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Category: Air support/WW2/Allied

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 Trainer, Fighter, Dive Bomber; and not very good

Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation


"The Pilot Maker"

755 built

Popondetta, Papua, 1942-12-12. Two RAAF Wirraway aircraft stand on the grass shortly after landing close together at Popondetta airstrip. Before Wirraway A2-103 (left) had come to a complete stop, its pilot, Pilot Officer (PO) J. S. Archer, had leapt from the aircraft and run across to the Control Tent where he had found the Control Officer talking to NX34655 Captain Alan Oliver Watson, Dental Officer with the 2/4th Field Ambulance. Puffing hard, PO Archer exclaimed excitedly, 'Sir, sir, I think I've shot down a Zero!' To this the Control Officer replied, 'Don't be silly, Archer, Wirraways can't shoot down Zeros.' 'Well, sir,' continued Archer, 'I went in to look at the wreck off Gona and I saw this thing in front of me and it had red spots on it, so I gave it a burst and it appeared to fall into the sea.' Within a few minutes, a dozen telephone calls from observers all around the Gona area confirmed Archer's story. While on a tactical reconnaissance mission over the Japanese ship wrecked in the sea off Gona, Archer and his observer, Sergeant J.F. Coulston, had sighted the Zero 1,000 feet below. After diving on the Japanese aircraft, they had fired a long burst into it with the Wirraway's two Vickers .303 machine guns, causing the Zero to crash into the sea. Archer was later awarded the DFC for his exploit. (Donor A. Watson) (Note: Archer's Wirraway is housed in the AWM.

The Wirraway (Aboriginal for 'Challenge' or "Challenger") was the first product of the new, privately owned Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC), and was a licence-built derivative of the North American NA-16 (known variously as the 'Texan' or 'Harvard'). In appearance, the most obvious differences are the D-shaped rudder on the Wirraway, and variations to the intake below the cowling.

One NA-16-1A and one NA-16-2K (or NA-33) were imported as construction examples. These were serialled A20-1 and A20-2. Subsequent Wirraways were serialled A20-3 to A20-755 in an unbroken series.

The Wirraway differed from the U.S. trainer prototype in having an armed capability, with provision for two fixed forward machine guns of rifle calibre above the engine, and a flexible machine gun of similar calibre in the rear cockpit. Light bomb racks could be fitted under the wings.

It was a sign of the straits the RAAF was in at the time that a general purpose trainer should be built with these provisions, due to a lack of funding for purpose-built fighters and bombers. 755 were built between 1939 and mid-1946. They were built as variants CA-1, CA-3, CA-5, CA-7, CA-8, CA-9, CA-10 and CA-16, but were basically very similar. The CA-10 was a dive bomber design, with dive brakes, improved wing and capacity for a heavier load.

They filled various roles in addition to that of trainer, from 'hack' to combat aircraft. They were Rabaul's main air defence in early 1942, when eight took on a Japanese raid of 100 aircraft, the results being disastrous for the defenders. A Wirraway did manage to down a Zero in December that year, near Gona.

The RAAF's last Wirraway flight was in December 1958 at Point Cook, Victoria. They were replaced by Winjeels.

Wirraway A20-757

CAC CA-16 Wirraway A20-757, c/n 1209, taken in 1950 whilst on a test flight after servicing at Maintenance Squadron Point Cook, flying between Geelong and Point Cook. This was the last Wirraway delivered, in June 1946. It was sold to R.H. Grant Trading Co. in February 1960.              Photo; Graeme Semken


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