Tags: War. Airplanes. Wirraway. World war. Military. History. Museum. Queensland Australia
In The Air with Ross Parker and WIRRAWAY 695
‘The Wirraway is one of the most iconic aircraft in Air Force history and almost every pilot who graduated during World War II would have flown one,’ was how retired Cathay Pacific Senior Airline Captain Ross Parker summed up our talk about the beautifully maintained CA-16 Wirraway with RAAF serial numberA20-695 that he co-owns with fellow syndicate member, Stephen Boyd.
Featured Image(above): Waiting in the early morning mist for enthusiasts to visit the airshow
The Caboolture based Wirraway 695 is one of the 755 that were built between 1939 and 1946 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation at Fisherman’s Bend in Victoria and Ross told me that during the time of production, there were three series of the aircraft built. 695 was built in early 1945 as part of the final series and varies from previous models by featuring re-enforced wings and a considerably maximum airspeed,’ said Ross. ‘There were some ideas that the Wirraway could be used as a dive bomber instead of the training role that it was originally intended for.
The wings were strengthened in order to carry bombs,’ he explained. By way of explanation about the decision to produce the Wirraway, this happened after the Australian Government realised that, due to the need by overseas manufacturers to concentrate on building aircraft to equip their own forces, it would not be possible to buy planes from them. This obviously meant that there had to be an aircraft factory within the country that was capable of designing and manufacturing both aircraft and engines to supply our forces.
It came about that in 1936, with the encouragement of the Australian Government, three companied joined together to form the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC). An investigation into various European and American designs resulted in the purchase of the North American NA-16 and a development process that resulted in a modified variant called the Wirraway receiving official approval.
The aircraft was designated as being intended for a training/ general purpose role and was fitted with a 600 horsepower radial engine. In June of 1938, the Australian Government placed an initial order for forty Wirraways and on March 27th in 1939, the first CA-1 Wirraway, RAAF serial A20-3, performed it’s maiden flight. Whilst this aircraft was retained at the factory for testing and evaluation, on July 10th of that year, the first two Wirraways, serials A20-4 and A20-5 were received by the RAAF.
Sharing the hangar with the T-28 Trojan
Throughout the war, the Wirraway was used to train pilots, initially as an advanced trainer and then as a basic introduction to piloting more advanced aircraft came online. Following the end of World War II, Wirraways saw a gradual decline in operations and the RAAF commenced the phasing out of the type in 1958 with a farewell flypast held at Point Cook on December 4th. The final military flight of the Wirraway was on April 27th in 1959 when CA-16 A20-86 was flown to Tocumwal for disposal.
Speaking about the history of 695, Ross told me that the aircraft was delivered to the RAAF in February 1945 and from when World War II ended was flown less and less until being sold in the mid-fifties. He said that a number of the type were converted to be used for crop dusting and re-named “Ceres” but that was not the case with the aircraft that shares space in his hangar with the T-28 Trojan. ‘695 did the rounds of a number of owners until a syndicate, mainly of Cathay Pacific pilots, was formed in 1993 with the intention to obtain and restore a Wirraway and a Mustang,’ said Ross.
The oldest surviving Wirraway is preserved at Moorabin Airport in Victoria.
‘The aircraft was brought to Caboolture where the restoration began and from when she flew again in July 1997, Wirraway 695 has been continually operational,’ he said. Something that indicates just how very important it is to have this aircraft operating at Caboolture is the very limited existence of the type in the country. Ross remarked that there are now only three airworthy Wirraways left flying in all of Australia and 695 is the only one in Queensland.
As I’m sure most Bribie Island residents would be aware, this aircraft is a very familiar sight in the skies over our island and as well as bringing many Adventure Flight passengers for a look at Pumicestone Passage and the beautiful surf beach, the Wirraway has participated in the Bribie Island Anzac Day flyover for each of the past twenty years. Ross recalled that although he has not been the pilot for the last few Anzac Day flights, he flew 695 on most of the previous fifteen occasions.
Wirraway 695 is a regular sight in the skies over the surf beach
There are many air shows held throughout the country each year and the Wirraway is a regular visitor to most of them and Ross pointed out that a very special part of attending these shows is when men who have flown the type come to inspect the aircraft. ‘As they stand there or sit in the cockpit, you can see them allowing themselves to be drawn back to times gone by. That is always a special moment,’ Ross said. He also told me that some of these veterans have told him a variety of Wirraway related stories including the existence of a Wirraway song and about the time a pilot on a night exercise shot off a flare without opening the cockpit window, later on landing with a rather dark facial colour.
‘To have a flare shooting around the cockpit and probably losing night vision for a while, he must have been a very good pilot to keep the plane in the correct attitude. I take my hat off to him,’ remarked Ross. The Caboolture Airfield is well known for being home to quite a large number of restored Warbirds and Wirraway 695 is an excellent example of how an aircraft that was built in a much earlier era can be restored to be like she was when first delivered. I would suggest that the only way to really understand the enthusiasm that motivates the owners of these aircraft is to arrange for a flight in the Wirraway.
Give Warbirds Pty Ltd a call on 0419 493999 and speak to Ross about arranging what will be the experience of a lifetime.