THE EMU ATOMIC MUSTANGSBritish 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 Emu Claypan. 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 Maralinga SA, abandoning the Emu site 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 demanded their routine disposal by tender. Submission of a token bid allowed us access to Emu as prospective purchasers to inspect these much-rumoured aircraft which had been out of reach for so long.
|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.
|Emu Village near the claypan airstrip in
1953, when it housed over 400 scientists and military men. The single runway
handled aircraft up to RAAF Lincolns and USAF B-29 Super Fortresses conducting sampling missions.
|In June 1967 our party of alleged prospective
Mustang purchasers flew to Emu from Adelaide in Comanche 250 VH-CXP.
L-R: David Prossor, Geoff Goodall, Melvyn Davis, Peter Limon (pilot in command) and Neil Follett. Photo taken during a
refuelling stop at the Coober Pedy opal mining fields, where residents live underground due to high temperatures.
|On arrival over the featureless Emu area
at first we were unable to sight the airstrip, which was overgrown with
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.
|The only building left standing at Emu Village
was the mess hall, where we stayed overnight. The Landrovers of our
Military Police security escorts are parked outside. Their geiger-counters reassured us that radiation levels were low.
|Neil Follett's colour photo of the Mustang
row, taken from a blast deflecting mound, sets the scene for my black &
|We were driven ten miles to the Mustangs,
where our escorts supervised all camera angles to ensure structures and
could not be seen in the background. Of the six aircraft, this was the prize: A68-1, the first Australian assembled Mustang by
Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation at Fishermans Bend, Melbourne in 1945. The desert sun has faded the serial and roundel
but the serial could be clearly read etched in the metal. Unfortunately, each of the aircraft had suffered damage from oil survey
road teams permitted to cross the area over the years. A68-1's canopy had been broken off and the cockpit vandalised.
|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
|A68-72 on the other side. I was standing
on the track to the bombsite where the 200 feet Tower was vaporised by the
|CA-18 Mustang Mk.21 A68-87 was a distance
from the other five, the result of having its Merlin started by persons
sometime in the past and taxied along the track. A wheel dug into the dirt and it was left with its tail on the track, where it was
struck by passing vehicles. Note the PR camera port behind the roundel.
The aftermathThe 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 disposals RAAF Dakotas at Parafield. He struck a deal with a group of pilots and mechanics at Parafield, headed by charter pilot Tony Schwerdt - in return for them dismantling and removing five Mustangs overland to Adelaide, they could choose the best aircraft for themselves.
Making a huge effort, the Schwerdt team worked in sweltering heat to move five aircraft out by truck on a rough track to the Transcontinental Railway line at Watson siding, where they were railed to Adelaide. They selected A68-1 as their own, and to beat the military deadline to vacate Emu by the end of October, decided to make it fit for a ferry flight. Tony Schwerdt flew it out on 31 October 1967 to Coober Pedy with gear fixed down, and after talks with DCA was given approval to fly Coober Pedy-Adelaide.
Schwerdt arrives at Parafield in A68-1 from Coober Pedy on 6 December 1967.
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
the Mustang would stay at Parafield as a civil aircraft. However DCA would not budge from their strict restrictions on 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.
|A68-1 was parked at Parafield all of 1968
while the Schwerdt syndicate appealed the DCA policy. DCA in turn took legal
against Tony Schwerdt for his unauthorised flight from Emu to Coober Pedy. This nice colour shot at Parafield mid year was
taken by my friend Mike Vincent, 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 Mustang (VH-IVI) caused
DCA to review their policy, and a Certificate of Registration for A68-1 as VH-EMS arrived in the post. It was too late.
|A68-1 in the Rossair hangar at Parfield in
January 1969 in protective covering, ready to be crated for shipping to
it is N51WB with warbird enthusiast Wiley Sanders, Alabama, flying in camouflage as RAAF "A68-1001 Jeanie Too".
And the other five ?
|Former Bolivian Air Force Cavalier
Mk.2 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 models until 1973,
and these later machines may well have utilised reconditioned parts from the Emu five.