Ditched Designs Between the Wars
For every aircraft type which enters production, there are many design proposals which are not developed to the production stage. There are many reasons for this, as will be evident to all those associated with the industry. Aviation historian Keith Meggs explains.
A design team works in a competitive market, whether in the military or civil field, and for this reason should try to keep ahead, or at least abreast, of current developments in all associated fields, through constant perusal of the latest magazines, journals, reports, and information from all available sources.
To cater for any demand which may arise or to meet a potential customer’s requirements, new and up-to-date projects are continually being evolved, some no further than a general-arrangement drawing, and a weight and performance estimate. Others reach the stage of detailed drawings, sample-structure tests, tunnel models, and full-scale mock-ups, before being shelved for lack of a buyer, or a change in requirements.
Many of these interesting and varied projects are developments of a basic type which has been in production, while others are design studies for completely new aircraft. It is perhaps a pity that more of these did not see the light of day, but suffered the same fate as the British Avro Atlantic and Saro SR 177, to name just two.
One factor which probably has had considerable influence on the lack of fruit on the Australian design tree is the small potential market, which normally cannot provide enough orders to cover development costs. Export orders have never been forthcoming for Australian types, excepting such aircraft as the DH Tiger Moth and DHA Drover, and later the Victa Airtourer, Transavia Airtruk, and GAF Nomad, (although the pre-war intention was to supply DAP Beauforts to the RAF), and even attempts to promote sales of CAC Mustangs, DH Vampires, GAF Canberras, and CAC Avon-Sabres to neighbouring countries have never been successful.
A study of the proposals from the industry will show that Australia was not merely concerned with producing overseas types, but had a healthy design outlook, capable of meeting any requirements, to world standard.
However, it became a fact of life that the facilities available in Australia would not permit the ultimate development of the more sophisticated types of aircraft in a time span which would permit them to compete against their overseas contemporaries, unless there was a pooling of effort such as that now being done in England and Europe. In later years there were at least three proposals put forward for jointly-developed military aircraft, but to no avail, with two of them reaching an advanced stage before Australian Government cancellation.
Aerial Commerce Co - Klemm
Hermann Christian Ittershagen, a German-born resident of Perth, held the post of German Consul in West Australia in the between-war years, and was well known for his cane-furniture business in Subiaco, a Perth suburb. He was also managing director of Crude Oil Tractors Ltd, agents for the German Lanz tractors, and, in April 1929, decided to purchase a light aircraft to transport spares and mechanics to centres where the tractors were operating. The aircraft chosen was the Klemm L25 with a 40hp Salmson engine, and the first example imported was registered VH––ULU on 22 August 1929.
At the same time, 66 acres of land, leased for 20 years from the Perth University, was cleared, and became the West Subiaco aerodrome. At his own expense, and at a cost of some £2,500, a hangar to hold six aircraft was built, and power machinery for airframe and engine repair was installed.
By September 1929, the idea of opening a flying school had begun to take shape, and Ittershagen intended to learn to fly himself. By May 1930, two students had reached A-Licence standard, under the instruction of Harry Baker, and expansion was such that Les Kewell came from Brisbane to become a combination ground engineer and instructor. The Brookland School of Aeronautics and the Klemm Seaplane Station were formed, and VH–ULU was operated on floats at Nedlands Waters. It had previously been flown in the September 1929 East-West Air Race by Baker, who flew the Perth-Sydney and return trip of 4,800 miles, and made good a flying time of 36 hours for the homeward trip, but was disqualified from the race for failing to clock in at Adelaide. A second Klemm type and a Simmonds Spartan were also purchased and were later joined by at least one Gipsy Moth.
In July 1932, Ittershagen advised the Minister for Defence that a new Klemm had been almost entirely built in their own repair shop. A fuselage had been built in the previous year and a wing was due for completion within a few weeks. This was something which he claimed had never before been done in Australia, and he proposed to build aeroplanes in quantity as soon as Government policy permitted. At that time, the club was worried about the opposition from the Government subsidised Aero Club of West Australia, and West Australian Airways, whose considerably-lower rates were drawing away members. If things continued as they were, he thought that the aerodrome would have to be closed, after £6,000 had been spent on its development. On 1 September 1932, the West Australian Flying Club was formed, and took over as a completely separate organisation.
In February 1934, Ittershagen and Captain Duncan Stewart, AFC, trading as the Aerial Commerce Co, Australian agents for Klemm aircraft, wrote to the Minister for Defence, Sir George Pearce, and advised that they had been offered manufacturing rights for Klemm aircraft, requesting Government support for the project. A reply on 23 February pointed out many difficulties, but as the Government was anxious to encourage manufacture, specific details of the assistance required was sought.
Further correspondence ensued through 1934, but no concrete proposals were put forward by Ittershagen except his intention to follow production of the two- and four-seater Swallow and Eagle with all-metal twin-engine aircraft, seating up to 20 passengers and probably powered with Diesel engines. In suggesting such a program in June 1934, he put the following to the Minister:-
‘‘To enable me to develop such a plan I should like to know if you could offer 15% assistance on the retail price of a machine which has been passed as airworthy and sold in Australia. Further I should like to know if we do construct machines here giving satisfaction to your Department, whether we can be assured of receiving orders from the Defence Department. Would the aircraft Industry be protected by a tariff and an assurance given that locally made places [sic] be given a preference by the Defence Department, provided they are first class. The industry would become self-supporting in time to come. While still in its infancy, the aircraft industry cannot develop on first class lines, without experienced hands first class apparatus, and the aim to train a young staff for the future. The University of W.A. intends opening a department in aeronautics which would be a great assistance to the practical work in building aircraft of a high standard.
It means simply this, whether the whole industry is on large or small line, we must keep the future in front of us and look ahead 10 years and see what the requirements will be. An aviation industry of that kind cannot be built up in a year to two on correct and lasting lines. Everything must be done absolutely thoroughly with all assistance science can give.
This will give you a rough outline on what I wish to do, and I shall be only too pleased to give you further details.’’
The subject was revived again in February 1936 when Ittershagen wrote to the CCA for assistance. He stated that he had reconstructed a Klemm some years ago, building a new wing for it, and had the equipment and building to do such work. If production was approved he planned to import key German workers, but was told that they would have to pass Australian ground-engineer examinations before they would be acceptable to CAB.
Ittershagen notified the German Klemm Co of the decision (the 1934 dealings had been with the English Klemm company), and was to pass its decision to CAB. However, nothing more is known of the matter, there being no apparent outcome of the negotiations. Ittershagen died in approximately June 1940.
The Klemm L25 and the B.K. Swallow were open-cockpit two-seat low-wing monoplanes with 40hp Salmson AD9 or Pobjoy Cataract III engines, while the B.K. Eagle was an enclosed four- seat low-wing monoplane, with a retractable undercarriage and a 130hp DH Gipsy Major. The Swallow was a licence-built L25 and the Eagle was a company design with some resemblance only to the Klemm L32.
Examples of both types were still flying in Australia as VH–AAB, –UUM, and –UUR (Swallow and L25), and as VH–ACN, –UUY, and –UTI (Eagle) in the 1960s.
NEA – Sikorsky Flying Boats
When New England Airways was formed at Lismore (NSW) on 1 January 1931, the intention was eventually to build aircraft as well as to operate the flying and maintenance side of the business.
A requirement was drawn up for a twin-engined aircraft to carry six passengers at one third of the operating cost of the Avro Ten’’s then being used daily by the company on the Sydney-Brisbane route. Wg Cdr L.J. Wackett designed the Codock to suit the specifications, but NEA in the event did not order it – however, as a contender for the planned Australian section of the Empire airmail route, NEA and Kingsford-Smith submitted a joint tender in January 1933 to operate from Brisbane to Darwin with the Avro Ten’s, of which the airline had three. If the tender had been accepted, the Codock, which was considered by ‘Smithy’ to be the ultimate type for the service, even through to Singapore, would have been built at Mascot.
Confirmation of the intention was announced by Managing Director George A. Robinson on 25 July 1933, with a statement that on 1 September Wackett would join the NEA staff as Engineering Manager, with design and production of new aircraft as a responsibility. At that time a hangar was being erected at Mascot for the company.
To operate a regular Sydney-Auckland service, Kingsford-Smith and P.G. Taylor formed the Trans-Tasman Air Service Development Company on 25 June 1935, and discussions were held in the United States and England regarding backing and the procurement of suitable aircraft. In England, the British Pacific Trust, already backing the formation of Airlines of Australia (nee NEA), was also involved with British Marine Aircraft Ltd, which had the right to build Sikorsky flying boats, and backing was offered for the Australian scheme if two such aircraft were bought.
Just a few weeks later, the possibility of using the Sikorsky boats was mentioned, and even the manufacture of them in Sydney, although no detail regarding arrangements has been found, and nothing eventuated from it.
At that time the likely choice would have been the ten-passenger twin-engined Sikorsky S41–A, in operation with Pan-American Airways since September 1930, although the prototype 18 passenger twin-engined S43 had made its first flight at Long Island (NY) on 1 June 1935.
In that same month, on the 25th, NEA had bought the Melbourne-based LASCo organisation, and, during September, Airlines of Australia came into being, to incorporate NEA. An announcement was then made regarding the use of the Coode Island factory for the assembly of Monospar ST18’s and for the manufacture of Sikorsky flying boats for proposed services.
During 1936-37, further statements were made regarding flying-boat manufacture, and by that time the S43 was also operating with Pan American, which acquired 12 of them. Both types were amphibious.
Whether there was any consideration given to the four-engined S40 and S42 models in unknown, but there may have been sufficient ambition to consider them, in particular after publicity given to the latter. They were both in use by Pan-American Airways, and the second S42 had made a proving flight from San Francisco to Honolulu on 17 April 1935, and another of the type made one to New Zealand in April 1937.
A completely new method of manufacture would have been involved of course, but that was then a world-wide requirement, and may well have been given due consideration for Australian development, particularly by those who had at least made sets of seaplane floats and speedboat hulls.
Could Wackett, and the Boards of AoA and Tugan Aircraft, have been so forward-thinking, so ambitious, and so confident of company expertise and potential, to consider building the S42, perhaps with major components imported from Sikorsky?
What appears to be a get-rich-quick scheme which, as far as is known, did not get coverage in any of the contemporary aviation magazines, was promoted in a car journal on 1 July 1931. It invited subscriptions to Austin’s Limited, Aircraft Engineers, of Mayne Junction, Brisbane, to promote the construction of the Austin Panther three-passenger biplane, which had been designed to suit Australian conditions, although there were no details of its origin – detailed specifications had been completed for it.
Managing Director was Geoffrey F. Austin, and the Prospectus stated that the company was in production of components, propellers, wing sections, spares, and patterns, etc, for which there was a market throughout the Commonwealth. Negotiations with British aircraft manufacturers for licence production and for the Australian and New Zealand distribution rights had been entered into, and the manufacture of engine parts for both aircraft and car engines was to start at an early date.
A profile illustration of the aircraft was provided on the Prospectus, with the registration HV–AUX [sic], but it only managed to reinforce the fact that those involved had very little knowledge of aircraft, or of their portrayal artistically.
From its peculiar propeller (‘‘an Austin airscrew to a particular design, giving maximum thrust —’’), through its very-wide-chord monoplane high-wing (30% of the aircraft’s length), with its main undercarriage legs apparently attached only to the lower longerons, well removed from the main spars), and a vertical tailwheel strut, the impression was that the illustrator and the company principals were just amateurs.
Needless to say, nothing further has come to light on the promotion.
NEA – Boeing 247D, Stinson Model A and Monospar
New England Airways Managing Director George Robinson was in London on 7 July 1934 when it was announced that the controlling interest in his company had been acquired by British Pacific Trust Ltd (BPT), which had plans for considerably expanded services in Australia. NEA was to continue operating, with more sophisticated equipment, and a night service each way between Melbourne and Sydney, and on to Brisbane, was the first stage of the expansion.
Robinson inspected the available English designs, including the Monospar line, being built by another BPT subsidiary, General Aircraft Ltd. He then returned to the USA, through which he had passed en-route to England. On the first occasion, he had been shown through the Vultee, Stinson, Douglas, and Lockheed factories and was very impressed with the Stinson A, the DC–2, and the Lockheed 10. He also flew in a Boeing 247D, and found in England that there was nothing to compare, nor even in prospect. On his return, he pursued his examination of them, but returned to Australia knowing of the illogical and stifling ban by the Australian Government on the importation of any but British aircraft, but with much to consider about the American system of airline operation.
Back in Sydney on 13 August, he announced that British aircraft were not suitable for the night services planned, and that the company was accordingly looking forward to reaching the manufacturing stage of the selected American type, following the first stage of part-manufacture and assembly. While no type was mentioned, he had discussed the acquisition of manufacturing rights while in the USA, to circumvent the embargo, and the five aircraft required were to be of either a twin- or three-engined type. Although he made no direct reference to the –247D, apart from the twin- engined reference, a CAB signal to London included the fact that the Boeing was being considered for manufacture by NEA.
Two weeks previously the A/CCA, Edgar Johnston, had met NEA Manager/Chief Engineer L.J. Wackett in Sydney, and was told that the expanded company was to be called Greater New England Airways. Wackett also named the Stinson A, which would be imported via England to secure ICAN certification, if the customs ban was still in force, or alternatively it would be built in Australia.
As a stop-gap measure, NEA ordered three 3-passenger Monospar STI2’s, to operate on feederline services into Brisbane and Sydney to supplement the Avro Ten’s, but following the Centenary Air Race, Robinson tried to buy the KLM DC–2 ‘Uiver’, without success, and to have the type built under licence in England for his company.
An Australian principal of BPT, Mr H.C. Armstrong, arrived back in Australia later in 1934, with £100,000 to spend on new aircraft for NEA, and, on 22 February 1935, he and one of the Australian Directors called on the Minister for Defence (Archdale Parkhill) to discuss the company’s objects and proposals to enter the aircraft-manufacturing field. The possibility of Government orders was questioned, but the Minister of course could give no undertaking and, if there were a requirement, it would have to be on a competitive basis with such as Cockatoo Dockyard and other existing organisations.
A four-page letter was sent to Parkhill by Armstrong on 2 March 1935, detailing cables from England in which he was asked to seek Government assurances regarding services, in return for the development of a manufacturing industry, and also for Government orders for aircraft from the plant laid down. As the company’s proposal called for the first regular scheduled night and IFR operations in Australia (as distinct from the previous forays into D/R cloud flying by such as ANA, QAN, and NEA), it pointed out the defence value of such operation, and the expertise to be built up by the pilots employed regularly on such all-weather night and day long-distance flying. Services would eventually stretch from Townsville to Adelaide, with numerous feeder services as required.
Two weeks’ later Gordon Berg, as CAE, passed a written opinion within the Department regarding the preference aspect of BPT’s proposed entry into local aircraft production. His opinion was to the effect that there was at least one company making a serious attempt at the manufacture of aircraft without subsidy or tariff protection, and that there was every indication that it could produce aircraft to compare with any from overseas. Any Government financial assistance should be considered for such as Tugan Aircraft, before any assurances to such as BPT.
On that day also, Armstrong advised Parkhill that specifications for the new 10-passenger Monospar had been received. It had full blind-flying equipment, cruised at 180mph, and was capable of putting Australian aviation on a par with the rest of the world. With the smaller Monospars en- route, a number of the larger ones (ST18) were to be ordered – it was later announced in England that five had been ordered for use in Australia. Two of the ST12’s arrived by sea in May 1935.
In the event, the only ST18 built, was first flown at Hanworth, Middlesex, on 18 November 1935 and, on 30 July 1936, it left on a demonstration flight to Australia, with Lord Sempill on board. It arrived at Essendon on 22 September, (although Sempill had returned to England because of a hold-up caused by damage incurred at Karachi) and four days later it won THE HERALD Cup for fastest time in an Aerial Derby at Essendon. After leaving Darwin on 7 October it was forced to land on Seringapatam Reef in the Timor Sea, almost out of fuel, and had to be abandoned.
As it had previously become obvious that the Monospar order could not be fulfilled for AoA, and the embargo on American aircraft had by then been lifted, Robinson had ordered three of the Stinson Model A, and the first arrived in Sydney by sea on 28 March 1936. Following the loss of the Monospar, another Stinson was ordered, and the four were operated as VH–UGG, –UHH, –UKK, and –UYY.