October 1979








by Malcolm Hood


"Your offer to purchase dated 10/5/79 is accepted for the quantities, the items and at the price(s) set out hereunder and/or in the attachment hereto bearing the same sales advice number as this acceptance. Item No. on List: 1, Description: One lot of scrap metal comprising parts of airframe formerly Sea Venom RAN WZ898, Total Amount $200.00, Sold "As is/where is", Location: R.A.N. Naval Air Museum H.M.A.S. Albatross Nowra. Delivery: is to be taken ex R.A.N. Naval Air Museum H.M.A.S. Albatross Nowra at the purchaser's expense within 28 days from date hereof upon presentation of the official receipt and endorsed brown copy of this Sales Advice to the Curator, R.A.N. Naval Air Museum, H.M.A.S. Albatross Nowra."

So reads the Sales Advice - and it's dated 25th September 1979. This means that we have to shift it by October 23rd but we can't start until we have the "brown copy" and that doesn't arrive until October 19th! Our "lot of scrap metal" was inspected by Ron Cuskelly on October 9th. To his delight he found that not only did it have the treasured "Ghost" engine but it also had a fairly presentable and complete airframe attached! There was another unexpected bonus in the form of two ejector seats. Consequently the wheels were set in motion to recover the entire aeroplane. Fortunately, members Ken Woodrow, Mike Adams, Dick Hitchins and Ron Cuskelly were able to take leave to travel to Nowra which is 100 miles south of Sydney.

The odyssey began on Friday 19th October when Ken, Mike and Ron flew down to Sydney arriving at 10.00p.m. (Memo: Friday night not good for standby fares). They hired a Budget Gemini in Sydney and drove down to Nowra where they checked into the Riverhaven Motel at 1.00a.m. ("Your key will be under the mat.") Nowra is on the Shoalhaven River and everything has "haven" in its name. Accommodation was at a premium because of a basketball carnival yet the Riverhaven had rooms available and it soon became apparent why. It must be one of Australia's first motels, resplendent in vinyl tiles (albeit on the walls). Of special historical interest was Mr. Baird's prototype television set.

On Saturday 20th they contacted Lieutenant Chris George who was not expecting them until Monday. Security at H.M.A.S. Albatross is especially tight since the much publicised conflagration and it is not possible to work on the aircraft during the weekend. Only a brief inspection was possible on Saturday so the team adjourned to the sumptuous Riverhaven to experiment with the "ACME Sea Venom Recovery Planner Mk I" (a sectionalised Frog 1/72 scale sea Venom kit). A scaled down outline of the truck tray was prepared and after three hours of wallowing in a sea of photos, plans, manuals, tape measures, masking tape and the ACME Mk I they declared "It will fit!".

On Sunday the team moved to the Parkhaven Motel which proved to be more comfortable and more centrally located. The afternoon was spent at the beach and inspecting the Kingsford Smith Memorial at Seven Mile Beach from which Smithy took off in the Southern Cross on the first crossing of the Tasman. Although the two day delay was frustrating to begin with it was beneficial in the end as it permitted some relaxed planning which saved a lot of time in the loading operation.

On Monday 22nd the team walked downtown to purchase a foam water jug and an assortment of sandwiches from the salubrious Red Rose Cafe. An important detour was made to feed surplus breakfast toast to the ducks in the park. The rest of Monday was spent at Albatross preparing the outer wing panels for removal. WZ898 was situated in the graveyard along with another Sea Venom, a Gannet, a wrecked Iroquois, a crashed Kiowa and about four burnt out Trackers. The whole mess was partially hidden behind an enormous packing crate containing a "dunked" Sea King. WZ898 was hemmed in by the other Sea Venom, the Kiowa and the crate. The Kiowa was unceremoniously dragged out of the way by Chris Ormond and his salvage team. With the help of the Navy P&H crane, 898 was lifted and moved away from other obstructions. The base closes at 4.40p.m. after which you tell your story to the guard dogs. Dick Hitchins arrived at the motel at about 9.00p.m. After a harrowing drive from Sydney in the hired Budget truck (a Ford D1414, 8 ton with 21' x 8' tray).

Tuesday 23rd began with the customary visit to the Red Rose Cafe for lunch provisions. En route to Albatross a diversion was made to Cookes Tyre Service to collect a load of old tyres which had been arranged several days previously (Glad to get rid of 'em mate!). The next task was to prepare the wings for removal at the root. Sea Venom wings are held on by three pins, two on the mainspar (top and bottom) and one closer to the leading edge. Surprisingly, the Navy did not have a suitable socket for removing the top and bottom pins so Dick and Ron journeyed in to town in search of a 13/16 Whitworth socket. There were four hardware shops in Nowra and none of them had the required item. Fortunately a paper tracing of the bolt head was available and a close approximation to the required size was located and purchased. Attention then shifted to the front bolts which were retained by nuts which were accessible only through the fuselage fuel tank bay. This would not have been a problem if it were not for the fact that 898 was fitted with a fuel tank which nicely filled the bay and prevented access to the nut. The obvious solution was to remove the fuel tank. This seemingly simple task took up all of Tuesday until work was curtailed by a thunderstorm at about 3.00p.m. Having explored their expletive vocabularies to the full, four wet and tired workers returned to the motel amidst cries of "typical Pommy aeroplane!" and "how did they repair the tank in the field?"

Early on the Wednesday it was realised that the tank was wasting too much time so an alternative method had to be found. This consisted of cutting small access holes through the bulkhead. This relatively minor surgery (not visible from outside) solved the problem and contortionist supreme Mike Adams was able to remove the bolts. This unfortunate surgery can be easily repaired and in no way disfigures the aeroplane. Once again with the help of the salvage boys and their crane the aircraft was lowered to the ground and the outer wing panels were removed easily. Then the port wing centre section was removed, also relatively easily. Up to this stage all the pins had confounded the sceptics by coming out easily. Then came the top pin on the right wing, in fact the last pin to come out - and it wouldn't. It came out part of the way and then stubbornly refused to budge any further. Wednesday ended with this pin still protruding defiantly from the wing. The significance of not being able to extract this pin was not lost on the Q.A.M. team. It would effectively prevent transporting of the fuselage and right wing!

Thursday dawned on an optimistic note with the unveiling of a sliding hammer which the salvage boys had welded up. This device, used in conjunction with a huge Stillson wrench, succeeded in extracting the recalcitrant pin to the resounding applause of the assembled spectators. The pin was found to be badly scored and it is probably a good thing that it was virtually destroyed (nobody will be tempted to put it back on the aeroplane). With the removal of the right wing loading was able to be commenced. Firstly the fuselage with engine fitted was loaded with the forward bulkhead (the radome had been removed) against the rear of the cab. The inner wing sections were then loaded with their outboard edges on the side of the tray with the two roots meeting over the fuselage. A tape measure was quickly run over the load to confirm that it was indeed legal. The judge's verdict of 12' 10" was greeted with a collective sigh of relief, the most crucial part of the loading process had been successfully completed. Subsequently the outer wings and other components were loaded on the remaining tray space. To everyones amazement it all fitted with the exception of a Vampire tailpipe but that was an unexpected bonus anyway. The Sea Venom proved to be externally complete except for two cowling panels and one gun bay panel so it was no mean feat to get it all on the truck. The rest of Thursday was spent restraining the load for the long haul to Brisbane. Initially the tailplane was loaded across the truck with about nine inches overhang on each side. This necessitated a wide-load permit and accordingly Friday morning saw Dick at the local constabulary seeking the magic piece of paper. However the conditions of the permit proved to be too prohibitive (driving at night was not permitted) and consequently it was decided to render the load "non-wide" in favour of a rear-end overhang which was legal provided a red flag and red light was installed. Unfortunately neither was readily available but once again the Navy excelled. A red tail-light was "located" and duly installed on the load. The red flag posed something of a problem as scrap rags are not used at Albatross, the senior service preferring to use "Chux" towels. Fortunately, the customary Navy resourcefulness prevailed and a "Chux" towel was "redified" with a magic pass of the spraygun! The Navy salvage team was duly rewarded with two cartons of beer in recognition of the fact that the recovery would not have been such a success without their assistance. For example, there are no hire cranes available in Nowra. In particular, Chris Ormond and "Scotty" were especially helpful.

On Friday morning, amidst cries of "Deserter!!", Ron Cuskelly departed for Sydney in the Gemini not looking forward to returning to work on Saturday morning. With the load firmly secured, the team bade farewell to H.M.A.S. Albatross at 12.15 on Friday afternoon with Dick driving, Ken as relief driver and Mike as directional consultant. With frequent stops to monitor the state of the load the team made its way up the Pacific Highway to Wollongong then along the Illawarra Highway over the mountains to Mossvale, Camden and Penrith. On this leg of the journey they encountered incredible hairpin bends one of which necessitated a three-point turn with Ken and Mike directing traffic. At about midnight three very weary workers checked into a motel at Windsor for a well earned rest.

At 6.00a.m. on Saturday morning the team set out along the New England Highway for Brisbane stopping only for meals. At 10.15a.m. On Sunday 28th October Ford D1414 FOD-930, with Sea Venom WZ898 flying close formation, arrived at Nudgee. (The truck's numberplate prompted some mirth at Albatross as FOD stands for Foreign Object Damage).

A work party on the Sunday afternoon succeeded in unloading all except the fuselage and inner wings. This operation received excellent publicity thanks to Barry Flood who took the photos and sent them in to the Courier-Mail and virtually dropped the story in their laps. The remaining sections were unloaded at 7.45a.m. On Monday by Les Copeland and Ron Cuskelly with the aid of a Brambles crane. The truck was then returned to Budget by Dick Hitchins thus bringing to a close an operation of which the Queensland Air Museum can be very proud.