RAAF A56 Republic P-43 Lancer
|RAAF service for the
Lancer started on the 31st August 1942 when a
total of four P-43Bs and two P-43Ds were delivered to 1
Aircraft Depot at RAAF Laverton Victoria from the USA
during the previous week, by sea. These had left the
United States just over a month previously and had only
just arrived in Australia, crated. Two further P-43Ds
(41-6718 & 41-6685) were issued from USAAF stocks
during the second week of November 1942 to become A56-7
and A56-8 respectively. These two had been shipped out
with the previously mentioned six, but had in the interim
been used by an un-identified 5th Air Force
Unit for appraisal.
The first quartet of RAAF P-43Ds in Australia was modified at RAAF Base Laverton by removing the camera blisters. The second RAAF quartet, all P-43Bs, arrived with the standard two lower K-24 camera fittings. USAAF Serials 41-31494, 31495, 31497 & 31500 being allocated A56-5, 3, 4 & 6 respectively.
As the availability of Lockheed F-4 reconnaissance Lightnings increased by October 1942, the surviving USAAF P-43s in the USA were re-designated RP-43, the R standing for "restricted from combat use". It must be noted that some of the USAAF Cards for RAAF P-43Ds were noted as such before they arrived.
No.1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit was formed at RAAF Laverton, Victoria, on the 8th June 1942. The unit was under command of Sqn Ldr L L Law Ser#144 and had, by the end of June 1942, six unmodified Buffaloes on strength.
In the following month, the unit suffered its first casualty when Flt Lt R H H Winter was killed in the crash of A51-2 on the 8th July 1942 at Tallabrook, Victoria. By the end of the month, no Buffaloes had been modified. The unit was now down to four Buffaloes (the fifth was away at 1AD being modified to PRU standard) and one Wirraway (A20-599).
On the 12th August 1942, the unit was ordered to Hughes Strip in the Northern Territory where they arrived on the 19th August 1942. However on the 23rd August 1942 the Japanese bombed the strip, resulting in the loss of Buffalo A51-6 and their sole Wirraway.
The unit commenced their training in the North Western Area and had their camera fit reduced from three to just one. The unit at the end of August had on strength only three Buffaloes, A51-1, 3, and 5.
During the following month, training continued while the unit waited for its Lancers to be modified. On the 25th September 1942, another Buffalo (A51-5) and pilot were lost in an accident. Sgt J Austin Ser#404699 was killed at Derby, Western Australia, when the aircraft crashed and burned. This left the Unit with only one serviceable Buffalo (A51-1) and another waiting for spares (A51-3). This serviceability level was to continue till to the end of October 1942.
On the 30th October 1942, the first two Lockheed F-4 Lightnings (A55-1 and 2) arrived at Hughes Strip while four Officers had been sent back to Laverton to complete their training on Lancers. The P-43B/Ds were still being modified at RAAF Laverton.
Modifying the P-43B/D for RAAF Service
When the aircraft were assembled and test flown at Laverton, further tests were then started to determine the endurance and performance of the Lancers. The F-4 had an endurance of five and half-hours, whereas the P-43 had only two and half-hours, therefore a request to the Air Board was sent requesting action to remedy this problem as this would impact on the range they would need to operate in the forward area.
Information and technical data was sourced from the USAAF and Republic Aircraft Company in the USA. Data provided indicated that suitable power settings would result in the range being increased to nearly 3.17 hours or 1100 miles range.
The RAAF was not convinced, therefore the Special Duties and Performance Flight at RAAF Laverton was given the task to accurately measure the performance. CAC were asked to strip a wing for inspection and to provide possible input on wing pylon design. Numerous technical hurdles had to be successfully challenged, from sourcing technical drawings for the manufacture of wing pylons (used for bombs) from the USA to wing fuel line installations and flight testing of Australian designed and manufactured droppable fuel tanks.
The design was settled on modifying existing Republic Aircraft Company drawings on the conversion of making the P-43 into a fighter-bomber. Depending on the Serial of the aircraft, production aircraft had been reinforced at T139 rib and spar to incorporate these wing attachments.
By nature of their production line number, the only four RAAF P-43s to be modified for the carrying of long range drop tanks were A56-1, 2, 7 and 8. All were infact P-43D models.
The design was engineered to carry either a 250lb bomb or a 40-gallon drop tank, however that size tank when tested in the USA was found to cause too much buffeting, so Republic considered the production of a smaller 25-gallon tank. Since these tanks had never been manufactured, the RAAF set about designing and manufacturing their own 30-gallon tanks instead, which they calculated would give them the desirable range.
By the 9th October 1942 the pylon drawings had arrived by special courier to the engineering staff at 1AD. It was early 4th November1942 before the first aircraft, A56-7, was completed with wing pylon attachments sans fuel lines.
The first flight trials of 250lb bombs on the 9th November 1942 were unsatisfactory due to the bombs fouling the underwing surface. More tests followed, and by the 20th November 1942, tests with wing tanks and bombs were carried out with rectification modifications.
On the 26th November 1942, three P-43Bs (A56-3, 4 and 5) were sent on to the forward echelon of 1 PRU at Hughes Strip. This was to be the first deployment of the type.
F/O Bond was delayed at Oodnadatta, South Australia, with brake problems.
This would be the bane of the type throughout the service of these aircraft. Another, A56-6, being used for bomb carriage trials, was damaged severely on landing at Laverton on the 9th December 1942, injuring the pilot, P/O J D McLeod of 1 PRU. The pilot unlocked his tail wheel and on application of brakes, the aircraft ground-looped to starboard.
Another P-43B, A56-5, was damaged at Coomalie Creek, Northern Territory on the 14th December 1942, when the brakes went spongy resulting in the aircraft making a right turn off the strip and mounting the drainage ditch parallel to the strip. The pilot was Flt Lt H M Angwin.
Due to the reduced availability of Buffaloes at 1 PRU, all three remaining P-43Ds were modified by the 18th December 1942 in an emergency action for the carriage of 250lb bombs or long-range tanks. All four P-43Ds had fuel pump/fuel line modifications and additional oil reservoir and auxiliary pump required by the longer airborne engine running time.
It was not until the 21st January 1943 that the first successful flight of the first prototype sets of long range fuel tanks (24 LR tanks were ordered from Peerless Metal Company of Melbourne) was made by A56-7, following the successful modification of the wing pylon fairing. However on the 31st January the prototype tanks were written off and the aircraft (A56-7 piloted by Flt D R Cummings) was damaged on landing at Laverton when the left-hand gear collapsed, resulting in a serious ground loop.
The first allocation of the longer-ranging P-43D to 1 PRU was A56-1 on the 4th February 1943, but by the 9th February 1943, the project was faltering as the production fuel tanks were not sealing properly.
Additional wing fittings, fuel lines and auxiliary pumps were ordered as field kits for the installation to the other three surviving P-43Bs (A56-3, 4 and 5) situated at Hughes Strip. On the 23rd March 1943, A56-3 piloted by Flt Lt S Jones, landed and skidded resulting in the aircraft resting on its nose at Coomalie Creek.
A56-1, still unmodified at 1 AD Laverton on the 25th March 1943, taxied into Avro Anson AW963 of 67 Sqn RAAF and was damaged. The aircraft, piloted by P/O A W Green Ser#406393 was taxying out for take-off.
In what was to be deemed as an aviation mystery for some fifteen years, A56-7 of 1PRU disappeared on 29th April 1943. It was not discovered until 1958, crashed in thick forest on the side of Gordon Gully near Healesville in Victoria. The pilot was again P/O A W Green Ser#406393 of 1 PRU Rear Echelon based at Laverton.
As with the number of aircraft available for operations now dwindling, all remaining project work ceased and the aircraft were withdrawn from 1 PRU operations early May 1943.
A56-4 was allocated for storage at 1 AD on the 12th May 1943 and flown out by Flt Lt A S Jones on the 22nd May 1943 to Laverton. A56-3, which had been languishing at 14 ARD since its accident on the 23rd March 1943, was sent to 1AD by Land/Sea transportation.
There ended the operational career in the RAAF for the P-43. Within months the survivors were handed back to the USAAF where some returned to the United States only to be scrapped.
Surprisingly, the aircraft that they were to replace continued in service for another month until the last serviceable Buffalo, A51-3, was issued to 24 Sqn RAAF where it arrived on the 13th June 1943.
The Authors of this page are Darren Crick and Brendan Cowan with introduction text from Gordon Birkett
Source: http://www.airforce.gov.au/raafmuseum, USAF AHRA Aircraft Cards and Records for FY41 aircraft, NAA:RAAF Command Headquarters - Lancer aircraft - A56 Item barcode 3081561,RAAF Unit History sheets (Form A50) for No 1 Aircraft Depot and 1 PRU/87Sqn, RAAF Forms E/E.88, http://www.adf-serials.com.au/newsletter/news0704.shtml , http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_fighters/p43.html ,
Emails: Gordon Birkett, Brendan Cowan, Phil Listemann, Martin Edwards,
Updated 19 June 2016
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