April/May 1992



by: Cliff Robinson et al

The object of this tour (apart from the relative shortening of life and stature of its members) was:

1. To retrieve the remaining items of the Sabre deal entered into last year.
2. To retrieve Fairey Gannet aircraft and Vampire wings obtained in a deal negotiated this year.
3. To investigate other possibilities hinted at.

The results:

1. The Gannet is the last available in Australia (only 3 others still exist). It has suffered major surgery to the rear fuselage in the past. The most significant thing about Gannets is their sheer size and weight (16 tonne in fighting trim).
2. The badly damaged Sabre forward fuselage and the much better rear fuselage give us the basis with the important collection of parts which they accompanied for a Sabre build-up.
3. The Vampire wings will go with the single seat fuselage we acquired last year to add to the de Havilland display.
4. A myriad of other parts and components has been obtained for various projects.

The team on this occasion: Mike Adams, Dave Bussey, Ed Foster, Mick Hinsbey, Cliff Robinson and Ken Woodrow. A group of widely varying calibre - from 7.5 to 16 stone!




Ken and Mike depart at 0600 in "Austral the Truck". Mick and Ed depart at 0630 in Mick's Torana. All meet at Ballina at 0900 and after refreshments depart at 0940 for Grafton where they arrived at 1140. The Airtourer was unloaded by 1230 followed by lunch courtesy of Gary and Reiko. This was carefully planned so that David and Cliff, who departed Brisbane at the gentlemanly hour of 0815, arrived at Grafton after the work was completed. Mike and Ken left at 1500 to complete the "horror stretch" of Grafton-Armidale by 1845 to rest for the night in a caravan. The following morning Ken managed to lock himself and Mike out of the caravan in the rain, owing to a faulty door lock (he claims). The others spent the night with Gary and Reiko looking at unsuccessful RAAF attempts to recover Boston remains from sand.

Ken and Mike left Armidale at 0810 arriving Windsor at 1630. The other four left Grafton at 0730 arriving Windsor at 1740 and all settled into the en suite mobile home built for five. This involves Ken and David sleeping at various levels off the floor. Mike, Mick and Ed in ascending elevation in three tier bunks and geriatric Cliff on the double bed. Tea is Irish stew on toast with dessert.

Early rising gets us to the Scheyville site by 0830 followed by Gary and other HARS members. The morning is spent surveying the site, studying the permutations of the job and getting many small parts out of the hangar. The occupancy of the building ran out some time ago and a degree of urgency is entering into the moving process. (QAM felt totally at home). Another party has used other buildings and parade areas for storing Canberra spares. We are glad we don't have his problems. He estimates 90 semi loads to Bathurst! That afternoon we begin work on de-screwing the leading edges of the Gannet. As usual, a few can be moved, the rest will have to be drilled out. Ominously it begins to rain and continues on into the night. This poses a real threat. We wanted to work on the aircraft outside, but worse than this, we have to move it across 50m of long grassed boggy slope to get it to a parade ground where it will be possible to load the semi trailers. We removed the wheels and Gary took them to town and had them inflated after which they were refitted. The tail section was moved and this then made room to reposition the Gannet aimed at the correct angle to exit the building. This will be an interesting exercise - one door and part of a wall must come down. As a final for the day, we jack up the nose and fold the nose leg, leaving the aircraft sitting on a stack of pallets.

DAY 4 - TUE 28 APR:
Dawn breaks with the sound of continuous rain on the roof and a dull day. The mood inside is just as gloomy as today was scheduled to move the fuselage section to the parade ground for dismantling. Clearly this would not be possible so it is decided to continue work on the rear fuselage section and the wing leading edges inside the hangar. The countersunk screws on the leading edges prove impossible to unscrew so the generator is fired up with the screws submitting to various drills. Spirits are lifted when sunshine is noticed after lunch. The ground over which the aircraft is to be towed by Austral is surveyed and the decision is made that the move will be attempted tomorrow.

An early start is made as today will be a long one. First the right hand door of the hangar is lifted by the crane on Austral and removed. The door frame pillar is then unbolted and removed on the tray of the truck. Austral is then positioned under the nose of the aircraft and the Gannet is secured with chains, ropes, load lock ratchets and the crane. After morning smoko, all is ready for "the tow". Austral is fired up, first gear engaged and the contraption moves forward about three metres only to find that we are slightly out on the approach angle and we won't fit through the door opening. After dragging the aircraft sideways on the tray, another three metres progress is made until more surgery on the door opening is required to clear the canopy and the port wing stub. After this, the aircraft clears the opening by 10mm and Austral delivers maximum power to negotiate the soft ground. Following this it is easy going on the hard surface of the parade ground. (How can we shift this parade ground to Caloundra? It would be useful). After lunch the door is refitted to the building and the wall repaired. There is enough time in the day to shift three wing sections to the parade ground.

DAY 6 - THU 30 APR:
Standard work days here start with Woodrow beginning to snort and mumble at about 0400, breakfast at 0600, on site at 0700. Finish is dark at 1730 - 10.5 hours! Union rules? Today starts with a move of the last wing section to the parade ground. Then Mike, Ed and Gary work in the bomb bay on dismantling the fuselage plugs. David works on the electrical connections outside the cockpits and Ken and Cliff attack the port leading edges. Where is Mick? Well, as usual he flits here and there like the scarlet pimple, videoing everything, keeping the food up to us and providing someone to have a go at. Without Kiwi we would have been lost, but Mick served as "apprentice butt" last year on the N.T. trip and is now filling in admirably. The morning passes peacefully under the bomb bay but on the wing, frustration grows as hours of drilling, bashing etc fail to move the leading edge. After lunch however, more heroic drilling on the hundred screws and removal of fuel tank connections brings success. The only remainder then is a small stub section which yields after a six foot extension is added to the socket handle. A good feeling that we are about on schedule despite the rain. If we can separate one of the fuselage sections tomorrow we will be comfortable about the booked semi trailers. Readers of previous chronicles will recall that Ken usually manages to damage himself along the way. The score so far: Mick: Back strain - Cured by Dr Cliff. Terminal shortness - no cure. Mike: Back strain - frightened by Dr Cliff. Cut hand & abrasions - self doctored. Ken: Back strain, skinned knuckles, damaged knee, sore foot, cut finger - self doctored. David: Nothing reported - self administered medication. Ed: Skinned knuckles - self doctored. Cliff: Old age - no cure.

DAY 7 - FRI 01 MAY:
After breakfast we are on the job at 0730 as usual with Ed feverishly undoing every nut and bolt he can see in the radar operator's cockpit (and that is only half of the required number). Dave and Mick are chipping, punching and grinding various screws on access panels. Mike works on the starboard leading edge extension and Cliff and Ken attack the 1,000,000 or so screws holding on the starboard leading edge. With the knowledge of the previous day and the feeling that we are slipping behind schedule, work pace is increased. The leading edge is removed by morning smoko. This then exposes the front face of the wing spar. This is the face that will be on the semi tray and thankfully it is totally flat. After smoko the jet pipes are attacked by Mike, Cliff and Ken. Mick, Dave and Ed continue with their projects. The incomplete copy of the repair manual does not explain how to remove the jet pipes but it is clear that being on rails they slide out forwards or backwards. After EGT sensors are removed, the crew push forward on the starboard jet pipe. It moves forward about a metre but hits a bulkhead in the engine bay. Typical! - if there are two ways of doing something we will pick the wrong way. With a solid push, the pipe is removed rearwards. The port jet pipe is then tackled and only comes out half way. A slightly damaged rail is the cause and this is overcome with the aid of a precision piece of timber cut by Ed. After afternoon smoko, Cliff and Mick journey off to town to ring Brambles to reverse the order of the semis so that the low loader will arrive on Wednesday instead of Tuesday. This will give us an extra day to dismantle the fuselage. We think we will need it! The day concludes with Mike receiving driving lessons in Austral and Cliff arriving back at Windsor with a flat battery due to a slipping fan belt.

DAY 8 - SAT 02 MAY:
We really need to see action on the fuselage breaks today. There are 5 main longeron bolts in the front bulkhead and 162 others. The rear is simple - 4 main and 154 minor. Most of the minor bolts can't be seen let alone worked on. The morning is spent as follows: David is inserted in a hole in the bottom of the jet pipe bay to work on bolts on the front. The rest work to remove the fuselage fuel tank which takes all morning. This was hoped to give access to many of the front bolts, but only leads to another sealed off bay. An exquisitely catered luncheon of spam sandwiches, fruit and tea follows. After lunch, as it is very difficult to get six bodies in a very limited space, Mick and Ed go off to the hangar to work on dismantling the tailplane. Meanwhile, back at the bulkheads, the same bodies are inserted in the same holes and the search for bolts continues. It becomes obvious that this aeroplane was assembled by double-jointed Irish leprechauns specially bred for the job, some of them probably got sealed inside and died there. They certainly aren't helping with the dismantling! Of course this is the time for a little gentle rain to begin - not enough to stop us, just enough to cause delays. Ken's legs are beginning to show the scars of being folded in peculiar positions in the front cockpit and our desperation is growing as time is running out and we seem to be making little progress. To cap it all, our super saw gives up the ghost. Back for tea. Mick is a specialist at opening cans and mixing the contents in a random manner. Tonight it is saveloys with potato salad followed by dessert of fruit and custard.

DAY 9 - SUN 03 MAY:
Desperation day. Can't get parts for saw, can't hire another, must get it apart! Insert bodies into holes and take out more bolts if we can find them. Throughout the morning frustration rises above the wing, while inside quiet dismantling continues - or have they gone to sleep? By lunchtime (more spam) drastic decisions have been made. Open the sealed space to provide access to hidden parts and make new inspection ports in the outer skin in two places. It is obvious that some skinning has been finished after assembly. Careful inventory of the removed bolts means that by the end of the day success is in sight on the front and rear bulkheads. We won't breathe easy until they have separated, but it ought to be feasible tomorrow. Ed and Mike have finished separating the tail sections. We might just scrape it in. Back to the cabin, repair the damaged bodies, consume some more compote a la Hinsbey and collapse.

DAY 10 - MON 04 MAY:
What day is this? Another day commences with us re-inserting various bodies in various orifices to continue removing the seemingly endless number of bolts. The more we check the more we find that have been missed and the more we are amazed that bolts could be put in such inaccessible places. We continue to remove these bolts at a painfully slow rate. Some minor surgery is required on the skin of the fuel bay between the navigator's and radar operator's cockpits and this is done with some reservations. As lunchtime approaches we see some signs of progress with all the secondary bolts on the front bulkhead removed except for those on the cockpit floor area. Little were we to know that it would take the combined efforts of Cliff, Ed and Mick to remove five bolts in four hours. With all this frustration above, Mike was having similar difficulties with the last longeron bolt on the starboard side of the forward bomb bay section. A similar afternoon is experienced by Ken and David when it is discovered that the crane on Austral will not lift the Sabre forward fuselage. This will have to be left for the hire crane to shift tomorrow. As the sun sets, the crew continue to work by torchlight as today we must have the forward section ready to come off. Partial success is had as a gap of 20mm appears at the top of the bulkhead joint. In total darkness the crew pack up for the day and get ready to attack the last remaining longeron bolt tomorrow. We all return to a meal of snags a la Hinsbey and the household chores.

DAY 11 - TUE 05 MAY:
Will it all come together? (the plan, not the aeroplane). We double check the crane arrival time and get back to bashing at the Gannet longeron bolts. One group works at packing and wiring small bits into the Sabre sections and at 1000 right on schedule arrives the truck - the WRONG truck! Arrangements made with Brisbane last Friday reached the driver only this morning. As he goes off to check on the arrival of the other semi, the crane arrives. We keep him busy moving heavy lumps to the parade ground. The other truck turns up - only they have sent a 5 tonner not a semi! So we tell them both to come back tomorrow at 1000 and we use the crane to finally separate the Gannet front fuselage. We have now spent seven days working on these joint bolts and are heartily sick of Pommy aeroplanes once again! The afternoon is spent working on the rear fuselage break and after having to grind off 85% of one of the longeron nuts, at 1730 we finally see a crack opening at the break. We are not totally in the clear however as the bottom will not let go. We'll try again first thing tomorrow. Sufficient unto the day etc etc.

We usually go to work through swirls of river mist. Today it was dense fog all the way up the hill to Scheyville - shades of Schofields two years ago. A suitable amount of bashing early in the morning and we have separation of the fuselage. All is ready. Our drop deck driver returns. The crane is on time as is the flat deck semi (sent from Brisbane yesterday afternoon). A frantic day of loading ensues. The loads are not quite as planned, but the flat deck carries away the Sabre fuselage sections, 4 Gannet wing sections, bomb bay doors, one jet pipe, a wrecked rudder and the extreme rear fuselage of the Gannet. Loaded and gone by 1400. The Gannet rear fuselage is craned off and the centre section rotated to the ground. The drop deck is loaded with centre section, nose section, two Vampire wings, one jet pipe, one good Gannet rudder and a Dove tailplane which we also acquired plus boxes of parts of all sorts. The undercarriage was folded while on the truck and we are able to wave goodbye at 1700. This leaves us only to clean up for the day. Our own loading will have to wait until tomorrow. We wend our way back to the cabin and collapse. The job's done and so are we. We do this for fun?

DAY 13 - THU 07 MAY:
The pressure is off so the crew sleeps in until 0630. The parade ground is tidied up and Austral and the Mazda are loaded with miscellaneous components which may even combine to produce an aeroplane of indeterminate species. A ceremonial exchange of tools takes about an hour with some unclaimed. Assorted loose items are stuffed into every available corner so that nothing has room to rattle. Fish and chips for tea as Mick has run out of tins.

DAY 14 - FRI 08 MAY:
We begin our return to Brisbane. Austral departs at 0730, twenty minutes ahead of the mighty Mazda and the terrible Torana with everybody due to meet in Singleton. A good trip for Austral but not so for the Mazda as it drops back to three cylinders. A bit of head scratching in Singleton identifies a bung plug in number four. With a new plug fitted, the team heads off to Scone to visit Col Pay's facility. After a very impressive visit, the journey continues to Glen Innes as the intended destination for the night. This is not to be as Austral begins to lose power and Armidale is decided on as an alternate. The problem with Austral proves to be dirt and water in the fuel as the carburettor is stripped, cleaned and rebuilt on the kitchen table in the overnight van. After a hearty meal of KFC and chocolate mousse, the team bed down in the cramped overnight van.

DAY 15 - SAT 09 MAY:
Ready for a new day with Austral repaired (we hope) with a formation departure to the nearest garage for a bottle of metho, not for drinking but to add to Austral's fuel to disperse any water that may still be in the fuel tank. The nearest garage does not have metho and recommends waiting until 0830 for the local hardware store to open. We can't afford the time so we take the risk and press on. Wrong! Only ten miles down the road Austral begins to lose power again so it is agreed that the team will split up and meet again in Tenterfield. Ken and Mike buy the elusive metho at Glencoe and this has an immediate effect on Austral's performance, arriving in Tenterfield ten minutes behind the other team members. After a ten minute conference, the team decides that Mick and Ed should go ahead to Brisbane to prepare for the unloading with Austral and the mighty Mazda following. The crew arrive at Mick Hinsbey's house (now known as Warehouse Number 5) to unload several smaller components. At 1500 the crew bid each other farewell with the question remaining - "What will be the subject of the 5th Annual QAM Magical Mystery Tour"?

With so much time and effort expended on removing the forward and rear fuselage sections, some readers may be asking: "Why?". The answer lies in the economic necessity of avoiding a wide load, as the cost of a police escort from Sydney to Brisbane would not have been a viable proposition for us. It is most pleasing to see a new face on the recovery team. Ed Foster has been a member for four years but has only recently been exposed to aircraft recovery QAM style. We hope he will become a regular participant.