the sky, this time it has been restored for owners from South Australia. It is another immaculate restoration and credit to the man behind the Boomerang today.

Craftily, there has been a second seat fitted aft of the cockpit. In keeping with the quality of the restoration, this modification is virtually invisible to most observers, but enhances the practical use of the aircraft twofold.

The Stop Gap No More.

The Boomerang may have been borne of desperate times in an exercise of compromise, but it is better remembered as an aircraft of answers. It offered the Australian people an interim fighter when none was on the horizon and instilled a level of self dependence when the Empire seemed so far away and distracted. It displayed ingenuity at its very best to utilise existing parts and processes and deliver an aircraft from paper to ‘plane in around 100 days.

It remains the only fully designed and built Australian aircraft to see active service. While it may have only provided breathing space until the arrival of the P-40 Kittyhawk and the like arrived to re-establish a degree of air superiority, it found a vital role down amongst the jungle canopies of New Guinea. Those foot soldiers would not have seen the Boomerang as a ‘stop gap’, but more likely a saving grace.

Regardless of performance or role, the CAC Boomerang fills a special niche in aviation history. A niche that we can still be reminded of as restored examples of the little fighter weave across the sky and pay tribute to those who have gone before.

Owen Zupp. Generally Speaking.

Owen Zupp - Saturday, December 17, 2011

My blog on Sir Donald Bradman and the International Cricket Hall of Fame seems to have generated a few questions from the broader community out there; a blog about cricket at an aviation website? The fact is that while aviation plays a major role at www.owenzupp.com there will certainly be a degree of diversity found here as well.

From a keynote speaking perspective, I have spoken to cricket audiences on numerous occasions on a range of topics relating to that sport. Similarly, I have spoken about my book, ‘Down to Earth’ and its subject, Squadron Leader Kenneth McGlashan AFC on numerous occasions. The Ansett collapse, my charity flight around Australia and flying ‘Air Tests’ on new aircraft types have all been topics that I have spoken on at venues ranging from Scouts Wings presentations to addresses at the National Press Club in Canberra. Part of the pleasure involved with keynote speaking is tailoring the address to the audience and heightening their interest. As such, there are a lot of topics out there aside from my love of aviation.

So you can expect a few surprises to pop up in the blog over coming months, but I trust they will retain a level of interest to one and all as I look for common threads, not narrow niches. My passion for writing has introduced me to a wonderful world of people and places beyond my expectations and it’s my intention to share that with my readers and audiences in the most entertaining manner I can achieve. So check back regularly and see what’s new. And should you be interested in me tailoring an address to your particular audience, please don’t hesitate to contact me at http://www.owenzupp.com/contact

Cheers

An Aviation Website and Blog?

Owen Zupp - Monday, December 12, 2011

Firstly, thanks to everyone who has subscribed, emailed, commented or contacted me. It’s great to receive such feedback so early in the life of the new website.

 

One comment that has recurred is whether this is an aviation website and blog? The succinct answer is,.....well, yes and no. With such a strong link to aviation through my life thus far, it is inescapable for so many reasons. Not only has it been my prime interest for over forty years, but it was the means by which I have also entered the wonderful world of writing. However, www.owenzupp.com is not purely an aviation website.

 

From 2012 I will have a number of projects starting up. There is a reprint of an existing book, a new title, a DVD of ‘There and Back’ are just some of the tasks ahead of me. There are also some forays into new fields outside of the spectrum of flight. Amongst these are manuscripts that step away from the theme of my past writings and will not necessarily possess an aviation theme. Similarly, my speaking engagements have not been solely limited to aviation in the past. There have definitely been events where I have spoken about the ‘There and Back’ flight around Australia and such items as the decision-making process in aviation, however, there have been others. There has been interest in what is involved in moving forward after being retrenched, just as I was following the Ansett collapse. There have also been occasions when my experiences in the Ambulance Service have played a central role in discussions.

 

So, yes and no, www.owenzupp.com does possess an aviation theme, but that is not its limit. There will be a constant flow of varying viewpoints on a range of topics; particularly through the blog. So check back regularly, read the blog and see what’s new. If you get a chance, drop me a line, or sign up for the newsletter as the journey is only just beginning and as always, the more the merrier.

 

Cheers.

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