Boomerang “Suzie Q”

Matt Denning’s site detailing the restoration of Commonwealth Boomerang “Suzie Q” is no longer available, except via the Wayback Machine. Here’s his page showing the aircraft’s restoration. All of this is presumably copyright Matt Denning, and I’m posting it here for reference purposes only.


Click for enlarged view in separate window01 Boomerang remnants on Ted Hurley’s property near Kulpi, Qld in Jan 1982.
Click for enlarged view in separate window02 Skeletal remains of A46-160. Bones. Just bones.
Click for enlarged view in separate window03 Remains of CA-13 A46-144 (MH-X) at Kulpi 1982. Now with Lionel Long for ground running restoration.
Click for enlarged view in separate window04 Early collection of parts at Mt Gravatt as at August 1977. Forward fuselage frame on right and suspended rear fuselage from A46-122. Other cockpit section with engine mount is the remains of A46-166. All items recovered from the Oakey region in Qld.
Click for enlarged view in separate window05 Cockpit of A46-166 following recovery from Oakey, Aug 77.
Click for enlarged view in separate window07 Many components from A46-166 were used in the restoration of A46-122.
Click for enlarged view in separate window06 The state of A46-122’s fuselage remains just after recovery to Mt Gravatt, Brisbane.
Click for enlarged view in separate window08 State of the project after return from Point Cook, Victoria in July 1980.
Click for enlarged view in separate window09 Forward fuselage section whilst located at South Brisbane TAFE College Aeronautical Section in mid 1980’s. Trial fit of frame to confirm fuel selector rod alignment.
Click for enlarged view in separate window10 Leaving South Brisbane TAFE College Aeronautical Section.
Click for enlarged view in separate window11 During assembly at Coolangatta, June 1989.
Click for enlarged view in separate window12 First time on her landing gear when temporarily assembled for ground display at the Coolangatta pylon air race in June 1989.
Click for enlarged view in separate window13 Boomerang temporarily assembled for 1990 Archerfield Airshow. Norm and Gwen Kelly look over the airframe.
Click for enlarged view in separate window15 Ground test of Boomerang’s CAC license-built R1830 Twin Row Wasp on the Radial Aircraft Engines’s test rig at Archerfield Airport in Sept 1994.
Click for enlarged view in separate window14 At the conclusion of successful test runs of the engine at Archerfield, Sept 1994. From left to right Bob Erickson, Bob Allen, Marty Holloway, Matt Denning.
Click for enlarged view in separate window16 Bare installation of the R1830 engine into the engine mount. Lots of systems to go in from this point on.
Click for enlarged view in separate window17 Systems and fit-out in an advanced state.
Click for enlarged view in separate window18 Basic fuselage assembly prior to installation of wing centre section.
Click for enlarged view in separate window19 Ready to leave the Hendra workshop 29/Jan/2001 bound for the paint shop at 501 Wing, RAAF Base Amberley.
Click for enlarged view in separate window20 On Brambles low-loader about to pass through Gateway Bridge toll plaza, Brisbane on 29/Jan/2001.
Click for enlarged view in separate window21 First fitting of outer wing panels at RAAF Amberley on 29/Jan/2001.
Click for enlarged view in separate window22 Volunteers from 5O1 Wing Surface Finishing Section inspect their handy-work after Boomerang rolled out of RAAF Amberley paintshop Feb 2001.
Click for enlarged view in separate window23 Arrival at Aerotec Toowoomba, 14/Feb/2001.
Click for enlarged view in separate window24 Late afternoon sun settles on Boomerang outside the Aerotec hangar, Toowoomba prior to the first engine runs in airframe, late August 2002.
Click for enlarged view in separate window25 Ready for first in-airframe engine runs in late August/2002.
Click for enlarged view in separate window26 FIRST START of engine in the Boomerang 30/Aug/2002 at Toowoomba Airport.
Click for enlarged view in separate window27 Jan 2003, Toowoomba – Full-power run-up without spinner during ground-run checks.
Click for enlarged view in separate window28 With original nose-art “Suzy-Q” now applied, the aircraft is prepared for weight & balance calculations.
Click for enlarged view in separate window29 Late Jan/2003 – In the Aerotec hangar, Toowoomba Airport. Suzy-Q is up on scales to determine weight & balance requirements.
Click for enlarged view in separate window30 Old meets new … Loading a new database into the Apollo 360 GPS from a PC.
Click for enlarged view in separate window31 Birds of a feather … Boomerangs CA-13 VH-MHR and Lynette Zuccoli’s CA-19 Booomerang VH-BOM (Code letters MH-Y) inside the Aerotec hangar at Toowoomba Airport Feb/2003.
Click for enlarged view in separate window32 Early Feb/2003 – Toowoomba Airport – Only days away from first post-restoration flight.
Click for enlarged view in separate window33 Early Feb/2003 – Toowoomba Airport – Final assembly almost complete.

The following has been adapted from an article by Craig Justo – © Craig Justo 2003 – All rights reserved – Used with permission.

Whilst most fifteen-year old teenagers are consumed with pursuing a good time with friends, Matthew Denning, a young man with a penchant for all things aviation, was embarking on a course of action that would, although unbeknownst to him at that time, have a profound influence on the better part of the next twenty-eight years of his life. It was August 1975 and Matthew had coerced his father, Ray to part with the princely sum of thirty dollars (a fairly substantial amount of money at that time) to acquire a dilapidated tube steel fuselage frame that constituted the remains of a Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) CA-13 Boomerang. Subsequently identified as A46-122 (c/n. 945), the “bones” of this machine had been recovered from the Oakey district in South East Queensland by an avid collector of aircraft artefacts, John Hill.

With the aircraft relocated to his parent’s home at Mt Gravatt in Brisbane, Matthew, with his father’s encouragement and assistance, initially set about restoring the aircraft to static display condition. Given the condition of the airframe, absence of centre-section, wings, engine and ancillary components, this in itself was to be a daunting task. Tempering this was financial constraints yet despite these obstacles, Matthew and Ray focussed on what was achievable at that time. Hence they set about restoring the fuselage (cleaning and painting etc.) and as an adjunct to this activity, collecting any and all bits and pieces applicable to the Boomerang. The latter involved travelling over the vast expanses of Australia’s Eastern seaboard – Charters Towers, Melbourne, Mildura, Port Macquarie, Sydney and Tocumwal being some of the places visited. Whilst each and every one of these trips produced many valuable parts, it was the Oakey district that remained most productive for components that would have otherwise remained unobtainable!

Oakey was one of the main bases for scrapping aircraft at War’s end, and whilst no “mercy” was shown to the full aluminium structures as presented by Kittyhawks, Mustangs and Spitfires, the steel tubular structure of the Boomerang’s fuselage was deemed to be of limited economic value to the scrappers. This afforded a measure of salvation for many of the Boomerang frames which were sold off to local farmers who used them as a source of tubing, nuts and bolts and electrical components. In most cases, once stripped of these assets, the airframes were merely left in the open to rot. Although not realised at that time, somewhat unintentionally, these farmers had been instrumental in preserving an important part of Australia’s aviation history.

Besides those parts that were secured via crash sites and the farming community, Matthew gained the confidence of many of Australia’s leading aircraft restoration identities and their willingness to assist proved invaluable to the project’s advancement. Foremost amongst these was Ron Lee, Dick Hourigan and Malcolm Long, names synonymous with the aircraft preservation movement in Australia and all of whom are highly respected for their commitment to fostering Australia’s military aviation heritage! Their contributions included components, drawings, technical data, expertise and the wealth of knowledge gained through working on their own restoration projects. Additionally, Matthew was able to access the veritable “treasure trove” of surplus aircraft parts that had been amassed by Harry Wallace and Linton Hayres. Time spent searching through their hangar on Moorabbin Airport yielded the required quantities of brand-new BA and BSF nuts and bolts, engine and propeller parts, electrical fittings, hydraulic rams and a plethora of other components that were vital to the project.

As parts and components were collected, they were bead blasted to remove surface corrosion, cadmium plated if steel or in the case of aluminium, primed, painted and then wrapped to protect them against suffering the effects of corrosion once again. This same treatment was afforded to a particularly good rear fuselage frame that was sourced from one of his trips to Tocumwal. By the end of 1982, such was the collection of parts that Matthew’s thoughts were starting to turn toward another direction for the project!

With the enthusiastic support of Greg Batts (who is restoring his own Boomerang – A46-54 to airworthy condition) and Ralph Cusack (better known for his work on the airworthy restoration of DAP Beaufort – A9-141), in 1983 Matthew announced that he had decided to restore “122” to airworthy condition. One of the deciding factors was that except for the airframe, the majority of the work completed to that time had been to airworthy standards. So, some eight years into the project, a 180-degree turnaround in intentions was to fully involve him for the next twenty years of his life.

Restoration of a Boomerang to airworthy condition is no mean feat as although it is recognised as a relatively simple design, there are complexities not found in its contemporaries! Recognising that he was in this for the “long haul”, Matthew adopted a sequential plan for the restoration process which essentially defined individual projects within the project.

The chrome molybdenum airframe was disassembled and the three sections (forward fuselage, rear fuselage and engine mount) were duly X-Rayed. Surprisingly, the tubular structure was found to be in excellent condition, especially the internals that had been protected by a liberal coating of linseed oil applied during its construction. Except for a few sections of tubing that had been damaged through mishandling and thus required replacement, the airframe was found to be in sound order. With welding repairs duly effected, the entire structure was corrosion proofed, painted and reassembled in readiness for a basic fit-out process to begin once again.

Following the “completion” of the airframe, the wing centre-section was scheduled for some serious attention, the scope of which would consume three years of concerted effort. The centre-section, which is of identical dimensions to that of the North American T-6, was actually from a CA-16 Wirraway and although very similar to that which was used in the construction of the Boomerang, subtle differences required numerous modifications to be carried out. Placed within a purpose-built jig at the South Brisbane College of TAFE, Brian Clark and Neil Single began the labourious task of removing rivets and skins, inspecting and repairing the internal structure and fittings where required and then anti-corrosion treating all components. “New” (old stock ex-factory) components incorporated into the rebuild of the centre-section included outer wing attach angles, undercarriage castings, fuel pipes and finally, the skins. The end result was a wing centre-section rebuilt to the original CAC Boomerang specifications.

In 1987, Matthew commenced overhauling the Pratt and Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engine. As this work was limited to his spare time whilst employed at Radial Aircraft Engines, Archerfield, it too became a protracted affair. The engine overhaul was undertaken systematically, starting with a complete strip and clean whereupon all components were subjected to a fastidious NDT inspection process. Reassembly was progressed in sequential order, starting with the front reduction section, followed by the the rear accessories case then the power section (including cylinders). Professional assistance was forthcoming with Marty Holloway, Bob Erickson and Bob Allen contributing their expertise to the overhaul process. Parallelling the work on the engine, the magnetos, starter, generator, fuel pump, propeller governor and vacuum pump were overhauled in readiness to be bolted to the engine. Also, the Hamilton Standard 3E50 counterweight propeller was overhauled during this time and duly completed in 1992. This “bracket” type propeller is a rare commodity; in fact to such a degree that this is the only known example of this model to be fitted to an airworthy aircraft. Seven years after commencing the overhaul, the reassembled “1830” was bolted to the test-rig and on 11 March, 1994, the powerplant burst into life for the first time since overhaul. After the completion of a series of test runs, the engine was inhibited and then stored for installation in the airframe.

With the project now relocated to Ralph Cusack’s fully equipped aircraft restoration facility at Hendra in Brisbane, throughout 1990, Matthew and Greg Batts conducted a search for outer wing components and also began to research the actual wing structures. Matthew’s trade as a design draftsman came to the fore as very few original drawings remained and thus a new set of drawings had to be created. Wing components were sourced from crash sites and other collectors allowing reference measurements to be taken and tracings of skin shapes and rivet patterns to be produced. With all of this information in hand plus one factory blueprint to provide plan view details, Matthew created a complete set of drawings through a CAD computer programme. Such was the accuracy of the finished drawings that rib profiles, rib stations, aerofoil sections, tapers, contours and washout in the outer portion of the wing were identical to the original.

A full decade into the project, the late Guido Zuccoli suggested that a start should be made on the reconstruction of the outer wing panels. Guido and Lynette Zuccoli were already operating their CA-19 Boomerang (VH-BOM) which had been rebuilt in the USA. Having already been of substantial assistance to Matthew’s endeavours, Guido and Lynette contributed further to the project by funding the construction of the jigs, templates and patterns to facilitate the reconstruction of the outer wing panels. Most of the sheet metal work and rivetting on the wing structures was carried out by Brian Clark and Kevin Park with final assembly to exacting tolerances being done in the purpose-built jig. The first set of wings to materialise were ultimately fitted to “BOM” and subsequently, three more sets were reconstructed over a seven-year period – one set each for Matthew, Greg Batts and the other for Kermit Weeks who is progressing the restoration of a CA-13 (A46-165) in the USA. In each case, the reconstructed wings incorporated original Boomerang components within their structures.

The mating of the fuselage and wing centre-section was yet another milestone for the project as besides allowing “122′ to once again stand on its own wheels, work could now commence on the fabrication of the ancillary “tin-work”. This was a specialised task carried out by “metal magicians” Grant Wahrlich and Allan Standfield. Using sandbag and english wheel, they fabricated the complex shaped, double curvature aluminium panels which, amongst many other smaller pieces, included the front cowling ducts, wheel-well fairings, wing fillets, carburettor ducts and tail-fin fillets. At the same time, Cameron Carsley and Clive Abraham fabricated the firewall, horizontal stabilisers, front cowling ring, wing tips and the majority of the fuselage panels. Kerry Gavan, another “tin-worker” who had previously been heavily involved in the restoration of the RAAF Museum’s Supermarine Walrus, joined the team and amongst other tasks, assisted with the completion of the wing centre-section.

The fuselage outer covering shell was next in line to address and in a sense of deja vu, the same situation as presented by the outer wing panels prevailed! Drawings detailing the fuselage’s monocoque all-timber structure were limited and once again, access to the Cad computer programme allowed Matthew to recreate these to a high degree of accuracy. With the drawings completed, work could commence on building the airframe covering shell which comprises timber formers and stringers with a thin layer of plywood bonded to the skeletal structure. Timber craftsmen, Ken Baird and Ron O’Neill undertook this part of the project with Barry Manktelow applying the fabric covering to complete the shell. Besides undertaking the fabric and doping work on all of the flying control surfaces, Barry also carried out welding repairs to the various steel control rods and brackets.

As the rebuilt components became available, they were fitted to the airframe which in turn allowed the installation of systems hardware and the associated piping and wiring. It also provided a visual reference of progress on the project which then presented an opportunity to pursue Government and Corporate assistance. The year 2000 was to be a “watershed” for the project as it received a substantial financial boost from the Queensland Government following the approval of a grant under the terms of the Centenary of Federation Community Assistance Programme. As importantly, this “windfall” was soon to be complimented by assistance from business organisations in the private sector.

By the end of January 2001, “122” was assembled to such a degree that it was ready to be moved to RAAF Base, Amberley where volunteers from the RAAF’s No. 501 Wing Surface Finishing Section would assume responsibility for the painting of the exterior. Dulux Australia donated all of the paint that was required to complete the external surface finishing and just two weeks after its arrival at Amberley, “122” was rolled out in the exact same livery as worn during its service life with No.83 Squadron. “122” was now ready to be relocated to the AEROTEC QUEENSLAND facility on Toowoomba Airport where the final fit-out, systems checks and completion inspections would be carried out. Once again, Lynette Zuccoli was at the forefront of providing assistance with the project and this extended through hangarage, engineering, technical and moral support.

Although at that time, one might have gained an impression that the first post restoration flight was only a few months away, such was not the case as once again Matthew’s time was severely limited due to work commitments. In fact it would be a full two years before the Boomerang would slip the surly bonds of earth under its own power. During its time spent with No.83 Squadron, “122” was coded “MH-R”. Acknowledging the relevance of that alphabetic code, Matthew reserved VH-MHR since 1983 and, on 11 November 2001, this registration mark was entered into the Australian Civil Register for his Boomerang.

Great lengths were taken to maintain authenticity and originality. Tenix, Australia’s largest locally-owned defence and technology contractor, kindly supplied a comprehensive avionics suite which included GPS, Transceiver, Transponder and attendant aerials as well as much of the electrical cabling and terminals. Now in the closing throes of its restoration to airworthy condition, in January 2003, a series of engine runs were conducted following which, “MHR” was taxied around under its own power to facilitate brake and control systems checks. Everything functioned as it should and Allen Parsons was engaged to conduct the weight and balance checks to ascertain the C of G data. This was closely followed by the dual inspection process and, with the obligatory paperwork now exceeding the weight of the aircraft, on 14 February, “MHR” was issued with a Certificate of Airworthiness under the guidance of CASA-approved inspector, Bill Edwards.

Copyright © M.Denning 2003 – All rights reserved