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Aussie Sabre Returns to the Air

You might not recognize the fighter designator “CA-27,” but think F-86: The CA-27 was the hotrod Australian version of the North American Sabre, built by Commonwealth Aircraft, the Melbourne company that developed the World War II Woomera, Wirraway and Boomerang. Last July Australia’s Temora Aviation Museum put back into the air an ex–Royal Australian Air Force CA-27 Sabre that had been parked for 13 years before undergoing a three-year restoration.

The CA-27 was a substantially reengineered version of the F-86, with a big Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet in place of the General Electric J47. (No, it wasn’t an offshoot of the better-known Canadair Sabre, which had a Rolls Orenda engine.) The Avon gave it a 50-percent thrust boost and required redesigning about 60 percent of the F-86 fuselage and substituting a larger air intake to feed the big engine. The Aussies also stripped out the standard six .50-caliber Brownings and instead armed the CA-27 with two Aden guns—big, thumping 30mm cannons.

The Adens were fired in anger during the RAAF Sabres’ interesting combat career. In the late 1950s CA-27s flew against Communist insurgents in Malaya, and in the early ’60s they were sent to Thailand to do battle with yet more guerrillas. They remained there to fly air defense missions for U.S. Air Force aircraft based in Thai – land, though the Aussie F-86s never actually tussled with North Vietnamese air or ground forces.

The Temora Museum’s CA-27 will fly regularly during the museum’s frequent Flying Weekend displays. The Sabre is the most iconic of all early jet fighters, an aerial creation classic in line and shape, lineage and history. We envy Australian aviation enthusiasts their chance to see one in flight. You can view a video of the CA-27’s return to the air at RAAFSabreFlys.cfm.

-Stephan Wilkinson

Sunken Catalina Found

On November 2, 1942, a Consolidated Catalina amphibian foundered and sank during an attempted roughwater takeoff from the St. Lawrence River, off LonguePointe-de-Mingan, Quebec. Last May, 67 years after the accident, a team of Canadian underwater archeologists from Parks Canada located with sidescan sonar what they presume to be the wreck, deep in the bittercold water. The remains of five crewmen (four survived) assumedly are still entombed in the big, pedestal-wing twin.

The U.S. Navy would have called the airplane a PBY, as has much of the general media in reporting the find. In fact it was a little-known Army Air Forces Consolidated OA-10A, one of a group of some 380 Catalinas usually operated by the U.S. Army Air Forces, and later in Korea by the U.S. Air Force, as air-sea rescue ships. The Quebec OA-10A, however, was being used for liaison flights between the U.S., Canada, Greenland and Iceland, where airstrips were being built for warplane ferry flights to Europe.

To call the area where the Cat went down a “river” is deceiving; it’s in fact virtually open sea, north of Anacostia Island in the Jacques Cartier Straits. Catalinas were famous for their tolerance of rough water. But the 4- to 6-foot waves that reportedly were running at the time of the sinking apparently stove in the nosewheel doors and a crucial bulkhead aft of the nosegear well, unbeknown to the crew, during a first takeoff attempt. When the pilots tried a second run, much of the extreme forward hull of the flying boat failed, and the forward motion of the airplane rapidly filled the interior with water. The big amphibian floated briefly with the wing and tail awash, giving a passenger and three crewmen time to swim free. They were rescued by fishermen from the tiny nearby village, where the incident is still widely remembered.

The fact that the airplane went down at a low speed rather than crashing means it may have remained largely intact, but there are no plans to recover the airframe. At some point an attempt may be made to find and recover human remains, but until then, the site will be reverently guarded and treated as a tomb.

-Stephan Wilkinson

Amelia’s Goggles

The goggles Amelia Earhart wore during her 1932 solo transatlantic flight were sold at an October 8-9 auction held in California by Profiles in History. Called “the single most important flightworn aviation artifact to ever be offered at public auction” by Profiles in History president Joe Maddalena, the goggles were expected to fetch at least $100,000-$150,000. For an update, visit

Reno Racing Action

More than 200,000 race fans were on hand for the 46th National Championship Air Races and Air Show at Stead Field, outside Reno, Nev., September 16-20, 2009. Competition was especially fierce in the Unlimited class, in which piston-powered ex-military aircraft fly. All the crowd favorites were back this year: Czech Mate, Dreadnought, Rare Bear, Riff Raff, Strega, Voodoo and many others. In his second year as an Unlimited racing pilot, Steve Hinton Jr. set the pace by qualifying his highly modified P-51D Strega at 486.17 mph. Following a pylon cut during the heat race on September 19, Voodoo started the 2009 Breitling Unlimited Gold Race in the pole position. Strega led the race, and after Voodoo maydayed during the fifth lap, Hinton was essentially alone at the front of the pack. He easily won with a speed of 491.82 mph during the eight-lap race around the 8.43-mile course—at 22, the youngest competitor ever to win the Unlimited Gold.

In other racing class news, the hottest of the Sport class were moved into the “Super Sport Gold” class, won by Jon Sharp of Mojave, Calif., flying his Nemesis NXT at an average speed of 407.06 mph. David Sterling won the Sport class in a Lancair Legacy at an average speed of 352.66 mph. The Jet class saw Curt Brown take the checkered flag for his fourth time, flying an L-29 at 513.52 mph. Thom Richard of Kissimmee, Fla., took the Formula Gold race trophy (241.10 mph), while Tom Aberle added another win in the Biplane Gold (237.05 mph). And Nick Macy scored his fifth win in the T-6 Six Cat, rounding the course at 237.56 mph.

In conjunction with the National Championship Air Races, the National Aviation Heritage Invitational holds its West Coast competition at Reno each year. The finest in restored vintage, classic and warbird aircraft are judged, with the winner taking home the Rolls-Royce Aviation Heritage Trophy. This year the trophy went to Chuck Wahl for his immaculate, tail-hook-equipped 1944 North American SNJ-5C. In the Antique category, Robert Juranich won the Orville and Wilbur Wright Trophy for his 1934 Waco YMF-3. Richard Rezabek’s restored 1937 Stinson SR-9F took the Paul E. Garber Trophy in the Classic category, and was also the crowd favorite, garnering the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s People’s Choice Award.

In the Warbird category, Bill and Claudia Allen’s 1940 Ryan STM-2, restored by Ragtime Aero with engine by Brad Ball, took top honors. Additional information about the trophy program and its sponsors can be found at The 2010 Reno races are slated for September 15-19. For more information, and to see podcasts of the racing action, visit

-Nicholas A. Veronico

Little Red Convert-able

A bright red vehicle-cum-puddle-jumper, the latest addition to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport, is sure to appeal to anyone who’s been stuck in traffic. In 1950 Robert J. Fulton Jr.’s Airphibian FA-3-101—which a pilot/driver could fly into an airport, then take off its wings, tail and prop, transforming it into a small car—became the first roadable aircraft to be approved by the Civil Aviation Administration. Donated to the National Air and Space Museum in 1960, the Airphibian was restored by Robert Fulton III in 1998. For more on flying cars, see C.V. Glines’ article “The Road Not Taken,” in the September 2008 Aviation History.

Foul Weather Fails to Ground Dawn Patrol

The seventh biannual Dawn Patrol, a gathering of World War I reproductions, replicas and radio-controlled models that started in 1996, was held September 25 through 27 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in spite of weather that was less than accommodating. Essentially civilians flying on a military base at the invitation of the director of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, retired Maj. Gen. Charles D. Metcalfe, the participants adhered to strict safety standards. In this instance, low clouds and impaired visibility often grounded the aircraft, and occasional rain kept spectator numbers from reaching the 30,000 that had been expected.

Nevertheless, whenever the weather permitted, the show went on with undiminished enthusiasm, and late Saturday and mid-Sunday morning saw the weather clear and the crowds grow to a sunnier conclusion for the event. Even when the replicas, ranging in scale up to full-size, were not in the air, visitors could get a close look at them on the ground and learn about the exploits of their forebears from announcer and World War I author Stephen Skinner, whose latest book, The Stand, offers a definitive biography of American balloon-busting ace and Medal of Honor recipient Frank Luke. A highlight was seeing and hearing a 1911-vintage Gnome Omega rotary engine in operation. For those who attended, there was too much to see, do and learn to let a little foul weather put a damper on an entertaining and enlightening simulation of a bygone aviation era.

-Jon Guttman

Originally published in the January 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here