Sydney-based Tugan Aircraft was one of the major operators during aviation’s halcyon years of the 1930s. In the first of a three-part series, KEITH MEGGS takes a look at the tentative successor to the Codock, as Smithy tinkered with the design to name and create the Gannet…before losing his life.
Following on the evaluation of the Codock, Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith specified a number of necessary improvements, and opened negotiations with the Tugan Aircraft company concerning the manufacture of an improved version. Agreement was reached, and Wackett was commissioned to develop the Codock design and to prepare drawings for production. It was designated as the LJW7 and was given the name Gannet by ‘Smithy’, who derived the word from Gannon and Wackett in the same manner that the title Tugan Aircraft had been arrived at. No contract was drawn up for a prototype, and part of the agreement was that the designer undertook to supply two copies of drawings and specifications, on a regular basis to the constructors, for a seven/eight- seat twin-engine aircraft, suitable for operation under Australian conditions, in reasonable competition with imported aircraft of similar type.
Tugan Aircraft was to own the design and the drawings, with sole building rights for Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea, except that NEA could build them for its own use, but not for sale. The designer was to personally demonstrate the aircraft in the air whenever the opportunity offered.
One of the improvements was to replace the commercial-grade steel tubing used in the Codock fuselage structure with aircraft-quality tube, with an attendant increase in strength and a reduced structure weight. More power from two DH Gipsy MkVIs, better streamlining, and increased disposable load and all-up-weight were featured, while, from the passengers viewpoint, greater cabin space, abundant sound insulation, and luxury chairs with head rests, were to be incorporated.
Design work was carried out by Wackett, with the assistance of ‘Tommy’ Air, (replaced by Arthur Williams in March 1936), and drawings and data were analysed by CAB as they became available from Tugan Aircraft in the latter part of 1934. In August 1934, enquiries were made as to the possibility of gaining a CofA if fitted with American Menasco engines, with affirmative results, subject to American certification being available for the engines. It was proposed to use the same tyres, wheels, and tubes as for the Codock, but, as they were limited to 5,000 pounds all-up weight, and the Gannet eventually reached 5,550 pounds, they were unsuitable.
Component construction for three aircraft was under way by the beginning of September, many of the jigs and templates were being manufactured, and the first booms for the main spars were in the glue presses.
Bearing in mind the situation outlined above, construction of the first aircraft was brought to a halt due to a lack of capital, following which the CAS was persuaded to order one for the RAAF, as detailed below. With this in hand, Wackett bought into the organisation and became Managing Director, in return for which the previously-mentioned manufacturing rights were vested in Tugan Aircraft. With removal of the cause of delay, work proceeded on the first, for the RAAF, although an official order was not received until about 25 March 1935, followed by an order for the second, from Western and Southern Provincial Airlines (WASP), early in May. Both proceeded in parallel and a third was ordered, and assembly commenced early in August. For what it was worth, AIRCRAFT reported in June 1935 that the RAAF one was to have ‘retractile spats’, an unusual feature for an Australian-made aircraft, but no other reference to such has been seen or spoken of. No civil order had been placed.
Advertised price was £5,500 ready to fly at Mascot, and experience showed that about four months was required to fulfill an order, as a function of the engine delivery time from England.
As the company did not have a machine shop, apart from an old lathe ‘out of the ark’, and a few minor pieces of equipment, fitting and turning work was done mainly by J.N. Kirby, general engineers, and also by the small Richardson backyard engineering firm (not Mervyn Victor Richardson). Most of the welding on the Gannets was done by L.J.R. ‘Jack’ Jones and Sam Bruce, later Manager at the CAC-managed engine factory at Lidcombe (Syd).
Due to the non-arrival from America of the 265hp Menasco engines, which were originally going into the RAAF aircraft, the one for WASP, VH-UUZ, was the first to be completed, and was test flown by Jack Chapman (later with TAA) on 12 October 1935. CAB flight trials and inspection for a CofA were carried out at Mascot from 25 to 31 October by David Ross, who had carried out the Codock Type-Trials in 1934.
The inspection report snagged the seating arrangement, poor layout of passenger steps, and the danger of passengers being burnt by an unshielded exhaust pipe on entry or exit. Ross reported on the difficulty of entering the cockpit, although once in, operational accessibility was good and it was quite comfortable. Lack of backward vision was noted, brakes were considered fair, pending torque tests, and taxiing was quite easy. On take-off, there was no tendency to swing, but once airborne it was directionally unstable at all power settings and airspeeds, and directional control was also difficult. This was put down to the slipstream effect of the two close-set engines and propellers, but the benefits of a low asymmetric couple in the event of an engine failure was considered to be of more importance.
In summing up the report, Ross stated that the general performance of the aircraft was in excess of the minimum requirement for issue of a CofA, there were no vicious control difficulties, and, insofar as flying qualities were concerned, a CofA could be granted. Issue of a Type Certificate was dependent upon the clearing up of a number of points raised during the inspection and trials, together with several design matters raised by CAB, some of them on strength requirements. Wackett had guaranteed its cruising speed to WASP, but the figure was not met.
Going back to negotiations leading to the RAAF order, Wackett and the CAS had discussed the Codock, and its development, in relation to possible Air Force use, at a meeting in Sydney on 27 November 1934. On the same date Wackett advised the Sec Air Board, in writing, of his improved Codock design, designated LJW7, which had a much-better performance and improved structural features which together would make it ideally suited for many Service tasks. Full drawings had then been sent to CAB for checking, and (in anticipation of orders), some of the special materials and the Vickers undercarriage components were already on hand in Sydney. He suggested that an order be placed by Air Board for one, to cost £4,750 with DH Gipsy MkVI engines, and was also prepared to redesign the front half of the fuselage to permit an operational military role, if required by Air Board. This version would cost £5,000.
The CAS wrote a minute to the Sec DoD on 5 December 1934, and stated that he was convinced of the growing likelihood of twin or multi-engined aircraft becoming the type most suitable for defence, with blind flying an essential part of Service training. The only multi-engined aircraft then in RAAF service was the Southampton, which cost about £20,000, had high running costs, and could not fly on one engine with a load. As the risk entailed in cross-countries at night, and instrument flying with single-engined aircraft, could not be justified in peace time, he recommended the purchase of small twin-engined aircraft such as the Dragon, and advised that a local aircraft in this class then existed, naming the Wackett aircraft then running the service between Sydney and Newcastle. He recommended that one of each type be purchased for comparison, the Dragon at £5,500 and the Wackett at £4,800.
Three days later the Managing Director of Cockatoo Dockyard (Norman Fraser) submitted an offer to build one or two Codocks to meet Defence Department requirements, which, although generally similar to the one supplied to Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, would be altered to conform to the structural requirements of the Department. He advised that two could be supplied nine months and eleven months respectively after an order was placed, and would cost £4,450 each, or £4,650 for one only.
A Draft Specification for the LJW7 was issued by the RAAF, and it specified that the aircraft must comply with CofA requirements, at an all-up-weight of 5,000 pounds or more, and that its disposable load must be at least 40%. After delivery, the RAAF intended to assess the possibility of fitting a dual-control system as a tandem installation, but the four roles for which it was initially required were listed as blind-flying instruction, navigation instruction, W/T instruction, and transport.
Subsequently, Specification 2/35, for the supply of one LJW7, was issued on 8 February 1935, and listed the following changes as requirements:-
1) All seats to take parachutes.
2) The installation of several extra instruments.
3) The supply of a small table.
4) Fitment of a special landing light, electrical appliances for night flying and a rudder tail light.
5) The provision of a camera port, and for dual control.
6) Fitment of sunblinds and windscreen wipers.
This was the cause of some discussion between Air Board and Tugan Aircraft, which considered that the number of changes required from the standard design were too numerous to be interpreted as small alterations, and therefore some price adjustment from the quoted £4,750 was necessary.
Following negotiations, it was agreed to make the contract price £3,090, and for Dept of Air to supply the engines, propellers, and instruments, at a cost of £1,473, making the total cost to the RAAF £4,563. Specification 2A/35 was issued on 29 March 1935 to cover the new arrangements, and delivery was called for five months after the contract date, or two months after the supply of the engines. A dual-control set was ordered as an extra, and was to be fitted by Tugan Aircraft after completion of the aircraft’s trials.
Following Tugan Aircraft acceptance of the new specification on 15 April 1935, construction was put in hand, but a query regarding its use was raised by Wg Cdr Arthur Henry Cobby, DSO, DFC, Director of Operations and Intelligence, on 30 July 1935 – he was aware of its training use, but wanted to know whether a policy had been decided regarding its use for photography. Appended to his minute was another query from some Squadron Leader regarding the unit to which the Gannet had been allotted.
1935 The response, from Sqn Ldr George John Mackinolty, Director of Equipment, was that his Branch was not aware of any decision about the allotment, although it was assumed that it would be temporarily allotted to the Practice and Communication Flight of NO1AD Laverton —— he could arrange for its allotment to any unit required by the Air Staff.
The CAS replied two days later and stated that:- ‘This aircraft will first go to NO1AD as you suggest — we will decide afterwards just what will be done with it. It will certainly be examined from all training points of view.’
It was ready for flight as A14–1 on 13 November, and was handed over to the RAAF on the 25th. Initially, it was incorrectly adorned with the serial A4–1, and there are photos of it so marked, but it was done by Bob Pearse in accordance with information passed by AID as to finishing requirements. In fact, the Specification, issued on 8 February had specified the registration markings A4––1, to be printed in black on both sides of the fuselage in standard RAAF letters and numbers. Of course it was not known within the company that A4 had already been allotted to the Anson, the first of which didn’t arrive in Australia until October 1937.
The rudder stripes on a Seagull III had also been transposed at Cockatoo Dockyard at an earlier period, during the painting process, with red leading the white and blue, although such a combination did later become the standard layout in lieu of the earlier blue, white, and red.
On 12 December a final Air Board minute noted that the aircraft had been tested and delivered and was then at NO1AD (it had arrived at Laverton, from Richmond via Cootamundra, on 8 December, under the command of Flt Lt J.R. Fleming of 3 Squadron). Although there had been a delay of eight weeks because of the non-delivery of the engines, it had otherwise been completed in five months, and was a very creditable effort. It had been fitted with Gipsy VI’s instead of the Menascos, and it was to be evaluated against a new DH89 Dragon Rapide, also with Gipsy VIs, and which had only just previously been acquired by the RAAF.
VH–UUZ was delivered to WASP after the granting of its CofA, which was sent by CAB on 14 November 1935. On 8 November, a black day in Australian aviation history, ‘Smithy’ and Tommy Pethybridge had been lost in the Bay of Bengal during an England—Australia record attempt in the ‘Lady Southern Cross’ (Lockheed Altair G–ADUS, ex-VH–USB). As soon as it was apparent that they had not merely made a forced landing, VH–UUZ was chartered from WASP by a group which nominated P.G. Taylor as pilot, and it was hastily fitted out to assist in the search.
All the passenger seats were removed from the cabin, and an 80-gallon tank from Taylor’’s Percival Gull VH–UVA was fitted, together with tankage made available by WASP, and sufficient to give a total of 1,200 miles safe range. Dual control was transferred from the RAAF Gannet, and AWA radio equipment was installed. Guarantees for a total £2,000 towards expenses were given by the Federal Government (£1,000), New South Wales Government (£500), and Sir Frederick Stewart (£500). The opening of the new Sydney-Broken Hill service by WASP was accordingly postponed.
With Harry Purvis as second pilot/engineer and John Stannage as wireless operator, departure was made from Mascot on 15 November, but, on reaching Cloncurry, Taylor became ill, and the subsequent delay was sufficient to cause abandonment of the flight. After its return to Sydney, WASP began to operate VH–UUZ on its regular services, until a fatal crash occurred in bad weather two miles west of Cordeaux Dam at 8pm on 19 February 1936. It was en-route Young to Sydney, in command of E.J. Small and with four passengers. The Air Accident Investigating Committee subsequently stated in its findings – ‘not attributed in any way to faults in either aircraft or engines.’
This was communicated to WASP to answer a query from the company for insurance purposes – the purchase of another Gannet was urgently needed, and as Tugan Aircraft had another for testing in about a week, with other potential buyers ready to negotiate for it, WASP wanted assurance as to the reason for the crash.
Following on the loss of the actual prototype, aircraft Number Three, with c/n TA54, was taken to be the series prototype for CAB type evaluation, and its first flight was made on 5 March 1936. Changes in this aircraft, registered VH–UVU, included a lengthened cabin, the luggage locker moved one bay rearwards, cabin doors and steps placed on the starboard side, a nose-locker door fitted, improved upholstery and appointments, and altered seating arrangement, with one extra. Additional rudder balance area to overcome the lack of control was still insufficient, but a final increase over VH–UUZ of 5.08 square-feet in fin and rudder area was considered acceptable, and Certificate of Type Approval NO1 was issued on 7 September 1936.
However, its directional stability was insufficient for safe and prolonged blind flying, and small auxiliary kidney-shaped fins (to Jack Jarman’s design, while Wackett was overseas) were added to the tailplane in an effort to correct the deficiency. Ross reported on 19 April 1937 that, although rudder control was then normal, it did not compare with then-modern high-speed aircraft.
On 3 February 1936, A14–1 arrived at Western Junction, near Launceston (Tas), for a 600 square-mile photo-survey and, by 6 May, it was at Cloncurry (Qld) for a similar survey task in Northern Australia, under the command of Flt Lt Anthony George Carr. It was considered at the time to be very suitable for the task, although extra tanks and a new fin and rudder were to be fitted in July. On 24 August, Air Board sent a telegram to Carr at Cloncurry, advising that consideration was being given to the purchase of another Gannet, and requesting an urgent report from him as to the type’s suitability from the aspects of handling, maintenance, and for photographic survey.
Carr’s reply on the same date included the following points and recommendations:-
1) Since incorporation of the modified fin, handling qualities had improved considerably, and the tendency to yaw had almost completely disappeared, although it could still not be flown feet- off because of a tendency to swing right – this might be overcome by off-setting the fin.
2) Rudder control had been improved.
3) Maintenance was ideal, and there had been practically none required on the trip then in progress. The control circuits were dust free.
4) The Gipsy’s were very satisfactory, but were too high for accessibility.
5) There was plenty of comfort for the crew and room for the camera operator, although the camera position needed to be moved further forward to facilitate communication.
6) It was quite suitable for photographic work and, although quite easy to maintain an accurate course and to keep laterally level, it was harder to maintain an accurate height. Until some practice had been acquired with it, it was harder to fly for photography than the Wapiti.
7) Initially the time to 12,000 feet was 35 minutes, but, with the advent of hotter weather and the fitment of the extra fuel tanks, this had increased to 45 minutes, and an extra 100hp was suggested.
8) Electrical wiring was not up to standard, and an engine-driven generator was needed.
9) Air wheels (low pressure wheels and tyres), metal airscrews, electric fuel gauges, and side-by-side dual control were needed, the latter because the arrangement then in use was practically useless.
A letter from the De Havilland Sales Director, Francis St Barbe, to Wackett on 19 June 1936, referred to Wackett’s interest in the Gipsy range of engines, and gave specific details of progress with the supercharged 12-cylinder inverted-V model, then being run with conspicuous success, and giving 550hp for take-off, so perhaps a Super Gannet was then under consideration.