CAC Woomera (A23) Multirole Aircraft / Light Bomber / Reconnaissance / Dive Bomber / Torpedo Bomber
The RAAF order for 105 CAC Woomera bombers was cancelled due to large surpluses of war goods incoming from Britain and the US by 1944.
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The CAC A23 "Woomera" was a short-lived dive bomber/torpedo bomber of Australian design during World War 2. The push of Japanese forces into the Pacific naturally placed the nation of Australia in direct and immediate danger though the country found itself without the internal means to produce for a war time economy. As such, Australia relied heavily on British and American support throughout the war, awaiting deliveries and receiving assistance in setting up a war time infrastructure. However, much of these early war years were spent developing several indigenous military weapons while foreign deliveries were inevitably delayed, tied up by needs of the host country. One such indigenously-design product became the Woomera, a twin-engined bombing platform intended to stock the ranks of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) when initial deliveries of British warplanes were rerouted for other requirements of the Empire.
It was originally expected in 1939 that the Australians would benefit from local production of British Bristol Beauforts. The Beaufort was a conventional bomber designed for the torpedo bombing role, the aircraft appearing in 1939 and being built in 2,129 examples before the end of production. However, progress was slow and the war in Europe took on a rather serious note for the British mainland in the summer of 1940. German airpower was fixed on dismantling Britain through an air war - the Battle of Britain - to prepare the way for a grand invasion of the island through Hitler's Operation Sea Lion. As such, any war-quality material and natural resource was committed to the defense of the island and this left the Australians with little to go on.
About the time the Australian government had elected to purchase the Bristol Beaufort for local production, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) began work on a competing design intended to best the British design and secure the lucrative defense contract therein. CAC put forth a similar-minded two-engine design crewed by three personnel (pilot, bomber/navigator and rear gunner) and developed on a low-monoplane wing assembly. The aircraft was envisioned to double as both the requisite torpedo bomber and as a dive bomber in the traditional sense with perhaps reconnaissance and light bombing as second qualities. As such, the aircraft would have to be quite robust for the rigors of both roles. One of the interesting design elements of this new aircraft was in its sealed wings which served to hold stores of fuel in an effort to make for a lighter aircraft (as opposed to those beginning use of self-sealing fuel tanks). Another facet of the design was its use of nacelle-mounted remote-controlled turret barbettes (each fitting 2 x .303 machine guns) intended to counter rear trailing aircraft (aiming from the rear cockpit position via a periscope). Power was supplied by a pair of Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp R-1830-S3CS radial piston engines - one installation to each wing and produced under a local CAC license. The crew sat under a greenhouse canopy in a centerline arrangement. The aircraft was offensively armed with 4 x .303 caliber machine guns in the nose and could carry drop bombs and torpedoes or a mix of the two. External fuel tanks for extended ranges could also be fielded. The undercarriage consisted of two double-wheeled main landing gear legs and a small single-wheeled tailwheel.
While initial Australian government interest in the CAC design was minimal, the change of events in Europe forced their attention to the new aircraft and a contract of 50,000 pounds was awarded to the concern for development in June of 1940. A mockup was then unveiled later that year. This spawned the CA-4 prototype which went airborne for the first time in September of 1941 with the serial A23-1001. Further testing ensued, proving the CAC product quite sound and consistent with the available Allied designs of the time. The Australian government ordered 105 examples of the promising aircraft in early 1942, interestingly without consulting the RAAF prior. Production was slated for early 1943 while the RAAF received the A23-001 prototype for evaluation throughout 1942. However, the CA-4 prototype was eventually lost to accident - an explosion caused by an onboard fire - in January of 1943.
Design work on a new type commenced and the basic CA-4 served to create the newer CA-11 (A23-1) prototype. The aircraft was similar to the original in most respects though it incorporated an all-new tail unit, a lengthened canopy and a revised rear gunner's station. This version went airborne in June of 1944. The aircraft was once again powered by Pratt & Whitney radial piston engines (originally R-1830 Twin Wasp engines of 1,200 horsepower but then upgraded to R-2000 Twin Wasp engines of 1,300 horsepower) and sported a crew of three. Maximum speed was a reported 282 miles per hour with a range of 2,225 miles. Her service ceiling was 23,500 feet with a 2,090 feet per minute rate-of-climb. Primary armament was slightly revised from the CA-4 prototype and included 2 x .303 caliber machine guns and 2 x 20mm cannons in the nose assembly. The four-gun turret barbettes remained as did their remote-controlled nature. Bomb and torpedo ordnance was all mounted under the wings and under the fuselage - the engine nacelles doubling as bomb bays.
The CA-11 prototype was handed over to the RAAF in November of 1944 but, by this time, war surplus from both Britain and United States were available in quantity for Allied forces thus negating the need for an indigenously designed aircraft. The original government contract for 105 CA-11 aircraft was formally reduced to 20 and then ultimately cancelled outright, bringing an end to the endeavor. For the light bombing/reconnaissance role, the Australian government elected to take on stores of North American P-51 Mustang fighters which could be used in a myriad of battlefield roles. The second prototype went on to experience unwanted press of its own when it was involved in a mid-air engine explosion - killing two of its three crew. The aircraft remains were later recovered and used for scrap.
Design of the Woomera aircraft is credited to Wing Commander L.J. Wackett. The name Woomera itself originates from the Aboriginal throwing stick used for launching spears. This stick allows the spear to travel further and with increased force.