April 2007



by Nick Sayer


Monday morning of 16 April 2007 found Cliff Robinson and me together with "Russell" and a car trailer piggy-backed upon its tray. We set off, negotiating the usual traffic snarls befalling Brisbane whilst attempting to cross Brisbane during peak hour, to the open roads heading south. Ahead after a five to six hour drive was Coffs Harbour and the object of our journey, the collection of Beechcraft Bonanza VH-AWC.

This aircraft had come into the possession of QAM courtesy of the Federal Government's Cultural Gift's Program. The generosity of its owner, Guy Cahill, to positively consider a QAM request for donation under that incentive sealed the deal.

The weather en-route was perfect, the traffic light and well behaved, the scenery spectacular, especially around the hills near Byron Bay. As we motored along we passed places with distinct memories for QAM. First Byron Bay, from where our weather radar and tower was relocated. Next was Evan's Head where I had been many years earlier helping to dismantle the Dove for transport to Caloundra. There also had been the RAAF base where our Ventura had been decommissioned at war's end.

This was my first drive of "Russell". What a great truck it is. With luxuries like air conditioning and synchromesh gears the driving was very pleasant, much like driving a big car. And a great view from way up there. The 5th gear ratio was so good that no shifting was required through the 60 to 90+kph speed range most used. One thing that gave me the heebie-jeebies was all the fixed speed-cameras that abound in NSW. Every time I saw one I instinctively lifted my foot off the accelerator, only to feel a little foolish at the fact that I would have to actually speed up by 15-20k to stand a chance of being "nicked". I never did overcome this anxiety during the whole journey!

Upon arrival at Coffs we went directly to the airport and met with John Davidson, the proprietor of the maintenance outfit caring for the Bonanza. It had been stored there for about ten years since the unfortunate ground accident that had ended its flying career. Nose damage is evident from the collapse of the nose wheel, and one wing shows damage from what I was told was contact with something solid and immovable, probably a tree. Essentially externally complete, apart from the damage already outlined and some degeneration from its long stint stored in the open, the aircraft appeared a comparatively straightforward restoration opportunity. I have witnessed remarkable transformations made by the dedicated and capable QAM volunteers to airframes some would [and have] considered only suitable for scrapping. The Sabre and Gannet are two such examples. I am confident that this job will result in the same success. And on this occasion we have an externally complete airframe and its original Continental engine with a pair of prop blades. All four seats are provided and in good condition having been stored in the adjacent hanger along with some other components. Last task for Monday before finding a place to stay was to visit the local Air Cadets location where I was told a Mirage fin was planted in the ground out front. Sure enough there was the tail fin from Mirage A3-116 complete with its faded "Grumpy Monkey" 77 Squadron emblem. The last of the 116 Mirages operated and a dual-seater it had made its first flight in December 1973 being withdrawn from service and reduced to parts in 1986.

A place to stay found, a nice feed of Chinese food devoured, Cliff and I wearily turned in for hopefully a good nights sleep. I don't even know if Cliff snored at all, my ear plugs worked so well. Cliff did say he had heard me snore at least once. That would have to be considered a good result remembering the barrage of unflattering comments from other QAM members with whom I had previously shared digs. Perhaps he was just being nice.

Thankfully Cliff like me is not a morning person so I didn't feel pressured to spring to life at the first sign of light upon the horizon. Instead we had a very relaxed entry to the new day which like the day before was bright blue and cloudless. We were onsite at the Beech by 7:45am determining the best way to configure the loading of the airframe on "Russell". The width of that unusual V-tail of the Bonanza was going to cause loading problems that we needed to overcome. Removal of the starboard tailplane would help so we set about that task. It soon became apparent that as we removed some bolts and bits, more bolts and bits that would need to be removed were revealed. Then we were confronted with no less than eight hard-to-get-to bolts, four of which held each tailplane in place. We neither had the time nor the tools to remove them without delaying our return journey substantially. A more inventive way would need to be found to reduce the tail's effective width. Here's where that unusual V-tail came to our assistance. That configuration allowed us to tilt the fuselage to the left using truck tyres, thereby reducing the amount of overhang the tail presented. A more conventional horizontal tailplane configuration may not have allowed us that option.

The wings, their detached undercarriage legs and the prop blades easily lay horizontally on the car trailer. Their low profile on the trailer neatly fitted below the bottom of the rear fuselage disguising the amount of its overhang off the truck rear. The Continental engine reposed comfortably upon a truck tyre on the left side of the truck, steadied by a shackle to the crane and a strap.

The return journey proved to be no great effort to "Russell" either. The additional load did not seem to impact performance any way near as much as I had expected. Of course the unusual load caused a deal of interest as we proceeded. Aside from a number of semi-trailers sweeping past in the last few metres of overtaking lanes and those dratted speed cameras again, the journey was without incident. Some time after dark we arrived on the street outside Dave Bussey's house to end the days travel. The final leg of the journey to the Museum facility in Caloundra was completed on Thursday 19 April.

Some trivia: It was in a Beechcraft Bonanza that music icons Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens met their deaths back in February 1959. Waylon Jennings survived, having given up his seat for the Big Bopper who was suffering from 'flu at the time.