Restoring an Avro Anson

After I wrote my blog on the 2012 Nhill Fly In I was invited by John Deckert a member of the Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre to visit the workshops in Nhill (in country Victoria, Australia) where the various projects associated with their restoration of a former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), World War Two era, British designed Avro Anson Mk.I twin-engined maritime patrol, air crew training and liaison aircraft are taking place. This particular Avro Anson was built in 1941 and recovered as a virtual wreck from a Wimmera farm in 2009.

RAAF Avro Anson 1938
RAAF Avro Anson’s in 1938
Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre Avro Anson Restoration
The Nhill Avro Anson under restoration

BACKGROUND & HISTORY

The Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre will build a new museum to house the Avro Anson along with the associated memorabilia they have collected at the Nhill Aerodrome, a former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) training air base in World War Two (home to RAAF No. 2 Air Navigation School,  No. 1 Operation Training Unit,  No. 97 Squadron Reserve and the Air Armament and Gas School). The base operated from 1941-1946 predominately flying the Anson to conduct air navigation and armaments training, including bombing training which was completed over the nearby Little Desert (became a National Park in 1968). They will also utilise the surviving buildings at the aerodrome from that era to display the aviation heritage of the Wimmera region and pay tribute to the air force personnel who trained there. It is hoped the museum will be able to display the fully restored Anson in approximately 3 years time.

Avro Anson Nhill World War Two RAAF
An RAAF Avro Anson over Nhill during World War Two (source: Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre)
RAAF Base Nhill 1945 Victoria Australia
RAAF Nhill 1945 (source: Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre)
Nhill Aerodrome 1942
Nhill Aerodrome 1942 (Source: Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre)
Nhill Aerodrome Hangar Operations Building Bomb Target
World War Two history remains at the Nhill Aerodrome today

The Avro Anson known as “Faithful Annie” was an integral training aircraft for pilots, observers and navigators in the Empire Air Training Scheme that operated in many Commonwealth countries including Britain, Canada and Australia during World War Two. The Anson was in production from 1935 to 1952 and over 11,000 were built. 1,028 were operated by the RAAF (the first were delivered in 1936 and 937 were delivered between 1940-1944) making it the most prolific aircraft type in the RAAF (the last one was retired in 1955). They were primarily used by the RAAF for training purposes with some operating in a maritime patrol capacity looking for Japanese submarines and escorting convoys during World War Two.

RAAF Avro Anson Laverton 1938
Ansons flying over RAAF Laverton in 1938 (source: RAAF)
mid-air collision of two Avro Anson aircraft, on a training flight from No. 2 Service Flying Training School (2SFTS) based at Wagga Wagga
An unusual mid-air collision of two RAAF Avro Anson aircraft from No. 2 Service Flying Training School (Wagga Wagga) on September 29th, 1940 near Brocklesby, NSW (source: Australian War Memorial)
RAAF Avro Anson Lands On another Anson1940
A different view of the “Brocklesby Incident” in 1940 – amazingly the crews of both aircraft were not seriously injured – they all bailed out except for the pilot of the top aircraft who crashlanded the locked together aircraft using the flying controls of his Anson but the power of the engines of the lower Anson (photo source: Ian Rose collection)

The Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre have traced the operational history of their Avro Anson Mk.I (serial number W2364) that was built in Britain by A.V. Roe and Company and delivered directly to the RAAF in 1941 as follows (with some additional information I have sourced on the applicable squadrons):

July 27th, 1941 – Allocated to No. 1 Aircraft Depot at Laverton, Victoria.

December 6th, 1941 – Transferred to No. 6 Service Flying Training School in Mallala, South Australia (a gun turret was fitted later that month). 6 SFTS was a flight school to further enhance the skills of aircrew who had completed elementary flight training before they were transferred to a specialist school for more complex training and then on to operational squadrons.

August 4th, 1942 – Transferred to No. 100 Squadron (formed in 1942), a torpedo-bomber squadron then based in Port Moresby,  New Guinea. The squadron mostly operated Bristol Beaufort bombers against the Japanese. The aircraft later transferred to No.67 Squadron (formed in January, 1943) on maritime-patrol duties. The squadron was initially based in Laverton, Victoria but operated from different bases in Victoria and New South Wales during the war.

Adjusting the radar apparatus No.67 Squadron Avro Anson at RAAF Laverton in 1945
Adjusting the air to surface vessel radar apparatus of a No.67 Squadron Anson at RAAF Laverton in 1945 (source: Australian War Memorial)
No.67 Squadron Anson RAAF Laverton 1945
No.67 Squadron Anson’s at RAAF Laverton 1945

October 18th, 1944 – Sent to Guinea Airways for what I gather was a major service overhaul (the company conducted aircraft repair work and maintenance on behalf of the RAAF during World War Two). Guinea Airways was a South Australian airline formed in 1926 that originally operated in New Guinea to service gold fields but with the Japanese invasion there in 1942 they began providing air transport and passenger services on the Adelaide to Darwin route in Australia.

Avro Anson A4-32 undergoing a major service at Guinea Airways in 1945
Avro Anson A4-32 undergoing a major service at Guinea Airways in 1945 (source: State Library of South Australia)

April 2nd, 1945 – Returned to No. 6 Service Flying Training School at Mallala which in January 1946 became Care & Maintenance Unit Mallala.

December 23rd, 1946 – Transferred to the RAAF Air & Ground Radio School in Ballarat, Victoria (renamed the School of Radio from 1952) where the Anson would have been used as an instructional airframe.

April 24th, 1953 – Put up for sale, Anson W2364 then ended it’s 12 year career in the RAAF.

After 1953 Anson W2364 was not placed on the Civil Aviation Register and did not take to the air again. The airframe is known to have changed hands a few times after its sale by the RAAF and was basically used for scrap parts on Wimmera-Mallee farms. Steel components of the airframe were used for farm machinery repairs and parts of it such as the tail section and nose were cut off with an axe! Graham Drage a Warracknabeal district farmer with an interest in aviation purchased what remained of the aircraft to save it from further destruction and kept it on his farm for many years. In 2008 the Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre began an extensive search for a suitable Anson and a chance discussion with Graham Drage led to this airframe being donated for restoration in 2009.

Avro Anson
What remained of the Anson in 2009 resembled a crash site! (Source: Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre)
Avro Anso recovered warracknabeal farm australia nhill aviation heritage centre
After many dormant years the Anson “takes to the skies” again all so briefly! (Source: Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre)
Avro Anson wreck being loaded for delivery to Nhill in 2009
The Anson being loaded for delivery to Nhill in 2009 (Source: Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre)

THE RESTORATION

The Avro Anson was constructed with a fabric covered steel tube fuselage frame and wooden wings. After almost 60 years out in the open and being taken apart for the metal, the airframe was understandably in poor condition and 3.5 metres of the rear of the Anson was actually missing! As such a new rear section of the aircraft had to be painstakingly rebuilt for the restoration project. Initially the restoration engineering process had to have an element of educated guesses with the help of photos but the remanufacturing of parts has since been significantly aided by sourcing original design plans from the UK. Restoration Manager Mick Kingwell has been primarily responsible for putting in an immense amount of work (well over 1,000 hours to date) to accurately rebuild and restore the airframe fuselage and cabin (including control columns, instrument panels, radio equipment etc.). His work is fantastic and given where he started, Mick has achieved so much in bringing the airframe back together.

Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre Avro Anson Mk.1 restoration
The Anson makes it to Nhill (2009)….now the restoration begins (Source: Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre)
Avro Anson Mk.I Nhill Victoria Australia
The Anson restoration was well advanced in late 2012
Avro Anson restoration Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre Victoria Australia
The rebuilt tail section
Avro Anson restoration Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre Victoria Australia
The rebuilt rudder and tail section
An old remnant of original fabric from and Avro Anson
An old remnant of Avro Anson fuselage fabric
avro anson cabin nhill aviation heritage centre
The restoration of the cabin is really taking shape
Avro Anson radio operator position nhill aviation heritage centre
Radio operator position
Avro Anson cockpit restoration nhill aviation heritage centre
The cockpit restoration
avro anson cockpit nhill aviation heritage centre
The cockpit – an enormous amount of work has been done to restore everything accurately

The tail rudder and tailplane of the Avro Anson are predominately made of wood. The original framework had badly deteriorated over the years, as such a new tail plane has been meticulously crafted by Len Creek initially using original but badly decayed examples and then aided with the design plans from the UK as a guide to return them to the original state (his past experience in aircraft modelling has been a great asset). Len’s work has progressed nicely and the framework is rapidly approaching being covered over with plywood to look as it once did (unfortunately this will also hide all his hard work!).

damaged deteriorated avro anson tail plane nhill australia
This is what Len was originally working from – not much left
Avro Anson Tail Plane Nhill
Len & John with the Anson tail plane
tail plane section of the Nhill Avro Anson
Detailed wood work on the tail plane section of the Anson
Avro Anson tailplane restoration
Piece by piece the Anson is coming to life again

Many original parts for the restoration project that were not on the surviving airframe have also been sourced and donated from around the country and afar to ensure the completed project will be as accurate as possible (it is intended to have the Anson achieve taxiing status but it will never fly again). Wimpey Reichelt has been working on restoring the undercarriage and the two Armstrong-Siddeley Cheetah Mk.IX seven-cylinder radial engines that powered this Anson. The undercarriage took 450 hours to complete and all this hard work really shows in the level of detail to bring it back to brand new condition. Wimpey has stopped counting how many hours he has spent on the engines but the work he is doing restoring and reconstructing them from original and remanufactured parts is immaculate. What he has done with parts that originally looked like they were only good for the rubbish tip is fantastic and the engines are really starting to look like new again! It is planned to be able to conduct taxiing displays of the Anson (it will not fly again), therefore the engines need to not only look like they once did, they need to be able to be fired up and running, hence the level of detail and work in finishing their restoration.

Avro Anson engine
The state of the Ansons engines in 2009 (Source: Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre)
Avro Anson Engine Armstrong-Siddeley Cheetah Mk.IX
Armstrong-Siddeley Cheetah Mk.IX being restored
Armstrong-Siddeley Cheetah Mk.IX Engine Avro Anson Nhill Victoria Australia
The restoration of this Anson engine has come a long way since 2009!
avro anson cheetah engine cylinders restoration nhill australia
The engine cylinders are as good as new following extensive restoration work
avro anson engine part restoration nhill aviation heritage centre
Every part has to be cleaned, restored or rebuilt
Anson undercarriage
One half of the Anson undercarriage in 2009 (Source: Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre)
Restored Avro Anson undercarriage Nhill Victoria Australia
One half of the restored Anson undercarriage
Anson undercarriage Nhill Fly In 2012
One half of the restored Anson undercarriage taken during the Nhill Fly In 2012

Four years in and the restoration team have come a long way from the virtual wreck they originally started with! The Anson is about 50% complete and their work is of world-class in bringing the aircraft back to its former shape again. The team of restorers are working at a fantastic pace and they are now looking at starting the construction of the wooden wings (later models had metal wings).

avro anson restoration nhill aviation heritage centre
The wings will be next

Once the airframe and engine restoration is complete, the inner wings, undercarriage and engines will be fitted to the aircraft and the fuselage fabric will also be attached and doped. This will allow the Anson to be moved to its future museum home (construction will commence shortly and is expected to be completed by July 2013) and eventually have the outer wings fitted (once they are built).

If you would like to contribute to the cause and help fund the Anson restoration please take a look at the Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre website for information on how to do so. Australian donations over $2 are tax-deductible and would be most welcome I am sure.

AERADIO STATION

In addition to seeing the restoration project John Deckert also took me to visit the old Aeradio Station on the edge of the Nhill Aerodrome. It is possibly the last of its type in Australia. Twelve were built by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA) in 1938-1939 at aerodromes around the country to provide communications and aircraft guidance to improve aerodrome safety (they operated for around 35 years before being replaced with more modern alternatives). It is hoped to restore the building and one day equip it with original radio gear to form a part of the aviation museum. The World War Two era Flight Operations building at the aerodrome has also been restored and this forms another important part of Nhill’s aviation history.

Nhill Aeradio building
The Aeradio Building today
Nhill Aeradio Building in 1939
The Aeradio Building in 1939 (source: Airways Museum via CAHS/Ivan Hodder collection)
Nhill Aeradio building interior 1939
Interior of the Nhill Aeradio Building in 1939 (source: Airways Museum via CAHS/Ivan Hodder collection)
Lorenz Radio Range Beacon Tower 1938 Nhill
Lorenz Radio Range Beacon 1938 and now (source of photo on left: Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre via Nhill Historical Society)

THANKYOU

A special thanks to everyone I met who is involved with the Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre (John and Bev Deckert, Mick Kingwill, Len and Jenny Creek and Wimpey Reichelt) for making my visits possible and for your hospitality. It was a pleasure to meet you all and I had a fantastic time!

A FAMILY LINK

The Avro Anson also has a special meaning to me in general as it is one of the aircraft (along with the similar Airspeed Oxford) in which my Grandfather as a cadet was undergoing flight crew training in towards the end of World War Two when he was in the RAAF Air Training Corps at the Point Cook airbase near Melbourne (Number 4 Squadron). The ATC provided pre-entry training for air and ground crews to the RAAF (for 16-18 year olds).

RAAF Air Training Corps Proficiency Certificate
My Grandfathers Air Training Corps Proficiency Certificate
RAAF Avro Anson
RAAF Avro Ansons (source: Australian War Memorial)

A FLYING ANSON

As a nice complement to the experience of seeing the Nhill restoration project, I have recently attended the Wings Over Wairarapa 2013 air show in New Zealand which included a flying Avro Anson Mk.I in the display (restored over 10 years by Bill Reid in NZ and the only one flying in full military configuration. There is another flying Anson in the UK operated by Air Atlantique but it was a was operated by a communications flight in the RAF and has a different fuselage configuration without a turret). It was fantastic to see this machine take to the air and it was far more nimble and maneuverable than I expected. The worlds only flying de Havilland Mosquito also flew at the air show in NZ. Great stuff!

Avro Anson Mk.I - Wings Over Wairarapa 2013 NZ
Avro Anson Mk.I taken at Wings Over Wairarapa 2013
Avro Anson Air Atlantique
Avro Anson operated by Air Atlantique in the UK (photo taken by Adrian Pingstone)
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28 thoughts on “Restoring an Avro Anson

    1. Deano,
      Great pictures of the Anson restoration. Could I use some of them in a book I’ve been writing about No. 5 Service Flying Training School, Canada? They flew Ansons at this Station.
      Roger

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      1. Deano,
        I was hoping to get permission to use image numbers 8599, 8636 and 8656. These are pictures of the unrestored wooden wing and metal fuselage and the restored cockpit.
        Roger

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  1. What an outstanding project – the attention to detail is incredible! Congratualtions to the restoration team on their progress thus far!

    I’m currently undertaking an Avro Anson project of a different kind and have notified the secretary of the Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre.

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  2. Congratulations on the successful completion of the AVRO Anson Project and the wonderful numerous videos of this aircraft in flight. … Is there an opportunity to request Dimensional Technical Drawing information on the A.W.11 Manually Operated Mid-Upper Gun Turret to permit creation of a CAD Drawing which will enable the fabrication and completion of a scale model ? … Does anyone have information on the location of any of these turrets, specifically the metal frame ? … Thank You in advance for any information !

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      1. Hi Deano, is it possible for you to contact, or, provide me with contact details in order to see if anyone at NHAC could provide me with either a dimensional technical drawing or hand drawn sketch of the Anson mid-upper turret as depicted in the photograph with “Project Manager Mick” standing near the forward fuselage section? … The turret painted yellow primer is at the rear of the workshop visible over his left shoulder. I would be willing to consider (within reason) a payment or donation towards the rebuild of their Anson for their time and trouble. I require these detailed dimensions in order to complete a 3D/CAD drawing to enable the fabrication of a pair of 1/2 inch – 1 foot scale model turrets.
        Thank You in advance, Kind Regards, Alan (Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada).

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I flew in Avro Anson V H A K U Casino to Mascot in mid 1947! the Air line was New England Airways, me being a kid 11 yrs. the Captan was Arthur Butler of aviation fame, later Butler Air Transport. Still have the tickets. A safe reliable old machine, magnificent to see one being restored. An X Snr. head Teacher T AFE,one of my teachers bought an Avro Anson, Colin Wear, he later lived near Stroud, he is decd. He also owned an Auster a/c.richard.

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  4. Hello guys and what a fantastic job you’ve done with your Anson rebuild. I wonder if you could help me solve a problem I have in identifying a possible Anson part. Does your Anson have hand opperated undercarriage? If so how is the drive taken from the side crank on the pilots seat backwards and out to the undercarriage links. I ask this as I have a small differential unit which I belive is used in this system ? Neil

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Neil, a message from John Deckert who is in the NAHC Committee:

      Hi Neil,
      Can you send me a photo of your part and I will try to match it to our Avro. I am not the specialist on the Avro and so I can’t answer easily but from memory I think there is a right-angled drive box to a shaft running to the rear then by chain out to the lifting mechanism. john@westprint.com.au

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      1. Thanks Deano of for passing on my post to John and letting me have his contact details. Keep up your great work.

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