June 1990



by Cliff Robinson


Breathless readers of these pages will be aware that on a number of occasions, reference has been made to "The Tracker" and its imminent (?) arrival. The aircraft was acquired by QAM in 1988 through the generosity of the Bussey Foundation. The Tracker had been moved from HMAS Nirimba to the adjacent Schofields Aerodrome where it sat alongside the Bond Airship hangar for several years where its nosewheels were liberated by persons unknown. On several occasions it was to be moved to Brisbane by a combination of Chinook and HMAS Tobruk, but these arrangements fell through on a number of occasions. Meanwhile the time limit for expenditure of our State Government grant for removal/restoration of the Tracker was overdue, hence we determined that we must move it ourselves. This posed its own set of problems as the centre section width of some 26 feet and length of 40 feet would have meant a police escorted load at horrendous cost. It was essential to get this on one semi-trailer without escort and this meant removing the wing from the fuselage. A helpful manual some 4 inches thick says: "Don't do it - except at a repair base". Indeed to de-rivet skin and stringers to free the wing would take 6 men at least 2 weeks without doing anything else. Bearing in mind that it would only ever be an external static exhibit, we decided to saw the top fuselage decking and also rear sections of the engine nacelles to enable dismantling and trucking. Even this required a drop deck trailer and a wide load permit. Thus the stage is set. Enter the players: At 0900 Friday 8 June, Ken Woodrow, Mike Adams, Ian Collins, Matthew Baker and Cliff Robinson depart Brisbane in three vehicles via the New England Highway for Sydney. Clyde Ashton is to follow by bus that evening. A slow trip ensues with some minor trouble for two vehicles resulting in an arrival at 0100 Saturday at the caravan park in Wilberforce. A bleary eyed quintet emerge from the van next morning eating corn flakes outside as there really isn't room inside. One group departs for Hornsby to collect Clyde while others seek muffler repairs and go on to Schofields. But Clyde does not appear. The bus was five hours late and his message of yesterday has not reached us. Oh well, Clyde's a big boy - he'll have to find his own way. Back to Schofields where dismantling begins. Matthew begins removing topside attachments. Ken, Mike and Cliff review dimensions and plans while Ian begins construction of wing trestles. The plan is to support the wing in its existing position, then free the fuselage and lower it to the ground. Loading would then be direct from those positions. The measured size proves to be slightly larger than anticipated and so plans are revised. We will take a little more off the rear of the engine nacelles, leave the main undercarriage extended and carry the wing upside down to get within height and width limits. At 1530 Clyde comes wearily into sight having walked from the nearest rail station. To make him feel better, we immediately find him some work. At last light we return to the caravan to shoehorn the sixth body inside. From now on it is necessary to go outside to change your mind. Sunday finds cutting accomplished on the right hand nacelle, an easy task with the recipro saw. In the meantime, Ken and Clyde work to remove the undercarriage doors from the left hand nacelle (there were none on the right hand nacelle). Several hundred rivets and six hours later the doors are off. Preparatory cutting can now be done. Meanwhile, inside the fuselage, Mike is spraying and belting the wing attachment bolts, and outside Ian builds trestles. At this point we learn why the manufacturer gained the name "Grumman Iron Works". Under the fuselage is fitted the crash barrier hook and this proves to be made of half inch steel plate front and back with three sixteenths plate on the sides. It has to be cut off with the grinder and hacksaw. How do six men get on in a small caravan? Matthew and Clyde accuse each other of snoring. The rest of us accuse both of them. Monday - fog which persists until 1100. All operations around the undercarriage legs and trestles are conducted in six inches of water as the water table is just below the surface. We decide to dig a cavity to drop the fibreglass radome out of the fuselage as there is nothing to hold it in. This results in a small swimming hole and the trapping of Ian's arm when the dome drops, but all is well, the dome is not damaged and only Ian's ego is bruised. Subsequently we are able to jack up the scanner until it is within the fuselage contours. Ian finishes the erection of the trestles and this is a relief because he has been carrying around these replicas of roman crosses and we feared he might nail us to them if we rubbished him too much. Some cutting of the fuselage top is done and we leave very satisfied as the work is on schedule. After tea, Ian and Clyde depart by car for home and work. Only later do we learn that they appear to have travelled via Birdsville while one of them slept as they drove through the night. The rest of us were able to move to a mobile home with room to breathe. Tuesday saw us able to confirm our progress to Brambles in Brisbane who advise that the truck is loading to come our way. The Land Rover is booked in for muffler surgery tomorrow and in fog again we begin the hairiest part of the exercise. Cutting of the fuselage is completed and after heating the wing bolts these are driven out, the last with some unexpected sleeves. The fuselage is supported on air bags and with various props to prevent it rolling over, we begin to lower it to the ground by bleeding off the air bags. This is a long slow delicate process with some alarms as the fuselage attempts to list and move longitudinally, but only the last foot gives us a fright as the air bags lose control. All is safe, and only one small tear results from movement at the cut. As a final for the day, we discuss the loading operation with the preferred crane hirer. Wednesday - All work and no play etc. We have the day off while the truck is en route from Brisbane. We visit the Camden Museum of Aviation to collect Sea Venom parts and also Malabar to pick up a "Betty" propellor blade. Thursday - Begins with panic when we find the truck already on site having arrived late Wednesday. Our preferred crane is not available so after phoning eight others we obtain an inevitably more expensive one and loading begins at 0930. The wing lifts cleanly from the trestles and is placed on the ground. By re-slinging it is inverted and then loaded on the truck. The fuselage is simple except for arranging supports on the truck. All is done for the crane in two hours and by 1330 the truck is on its way to Brisbane. This poses the problem that unless we leave soon, the truck could beat us to Caloundra, so we tidy up, return to camp and set out to drive through the night. In fact we pass the truck at Singleton, not as far as he had hoped (he cannot travel at night) and with some Land Rover troubles we are back in Brisbane at 0700 Friday. After a few hours sleep, we learn that the truck was held up by fog so unloading is now set for 0700 Saturday at Caloundra. Strangely, this time the truck and crane coincide and unloading takes only one hour. We do not have time and manpower to re-erect trestles immediately so reassembly is now planned for 14/15 July and we begin to seek the parts needed to complete this exhibit. Our thanks to the team and to those who provided assistance and support in many areas .