I attended my first Open Cockpits and Family Fun Day at the South Australian Aviation Museum (SAAM) in Port Adelaide on Sunday April 9th, 2017 (it was good to get back to the museum as I hadn’t been there since 2011 and much had changed). What a fantastic event it was, with many of the museums ever-growing collection of aircraft open to either get into the cockpit or at least take a good look inside. Based off the crowd numbers it seems to have been a great success and provided well needed funds for the museum!
The Restoration Hangar was open to see a number of projects currently underway and most importantly for the museum, they had a public unveiling of their new second display hangar for which they received their final Certificate of Occupancy just two days before the event (they are going to need this hangar with the nearing arrival of an RAAF Lockheed AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft that will soon be retired. Acquired from Defence Disposals for just $20,000)! They were also running aircraft engines out behind the hangars to experience their power and noise! The new hangar space was also handy when it rained on and off during the day!
The first thing I did was bypass the busy main hangar and head for the Restoration Hangar. There are a number of interesting projects going on in there including the restoration of an Avro Anson and a Fairey Battle.
The long restoration and rebuild of the RAAF World War Two era Fairey Battle light bomber/air gunnery trainer is a credit to the team at SAAM as it really is a massive undertaking. This aircraft, N2188 was originally built for the RAF in 1939 and served with a number of RAF units until delivered to the RAAF in 1941, serving with No. 2 Bombing & Gunnery School at Port Pirie in South Australia from July 1941 to May 1943 (info from ADF-Serials.com.au). It force landed into a mangrove swamp near Port Pirie during a training mission on May 7th, 1943. The engine, cockpit and tail were recovered by the RAAF back then but the rest was left to just rot away until the fuselage was salvaged by enthusiasts in the mid 1970’s.
In 1987 the recovered Fairey Battle fuselage was sold to SAAM and later the RAF Museum Hendon donated a set of wings from L5343 (recovered in Iceland by the RAF in 1972) to the museum for the restoration which began in 1999. Other components to aid in the restoration have been acquired from Australia, Belgium, Canada and the UK. The museum states only 4 of the 2,185 Fairey Battle aircraft produced remain today.
The Avro Anson Mk.I being restored was the museums first aircraft (most of the aircraft is EF954 but includes parts of AW965). During World War Two it was operated by No. 6 Service Flying Training School as an RAAF aircrew trainer at Mallala, South Australia from April 1944. The Anson was disposed of by the RAAF in 1947 and purchased by local farmer, Mr. Reg Franks who donated the aircraft to the museum in 1984 (it should be noted though that by 1965 only the fuselage frame and starboard engine had survived. The wooden wings were sold to a glider club so they could build a glider! Info via ADF-Serials.com.au).
The roar of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine coming to life soon saw me pop my head out of the Restoration Hangar. The team were running various freestanding aircraft engines on the hour and this was a very popular attraction (even when a sun shower would pass over now and then).
The New Display Hangar
My next stop was the adjoining and recently completed new display hangar that has been purpose-built to accommodate some of the new and larger aircraft SAAM has already purchased or is going to soon receive. The rear of the hangar has an elevated section to accommodate the extremely high tail of the RAAF de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou transport (A4-225) .
The DHC-4 was a stalwart Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) transport of the RAAF serving for an amazing 45 years from 1964 to 2009 including operations in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1972 and in Papua New Guinea from 1965 to 1975! The RAAF operated 29 DHC4 aircraft – 18 were ordered in 1963, 1 was lost in a heavy landing at Nowra, NSW in 1964, 7 more were purchased in 1966 and finally 4 more were delivered between 1968 to 1971.
The SAAM Caribou, A4-225 was delivered to the RAAF in 1965 and was operated by No. 38 Squadron Detachment A in Papua New Guinea from 1965 to 1971 then returned to regular operations with No. 38 Squadron in Australia until retired in 2009 (it was purchased by the museum in 2015 during an official tender for historic associations to purchase one of six DHC-4’s held in storage at Oakey in Queensland – info from ADF-Serials.com.au). The Caribou and soon to arrive AP-3C Orion will both be displayed with only one wing attached to enable them to be displayed in the long hangar.
Nearby is a nose section of a famous Korean War era RAAF Gloster Meteor F.8 jet fighter (A77-851) which had an interesting history from when it was first delivered to the RAF then handed over the RAAF in 1952. By 1953 it was flying combat missions with RAAF No. 77 Squadron over Korea and on March 27th, 1953 RAAF pilot George Hale shot down a MiG-15 in it. The aircraft was named “Halestorm” when he flew it, and on that day whilst conducting a reconnaissance mission over North Korea near Sinmak, Hale and his wingman engaged with three MiG-15’s, Hale shot down one and then they were immediately confronted by two more MiG-15’s, one of which he damaged (it was seen trailing white smoke as it climbed away) before his ammo ran out and he returned at low-level to base (hence the green and red MiG markings painted on “Halestorm“).
In 1960 A77-851 was converted to an unmanned radio controlled U.21A version and the original cockpit on display was removed (it was purchased by the museum in 1990 and still retained the “Halestorm” nose art). The rest of the original fighter was unfortunately lost in a remotely controlled flight trial over Woomera in 1963 (although I did note the museum had the fuselage of another Meteor in the restoration hangar, so this may end up joined to the nose section of A77-851 someday).
Next to the Meteor is the nose section of a three seat GAF Canberra T.4 bomber trainer (WD954) which was built for the RAF in 1951 as a B.2 bomber and converted to a T.4 in 1952. An additional seat and control stick was added for the flying instructor to accompany the pilot and navigator. The instructor seat could be slid back on rails to allow access through the side hatch but you cant help but notice this addition was not an ejection seat! It was a real step back in time to a different era of jet flying looking into that cockpit (you are not allowed to get inside as there are pipes insulated with asbestos – it is coated to ensure it is safe but the element of risk is there if someone was to touch or break it).
The Canberra T.4 was transferred to RAAF Edinburgh in 1959 for training for the Weapons Research Establishment program and was in use until 1970. By 1973 it was being used to test the effects of a bomb impact on an airframe! Eventually the airframe ended up with SAAM but only the nose section was worth preserving as the rest was too far gone.
The old guard of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Fleet Air Arm was also on display with a Westland Wessex Mk.31 Search And Rescue (SAR) helicopter (N7-224) and a de Havilland Sea Venom FAW.53 jet fighter (WZ931). These types of aircraft represent the long-lost era of Australian carrier aviation off the HMAS Melbourne which was a Majestic Class light aircraft carrier operated by the navy from 1955 to 1982.
27 Westland Wessex helicopters (a British development of the Sikorsky H-34) were operated by the RAN from 1962 to 1989 initially in the ASW/SAR role and later as transports – they were replaced by the Sea King helicopter in these roles. This particular Wessex (N7-224) was delivered to the RAN in 1963 and served aboard HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Stalwart before becoming an instructional airframe in 1987. The Wessex was acquired by SAAM in 1998. It was interesting climbing up into the rather spacious and oh so analog cockpit of this helicopter!
The RAN operated 39 Sea Venom FAW.53 fighters which were delivered in February 1956 and the last was retired from flying operations in June 1973. The Sea Venom was operated primarily as a fighter armed with 4 x 20 Hispano cannons for fleet air defence but it could also carry eight 60 lb 3-inch rockets or two 1,000 lb bombs underwing for ground attack missions (they were replaced in front-line RAN service by the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk attack aircraft). WZ931 flew with No. 724 and 805 squadrons before retirement in the early 1970’s. It was acquired by the museum in 1987 from the RAN Fleet Air Arm Museum in Nowra, NSW.
In my next post I will venture into the main display hangar of the South Australian Aviation Museum. This is where they keep their two jewels in the crown (in my opinion), an RAAF Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc and a mighty General Dynamics RF-111C reconnaissance/strike aircraft (on long-term loan from the RAAF).