Sabre on the pan at Temora. (James Kightly)
The recent return to the air of the RAAF Museum's Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) Sabre A94-983 at Temora is an interesting example of a public-private partnership, but isn't generally noted as such in most of the publicity.
The story is interesting. Having served with the RAAF, ten Sabres were given to the Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (Royal Malaysian Air Force) and '983 was re-serialed FM1983. Later replaced by F-5 fighters, FM1983 was noted on site at Butterworth by Wing Commander Leader Leach of 75 Squadron RAAF, while on deployment. After agreement (and donation from) the Malays, the squadron managed to get Sabre flying again, and it was then returned to Australia (into a period where, I suspect, no-one wanted to deal with this 'gift horse') and where 2 Aircraft Depot (AD) later further restored it. The aircraft flew as part of the RAAF Historic Flight, nominally headquartered at RAAF Point Cook between 1982. It was registered VH-PCM in 1988.
Taxiing in after the first public display, Saturday 5th September 2009. (James Kightly)
It was grounded for reasons that are not in the public domain, and remained so for many years.
Meanwhile the Temora Aviation Museum (TAM - a privately funded collection of airworthy aircraft of Australian historic interest, established by millionaire David Lowy, AM) had been restoring a CAC Sabre themselves. A couple more CAC Sabre airframes were also acquired, and progress continued, but a different tack was decided upon. An agreement was struck between the RAAF, owners of '983 and TAM, to restore the aircraft once more to flight. Although the aircraft had been airworthy when grounded, certain areas needed rebuilding, particularly in the wings, and obviously after a decade, pipework, engine and so forth all needed renewal.
The new Martin Baker seat which came from Germany. (James Kightly)
Another area of issue was the aircraft's ejection seat. This had never been a popular design, with limited effectiveness in the 1950s and 1960s, and was not, now regarded as of acceptable performance. Research by the RAAF Museum and TAM showed that the Luftwaffe had re-fitted their Canadair Sabres with Martin Baker (MB) seats, a particularly attractive option for Temora, as their chief engineer, Pete Pring-Shambler was Martin Baker trained, and many of the other TAM aircraft have MB seats. This was a significant change, and required new canopy rails to be fitted to the side of the cockpit to raise the front of the canopy as it slid aft to clear the seat top. Even obtaining a usable seat was tricky, and a couple, making one (plus MB support) was eventually sourced from Germany.
The new risers inside the cockpit sills to raise the canopy as it slides back. ( James Kightly)
The Temora Aviation Museum team. (TAM)
Much of the documentary research, many parts, including a significant RAAF spares holding of major airframe pieces was used by the TAM team, who undertook the engine and airframe overhaul, itself a major task.
The RAAF Museum team. (James Kightly)
Sabre '983, now registered VH-IPN, took to the air again in July 2009, and was centrepiece of the display in September, where many of these photos were taken.
Clean, in full flight. (James Kightly)
In the current climate it was highly unlikely that '983 would have been restored to fly by the RAAF, or the RAAF Museum. On a practical level, 2 AD and the engineering equivalence of them no longer exist in the RAAF, and RAAF Point Cook, the base of the RAAF Museum has runways too short for the Sabre's safe operation. On the other hand, TAM presumably had decided that it was not viable to restore their own Sabre project as per the original plan, and operating the RAAF's aircraft on their behalf, after TAM restored it was a better process. The additional demands of satisfying the RAAF's safety requirement as well as a limited civil one was another challenge of course.
Museum Engineers take time for a photo with ex-Sabre pilots and engineers. (Emily Bondaruk, TAM)
While many people know parts of the story relating to getting this rare aircraft back in the air, it appears that the full saga isn't going to be appearing anywhere soon. Which is a pity, because when credit is apportioned appropriately, there is much to be learned from the success of the project. I'm also sure there could also be a lot learned from avoiding some of the pitfalls encountered too.
(The opinion expressed in this piece is the author's own, and does not reflect an official view of any journal or organisation.)