The Mosquito Aircraft Association of Australia Incorporated

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A52-600 History

A52-600 is a unique aircraft because it is the last surviving de Havilland Mosquito PR Mk XVI, A52-600 (RAF serial NS631), which is also one of the few 7781 Mossies built that has a second world war Australian War Service operational history. It is the only Australian operated Mosquito of any marque still in existence that has a combat record.

 

Manufactured at Hatfield in the summer of 1943/44, and while many of the Mosquitoes in the same batch, were allocated to the USAAF in Europe, NS631 was allocated for use by the Royal Australian Air Force, who had long sought some of these aircraft for use in the north-west area of the Pacific to photograph Japanese held territories, the task up to this time being performed by ageing Brewster Buffalos and P.38 Lightnings. A52-600 was the first aircraft in a batch of 12 PR Mk XVI Mosquitos for the RAAF to make up shortfalls in Australian production of the type.

 

So it was that after its initial test and delivery flights totaling some 5 hr 30 min, NS631 was dismantled and packed for shipment. It arrived in Australia aboard the SS Port Fairey and was accompanied on the journey by another PR MK XVI, NS659. They were received by No. 2 Aircraft Depot Richmond, NSW, on 13 December 1944.

 

NS631 was then allocated its RAAF serial number of A52-600 and after assembly it made a 1 hr 15 min flight on 9 February 1945, by Sqdn Ldr Charles Scherf DSO, DFC and Bar, followed by other flights on the 20th and 22nd February 1945. After further handling flights totaling 1 hr 40 min, one of which was flown by Sqdn Ldr Hermes, DFC, the aircraft was passed fit for service. On 1 March 1945 it was issued to No. 87 (PR) Squadron and was flown, on 3-4 March, from Richmond via Longreach to Coomalie Creek, near Darwin, where the squadron was based.

 

A52-600's first flight with the squadron was an air test on 10 March by the CO, Sqdn Ldr Gamble, and his navigator F/O Lobb. The aircraft's first operational sortie was on 23 March 1945; a 5 hr 30 min flight to Timor, piloted by Flt Lt Kearney with P/O Hardwick and the aircraft was to go on to complete some 20 operational missions.

 

On its 7th operational sortie on 2 June, A52-600 piloted by Flt Lt Johnston with F/O Williamson, again flew over Timor to photograph the airfields on the island to confirm the existence of enemy bombers there; the photographs showed a small force of Japanese aircraft in a gully at the southwest end of the Cape Chater airfield. Because these bombers were a threat to the nearby northern Australian bases, the next day four Liberators from No. 23 Squadron bombed the airfield, destroying four enemy aircraft. A52-600 was earning its keep!

 

On 3 August 1945, two of the squadron's Mosquitoes, A52-600 and A52-605, were to be sent to Labuan Island in Borneo on detachment, but the start of this mission was marred by a tragic accident involving A52-605, which swung on take-off and was destroyed; the pilot Squadron Leader Jim Gillespie died later of his injuries.

 

The incident, for A52-600 encountered icing problems at 21,000 ft on the way home, lost their airspeed indicator and had to descend to 17,000 ft.

 

A52-600's 20 wartime missions are summarized as follows:

 

23.3.45

Flt Lt Kearney & F/O Hardwick

Timor

5 hr 30 min

17.4.45

Flt Lt Bell & W/O Strange

Timor

4 hr 30 min

11.5.45

F/O Davies & F/O Reynolds

Flores, Bima

6 hr 20 min

14.5.45

Sqdn Ldr Gamble & F/O Lobb

 

5 hr 35 min

21.5.45

Flt Lt Lundberg & F/O Kercher

Soemba

7 hr 10 min

25.5.45

F/O Henry & F/O Jordan

Soemba

7 hr 15 min

2.6.45

Flt Lt Johnston & F/O Williamson

Timor

4 hr 0 min

5.6.45

Flt Lt Kearney & F/O Hardwick

Soemba

4 hr 30 min

12.6.45

Flt Lt Henry & F/O Jordan

Timor, Soemba

6 hr 45 min

15.6.45

F/O Davies & F/O Reynolds

Flores, Soemba

6 hr 30 min

23.6.45

Flt Lt Lundberg & F/O Kercher

Kai Isles

6 hr 30 min

2.7.45

Sqdn Ldr Gillespie & P/O Gibbons

S.E. Célèbes

7 hr 0 min

3.7.45

Flt Lt Armour & P/O Batzloff

 

6 hr 50 min

6.7.45

Flt Lt Dee & P/O Baesjou

 

5 hr 35 min

12.7.45

Flt Lt Bailey & F/O Gibbons

Bima

5 hr 05 min

14.7.45

Flt Lt Bell & W/O Strange

 

7 hr 05 min

22.7.45

Flt Lt Armour & P/O Batzloff

Kai Isles

4 hr 30 min

6.8.45

F/O Davies & F/O Reynolds

Kuching

5 hr 25 min

9.8.45

F/O Davies & F/O Reynolds

Anambas Isles

6 hr 05 min

10.8.45

F/O Davies & F/O Reynolds

Sibu

5 hr 50 min

 

A52-600s last flight was on 11th August 1945 over Kuching Prison Camp, on detachment to Labuan Island, Borneo??? Another doc said she had 21 wartime missions???.

On at least two other occasions A52-600 had to return to Coomalie Creek due to un-serviceability. The aircraft was inspected every 40 hours and with its return from Borneo a 200-hour check was completed on 30 August 1945. Two more so-called photographic sorties were made in September to Timor and the Tanimbar Islands, on both occasions being flown by Sqdn Ldr Law with W/O Macleod.

 

The squadron then moved to Parkes in New South Wales, with A52-600 being flown to its new home on 22 October 1945 by Flt Lt Dee with F/O Baesjou, but due to a lack of tasks in its new peacetime role it didn't fly again from this airfield until, with the disbandment of No. 87 (PR) Squadron, the aircraft was ferried to RAAF Station Canberra on 3 July 1946, by Sqdn Ldr Bond and Flt Lt Bowden, to help equip the Survey Flight (later Survey Squadron) following a 240-hour inspection.

 

At Canberra A52-600's wartime PRU blue was replaced with an Aluminium Dope scheme and it was given the code letters ‘SU-A'. From 23 September to 10 December1946 it made 19 survey flights in its new role, that being the aerial mapping of Australia, for which most of the flying was between 15,000 and 25,000 ft, but early in 1947 it was declared unserviceable.

 

Four reasons were given:

· there were unaccountable changes of longitudinal trim in flight;

· a loss of control below 150 knots;

· the aircraft was very slow in climbing;

· it swung badly to port when landing.

 

All of the control surfaces were readjusted to their correct settings, but the Engineering Officer, Flt Lt Vic Goldfinch, reported on 24 February 1947 that the aircraft was still almost uncontrollable at less than 150 knots and that it still swung on landing.

 

By 1 April 1947, further corrective action had taken place, but by then the Survey Squadron had only five PR.XVIs left and they were soon to be replaced by the Australian-built PR.41.

 

A52-600 is one of 432 PR MK XVl’s built and ended her career with a total flying time of 321 hr 50 min on the airframe.

 

On 16 July 1947 A52-600 was allocated to the Air and Ground Radio School (AGRS) at Ballarat, Victoria, for instructional purposes. The aircraft was ferried to Ballarat by Flt Lt C. J. Meares with Flt Lt F. R. Kitchen on 21 July 1947.

 

A52-600 became Instructional Airframe No. 4 with the AGRS, passing from there to the local Air Training Corps Squadron. It was listed for disposal by the RAAF on 25 November 1954, and was later purchased by Mr. Ern Vollaire, an orchardist from the Mildura area in Victoria.

 

Ern Voullaire and his elder brother Geoff were too young to enlist at the beginning of WW2. As young farmers growing vegetables on what was then a very large scale; 235 acres, it was deemed an "Essential Service" for the war effort and they were thus banned from enlisting. Both successfully joined the Air Training Corps and Geoff was released by the Government from being in an "Essential Service Industry" toward the end of WW2 and became an RAAF Aircrew member.

 

Ern purchased A52-600 by tender for £50 in 1957 from the Australian Government, but had to remove it from the Ballarat Airfield within a relatively short time-frame as a condition of winning the tender. It should be noted that this was not the first attempt by the Government to tender the aircraft for sale. Other tender processes before this had failed for various reasons including an aerial photography company that had ascertained the airframe was not up to the task and had then walked away from the removal process.

 

Upon arrival at Ballarat Airfield with the family-business International KB–SD6 coupled to a 24 foot single axle semi-trailer, Ern was determined to try and get the aircraft to Mildura in one piece if possible. Failing this, then to a least move it without damaging the integrity of the airframe.

 

After two days of walking around and climbing through the machine and then discussing with a resident RAAF Ground Engineer, Ern found he was going to have to move the aircraft the 480km by road, which left no alternative but to cut through the main-spar to fit the aircraft on the semi-trailer.

 

An offer to fly the aircraft back was made by a very "brave" bloke, but this was quickly rejected as the resident RAAF Ground Engineer pointed out the hydraulics were "U.S." and a replacement tail-wheel was going to cost "many hundreds" of pounds – not a realistic option. Added to this, the same engineer was worried about the airworthiness of the craft for any flying – it may simply break-up mid-flight.

 

The removal of the propellers had seemed quite daunting at first but the Ground Engineer showed how this was meant to be carried out and it was actually quite a simple process. The two Rolls Royce Merlins were removed next, which promptly "inflated" the two main-wheels and it was then that the reluctant cuts were made through the main-spars and one across the tail-boom. Everything was fitted onto the tray of the semi-trailer making one load for the whole-of-aircraft removal.

 

The aircraft was unloaded onto the family tennis-court at Monak in NSW in 1957. The tennis-court was never used for tennis again. A52-600 stood in the open bringing joy to children as a playhouse. It is a miracle that little damage occurred to the timber aircraft largely due to Mildura’s mild, dry climate.

 

In 1966, A52-600 was purchased by Mr Pearce Dunn for the Warbirds Aviation Museum in Mildura after he convinced Ern he would restore the plane, Ern decided it would be better for all to see the aircraft assembled rather than leave it sitting out in the open on the old tennis court. Ern decided the engines had some value and sold the aircraft to Mr. Dunn in that year for $200 on the condition of removal.

 

His intention was to restore the Mosquito, however this proved beyond the capabilities of the Warbirds Museum, and after some minor restoration work and kept under cover for 17 years. The Engine logbooks went with the plane. The plane was then stored at the Mildura Airport until being re-sold.

 

Apart from work to the fin and tailplane very little other restoration work was carried out on A52-600. In 1983, plans were made to export the aircraft to Sweden, but the Mosquito Preservation Trust, which was formed to bid (unsuccessfully) for the ex-Strathallen Mosquito B.35 RS712, placed a holding deposit on A52-600 to prevent it leaving the country, and in early September 1983 it was purchased outright from Pearce Dunn by an Albury/Wodonga syndicate formed by Alan Lane, Geoff Milne and Vin Thomas.

 

This syndicate worked towards bringing the aircraft to static display, but deciding it would fare better in the hands of the RAAF it was exchanged and transferred 1987. The aircraft was exchanged for a Dakota and a set of Mustang wings with the RAAF and spent a short time in storage at Laverton air base. A subsequent transfer to 503 Wing RAAF Richmond in 1990 completed the full circle for A52-600, as after 43 years it was back where its RAAF service commenced in 1944. It was assessed to determine if restoration to flight condition was a viable proposition and the green light was given to commence this difficult task.

 

Flt Lt Higgs who as overseer of the Richmond restoration works said at the time that:

 

"If it's going to be a static aircraft then we won't have to rebuild it to flying tolerances, which will mean less expense. If it's going to fly then large sections of it will have to be built from scratch. We'd have to get the new plywood that we're using tested and approved by the authorities and we haven't done any of that to date. All of the inspections cost money and the appropriate grade of materials for an airworthy aircraft also costs that much extra."

 

“Without doubt the greatest impediment to flying is the fact that the badly deteriorated wing is in three sections and will never fly again. A completely new wing will either have to be sourced or constructed anew. But not all hope is yet lost as far as the flying avenue is concerned.”

 

 Flt Lt Higgs pointed out that there was the possibility that private funds may fill the gaps, although nothing had yet been officially forthcoming. He continued:

 

“Currently the state of the restoration could be described as being in limbo. Although volunteers continue to work on numerous small items, the amount of structural work being carried out is next to nothing. All the same, work on the forward fuselage is almost complete, at least as far as structural repairs are concerned. "All of the woodwork has been done and there's very little plywood covering that is required. There are some unbleached linens that need to be applied to the top surface of the wood, but I don't believe that we've found a source for it as yet. In front there's a whole heap of balsa wood that has to be reskinned with ply, which means that we'll have to build the moulds. However there's a very major chunk missing off the rear fuselage. It's just waiting for the injection of about $15-20,000 thousand dollars and the whole thing could probably be completed in a couple of months. And for a further $25,000 all of the structural work on the fuselage could be completed.”

 

“Unfortunately little work has been completed on the wing, but it has been inspected and some minor work has been carried out. Fortunately most of the wood to rebuild it has already been purchased. Some of the spruce has travelled from as far away as Finland! “

 

“Both Merlins (one is a 76, the other is a 77) are in need of a major overhaul. "It's going to cost in the order of $150,000 per engine for an overhaul in the US by an aircraft V12 specialist, but we believe that both of them are capable of flying."

 

During the 70th Anniversary of the RAAF at Richmond Base in 1991, A52-600 was featured in a display, which generated a great deal of public interest. As a result, Alan Davies a pilot of A52-600 decided in July 1992 to initiate the foundation of the Mosquito Aircraft Association of Australia. Its main aim is to gather a support group of volunteer servicemen and civilians together, to assist in the mammoth task of restoring this historic aircraft.

 

At Richmond, the fuselage had extensive restoration undertaken, along with a total refabrication of the tail plane and other smaller items, but the RAAF following the decision to disband the Caribou and Historical Aircraft Section at Richmond decided that the aircraft should move to the RAAF Museum for completion. On 31st March 1998 A52-600 was transferred via RAAF Hercules to Point Cook where it was mothballed until 24th March 2002, where the restoration resumed after the completion of the Walrus HD874.

 

For the latest restoration information, please select ‘A52-600 Restoration’ in the Navigation Bar on the left.