CRASH OF A WOOMERA
5 MILES SOUTH WEST OF KILMORE
ON 15 JANUARY 1943
On 15 January 1943 the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation were carrying out another test flight on the prototype CA4 Woomera bomber. The Woomera, piloted by Flight Lieutenant James Herbert Harper (RAAF), took off from Fishermen's Bend in Melbourne to evaluate the fixed leading edge slats that had been installed to overcome the problem of the wing centre section stalling. The aircraft headed north with CAC test pilot James Ogilvie Carter as a passenger and CAC Draftsman Lionel Adrian Dudgeon acting as flight observer.
Carter was being familiarised with the Woomera to allow him to take over the test flights. Carter, a former RAF and RAAF Flying Officer, had flown previous test flights in both Wirraways and Boomerangs.
After the trials were completed, the Woomera turned back towards Fishermen's Bend and not long later there was an explosion and a fire on board. Harper parachuted safely from the aircraft. The Woomera crashed five miles south west of Kilmore, just to the north of Melbourne. Both Carter and Dudgeon were killed in the crash. Carter had attempted to parachute from the aircraft but had left it too late. Dudgeon's body was found inside the wreckage of the Woomera.
The prototype Woomera had been involved in a more minor accident at Fishermen's Bend in November 1941. Sabotage was suspected for this earlier accident, as large amounts of swarf were found in the hydraulic system. Sabotage and the continuing fuel leak problems were on the list of possible causes for this more serious fatal crash. The integral fuel tanks often leaked and some of the fuel would run into the fuselage from the mid mounted wing and accumulate in the tail.
During this fatal test flight, Harper reported a problem that required him to shut down an engine. When he activated the feather switch there was a large explosion and he suddenly found himself blown out of the aircraft. It would appear that a spark from the feathering switch had ignited the accumulated petrol in the bottom of the aircraft.
The CA4 Woomera was initially known as the Wackett Bomber. The first flight of the Woomera was flown by Flight Lieutenant Boss-Walker on 19 September 1941.
After extensive trials by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) the prototype CA4 Woomera was handed over to the RAAF for handling and performance evaluation in February 1942 and designated A23-1001. The prototype was returned to CAC in December 1942.
The following newspaper article was sent to me by Les Lewis of Bundoora, Victoria:-
Kilmore Free Press
Wednesday 13 January 1993
Kilmore entered aviation history 50 years ago
By Paul Straney
It's 50 years ago this Friday (January 15) since Kilmore entered the history books of aviation with the crash of a top-secret aircraft on a Bylands property.
In the dark years just prior to World War Two, many countries - including Australia - were making last-minute attempts to arm themselves for the obvious conflict ahead.
Air power was sadly neglected in Australia for many years. This neglect meant that orders for aircraft had to be placed with Great Britain and the United States of America.
However, with Japan's entry into the war, these orders could not be filled, which left Australia lacking necessary war planes.
In 1935, businessman Essington Lewis visited both Germany and Japan. He returned to Australia convinced that war could not be avoided.
With the assistance of L.J. Harnett, he was able to convince the government of the time of the need for an aircraft industry.
As a result, six major Australian companies got together and formed the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, under the management of Wing Commander Wackett (later Sir Lawrence) in 1936.
An American design was chosen for our war plane, and so the famous Wirraway was born.
Then, in 1939, 80 Australian engineers and technicians went to England for training at the Bristol Aircraft Company. Australia obtained the necessary licence for production of the Bristol Beaufort bomber, and production commenced here, using British-supplied parts until Australia gained the necessary manufacturing skills.
Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation could see the need for a successor to the Beaufort, so their fledging staff started work on what emegered as the C.A.C. CA-4 Wackett bomber, an advanced twin-engine aircraft for its time.
Being more advanced than anything previously known in this country, and somewhat complicated, as to be expected it had its share of teething problems.
During a test flight from Fishermen's Bend on January 15, 1943, this aircraft, being flown by Squadron Leader Jim Harper, with two observers - C.A.C. test pilot Jim Carter, and power plant engineer Lionel Dudgeon - developed a fuel leak, and a fire started in the port engine.
The aircaft was flying at 1,000 feet at the time.
The fire could not be extinguished, and the aircraft crashed on the Bylands property of Mr. Tom Comans.
The crew attempted to abandon the aircraft, but the pilot (Sqd. Ldr. Harper) was the only one who managed to escape by parachute.
Nearby resident, Mary Clancy, assisted the downed pilot; the other two occupants died in the crash.
Don Comans was a young lad at the time, and he witnessed the crash.
He still lives in Kilmore, after leaving the farm some years ago, and when I spoke to Don recently, the impact the aircraft crash had on him was obvious; he recalled the fateful event of 50 years ago as if it was only yesterday.
I also managed to locate the project design engineer of the bomber, Mr. R. Schultz, now in his 80s, and living in North Balwyn.
At a recent interview with him, he told me of his many flights as an observer in the CA-4, and the fact that he was scheduled to fly as a crew member the day it crashed at Bylands.
In a strange twist of fate, Mr. Schultz was requested at the last minute to give his place on the flight to the unfortunate Lionel Dudgeon.
A development of this aircraft emerged later as the C.A.C. CA-11 named "Woomera", and it continued the flight test pattern.
However, with the tide turning against Japan, the aircraft was no longer required. In addition, Australia had by this time received American aircraft to fill our needs, and the entire program was cancelled during September, 1944.
And so it was that 50 years ago, Kilmore was placed in the aviation history books with the crash of the top-secret aircraft.
Who knows, given the chance, the Woomera may have been developed into one of the great bombers of World War Two; for it possessed a very good performance, and a great potential, for its day.
Subject: Australia @ War
Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2000 15:39:49 +1000
From: "Peter & Liz Pidgeon" <email@example.com>
Thank you so much for posting your site on the newsgroup. After reading the contents of your site, I dashed off to see if you had mention of a crash which occurred on my Grandparents property in 1943. Sure enough there it was:
I have a copy of the news article which you re-printed from the "Kilmore Free Press" also. The original photographs supplied to the newspaper for the article are owned by my mother. My grandfather Tom COMANS and Uncle Don COMANS are mentioned in the article.
I am taking the liberty to forward your post to the Perth DPS (Dead Person's Society) who like to know sites of interest.
You have actually made my day, some more to add to my family history. The Internet I think can be a wonderful place. Congratulations on all your efforts.
Elizabeth Pidgeon (nee Ryan, formerly of Kilmore, Vic.)
'Leafy' Eltham, Victoria, Australia
"Wirraway to Hornet - A History of the
Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty Ltd"
By Brian L. Hill
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 26 September 1999
This page last updated 05 September 2015