April 2005




By Cliff Robinson

"The trouble with the wet tropics is that they are just that - wet."

There are certain features of QAM recoveries that are so much a standard, we become uncomfortable if they are not present - rain, water-filled tyres, corroded bolts and changing plans. Consequently, it could be presumed that we were entirely at home in the recent recovery of Lake Buccaneer VH-EJX from Mackay. The aircraft (currently on loan to us) had moved around the airport over the last eighteen years (not under its own power) as the owner sought to settle his plans for it. When I saw it last year, it was disappearing under running grass that had climbed all over it in the Fire Department compound. Over the years, the undercarriage legs had corroded, wheels had disappeared, and one float had been appropriated. The last move was dictated by the requirement of the space it occupied for a new building. One also suspects there was a desire to bring the occupancy to a conclusion. As Yvonne and I drove north, the weather became more showery, until at Mackay there was continuous overcast with periods of heavy rain for two hours at a stretch. Consequently, as the two of us plus Alan Graham arrived around noon, there was only an hour or so available on the Thursday afternoon to remove the rudder. Friday morning was lost to rain, while the afternoon allowed enough time to remove the port wing. Ten main spar bolts yielded to various styles of encouragement thanks to the use of "Neverseize" when installed. Not so the rear " bolt which was corroded beyond belief. Of course, sitting on the bitumen while the water courses over it, below a wing which is lower than your head height, trying to convince your arms to work in directions they were not designed for, is fairly usual to these operations. What is different is the sight of an environmentally challenged earthworm working its way through the water ON TOP of the bitumen until it runs into a toolbox. After some fruitless attempt to penetrate the toolbox, it gives up in disgust and engages reverse to disappear back under the fuselage. Plan A had been to carry the aircraft on a borrowed long trailer. This was not available when needed, so Plan B was to bring it back on a hired trailer. However, none available was long enough for the load to be legal, so Plan C saw us book a truck (part load on a semi) and crane to load. Saturday morning was dry enough for the removal of the starboard wing, in the course of which we found that half of the main spar bolts had been inserted back to front. Maybe someone was feeling lazy and did the easiest thing - it sure doubled the difficulty for us. However, the job was done by 1400 hours and Alan was able to depart for Brisbane. This left only half the tailplane to be removed and the loading to be done on Monday. The latter was routine enough except for the strong wind which made it difficult to control the wings and fuselage while slung under the crane. Delivery to Caloundra occurred on Tuesday 12th April, rather earlier than expected, and reassembly was completed the following weekend.