Australian Aeronautical Heritage

Same as it ever was

For some years now I have been trying to locate the surviving Skippy (1960s Australian television series) helicopter VH-AHI with a view towards having it repatriated and preserved in Australia.

After serving in PNG it later appeared on the U.S. civil register as N1164T. In 2012 it was permanently deleted from that register however in 2014 I was eventually able to track down its current owner – a helicopter spares dealer in Florida – who was happy to sell the unairworthy but mostly complete airframe for $US5,000.

VA-AHI on location ourside the Waratah Park Ranger headquarters.

Despite my best efforts, neither the National Museum of Australia, the Powerhouse Museum, the National Film and Sound Archives or the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (which now owns Waratah Park where the television series was filmed) expressed the slightest interest in this proposition.

This unique item of national cultural heritage significance has now been scrapped. The dealer in Florida emailed me last week to say he would sell VH-AHI’s logbooks and manufacturer’s plate for $US1,500.

Was a time, once, when I would have pulled out all the stops to ensure these also found a home in a suitable Australian collecting institution. A hard lesson.


Corrosion is already evident

Corrosion is already evident

The demand for war memorial furniture here in Australia has been so great, for so long, that it’s now difficult to obtain the military-grade anchors, propellers and guns that were once the entitlement of every R.S.L. club. Next-best-things, such as diminutive Cessna propellers which began appearing on memorials some decades ago, have now become acceptable substitutes for the once commonplace P&W giants.

With memorial accessories tending to become smaller, and increasingly modern, it was something of a surprise to find this 1932 Gipsy IIIA metal propellor adorning the newish Beerwah war memorial in south-eastern Queensland.

Gipsy IIIA, Fairey Metal Airscrew, F.R.3148, DRG.No.94518.AX3D March 1933 (Beerwah Library, and Queensland)

Gipsy IIIA, Fairey Metal Airscrew, F.R.3148, DRG.No.94518.AX3D March 1933 (Beerwah Library, and Queensland)

The IIIA was the first inverted Gipsy, eventually fitted to a large number of aircraft including the DH Chipmunk. The blade tips on this particular propeller have been squared off and slightly shortened at some time, indicating that it could have been damaged. Still though, perhaps such an early – and uncommon – blade as this deserves to be preserved?

Going, going….gone.

This unusual piece of early Australian [aeronautical] silverware realized $4,700 at auction in Sydney earlier this week, selling for more than three times its estimated reserve.

This unusual piece of early Australian [aeronautical] silverware realized $4,700 at auction in Sydney earlier this week, selling for more than three times its estimated reserve.

Aviation heritage has never attracted broad investor interest, the inclusion of such items in high-end auction catalogues being more the exception, than the norm. Indeed, there is no such thing here as a established aeronautica market, as there is say for antiques or fine art.

While it was not altogether unusual to see an item of early Australian aeronautical silverware auctioned in Sydney earlier this week, the [comparatively] high price realized in this instance was somewhat unexpected.

Noble Numismatics‘ catalogue described The Evening News Cup (left) as “a highly polished 9 ct rose gold, affixed atop the lid is a miniature model of a WWI Sopwith Camel plated with yellow gold and satin finish for contrast (85g; 12.5cm high), on the side is attached a winged kangaroo standing on a mound, above is inscribed, ‘The Evening News Cup/New South Wales/Aerial Derby/Inaugurated 1920’, and below the kangaroo is inscribed, ‘Australian Aero Club/New South Wales Section’, around the base is inscribed, ‘Made by Angus & Coote Sydney’. Small dent in one arm, otherwise extremely fine and extremely rare.”

Only four of these gold replica cups have been awarded, one to Captain G. C. Matthews for winning the inaugural 1920 Aerial Derby and three to Lieutenant (later Captain) Nigel B. Love who won the inaugural 1920 Aerial Derby Handicap and in the second Aerial Derby in 1922 he won the event and was also Handicap winner. As the cup offered here has the inscription ‘Inaugurated 1920’ it must be assumed it was one of the two awarded for the first race held in 1920.

Here’s hoping that it went to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (a.k.s. The Powerhouse).

High above the Dardanelles

Queenslander Alfred Warner served in the Dardanelles for more than two-and-a-half years, far longer than any of his compatriots, and yet you won’t find his name mentioned in any Australian military history. As Australia’s only airship pilot (and airship station commander), his war experience was singularly remarkable, much of it spent floating high above the sea lanes and battlefield of the North Aegean in what was [then] a state-of-the-art war machine.

Alfred Warner (right) in the gondola of his Sea Scout airship, which was essentially a modified RAF B.E.2 aircraft fuselage (Simon Warner Collection)

Alfred Warner (right) in the gondola of his Sea Scout airship, which was essentially a modified RAF B.E.2 aircraft fuselage (Simon Warner Collection)

Australian military involvement in the Dardanelles effectively began on 25th April 1915, and ended with the successful allied evacuation the following January. These dates broadly define the Gallipoli Campaign which – a century on – still resonates here forcefully, especially with Australians of Anglo-Celtic origin.

Following this evacuation Australia’s military focus shifted mostly to the Western Front and indeed, it wasn’t until after the Armistice in early 1919 that a small A.I. F (Australian Imperial Force) contingent – led by official war historian Charles Bean – returned to the Dardanelles for the purposes of documenting the campaign, and collecting relics for a recently proposed Australian War Museum.

Despite having also served in the Dardanelles, Alfred Warner’s remarkable war service runs counter to this mainstream narrative. Unlike his Anzac compatriots who fought mostly on the Gallipoli Peninsula, or on – and under – its adjoining waters – his war was fought high above the Dardanelles in a truncated aeroplane fuselage, suspended beneath a huge hydrogen-filled balloon.
What makes his story even more remarkable is that his service in the north Aegean lasted more than two-and-a-half years, and commenced long after the last Anzacs had evacuated the Dardanelles.

A grazier from the remote township of Talwood in south-western Queensland, Warner was twenty four when he travelled to England in early 1915 to enlist – his elder brother Herbert having been killed on active service just prior to his departure. In May that year he was granted a provisional Flight Sub-Lieutenant commission with the nascent Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). Although he’d trained in conventional fixed-wing aircraft he subsequently qualified as an airship (a.k.a. dirigible) pilot.

Sea Scout envelopes were inflated with 60,000 cubic feet of explosive hydrogen gas. Remarkably, there is no record of any having exploded during the war (Simon Warner Collection).

Sea Scout envelopes were inflated with 60,000 cubic feet of explosive hydrogen gas. Remarkably, there is no record of any having exploded during the war (Simon Warner Collection).

The British Admiralty had entered the war with just seven airships, hundred more being delivered – and ordered – during the following years. These were mostly two-person single-engine types, suspended below inflated [non-rigid] envelopes. Since they were used principally for anti-submarine patrol work (and for naval bombardment spotting), airship stations were also in the main situated in proximity to important sea lanes, or port approaches vulnerable to sea mines and torpedo attack.

Following the Gallipoli withdrawal British forces remained active in the eastern Mediterranean, supporting the Macedonian Front with ground, sea and air forces. The latter, comprising both fixed wing aircraft and airships operated from both Mudros and Kassandra, 52 and 130 nautical miles, respectively, west of Anzac Cove. From here, the RNAS’s airships could guard the southern and northern approaches (i.e. the Dardanelles) to the Aegean Sea. Mudros was being bombed regularly by both German and Turkish aircraft, when Warner joined the Airship Expeditionary Force (AEF) there in mid-1917.

Alfred Warner escorting King George V (Simon Warner Collection).

Alfred Warner escorting King George V (Simon Warner Collection).

Enemy submarines were a constant threat then for ships using the Gulf of Salonika, and the RNAS was alert to the possibility that SMS Goeben or SMS Breslau (German warships which had sought refuge in the Bosphorous at the outbreak of the war) might make a dash for the Mediterranean. In order to counter these threats the AEF had been assigned half-a-dozen Sea Scout (SS) airships which had been developed in great haste – in 1914. Although submarine sightings were rare the SS proved to be both an effective surveillance platform, and a deterrent (for German submarines). From a just a few thousand feet, a single airship could reconnoitre a vast area for anything up to seven hours at a stretch.

Spared the horrors of trench warfare, airship crews nonetheless had to endure their own unique psychological stresses and physical dangers. With a top speed of 50 mph (80 km/h), and a bomb load of 73 kg, the SS’s performance was marginal. Envelopes were inflated with highly combustible hydrogen gas, the higher temperatures experienced in the Mediterranean further reducing both performance and load carrying capabilities. Engine failure was another ever-present hazard, with crews also having to endure prolonged exposure to cold winds (and rain) – in winter.

This photograph of Warner is thought to have been taken at Kassandra in Greece, where he was stationed for most of the war (Simon Warner Collection).

This photograph of Warner is thought to have been taken at Kassandra in Greece, where he was stationed for most of the war (Simon Warner Collection).

Despite these risks and limitations, the airship station at Kassandra was still able to conduct long-range patrols on an almost continual basis, averaging eight hours of flying each day during August 1917. By November that year Warner had been given command of the Kassandra air station, its airships completing twelve flights that month lasting 80.5 hours (and covering 2,715 miles).

These operations were seldom uneventful. AEF reports mention a submarine sighting on 7th April 1918, adding that that the pilot was prevented – by engine trouble – from pursuing the engagement. A submerged sea mine was also discovered – five days later – near the Greek Island of Skiathos. That same month, anti-aircraft fire was encountered (from the crippled SMS Goeben) during an aerial reconnaissance of the Bosphorous.

Warner’s wartime pocket compass (Queensland Museum Collection, H19508).

Warner’s wartime pocket compass (Queensland Museum Collection, H19508).

By war’s end Warner – then a Captain – had logged more than 760 airship flying hours, which far exceeded the times typically recorded by conventional (i.e. heavier-than-air) military pilots. Following his return to Australia in late 1919 he resumed his grazing interest, re-enlisting with the Royal Australian Air Force the same that war was declared (viz. 3rd September 1939). He eventually relinquished his commission – at RAAF Archerfield – in 1941, and died in 1959.

In1986 his son, former Queensland Parliamentary Speaker the Hon. John Warner (Qld), presented the Queensland Museum with the pocket compass that his father had carried during his long wartime patrols. Also gifted at this time was a chair which Alfred Warner had made from wooden airship propeller blades. Fitting tributes to a remarkable military career.

Opportunity Lost

Pf Heatwole Sepr 1979 (ii)Back in 1979 a leading State Museum was offered the nose section of a Douglas A20G Boston. The would-be donor described the aircraft, and it’s salvage, in the following terms….

It came from an entire crashed airplane from which a few parts such as doors had been removed prior to my finding it….I put it on top of my Beetle volkswagon and drove it to the nearest railhead, which was Julia Creek, Queensland, and shipped it by rail to Armidale, NSW, where it resided for many years on my front porch. I offered it to the XXX Museum and was told that it would be picked up, but years passed and no one came to take it. Later a private collector passed through Armidale and saw it. He wanted it, and so I gave it to him.A20G(iii)

And so I’m left wondering…..which Boston? The only A-20Gs that I know force-landed or crashed in this part of the continent were 42-86724 (# 14125) and 42-86620 ( #14021), which force-landed on Bountiful Island (see: Heatwole Sepr 1979 (vi)

The latter is only 276 nautical miles north-west of Julia Creek, and the absence of any impact damage is certainly consistent with contemporary descriptions (and images) of the Bountiful Island incident.

What ‘s confounding however are these penciled bulkhead numbers still visible in this 1979 slide. I was expecting some correlation between these, and the corresponding USAAF (or manufacturer’s serials). This isn’t evident however, 42-86620 being Douglas serial number 14021, and 42-86724 being Douglas serial number 14125.




Australia Day Honour

Congratulations to Cliff Robinson who was awarded an Order of Australia today for “services to aviation history, and to the community”.

The official citation refers specifically to:

Queensland Air Museum Inc:
Inaugural Chaplain, since 2012.
President 2001-2011.
Treasurer, 1996-2000.
Fundraiser, 1994-2003.
Member, since 1978.
Honorary Life Member, 2012.
Member, Missionary Aviation Fellowship, 1955 -1990 and State Secretary, Queensland
Section, 1960-1985.
Other community service includes:
Volunteer, Hills Wesleyan Methodist Church, current and Trustee and Lay Preacher, 1994
until approx. 2014.
Trustee, Lay Preacher and Teacher, Sunday School and Bible Studies, Stafford North Baptist
Church, 1968 to 1994.

Australia dissertations

Why is it that most of what has – and still is – being passed as aviation history in this country, has been written by amateur historians? I use the term [amateur] unpregoreatively here, since it is the case that few of our published authors have formal training, qualifications – or experience – as either professional historians, or writers. What has been published to date (including that bicentennial epic, Flypast) has mostly involved the assembly, ordering and reporting of facts.

Only occasionally, as with Steve Birdsall’s Flying Bucanners, and John Gunn’s Qantas trilogy, have we seen aviation writers move authoritatively beyond this reporting style to produce contextualised analysis and reinterpretation. As professional historians, the latter have used facts to create new knowledge and understandings capable of withstanding sustained critical – and peer – review, and capable too of stimulating broad discussion and interest beyond the immediate aviation historical community (and beyond the year of publication).

The importance of the enthusiast cannot be understated here however since it was their enthusiasm and fastidious reporting, which partly helped generate the broader popular, professional and academic interests now appearing.

The Aviation Historical Society of Australia Inc. has been largely resposnsible for nurturing these amateur publishing interests during the last half-century, assisted by various commercial (David Wilson) and private interests (Fred Morton, Terry Gwynn Jones).

These were followed in the 1980s by a new kind of author, the salaried public servant often working in a full-time professional capacity within organisations that gave them unfettered access to primary source material. At least some of these ‘second wave’ aviation historians had also benefitted from tertiary sector reforms – initiated the previous decade – by acquiring undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications. These ranks included journalists (Tim Bowden), curators (Mike Nelmes) and historians (David Wilson), employed by organisations such as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Australian War Memorial, and the Department of Defence.

While interest has broadened since then to include mainstream academia, we have yet to see any substantial publishing benefit. One can count on one hand almost the number of Australian doctoral dissertations completed in recent decades that concern aviation history, or heritage. Leigh Edmonds was one of the first historians to venture in this direction, his Western air ways making aviation in Western Australia 1919-1941 having been completed in 1991. It was seventeen years later that Prudence Black’s Lines of flight: the design history of the Qantas flight attendants’ uniforms followed – in 2008 – heralding a seismic shift in both the direction and production of Australian aviation history. No longer was it being written by men, exclusively for men. Maxine Dahl’s Air evacuation in war: the role of RAAF nurses undertaking air evacuation of casualties between 1943-1953 also appeared the following year.

More recently we’ve seen Michael Monkentin’s Australia, the Empire and the Great War in the Air (2013), the appearance this year of Ndeayo Uko’s In the name of the fathers: a documentary narrative of the Biafra airlift suggesting a fascinating new direction for our aviation historians.




What might have been # 1

The last two decades of the twentieth century may come to be regarded – by anyone reading this, at least – as the halcyon years of Australian aviation heritage. This was an era of unprecedented popular interest and government largesse, an era when there were more galleries, heritage centres and museums built, and imagined, than at any other time.

While some were eventually built, most weren’t, with millions of taxpayer dollars being expended on feasibility studies and ill-conceived projects (remember the replica Southern Cross?). This was also a time when local, state and federal governments, together with entrepeneurs and not-for-profits each imagined themselves establishing, and sustaining, ‘world class’ aviation museums capable (according to the consultant’s feasibility study) of delivering regional economic benefits, ad infinitum.

Barely a year passed without some new aviation museum proposal emerging with that old chestnut, the National Aviation Museum, being the most persistent. Indeed, this was a time when it might have still been possible for a Commonwealth Government to assemble a collection befitting that aspiration, that opportunity have since passed by. Then, as now, politicians were quick to recognise the political advantage to be gained from championing these proposals – at least until the election was over.

These proposals faltered for reasons that were varied, sometimes complex, and seldom self-evident. Some were ill-conceived, and almost none succeeded in gaining and retaining bi-partisan political support. The handful of new proposals that did come to fruition then, and remain still (such as the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society, the Qantas Founders’ Museum, and the Temora Aviation Museum), were invariably the ones which haven’t had to lean heavily of governmental [recurrent] funding solutions.

Of the many might-have-been proposals to emerge back then, the 1984 Queensland Transport and Technology Museum at Coomera on the Gold Coast, appeared most likely to succeed. Its costs were fully underwritten by the Queensland Government, and its development was proceeding under the aegis of a respected State institution (viz. the Queensland Musuem). An airfield site had already been purchased, and supplementary collection acquition negotriations were underway (with the likes of Ken Orrman and Malcolm Long). What set this initiative apart from all the others however was the unique fact that it’s champion was not just a pilot with an abiding interest in aviation heritage, but also one of the nation’s most powerful political leaders. This is the only instance of the political stars aligning in this country, to produce such a heady potential. And yet, it too amounted to naught. That alignment however, was to prove fleeting.

News of the $10 million development was first published in Brisbane’s Courier Mail on 27th February 1984, the State’s Mines Minister (remember, this was the Bjelke-Petersen era) foreshadowing that he’d be seeking Cabinet approval to prepare establishment legislation for the new Bicentenary museum which by that stage had already been under development for two years.

DOC140115-0001Consutants GHD had earlier completed a  Feasibility Study for Licensed Aerodrome estimating property acquisition and site infrastructure costs totalling $3.6 million, which included provision for a single 1,000 metre unsealed runway on a thirty hectare site (now occupied by the Coomera Anglican College).

The Bjelke-Petersen bandwagon seemed unstoppable at that time, his comprehensive 1983 electoral victory allowing his National Party to become the first in Australia to govern [at the State level] in its own right. In 1984 he was also awarded a knighthood, and by the following year he’d turned his attentions towards the Australian Prime Ministership (the “Joh for PM” campaign).

By 1987 however his bandwagon had crashed spectacularly with Joh being forced to resign both the Premiership, and his political career, his departure effectively marking the end of the  Coomera Transport and Technology Museum proposal.

Even at this distance it’s difficult to establish  exactly why the wheels fell of the Coomera project, although it is clear  that political support must have also begun waning in 1984, soon after the project had been publicly unveiled. No sooner had the The Queensland Transport and Technology Centre Act received Parliamentary assent – in 1984 – when there followed another piece of related legislation (viz. Queensland Museum (Assimilation of Coomera Technology Centre Act) 1985 ) effectively reversing the former.

Queensland Parliamentary Debates from that time reveal that by September 1985 the Labor Opposition – sensing a vulnerability – had begun probing the reasons for the project’s delayed completion.

“…Is the Premier and Treasurer aware that it has been reported in the
media that a valuable collection of vintage aircraft which has been displayed at Tallebudgera
Creek on the Gold Coast may be acquired by the city of Wangaratta in Victoria because
no firm action has been taken by the Queensland Government to start this project,
which was announced more than 18 months ago? Moreover, now that the aircraft will
apparently fly south, as the birds do, will the Premier and Treasurer explain why the
Government has failed to honour its promise, made in February 1984, to construct such
a museum?”

What were they thinking?

Only one Australian designed aero engine has ever achieved mass production and commercial success, Jabiru engines having now been in continuous production for more than quarter of a century (and sold to more than thirty-one countries).

During the Second World War Australian industry proved itself well capable of mass producing aero engines, vast numbers of imported designs (viz. Rolls Royce, Pratt & Whitney and DeHavilland) having been produced locally for the war effort. Although we possessed back then both the manufacturing capability and expertise needed to design and produce our own engines, the vast wartime surpluses ensured this never occurred.

In the early 1950s the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation did make a foray in this direction with its locally designed and built R975 Cicada radial engine, intended to power the RAAF’s new CA-25 Winjeel trainer. Only two Cicadas were ever produced however before project funding was withdrawn in late 1953, the project having being overtaken by the ready supply of [comparatively] cheap – locally manufactured – P&W R-985 Wasp Junior engines.

CicadaAlthough it never went into quantity production, the Cicada was nonetheless the first locally-designed aero engine developed with that end in mind. This significance would have been easily discovered – if not known – back in 1959 when the Museum of Victoria was offered (gratis) a Cicada. And yet, despite this significance and its association with the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (still one of Melbourne’s leading manufacturers at that time), the Museum’s Director declined the offer because of “restricted space”.

While the Museum’s response might appear short-sighted and irresponsible at this distance, it needs to be borne in mind that the state collections were, at that time, still housed in the same CBD premises which they’d first occupied in the late nineteenth century. Space would certainly have been at a premium and yet, somehow, the Museum managed to find sufficient display space for a Wirraway aircraft when presented with a similar offer, just six years later.

Nothing now survives of the Cicada.


School Battle

In North Queensland in the late-1970s it seemed that there were precious few people interested in aviation heritage, or at least that’s how it appeared to this [then] teenage university student. Those few did manage nonetheless to find each other and spend long hours together exchanging tidbits concerning the region’s rich aeronautical heritage. As the youngest of this unlikely gathering I had the most to learn, and the least to offer. And so I hung off every word they uttered, scribbling down both fact and rumour.

At one such evening gathering, in December 1978, Neil Groves produced a blurry photograph of a Fairey Battle displayed – so he claimed – in front of All Souls’ School in Charters Towers. Thanks to the internet, I’ve recently been able to determine the identity (viz. K9411) of that particular aicraft. For decades this had eluded me, my notes from thirty-seven years ago indicating, misleadingly, that it may have been KB411.

Aviation Class, 1946 - photocopied from page 23 of 'The Phoenix' (All Saints' school magazine).

Aviation Class, 1946 – photocopied from page 23 of ‘The Phoenix’ (All Saints’ school magazine).

Officially, K9411 was sold in March 1947 by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission to the Townsville Grammar school for £5. While this can’t be altogther discounted, it’s clearly at odds with the fact that it was being used by All Saints as a training aid, in Charters Towers, in 1946.

As explained by the School’s Principal in 1980…

The plane was purchased by the School for an aviation class conducted by Mr R L Mills (Headmaster) and Mr D J FitzGerald. The aircraft did not fly and was simply used to used ti illustrate various principles.

My starry-eyed hopes of possibly rediscovering the Battle – or parts thereof – in a seldom-visited outbuilding were also dashed just a few years later by the following advice from Frank Millett (who taught at All Souls’ after the Second World War):

‘Bidge Mills’ was O.C. Air Cadets for the region so I suppose this was the reason the School was offered this aircraft. The plane was placed near the main entrance from the Townsville Road. It stood out in the open, was subjected to much pilfering, and soon deteriorated in appearance. Consequently Canon Hurst decided to get rid of it and it was sold to a wrecker who had a forge operating in Sam Hill’s old blacksmith’s shop near the corner of Bridge and Plant Streets.

This furnace ran non-stop for all of six months and was fed all the army and airforce junk which littered the landscape after the war. I think this happened in 1919 – 1950. It was a pity it had to go but it would have taken a lot of money to preserve it…The School just couldn’t afford the luxury. 

C’est la vie

Search for Auster VH-AFK

Last night’s ABC’s 7.30 program featured a story about the renewed search for Auster J5/F VH-AFK which crashed in the rugged Burragorang Valley ranges in October 1954. Although the pilot and sole occupant, Max Haselton, survived the crash he was assumed at the time to have perished. Five days after the crash however he re-emerged from the bush, tired, sore and hungry, but otherwise uninjured.

Max, now in his eighties, went on to found Haselton Airlines. His remarkable survival story has been a source of abiding interest for entrepenueur Dick Smith who is now leading a concerted effort to try and relocate the wreckage of Max’s Auster.

Take a look:


Wartime graffiti

Narrandera in southern New South Wales was home to the RAAF’s No,8 EFTS during the Second World War and, in common with many former military airfileds it still has a number of original air force structures on site. The most imposing of these is the airfield’s remaining Bellman hangar which still bears its original identification number (viz. ’68’).

Bellaman hangar, Narranderra, N.SWhat really caught my attention however was this original RAAF insignia stencilled on the inside of the hangar’s side door. In fact the entire door panel had been painted – in similar hues – in a manner suggesting that it could have been used then as a test panel for surface finishers.

The colours too are barely faded, as might be expected given the panel’s deeply recessed internal location.

Have we learned anything?

A92-22One of only two surviving Mk.1 Jindiviks, A92-22 does a slow rot out the back the Australian Naval Aviation Museum’s 6,000 square metre hangar complex at HMAS Albatross. The former Jervis Bay Range Facility gate guardian is second only to RAAF Endinburgh’s A92-9 as the the world’s oldest surviving Jindivik. Would this have been allowed, had a significance assessment been carried out?

Ironically, the Museum has a substantial covered storage facility barely a few hundred metres away.

A Holden…of sorts

All collecting institutions endure the frustration of never having sufficient space for the display and storage of their – always – expanding collections.

This is particularly true for large public institutions, like the Queensland Museum, occupying premium CBD real estate. It’s partly for this reason that the provenance of a donation offer is now being subject to ever more scrutiny.

The GMH inspector's stamp which substantiated the likely source of this Lincoln wreckage.

The GMH inspector’s stamp which substantiated the likely source of this Lincoln wreckage.

Museum professionals are being challenged to show that this is at least demonstrable, if not substantial.

Queensland Museum curatorial staff were recently presented with one such challenge after having  been offered aircraft wreckage allegedly retrieved from the well-known Avro Lincoln (A73-64) crash site atop Mount Superbus in the state’s south-east. Although it remains a popular hiking destination, and one of Queensland’s best-known and most visited aircraft crash-sites (second only to the Lamington National Park’s Stinson VH-UHH), the Queensland Museum had nothing in its collections relating to this significant cultural site.

Similarly, there is nothing in its collections relating to the RAAF’s 10 Squadron – to which A73-64 belonged – despite that unit having been associated with Queensland in general, and Townsville in particular, for almost quarter of a century (equipped with GAF Lincolns for almost half that time (1949 – 1962).

Proving however that this twisted, unrecogniseable, and seemingly unmarked piece of aluminium had originated from atop Mount Superbus was proving problematic. While curatorial staff had no reason to doubt the veracity of the donor’s claim, they needed something more evidential on which to hang a provenance claim. The thicker-than-usual aluminium sheeting was certainly suggestive of a large multi-engine aircraft, and the external silver finish was also consistent with the livery known to have been used then by A73-64, and all other No.10 Squadron Lincolns.

Since the Second World War, all aircraft sub-assemblies have been impressed with part numbers and inspection stamps. The former can typically serve to identify the type of aircraft while the latter confirms the manufacturer. Although in this instance  we were able to locate a tiny (4 mm) inspector’s stamp it initially proved to be more of a hindrance, than a help. As one of sixty-eight Lincoln B30’s built by the Government Aircraft Factories in Melbourne we expected to find an inspector’s stamp bearing the signature abbreviation “GAF”. What we found instead though (see accompanying image) was an inspector’s stamp bearing the all too familiar abbreviation “GMH” (General Motors Holden).

Since GMH had been producing aircraft during the Second World War it was possible that surplus sheet metal stocks were used by GAF when Lincoln production commenced in 1946. With further research however we were able to establish that Holden’s Woodville plant in South had in fact been sub-contracted to produce GAF Lincoln wing components. Together with the other circumstantial indicators, this was enough to conform beyond all reasonable doubt that the wreckage being offered to the Museum was indeed from the wing of the Mount Superbus Lincoln.




Long and winding road

Built in 1944, former T.A.A. DC-3 VH-CAO has spent almost half its life on the ground, covering more miles by road – in the past thirty-five years – than it has by air.

It arrived this evening at the Caboolture Warplane & Flight Heritage Museum after a four day inland road trip via Charters Towers and Duaringa.  A deetrmined survivor, VH-CAO is now owned by David Kingshott of Complete Aircraft Care who plans an airworthy restoration for the C-47A.

After retirement from service in 1979 it was sold tothe  Chewing Gum Field Aircraft Museum at Tallebudgera, Queensland. After that folded it went to Drages Airworld at Wangaratta, Victoria, and went turtle in 2002 it was roaded to its most recent address – in Mareeba.

Things can only get better from here!

Nhill ‘s $355,000 grant

Anyone able to i.d. this airframe?The Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre in Western Victoria has recently received a $355,000 grant from the State Regional Growth Fund, to help develop an aviation  museum  complex incorporating surviving WWII – and pre-war- heritage structures located at the town’s aerodrome.  A central element of this new complex will be a Avro Anson which is undergoing restoration  following its recovery from a local property.