|Last updated 10 March 2021|
THE EMU ATOMIC MUSTANGSPhotographs by Geoff Goodall unless stated otherwise
British atomic bomb tests in Australia commenced in 1952 in the Monte Bello Islands on the West Australian coast near Onslow, then moved to a remote location in the South Australian desert near a large claypan given the name Emu. Among military equipment used at Emu to test the effects of blast and radiation were six RAAF CAC Mustangs flown in from storage at RAAF Tocumwal NSW.
After two atomic explosions, further tests moved to a new site named Maralinga SA, abandoning the Emu site whch was within an air and ground Prohibited Area. In 1967 a British Army clearing operation was removing and burying all remaining equipment and buildings. Because the Mustangs were owned by the Australian Government, officialdom required their disposal to follow the normal tender process.
By submitting a token bid, our group of enthusiasts was granted access to Emu to inspect these Mustangs as prospective purchasers.
|These first two pictures come from the highly-recommended book Blast The Bush by Len Beadell, the official ground surveyor |
of the Emu and Maralinga test sites. This official photograph shows the Totem 1 atomic explosion at Emu on 15 October 1953.
|Official photogrpah of Emu Village near the claypan airstrip in 1953, when it housed over 400 scientists and military men. |
|In June 1967 our party of alleged prospective Mustang purchasers flew from Adelaide to Emu in a borrowed Piper Comanche 250.|
L-R: David Prossor, Geoff Goodall, Melvyn Davis, Peter Limon (pilot in command) and Neil Follett. This picture was taken during a
refuelling stop at the Coober Pedy opal mining fields, where residents live underground due to the high temperatures.
arrival over the featureless Emu area at first we were unable to sight
the airstrip, which was overgrown with vegetation. But |
a glint from the ground brought us over the blast site and five of the six Mustangs, still parked at different angles to the blast site.
only building left standing at Emu Village was the mess hall, where we stayed overnight. The Landrovers of our British|
Military Police security escorts are parked outside. Their geiger-counters reassured us that radiation levels were low.
Follett's colour photo of the Mustang row, taken from a blast
deflecting mound, sets the scene for my black & white set.|
were driven ten miles to the Mustangs, where our security escorts
supervised all camera angles to ensure structures and equipment |
could not be seen in the background. Of the six aircraft, this was the prize: A68-1, the first Australian assembled Mustang by CAC at
Fishermans Bend, Melbourne in 1945. The desert sun had faded the serial and roundel but the serial could be clearly read etched in the
metal. Unfortunately, each of the aircraft had suffered damage inflicted by oil and mineral survey road teams permitted to enter the Emu
Prohibited Area over the years. A68-1's canopy had been smashed, torn off its rails and the cockpit vandalised by bored survey workers.
|A68-7 was a CAC CA-17 Mustang Mk.20.|
|CA-17 Mustang Mk.20 A68-30|
|CA-17 Mustang Mk.20 A68-35|
|CA-17 Mustang Mk.20 A68-72|
on the other side. I was standing on the track to the bombsite where
the 200 feet Tower was vaporised by the first blast. |
Mustang Mk.21 A68-87 was a distance from the other five, the result of
having its Merlin started by persons unknown sometime|
over past years and taxied along the track. When a main wheel dug into the dirt it was left with its tail protruding on the track, to be struck
by passing vehicles. Note the PR camera port behind the roundel.
The successful bid for the Department of Supply tender for the six Mustangs was by American dealer Stanley Booker of Stan's Airplane Sales, Fresno, California, who was in Adelaide at the time purchasing RAAF disposals Dakotas at Parafield. He struck a deal with an Adelaide group of pilots and engineers headed by charter pilot Tony Schwerdt - in return for them carrying out the dismantling and removal of the Mustangs overland to Adelaide, they could choose the best aircraft for themselves.
In a mammoth effort, the Schwerdt team worked in sweltering heat to dismantle five aircraft which were removed by truck along a rough track to the Transcontinental Railway line at Watson siding, where they were sent by rail to Adelaide. They selected A68-1 as their own, and with the looming military deadline to vacate Emu by the end of October 1967, made it fit for a ferry flight. Tony Schwerdt flew it out on 31 October 1967 to Coober Pedy, with gear fixed down. Once clear of the Maralinga restricted area there was time for talks with DCA, which granted a ferry permit for Tony to continue his flight Coober Pedy-Adelaide.
|Tony Schwerdt in A68-1 arrives at Adelaide-Parafield SA in A68-1 from Coober Pedy on 6 December 1967. The ferry flight was made |
with gear locked down. He was escorted by a DCA Aero Commander, flown by senior DCA official Jim Schofield, who had been the
CAC test pilot for A68-1's first flight at Fishermans Bend on 29 April 1945.
|Tony moves forward on to the Rossair parking ramp to a waiting crowd of well-wishers. Everyone's hopes that day were that the
would stay at Parafield as a privately owned civil aircraft. But DCA enforced their policy restricting civil operation of former military combat
aircraft, on the basis that during their service lives they could have be been subjected to unreported manoeuvres beyond their design limits.
was parked at Parafield all of 1968 while the Schwerdt syndicate
appealed the DCA policy. DCA in turn took legal action against |
Tony Schwerdt for his unauthorised flight from Emu to Coober Pedy. This colour shot at Parafield mid year was taken by Barry Tait,
following a Merlin ground run. It shows fresh paintwork and a decal for sponsor BP worn off by engine runs.
Late that year the disheartened Adelaide group accepted an offer from Stan Booker to sell him A68-1. The irony was that within
weeks they learnt that their submissions and those of fellow Adelaide pilot Langdon Badger for his CAC Mustang (VH-IVI) had resulted
in DCA reviewing their policy: a Certificate of Registration for A68-1 as VH-EMS arrived in the post. But it was too late.
in the Rossair hangar at Parfield in January 1969 in protective
covering, ready for shipping to USA. Today it is flying as N51WB|
owned by American warbird enthusiast Wiley Sanders in Alabama, painted in spurious camoufalage as RAAF "A68-1001 Jeanie Too".
And the other five ?
|A former Bolivian Air Force Cavalier Mk.2 now a Canadian warbird C-GMUS was at Oshkosh in July 1989. Its Cavalier construction date |
was 12 February 1968, so this particular aircraft was too early to have had Emu Mustang parts. However Cavalier continued building
military Mustang models until 1973 and these later machines probaby utilised reconditioned parts from the Emu five.