Background History of A84-229
By
Les Wilson

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Technical Details
Built at Government Aircraft Factory (GAF) in 04/1957 at Fisherman Bend A84-229 was one of seven Canberra’s delivered that year to the Royal Australian Airforce (RAAF). A84-229 was delivered in the following configuration:

  • Mark 20 Canberra.
  • RA 7 Avon Mk 109 axial flow turbojets each rated at 7,500 LB thrust at 7,950 rpm at sea level.
  • Three center line fuel tanks of 1,374 imp gallons, integral tanks in each wing of 450 imp gallons and wing tip tanks of 250 imp gallons, giving a fuel total of 2,774 imp gallons. This gave the aircraft a maximum ferry range of 3,630 miles

Military Service
A84-229 spend time during its 25 years of service with Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) Two Squadron and at Number Three Aircraft Depot awaiting ‘E’ Service. A84-229 did not serve in Vietnam with Two Squadron, however serving with the RAAF at Butterworth Malaya, she achieved a milestone of 4000 hours, while undertaking Target Towing Duties.

A84-229 remained with Two Squadron until the unit was deactivated at Amberley on the 9th March 1982. With the deactivation of Two Squadron, A84-229 was held at Amberley awaiting her final fate. This fate was to be exchanged for a Ventura and flown to the United States of America.

Getting Ready
This was to be a very slow process, as Aero Nostalgia, INC (James D.F. Ricketts) although able to provide the Ventura, was unable to collect A84-229. This meant that A84-229 was held at Amberley from 1982 until 1990 at Number Three Aircraft Depot awaiting the outcome of her fate. This was resolved when Steve Picatti stepped in and purchased the aircraft from Aero Nostalgia Inc. With a new owner, it was now time to make A84-229 airworthy for her flight to Hayward USA. Steve Picatti was given a contact name from of Squadron Leader Mc Phaile (RAAF), who may have be able to make 229 airworthy. This being the first contact on the recovery of 229.

From this point many servicing RAAF personnel became involved, however they did not have Canberra aircraft experience. It was at then that Squadron Leader Geoff Garley became involved (can be seen in red shirt in the above photograph of 229’s 4000hrs aircrew hose down). Being an Ex Two Squadron Navigator, he knew who was still serving or retired and how to contact then. However once the word was out that 229 was to be returned to flying condition ex Squadron members, were ringing him on how they could help and when did they start.

As all RAAF Canberras did not have the Center Section replaced, they were all susceptible to Stress Corrosion Cracking. This was the first major problem to be overcome. Corrosion checks involved the inspection of the aircraft to the then current inspection procedures for the aircraft. The inspection was undertaken on the 11 to 16 June 1990, by Derek Olley (ex RAF NDT Technician and Technical Office with the RAAF Non Destructive Inspection Standards Laboratory) and myself ( Sgt NDI Technician and Engine Fitter). The result was that no recordable discontinuities were found. Now she could be worked on with a will and returned to flight status.

229 was moved into a hanger and the team started the inspection making a list of what was required to make her airworthy. As the team was made up of serving and retired member, work could only be undertaken on weekends and at night.

The team worked on 229 through June, July and the first weeks of August, until she was ready for test flights. Test flights required the approval of the Australian Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), as 229 was no longer under military control. The meeting time was set and upon showing all the required documents (almost equal to the weight of the aircraft), 229 was given the all clear to fly.

During the time that 229 was undertaking her return to flight status, the team were given help and support from many places within the RAAF. Without their help we would not have been able to carry out this work in such a short period of time.

It was now time to select the aircrew who would put our work to the test and take 229 through her Test Flight. The selection of the Navigator was very easy, this being Squadron Leader Geoff Garley. The selection of the pilot however required several searchs, however Bill Collins (Air Vice-Marshall (RET)) was selected and the flight programme began.

Very few problems were found during the test flight, so it was now time for 229 to be readied for her flight to the States, however before this flight Steve Picatti was to be checked out to fly her to the States. So it was back to school for him under the direction of Bill Collins. This activity was completed with out any major problems as Steve Picatti had flown several types of Multi-engine Commercial aircraft.

With 229 now airworthy and a crew to fly her, all that was required was the flight plan to be put in place and select the day for the flight, taking into account the weather on the way. The route decided upon was that determined by designating it as an Australian Canberra on a good-will flight to America under the codename "Operation Bala Lagin", this route being;

  1. Day 1 - Amberley to Townsville (North Queensland)
  2. Day 2 - Townsville to Guam (3,700Kls)
  3. Day 3 - Guam to Wake Island (2,700Kls)
  4. Day 4 - Wake Island to Honolulu (3,700Kls)
  5. Day 5 - Honolulu to Haywood (San Francisco) (4,000Kls).

The departure date was set of the 11 August 1990; the Press informed all was ready.

229 departed Australia on 11 Augst 1990, with all the team sorry to see her go, but with joy in our hearts we knew that she was at least given another opportunity to fly once more and that she would return in the near future for airshows here in Australia. On the date of her departure in front of the cameras she started up without a fault, however, she decided that after all the successful flights out of Amberley, that things where not 100 % with the fuel system. The starboard tip tank started to leak as a result of a rubber seal between the tank and the feed line not seating correctly. This is a known Canberra problem and it was decide that once the number three tank started to take fuel from the tip the leak would stop - the aircraft was released to fly.

A84-229 made her way to the States with only one major unservicability this being the compass. Luckily this snag was repaired by the USAF at Honolulu, while spares were being flown over to her.

At the time of 229’s departure a problem was developing in the Middle East and as a result of this the Australian sense of humour surfaced in the local paper at Amberley. Note that the original of this cartoon was given to Steve Picatti by the newspaper, "The Queensland Times" and which I would to thank at this time.

229 in the States
Upon her arrival in the States, 229 was given the center place in Steve Picatti ‘s Hanger as this was the only place for her undercover due to her size. Now that she was here she was to undergo an update on her Flight Instruments and provide the back ground for the training of those who were to look after her.

From this point on I (Les Wilson) was to become heavily involved with 229 and Steve Picatti by providing the following:

  • Training in Non Destructive Inspection of the Airframe.
  • Training of personnel in Engine Maintenance.
  • Providing airframe instructors for personnel.
  • Developing the NDT and Aircraft Maintenance Program for approval with the FAA, which lead to here registration in Experimental Class.
Now that 229 had completed her updates and was approved for flight by the FAA under Registration Number N229CA, it was decide that she would make her presence known at the 1991 Oshkosh Air show. It was at this show that 229 won for her dedicated team of restores the Silver Wrench Award. This handsome trophy was awarded for excellence in craftsmanship and Dedication in the Preservation of Aviation History. This award I currently hold on behalf of the team, with each member holding a photograph mounted on a wood back. From this point on 229 was on the request list of all the major airshows.

With the Winters in America preventing Airshows from taking place, 229 was to return to Australia in the summer months for displays and airshows. So during the winter of 1991, 229 returned to Australia to take part in the RAAF Airshow at RAAF Base Richmond. Once again she return via the route she came out on.

While in Australia she underwent her yearly service by the same team who originally restored her back to life. The service was completed and ground run to tune the engines and such ready for her return flight to the States.

Return to the States
229 returned to the States were she was now being flown out of Boise, Idaho. Here she was employed in the role of testing equipment for various companies. It was during this time that 229 under took several flights with out bomb doors to drop a pod for a research into different recovery methods and tracking by radar.

During that year, 229 also attended airshows in Canada and Mountain Home (Home of the F111). At each show it was well received and given pride of place.

And Back to Australia
In 1992 229 was invited to attend the "Air Show Down Under" at Avalon, which is between Melbourne and Geelong in Victoria. This being an International show 229 was on it way.

This time the flight over to Australia did not go as planed, while during the flight from Honolulu to Wake Island a vibration was detected in the plane. The crew at the time believed that it was within the airframe and continued on the Wake Island. Upon arrival at Wake Island and an inspection of the airframe found no source for the vibration. However the after flight inspection of the engines found that the starboard engine was difficult to turn by hand. This lead to further inspection of the engine, which found that the tip of a second stage turbine blade had failed. This failure had caused the vibration within the airframe. With the true nature of the problem now know a replacement engine would be required to continue the flight to either Australia or return to the States.

As I was in flight on a commercial flight from the States, I was informed on landing in Sydney that a "Rescue Eight" was required to replace the damaged engine at Wake Island. With the aircraft down and on an island well removed from commercial flights, many contacts were used to arrange a replacement engine and get me to Wake Island. I departed Richmond Air Base in Sydney with an engine on a C141 to Honolulu; here it was transferred to an other C141 on its way to Japan. This flight did an Ops stop and dropped off the engine and myself on Wake Island. The crew of 229 were there waiting for me as they had now been on the island about 4 days. The engine change was undertaken in a day with four people and ready for test flight next day.

With the test flight completed the crew departed for Avalon Airshow and left me at Wake Island. But luck would have it a C141 was coming through to Honolulu via Wake, so I was on my way again. On arrival at Honolulu, I was able to obtain a lift in C5 back to Richmond with the u/s Avon. Once there I booked a flight a commercial flight to the Melbourne and the airshow to catch the last day.

After the Show 229 was flown to Canberra and parked at the RAAF base at Canberra for PR work with the RAAF and await its next airshow. This was to be the Australian Grand Prix on the 5 November 1992, here 229 was flown daily over the Grand Prix and was used as the lead-in flight at the start of the race. After this eventfull return to Australia, 229 returned to the States in 1993 in March for the start of the US airshow season.

Stateside Again
It was upon return to the States that 229 and Steve Picatti fell upon hard times with aircraft remaining on the ground except for the odd flight to Mountain Home and Local airshows. 229 remained on the ground under lock and key awaiting the outcome of legal action. It was during this time the ownership changed hands to Tom Leek (I believe) [correct - LesB].

During my visit to Boise to service another Canberra in 1998/99, Tom Leek was attempting to fly 229 out of Boise. FAA stopped this for the following reason I believe:

  • Unqualified ground crew eg selected undercarriage up on the ground and dropped 229 on her nose and undertaking a ground run with incorrect controls etc in place.
  • Ferry pilot did not hold current LOA and what was issued was obtained under incorrect information being supplied to FAA in Reno. This error being corrected by FAA at Boise, who recalled the LOA issued to the Ferry Pilot.
  • Various breeches for FAA regulations.

As they could not fly 229 out they removed the wings, tail plane and shipped her out by road. In doing this without the correct equipment and knowledge they severely degraded the condition of the center section lugs. In my opinion 229 can be made airworthy once again without a replacement center section however I have also been told that the FAA will not permit 229 to fly for this reason. This is a very sorry end for an aircraft that with the right care could still be flying to day.

That ends my known history on 229, as I have had no contact with those who removed 229 from Boise that day.


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