Before deciding which design to build locally as the Wirraway, CAC were asked by the Air Board to import two different prototypes from North American Aviation (NAA) for evaluation in a “fly-off”.
Here’s a quick summary:
The first aircraft imported was the NA-16-1A (also known by its NAA accounting code, NA-32), a fixed-gear trainer with a direct-drive Pratt & Whitney Wasp R-1340 driving a two-bladed propeller. The newspapers of the day commonly referred to it as the “NA-16” (however this was a little misleading, since the NA-16 was actually a different aircraft, but they didn’t really understand that, and the name stuck in popular usage).
The second aircraft imported was the NA-16-2K (NAA accounting code NA-33), a retractable-gear trainer with a geared Pratt & Whitney Wasp R-1340 driving a 3-bladed prop. It was commonly known as the “NA-33”.
The drawing below shows these two aircraft compared with the Mk I Wirraway.
The RAAF held a “fly-off” between the two aircraft and decided that the NA-16-2K was a more capable aircraft.
Therefore the Wirraway was based on the NA-16-2K, but with numerous modifications added to meet RAAF requirements.
A recent discussion on the “Friends of the Wirraway” group on Facebook required some sleuthing to identify where and when a photo of 3 Wirraways (shown below) was taken.
The photo appears on page 23 of Stuart Wilson’s book ‘Wirraway, Boomerang & CA-15 In Australian Service’ but his caption merely reads “A flight of three Wirraways (A20-78, 82 and 101) from an Operational Training Unit. All are CA-3, sixty of which were delivered to the RAAF between February and September 1940”. He doesn’t identify the unit or the date, so that didn’t help.
The photo is also in the collection of the Australian War Memorial, but I have found that AWM photo descriptions are sometimes incorrect, so I wanted to check if their description was accurate. AWM states that the picture was taken in September 1943 at No. 5 Service Flying Training School (based in Uranquinty, NSW). They list the pilot of A20-82 as Flight Lieutenant Dick Cresswell and the pilot of A20-78 as Flight Lieutenant Blake Pelly.
But on checking, the date of September 1943 can’t be right, since Dick Cresswell was a Squadron Leader by this time, and he was sitting in Port Pirie awaiting a court martial at around this time. So I needed to go back to the basics to solve the “when and where” mystery of this photo.
The service histories of the three aircraft in the photo reveal that they all served at No. 2 SFTS at Forest Hill (Wagga) between September 1940 and April 1942. Cresswell and Pelly were both at 2SFTS during this period (according to ‘Mr Double Seven’, the biography of Dick Cresswell – which can be downloaded from the Air Power Development Centre website). So now we know the unit where the aircraft were serving (No. 2 SFTS) and the period during which the photo was taken.
James Kightly suggested looking into the details of the markings on the aircraft, and this indeed sheds more light on the timing. The yellow cowlings on the aircraft were ordered to be added in December 1941 and the red circles in the national markings (roundels) were ordered to be removed in July 1942, so this narrows the date of the photo to between December 1941 and April 1942.
So now we can confirm that this photo of two famous pilots (Cresswell rose to Wing Commander and Pelly rose to Group Captain) flying Wirraways was taken when they were at No. 2 SFTS, some time between December 1941 and April 1942.
Several other photos were taken during this sortie, here is another: