For every aircraft type which enters production, there are many design proposals which are not developed to the production stage. Inspired Aussie pioneer Lawrence Wackett had a hand in several designs at the Cockatoo Island Dockyard that were sadly dismissed for a duck.
Early in 1930, Australian National Airways canvassed various manufacturers, both here and overseas, to quote for an aircraft to supplement its existing fleet of Avro Ten’s. LASCo offered a design which was considered too expensive, but, on 30 May 1930, Cockatoo Island Dockyard submitted one which was only £200-£300 dearer than an equivalent imported one. The price was £10,500 for one aircraft or £20,000 for two, contingent upon the engines being supplied by ANA at £1,850 each. The latter had been negotiating for some time for Vickers Viastras (which at that stage had not flown), but these negotiations fell into abeyance while the Cockatoo project was evaluated. The design was to have three Armstrong Siddeley Lynx engines, carry 12 passengers, have a maximum speed of 150-160mph, and a range of 500-600 miles — from DRG NO61 10-7 it was apparently named the ‘Express Tri-Motor Monoplane’.
On 3 July, Charles Ulm and Director Frederick Harold Stewart (later Sir Frederick, MP), of ANA, had an interview with the Minister for Defence (Albert E. Green), and stated that Cockatoo was going into the question of aircraft manufacture, and that the design which it had submitted appeared excellent. ANA desired to encourage local manufacture if possible, but the drawback was that Cockatoo required a deposit and progress payments, ANA not being disposed to commit itself financially until the aircraft was proven. They accordingly asked the Commonwealth for financial assistance.The Minister stated that Randwick had been closed because of its high cost, and that the question of Government aid to Cockatoo was for consideration, after his forthcoming discussion with the CCA — he added that any money required should be provided by the Shipping Board.
Having canvassed manufacturers worldwide, Ulm was biased towards the Wackett design, which was only a few hundred pounds above a similar imported machine.
Within the Defence Department a difference of opinion arose, between the Civil Aviation Branch and Air Board, concerning the possibility of the design meeting requirements successfully, CAB pointing out the fact that its design performance was higher than that of the Viastra, without its designer having the elaborate research facilities available to Vickers. A memo to the Defence Secretary from CCA Brinsmead on 10 July, included the following passages:-
‘It does not seem reasonable to believe that Wackett who has not access to or knowledge of recent Research or most modern practice, can improve on or compete with Vickers’ latest design. The whole history of Wackett’s association with the RAAF Experimental Section strengthens that belief.
If in these days improved aircraft could be evolved from any one man’s inner consciousness then possibly Wackett is better qualified than anybody else to do so. Unfortunately such is not the case, progress is dependent on the research and accumulated knowledge of many rather than on the vision and enthusiasm of any one man.
In my opinion the Shipping Board would be well advised to enter into the aircraft industry in the following progression:-
(1) Aircraft and aero engine reconditioning, both military and civil.
(2)Manufacture under licence of successful and approved types of military aircraft. (3)Manufacture under licence of commercial types of aircraft.
(4)Manufacture of types locally designed.’
This was countered by a memo from the Air Board Secretary on 14 July, in stating that, from a defence point of view, it was essential that the aircraft industry be established in Australia as soon as possible. Wackett was supplied automatically with results and data from England, aeronautical engineering had a known basis, and the Government should make use of his wide experience.
Also on 14th July, the Chairman of the Dockyard, Jack Payne, wrote to the CCA to apprise him of the new arrangements and asking that any Civil Aviation provisions or certification requirements, for Wackett or other personnel, be advised so that such matters can be resolved prior to the commencement of Dockyard aviation activities.
Two days later, he also advised the Prime Minister’s Secretary of the state of negotiations, reminding him of the fact that the company had been advised of sympathetic consideration by the Prime Minister in the matter of Government finance, and that:-
‘Our Aircraft Superintendent, Wing Commander Wackett, has satisfied the Airway Company in all matters of design and stability, and we understand that our quotation is considered by the Company to be a favourable one.
A communication has been received from the Australian National Airways Ltd. dated 10th July, copy attached, stating that whilst they are desirous of encouraging the manufacture of commercial aircraft in Australia they feel that the terms asked by us are unfavourable, in that we require deposits and progress payments.
The Company further states that they are prepared to immediately place an order for one or more of the 12-passenger machines on a guaranteed performance, provided that they are not called upon to pay for the aircraft until they have proved to be
successful and up to the guaranteed performance.
The Company advises that the Prime Minister stated he was sympathetically
disposed towards the Government financing the Shipping Board in this matter.
For the information of the Rt. Hon. the Prime Minister the conditions of purchase desired by the Airway Company are those which have been offered to them by certain British firms, who submitted competitive tenders. The conditions stipulate a small deposit on placing the order and the balance of purchase money on delivery after
passing acceptance tests.
The Shipping Board is extremely desirous of grasping this unique opportunity of
entering upon aircraft construction for commercial purposes. When the cost of engines which may be supplied through the Airway Company, who are the agents, is deducted, our estimates indicate that wages and material will amount to a little over £5,000 per aircraft.
It is suggested for the very favourable consideration of the Government that the Commonwealth Bank be authorised to grant an overdraft of £5,000 for each Air Liner ordered by Australian National Airways Ltd, such overdraft only to be used if other funds at present available to the Board are required for other works in progress.
As this opportunity is of fundamental importance in relation to the development of the aircraft industry in Australia and the acquisition of such work at Cockatoo Island Dockyard during the present period of depression, the Shipping Board would appreciate a favourable decision by the Government in this matter.’
In view of the different opinions within the Department of Defence, a committee of two (Sqn Ldr Herbert C. Harrison DTS RAAF, and Joseph H. Ekins, Supt of Aircraft CAB) was charged with visiting Cockatoo, and to report to a Cabinet Sub-committee in Canberra as to the practicality of the proposal.
Their written report, dated 8 August, stated that Wackett was capable of designing such an aircraft and that the Dockyard could build it with a high standard of aeronautical engineering practice. On the other hand, its design performance would probably not be reached without some development work, the scheduled delivery time of 6-7 months was insufficient, and the cost was underestimated.
As the Dockyard had not then been organised for aircraft work, and as some overseas equipment supply was necessary, serious delays could further upset the project. In conclusion, it was stated that a contract, such as that required by Ulm, might result in serious financial loss on account of penalties, irrespective of any loss incurred in the actual manufacture.
Naturally, Wackett refuted their findings, in a four-page report to the Chairman of the Shipping Board on 14 August, and stated that the members were not competent to make a judgement. Two months had already gone into the preparation of drawings, ready for the start of construction, and sufficient material was on hand to commence work without delay, using facilities not previously available in Australia for aircraft work. He also questioned the value of such a committee, and its ability to make an accurate judgement, as follows:-
‘It is clear that the Committee, being Public Servants, must cast doubt on those points on which they feel that they are not competent to accept responsibility for.
It is pointed out that both of the members of the Committee are non-flying men, with no flying experience, nor have they ever designed aeroplanes, or been responsible for the carrying out of aircraft construction. They have both been subordinates of mine for many years, and I have frequently had occasion to report on their qualifications and work. It is humiliating in the extreme for me, with fifteen years distinguished service in practical aviation and an experience of five complete designs and lengthy periods in responsible positions, to have my work inquired into by men who I know only too well to be possessed of qualifications quite inadequate for the task.
These two men personally fear the development of the Aircraft industry in Australia. Departmental organisation is such that on these two men only the entire responsibility of declaring the airworthiness of locally built aircraft will be thrust. In the case of Mr. Ekins, his qualifications are totally inadequate, and he has been the subject of disciplinary action through inefficiency and neglect of duty in such matters. In regard to Squadron Leader Harrison, it must be admitted that he possessed the necessary intellectual ability but has not had adequate experience for such responsible duties. Throughout the many years during which he worked under me as a subordinate he displayed a marked disinclination and unsuitability to accept the entire responsibility for such major decisions. It is decidedly unfair to call on such persons to accept the entire responsibility for such an opinion as is required in the matter of Aircraft construction at Cockatoo.
The first essential requirement in an officer who is required to accept big responsibilities is a profound knowledge and extensive experience. What is going to prove a great hindrance to development of aviation in Australia is the entire lack of such knowledge and experience in Departmental Officers concerned with aviation. While no development was attempted these shortcomings were not blatantly apparent.
In the circumstances, I suggest that the vital matters of costs and time be
referred to some prominent Consulting Engineer who could be relied on for a fair opinion. He must have extensive experience in Engineering estimates, be a man with the welfare of Australia at heart, have no connection with importing interests, and who is not a Public Servant. He need not have any knowledge of aviation for these limited terms of reference.
[L.J.Wackett] AIRCRAFT SUPERINTENDENT’
An Air Board secretarial memo on 4 March 1931 stated that it was understood that the whole question of the construction of the machine under discussion had been dropped. Harrison pointed out on 9 May that Cockatoo’s first Seagull reconditioning had cost £2,084/14/2 in comparison to the quotation of £500, thus adding credence to his committee’s findings regarding the estimated cost of the airliner.
In closing the relevant CAB file dealing with both the WAA and ANA designs, Brinsmead referred Wackett’s report to the Defence Secretary on 19 May 1931, and stated that:- ‘for record purposes, I lodge a formal and emphatic protest at the unwarranted and unfair attack made upon Ekins, the Superintendent of Aircraft in this Branch.’
DH66 Hercules Replacement
When tenders were called for the operation of the Perth—Adelaide route, West Australian Airways submitted a number of alternative proposals in about June 1928. If selected, it planned to use four DH66 Hercules, with which it did eventually open the service on 5-6 June 1929. However, these aircraft did not prove entirely satisfactory, and a replacement was sought for them during 1930, a specification being circulated to possible tenderers, which included Cockatoo Island Dockyard and its designer L.J. Wackett.
While Harry Broadsmith had been in Australia for the second time in May 1927, in an attempt to promote the local production of AVRO products, he took office space at the Crossley Motors address of 87 William St Sydney, while negotiating with Government and industry representatives. He had called on Major Norman Brearley while in Fremantle, and left details of an Avro three-engined eight-passenger liner, the Type 603, for WAA operation. On 9 April 1927, Brearley wrote to the effect that he had noted the details, but would like any information on a modified version, together with a price for one or more of them.
At that time, he was ‘sold’ on the DH project, which was much closer, and the Type 603 did not proceed beyond the proposal stage.
On 16 June 1930, Brearley had sought the approval of the CCA to use Packard Diesel engines on any future machines used by his company on the Perth—Wyndham route. The engine specified was a nine-cylinder four-stroke aircooled radial which developed 225hp for a dry weight of 510 pounds compared with the Puma’s 625 pounds, and he showed comparative figures for a DH50 fitted with each type of engine.
Cabinet approval to thus vary the terms of the contract was given on 29 July and, on 12 August, WAA advised that full particulars of the proposed modifications would be forwarded as soon as orders had been placed for the engines, and the modification work put in hand.
Although nothing is known of any such DH50 modification, Cockatoo Dockyard submitted a range of Wackett designs to meet the requirements specified in the company’s circular.
In January 1931, Brearley notified his selection of an eleven-seat twin-Packard-Diesel- powered high-wing monoplane design as being most attractive, at a price of £7,814. The Dockyard sought CAB approval of the design as being suitable for a contract aircraft, forwarding drawings and specifications to the CCA on 3 February, and sought all possible Government assistance in approving the type for operation, if WAA decided that it was suited to its needs. The Packard engine had at that time given fairly limited, but seemingly economical and reliable, service in the United States, in seven types of aircraft listed, up to the Ford 5AT.
The specification described an aircraft with a wooden wing, welded steel-tube fuselage, with dual control for the crew of two, carrying nine passengers with their luggage, and fitted with wheel brakes and a tailwheel. It is thought that this was the ‘Cockatoo’.
Comparative figures for a similar aircraft powered with four DH Gipsy MkIII engines (‘Corella’?) was presented by the Dockyard and, over 2,000 hours of operation, the net saving with the Diesels was £2,940, or 37.6% of the initial purchase price.
Dockyard Manager Payne, in passing the Specifications to the CCA, stated that if the proposal came to maturity, something of value would have been achieved in Australian aviation. He requested all possible assistance by an assurance that the Government would approve the type for the subsidised Perth—Adelaide service, if WAA were satisfied with the aircraft.
CAB evaluated the design, and found that it did not meet the requirements specified in the tender for maximum speed and payload (130mph and 2,995 pounds for 500 miles), its single- engine performance was insufficient for the route, such that it would be unable to cross Spencer Gulf at full load if it lost an engine, and would be forced to ditch, but that it was superior in range and operating costs. No definite answer could be given as to its suitability on the available data, and Cockatoo was notified accordingly on 21 February.
A further assessment of its performance was passed to the CCA by Superintendent-of- Aircraft Ekins on 26 February, and he pointed out that the quoted performance figures were probably misleading and optimistic. Of course the design might prove much superior to any other design of the day, but he did not suppose so, because the Chief Engineer of Cockatoo had never turned out a machine to fulfill his specified performance.
Although good reports of the Packard Diesel had been received, and it possessed an American Type Certificate, the Department had received reports that considerable trouble was being experienced in America with cylinder heads blowing off. (A more recent account of the engine’s use in the USA (in 1994) makes the point that the smell which permeated the aircraft from its exhaust was most objectionable).
A final minute dealing with the design was written to the Defence Secretary by the Air Board Secretary on 4 March 1931, to advise that the whole question of constructing a machine of the type under discussion had been dropped.
West Australian Airways subsequently operated Vickers Viastras on the route, and they were obviously on the water from England at the time of negotiations by the Dockyard, as they replaced the Hercules on 2 March 1931. Two Viastras, VH–UOO and –UOM were used, and they cut the flying time to Adelaide from the 14-15 hours of the Hercules, to 11 hours. After an accident on 11 October 1933, VH–UOM was withdrawn, but –UOO was used until ANA took over the route in February 1936. However, their performance also fell far short of that laid down in the contract.
Obviously in parallel with the two airliner proposals for ANA and WAA, Wackett also prepared a specification for the Dockyard, in an attempt to develop an Australian equivalent to the DH Moth, with competitive performance and price.
On 1 December 1930, Cockatoo Manager Jack Payne wrote to the CCA to advise that consideration was being given to production of such a type, the success of which would establish the industry on a sound commercial basis. Cost had been a primary consideration in the proposal, with the intention of being able to offer the aircraft for considerably less than all other aircraft of the same class being offered in Australia. A copy of the specification was enclosed (not now available).
Accordingly, he asked three questions of the Controller, answers to which would assist management in reaching a decision. CAB opinion was sought on the viability of such an aircraft, and whether the Branch would encourage a local type, as it had done by importing and demonstrating the first Moths.
In the preceding year of course, General Aircraft Co had been developing and producing the larger Genairco, for which Wackett had produced the drawings and carried out the stress analysis. The first had been flown on 19 December 1929, and Wackett flew it himself within the next two weeks. In addition, LASCo was nearing completion of its contract for 32 Gipsy Moths for RAAF and CAB use — the latter was already committed to the type, by both overseas purchase and from LASCo output, for the use of the subsidised Aero Clubs, which were provided with Moths by the Dept of Defence.
Perhaps for that reason, nothing has been found on further development, after an answer from the CCA on 5 December, giving a ‘yes’ answer to each of the three motherhood-type questions, and with a concluding paragraph of some encouragement, but also of some verbosity:-
‘Should your management decide as I sincerely trust may be the case, to proceed with production of the very interesting machine in question may I take this early opportunity of urging the necessity of the utmost measure of mutual friendly and dispassionate co-operation in solving the inevitable problems which will arise in relation with the stressing inspection of materials and processes of manufacture and final tests prior to issue of Certificate of Airworthiness by this Department.’
It may be that this aircraft was based on the one submitted to Air Board by Wackett in February 1926 from Randwick, and for which no approval was forthcoming for its production. The Wagtail and its related designs might also have sprung from that basic proposal.