. Commonwealth CA1 Wirraway
Type: Trainer; Light Bomber
Dimensions: wingspan, 43 feet; length, 27 feet, 10 inches; height, 8 feet, 9 inches Weights: empty, 3,992 pounds; gross, 6,595 pounds
Power plant: 1 x 600-horsepower Pratt & Whitney CAC R-1340 Wasp radial engine Performance: maximum speed, 220 miles per hour; ceiling, 23,000 feet; range, 720 miles Armament: 3 x.303-caliber machine guns; 500 pounds of bombs Service dates: 1939-1958
he Wirraway was the first indigenous warplane produced in Australia and the first deployed by the Royal Australian Air Force. Despite severe design limitations, it was heroically employed during the perilous opening months of the Pacific War against Japan.
In 1936 the Australian government encouraged formation of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC). This was undertaken to lessen that country’s dependency on outside sources for aircraft. The following year, CAC entered negotiations with North American Aviation and received permission to construct their BT-9 trainer under license. As such, the new CA 1 was a low-wing monoplane seating two crew members in a long, tandem cockpit. The wing and top fuselage were metal-plated, whereas the lower fuselage and control surfaces were fabric-covered. The Australian version was also outfitted with a larger engine, retractable landing gear, and armament consisting of two fixed machine guns for the pilot, and a single movable weapon for the gunner. Like the BT-9, the new craft, dubbed the Wirraway
(an aboriginal expression for “challenge”), was somewhat slow but handled well. At the onset of the Pacific War the Wirraway equipped several squadrons of Australia’s fledgling air force.
Australia was woefully unprepared for this war, but the existing stocks of CA 1s were pressed into frontline service as an emergency stopgap. With no replacements in sight, Wirraways were employed as dive-bombers, scouts, reconnaissance craft and—on several hair-raising occasions—as interceptors. Bravely manned, CA 1s paid heavily for their obsolescence, but they were a contributing factor in helping to slow and ultimately stop the Japanese drive over New Guinea’s Owen Stanley Mountains. In time, dangerous low-altitude flying above mountain jungles became something of an Australian specialty, and Wirraways spotted, marked, and dive-bombed targets to good effect. Eventually, these war-weary veterans were replaced by more modern aircraft, but several squadrons performed combat operations until 1945. CAC ultimately produced 755 Wirraways, and many of these stalwarts performed training duty until 1958.