Wednesday, 15 November 2000 00:00

Caribou Story - The Prepping and Scuttling Of An Aviation Legend

By Frosty

Preparation For The Last Flight of Caribou A4-208


On Sat 9th Sep 2000 a combined excursion of Scuba and Aviation Museum supporters from Amberley visited Oakey to prepare A4-208 Caribou Aircraft for its planned watery resting place at the Curtin artificial reef off Moreton Island in Moreton Bay. This aircraft, or what remains of it, has been gifted to the Underwater Research Group of Queensland by Defence, and it is planned to submerge it in Moreton Bay in the not to distant future to create an underwater paradise for fish and scuba divers alike. We are not too sure how much alike these marine creatures really are, but we are sure that they are going to equally enjoy the pleasures of exploring the old Wallaby Airlines aircraft for many years to come.

Part 1

This aircraft, painted in the "Pizza" desert colour scheme, was taken out of service on 10th Jan 1994 under the Reduce Aircraft To Spares (RATS) program and has resided at Oakey since around Oct 96. Two other aircraft fuselages were shipped down south on HMAS Tobruk under this program, hence known as "Rats over Tobruk" for training and battle damage repair aids. A4-208 entered service in the RAAF in Nov 1964 and has flown approx 16,700.hrs in 38SQN Richmond and 35 SQN Townsville with attachments at RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam (RTFV), 2 FTS Pearce (Black Duck Airlines), and ARDU Edinburgh. Some incidents in its service include:

  • 31 AUG 67 at RTFV struck in the centre fuselage by a bullet
  • 19 JAN 69 at Katum several near misses of mortar fire damaged the aircraft, peppering the left hand nose with more than 80 holes and injuring both pilots. The left hand windscreen was shattered, LH tyres punctured and the hydraulic system made inoperative. The aircraft took off as soon as the mortaring stopped. The crew were FLTLT Tommy Thomson (Captain) (shrapnel right leg), FLGOFF McGregor (CoPilot) (cuts to face), Cpl B.Gracie (Loadmaster) and Cpl W.Barnes (Assistant Loadmaster).
  • 18 NOV 85 at Backmead near Casino NSW, the aircraft drifted to the right of the centreline and hit a tree, tearing approx 10 feet off the starboard wing. It took 2000 ft to stop instead of the usual 600 ft. The starboard propeller hit a fallen tree and there was a long hole in the fuselage.
  • APR 86 the fifth trial camouflage scheme, the tan/desert pink/black "Pizza Special", was applied. Some years after this, during an exercise in the middle of Australia in dry desert like terrain, the aircraft had to be camouflaged further than that colour scheme as it still could be seen from the air. A concoction of used engine oil and ingredients from the local surroundings ie grass, dirt, mud etc all mixed together and thrown at, poured over and generally covered over all exposed areas of the aircraft. The final touch (the "piazza de la resistance") was when the aircraft was started up, the red dust created by the props on the desert pan surface settled on the aforementioned concoction. The camouflage was complete and very very effective to the point that it could only be detected by the shadow. The real challenge came about a week or so later when it came time to get it off again!

Units Operated By

DATES (approx)     UNIT     LOCATION
NOV64 - JUN65     38SQN     Richmond
JUN65 - JUN66     RTFV     Vietnam
JUN66 - FEB72     35SQN     Vietnam
FEB72 - JUN76     35SQN     Richmond
AUG80 - APR81     2FTS     Pearce
MAR83 - APR83     ARDU     Edinburgh
MAY87 - DEC87     2FTS     Pearce

Part 2

It was "flown" to Oakey courtesy of Chinook Airlines. An approach is being made to utilise the same removalist on a training exercise to fly its last flight to its new home and future occupation in a similar way, if rather ignominiously hanging on the end of a very strong fishing line.

The aircraft had to be environmentally cleaned of all items likely to deteriorate in its new home and all snags removed to facilitate free movement through the fuselage by the divers. A number of these fittings will be used with its sister aircraft A4-235 in its somewhat drier home with the Ipswich Amberley Aviation Museum. The group put in a very long and hard days work in the somewhat searing weekend wind conditions, not to mention the sunburn even of the whites of the eyes due to the glare.

It was noted that a number of astute engineering types including Blackhanders Warrant Officer "Pud" Passmore (the ex WOENG from 35 SQN) and ex WOFF "Frosty" Williams were observed delicately executing aircraft trade work with hacksaw, cold chisel and hammer. It was presumed that "Pud" did give the approval for the use of the shifting spanners. We were being very careful they said, but a classic Toyota "bugger" was heard from time to time when a screw head stripped, and particularly when a windscreen came out unexpectedly and hit the deck! The local hardware shop in Oakey did a good trade in drill bits. And who was it who was left stranded in the nose bay when the wind blew the ladder away!

Our metal basher consultant Russell Melhuish did some excellent (is that the right word?) reverse engineering on bits to the benefit of the Aviation Museum.

Dave Bell, Ryan Regan, Pete Gibson, Mike Graham, Andrew Young and Sam Moore completed the crew. Maybe they were the "˜Unloadmasters"™. It was also particularly noted that the efforts of the Queer trade personnel resulted in an electronic down grade that would make the history books (nobody knew there was so much wire in a Caribou), or was it an electronic upgrade of the trailer that struggled away under the load of wire.

There were a number of unanswered airworthiness (or seaworthiness?) questions on whether the Chief Engineer or SENGO had signed up on the de-modification order, or whether anything was written up as a CFU (carry forward unserviceability), or if any self respecting pilot would engage this crew for any further work!

It was suggested that caution be taken with the aerofoil shaped rear door section being brought down the range from Toowoomba, or we might be writing up an article on a hang gliding Landcruiser heading towards Moreton Bay!

On the return trip the Blackhanders quenched a hard-earned thirst at the Walloon Saloon.

In order to preserve the history of this aircraft, the logbooks are being sought from Defence and will be displayed with as complete a history as possible in the Ipswich Amberley Aviation Museum. The fuselage itself will be an underwater dive site and ongoing memorial to its service expected to be visited by large numbers of scuba divers each year, some of whom will be current or future members of the Australian Defence Force.

Volunteers with some of the cables they have removed.


September 9 - Seven divers from the RAAF Amberley Scuba Club headed up to Oakey Army Aviation base to begin the long awaited task of preparing the Caribou airframe for it's new home on Curtin Artificial Reef.

The major work was in removing all the wiring looms, steel cables and any structure which could potentially cause trouble to a diver.

We also received some help from the Ipswich Amberley Aviation Museum, they are in the process of renovating another Caribou, so came up to grab some 'spare parts'.

Scuba Club Volunteers were: Dave, Ryan, Russell, Sam, Mike, Andrew and Gibbo.

The above article and images have been reproduced with permission from the official website devoted to the sinking of this Caribou.