May 1991



By Cliff Robinson

While it would be convenient if museum exhibits arrived in pristine condition, able to go straight on display, it is a sad truth that the older or more historic items are likely to be less complete or more damaged than "younger" finds. When it comes to wartime examples, we have to be thankful for anything we can get. This leads to some heroic restoration projects. David Bussey's work on interior rebuilding of an Avro Anson over some seven years is setting the scene for an impressive fuselage display in the next couple of years, and some hard decisions about wings. Our Lockheed Ventura is another case in point. Of the 75 Venturas which came on charge with the RAAF, only two substantial "remains" exist - the fuselage and centre section of A59-73 now being restored in Darwin for eventual return to display in Gove and our own fuselage A59-96. Our limited history of A59-96 shows that it was received at No 2 Aircraft Depot on 1st June 1944. Apparently it did not see active service and was declared surplus on 6th February 1948. Subsequently, the fuselage with wings cut off flush, turned up on a property at Brunswick Heads, NSW where it was used as a farm shed. In 1979, the fuselage was acquired by private collector, John Hill who later displayed it at the Chewing Gum Field Museum at Tallebudgera. On 31st March 1991, the fuselage was acquired by QAM through the generosity of the Bussey Foundation and trucked to Caloundra on 16th May 1991. During its time at Chewing Gum, some well-meaning person daubed green house paint on one side of the fuselage, no doubt to protect it from the elements. Fortunately, he either lost interest or ran out of paint, because the unpainted side still clearly shows the remnants of its military markings including the serial number. (This will pose a conservation dilemma when it comes time to paint the aeroplane.) Along with the bare fuselage, QAM also acquired 2 engines, a tailplane centre section, turret top frame, a pair of Hudson undercarriage legs and a Hudson fin and rudder. Working on the basis that you can't restore what you haven't got, we accepted this deal as a starter kit and began the search for more parts that would give us the basis for a viable project. Of course, we could have displayed just the fuselage, but time does give the chance for archaeological discoveries. One thing in our favour is a degree of commonality or similarity with the Hudson. The score so far:

1. Four years ago, a Hudson port tailplane, fin and rudder in remarkable condition donated.
2. Ventral gun mounting donated.
3. Two years ago a pair of Hudson wing centre sections (cut off outside the fuselage similar to ours), a pair of wheels and tyres, engine mount extensions and two throttle consoles acquired.
4. Location of navigator seat and oxygen bottle rack and more undercarriage legs.
5. Random acquisition of wheel hub and axle at a swap meet. Turned out to be a Ventura tail wheel.
6. Donation of a badly damaged tailwheel tyre to fit above wheel.
7. Recovery of a Hudson tailplane from a salt marsh where it had lain for 50 years. One half in relatively good condition - inevitably another port side!
8. Acquisition by David Bussey of a 75% complete Ventura turret ex N.Z. and addition of stock/acquired parts and restoration to 90% status.
9. Sourcing outer wing panels overseas.

Sufficient then to make a start. Currently, preparations are being made to move the fuselage to new stands. The good port tailplane has been fitted to the Ventura centre section and is being painted. The leading edge and elevator will be addressed later. The tailwheel has been filled and the case is under repair. The turret is proceeding well. The gunner's seat is moulded 5/8th ply. As the back and sides did not exist, David has manufactured a replacement by forming it one ply at a time. A monumental undertaking. To make a starboard tailplane, take one port tailplane, turn it over (symmetrical section) and change an access hatch. I noted previously it was in relatively good condition, but everything is relative - relative to corroded away to nothing! There is some corrosion on the skin and some wrinkling due to impact. It will be necessary to reskin the leading edge. Now, the leading edge is held on by piano hinge top and bottom - 8 feet of it in each case. To take it off you pull the hinge pin! This consists of 8 feet of 3/32 stainless hardened rod in an aluminium hinge, all of which has spent 50 years in a salty atmosphere. After much time wasted with vice grips and hammers, then a special fitting for a sliding hammer made by Ken Woodrow, it came down to drilling out the countersunk rivets that hold the hinge in place - 145 rivets per row by 4 rows. Then reskin, then refit - 4x145 rivets, replace fin attach angles, panel beat skin, replace torn skin, repair tip etc etc etc. I guess it will keep me off the streets. The elevators have to be modified to Ventura style and a centre flap built. The tail cone requires major panel work prior to fitting the tailwheel leg and wheel. A long project - at least another 10 years, but long vision is what is most required in all of the projects we have, in fact in the whole museum concept. We do not build just for ourselves, but for the future.