DROVER (OR AIRCRAFT RECOVERY WITHOUT TEARS)
- Cliff Robinson
noted last month, a little operation has been going on.
Drover VH-FDS suffered a landing accident on Trefoil Island
off Northern Tasmania, wiping off the undercarriage. Subsequently
written off, it was moved to a park at Smithton on the north
coast where, after years of neglect, it was acquired by
Mr Robbie Kirkhope, out of a love of things mechanical,
and transported to his property. This action saved the airframe
so that it could be "discovered" by Mark Clayton (Curator
of the Port Arthur Historic Site) when researching its fate.
Acquired by Mark, he offered to donate it to QAM as he decided
we were the most likely group to do something satisfactory
with it. As the aircraft was dismantled, it posed only a
small problem to move (!)
able to arrange by phone from Brisbane to have a 40 foot
open top container transported to site and return for onforwarding
by ship and train to Brisbane, while Robbie Kirkhope arranged
local crane hire. With the helpful provision by Ansett of
free travel (plus 50 kgs of excess baggage - a 5 foot spreader
bar makes the airport staff take notice!) I set off on the
morning of Saturday 17 February to arrive Launceston in
the rain at about 4.30 p.m. to be met by Mark Clayton (after
about 3 hours in Melbourne). I soon found accommodation
in an ancient hotel and arranged inspection of the site
for next morning.
site was some 40km south-west of Launceston beyond Deddington.
This metropolis boasts 2 signs about 1km apart reading "Town
Reserve of Deddington", one occupied house, one former store/post
office used as a wood-turning workshop by the occupant of
the house, one occasionally occupied dilapidated house,
and a chapel "used 18 months ago for a wedding". A quick
visit to the site revealed that Robbie had made preparations
for the move. All small loose parts had been put inside
the fuselage, one wing moved and a trench dug to back the
semi into for loading. Rush back to Launceston so Mark can
make an appointment in Hobart at 3.00 p.m. What do I do
in Launceston on a Sunday afternoon in the rain? Walk of
course! And you thought Brisbane died! Visited Maritime
Museum - only thing open. Also rang various car hire firms.
Found a rent-a-ute but no answer anywhere else. Wonder why?
- up early - have to get a move on. Pick up ute, visit tyre
place to pick up 20 old tyres for packing, also some extra
rope. Off to Deddington and on to property. Whoops! Took
a wrong turn there, another 10 km I didn't need. This old
ute doesn't like dirt roads. Right place this time. Unload
the tyres and slings. Bit of shoving of slings and one wing
rigged is ready for lifting. Fence down for semi entry.
Now the arrangements are. Truck with container to be at
Deddington by 12.00 p.m. to be led to property. Likewise
the Tasmanian Division of QAM to be there at the same time.
Remember those two who helped us in Sentosa when we needed
it? Well, Dave Nelan and Phil Pyke rose to the challenge
again - they must be mad! Crane due at 1.30 p.m. So back
to Deddington to be shepherd for the truck. 12.00 p.m. boys
from Hobart arrive. 12.30 p.m. No truck - panic - can't
have crane standing about - phone to stop crane in Evandale
- 20km away. Off I go leaving boys looking at each other.
Evandale - phone Devonport three times (phone will only
accept 30 cents at a time). Truck will be 3 hours late.
Forklift got bogged trying to pick up container! Too late
to stop crane - he's almost there. I'll go and rescue driver,
maybe he can make better use of his time back here. Back
to Deddington. Boys go off to get some lunch. Crane driver
decides he might as well go on to site. Back to property,
establish crane in position, trial lift wing, correct sling
position, get borrowed slings under fuselage. Snakes! Do
you have them here? To think I had my arm under that thing
while it was sitting on the ground! Ugh! Back to Deddington.
Whoopee - a truck and the boys! Back to site. Truck in position.
Frenetic activity. One wing into container. No it won't
sit on drum - too high - poking out top of container. Down
onto tyre. Fuselage in. Next wing in - bit of a squeeze.
Lash down. Emu parade for odd bits. All done in one hour
flat. Farewell boys, crane and arrange with truck driver
to park trailer outside port area at Bell Bay so I can go
tomorrow to try to remove fairings on wings that are over-height
for container - can't afford the extra freight. Good-bye
to Robbie - be glad to sleep tonight. De-hire the ute.
a.m. Can't hire a car for love nor money. Apparently they
sold off the bulk of the fleets during the pilots dispute.
Oh well - back to the ute again. Fifty km to Bell Bay -
north this time. Mountain climb into container on back of
truck. Now to reach that fairing poking out the top. Climb
up on tyre and we can just reach, not see. Sockets won't
fit bolts. Get them off with a shifter with a screwdriver
through the handle. Can't shift the rusted screws even with
an impact driver - nothing to hit against. Saw through six
inches of fishplate with a pad saw horizontally above head..
That still leaves two inches of the last rib standing proud.
Nothing for it - saw the webs - fold the piece down - we
can repair that. Last check of packing - add another strap
- all done. On ship on Thursday - due Brisbane Monday by
rail, truckies permitting.So
a few days off to visit the boys in Hobart and Mark in Port
Arthur and back home on Saturday evening where it is not
just raining - it is pouring!
enough - on Monday the container has arrived so we arrange
for delivery to Caloundra on Wednesday. To finish the job
properly, this time the truck is on time but the crane is
45 minutes late. Never mind. With the Caloundra troops,
all is unloaded quickly and despite the preceding downpours,
the Drover is inside the compound. So what have we got?
Not a complete airframe, not a finished product, but more
than we had before, the basis for the rebuild of both aircraft
and in fact we now possess 10% of the total production of
this significant Australian aircraft. Our thanks to all
who made this possible.