The CAC Wirraway ("Challenge" in the Woiwurrung native tongue) became one of Australia's primary trainer aircraft from 1939 onwards until being replaced by the CAC Winjeel in 1955. The type proved versatile enough to fulfill a number of roles including that of emergency fighter, dive bomber, trainer and reconnaissance aircraft, making her a true multirole, multi-faceted airframe. By the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, seven squadrons of the Royal Australian Air Force were fielding Wirraways in their inventories.
In 1936, Australia sent three of her air force officers out of the country to find a suitable modern aircraft for localized license production. Lacking a respectable war-production infrastructure by the time of World War 2 and an ever-increasing Japanese presence throughout the Pacific, the Australians quickly settled on a pair of North American Aviation NA-16 trainers for evaluation and subsequent production as multirole platforms to fulfill a variety of needs. The North American NA-16 was the company's first true trainer aircraft and one that would ultimately be produced in an eye opening 17,000 examples by the end of her tenure.
The two examples were purchased from North American Aviation and became NA-16-1A (with fixed undercarriage) and NA-16-2K (retractable undercarriage) serving as the Australian program's prototypes. The NA-16-2K was eventually selected as the principle production model with a few subtle changes in design, these including a reinforced sub-structure consistent with the rigors of the bombing role and improved offensive/defensive capabilities by the inclusion of 2 x 7.7mm machine guns as opposed to the NA-16's sole gun. Production of the initial aircraft, designated in the Australian inventory as the "CA-1 Wirraway", was handled out of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) facility at Fisherman's Bend in Victoria. First flight of the Australian system was recorded on March 27th, 1939 and production followed. Like the airframe, the selected powerplant was also American in origin - essentially the license produced Australian version of the Pratt & Whitney R1340 Wasp radial piston engine. From 1939 to 1946, some 755 Wirraways were ultimately delivered from the CAC facility into service with the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Australian Navy.
The Wirraway was fitted with the aforementioned Pratt & Whitney R-1340 series, 9-cylinder, supercharged, air-cooled radial piston engine producing 600 horsepower and mated to a three-blade Hamilton Standard Constant speed propeller. Top speed was roughly 220 miles per hour with a cruise speed of just 155 miles per hour. Fuel was limited to 116-US gallons in wing fuel tanks with a pair of 11-US gallon reserve fuel tanks. Dimensionally, the aircraft sported a wingspan of 43-feet even with a length of 27 feet, 10 inches. Her height was 8 feet, 8 3/4 inches. When empty, the Wirraway displaced at 3,992 lbs and 6,595lbs for a maximum take-off weight.
The Wirraway was produced in seven major marks beginning with the CA-1 of which 40 were produced. The CA-3 was wholly similar to the CA-1, just assigned a different designation due to the nature of the Australian government production contract. This mark numbered 60 examples in all. In fact, the CA-5, CA-7, CA-8 and CA-9 were all also similar in scope to the original CA-1. The CA-5 was produced in a further 32 examples. The CA-7, CA-8 and CA-9 marks were produced in totals numbering 100, 200 and 188 examples respectively. The CA-10A was an uncompleted bomber proposal, fitted with dive bomber wings but the CA-3, CA-5, CA-7 and CA-9 models were ultimately modified with such wings to become the CA-20 mark. CA-16, the last production Wirraway, was built to the tune of 135 examples before the last rolled off of the Commonwealth assembly lines and these represented the largest modification since the inception of the CA-1. The CA-16 fitted a pair of dive brakes and carried a larger bombload for dive bombing sorties, in many ways making her the "definitive" breed of the family line.
Naturally, Australia maintained the largest collection of Wirraways in the world and these served with the Australian Air Force squadrons of No.4, No.5, No.12, No.21, No.22, No.23, No.24 and No.25. The Australian Navy Fleet Air Arm utilized the type with squadrons No.723 and No.724. The United Kingdom's Royal Air Force fielded one squadron (Y Squadron) of Wirraways in Malaya from 1941 to 1942, this being formerly the No.21 Squadron of the RAAF. The United States operated the Wirraway in severely limited numbers and only for a brief time with its HQ Flight as part of the 5th Air Force.
The first direct combat action for the Wirraway of the RAAF against Japanese forces occurred on January 6th, 1942 when No.24 Squadron Wirraways were sent to intercept several Japanese floatplanes near New Britain. Of the entire flight, however, only one was able to engage enemy aircraft and this with no confirmed kills. A few weeks later, Wirraways from the same squadron were back in action against Japanese fighters in bombers during the defense of Rabaul, the Wirraways, however, suffering heavy losses. Only the downing of one Japanese aircraft was ever formally attributed to the guns of any Wirraway pilot, this - suprisingly - a Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter. Additional actions placed Wirraways over the skies of New Guinea but these were primarily used as ground attack platforms in support of ground forces in the region. The Wirraway continued in this respect until Curtiss P-40 Warhawks could be delivered in sufficient numbers from America and CAC itself could bring online its more impressive "Boomerang" dedicated fighter platform.
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Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) - Australia Manufacturer(s)
Australia; New Zealand; United Kingdom; United States Operators
CA-1 - Initial Production Model based on the North American NA-16-2K; 40 examples produced.
CA-3 - Second Production Model; 60 examples produced; subtle changes yet still largely similar to CA-1 model.
CA-5 - Based on the CA-3 production model; 32 examples produced.
CA-7 - Based on the CA-3 production model; 100 examples produced.
CA-8 - Based on the CA-3 production model; 200 examples produced.
CA-9 - Based on the CA-3 production model; 188 examples produced.
CA-10A - Proposed dive bomber variant; to be fitted with revised wing assemblies containing dive brakes; never completed.
CA-16 - Final Wirraway Production Model; fitted with revised wing assemblies for larger bombloads; dive brakes installed for dive bombing; 135 examples produced.
CA-20 - Modified CA-3, CA-5, CA-7 and CA-9 production models with dive bomber wings for the Royal Australian Navy.
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High-angled front right side view of the CAC Wirraway in flight
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