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Bill Shackleton and Tugan Aircraft Revived

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Yet another leftover from the RAAF 100 GB ...

Part One - The Trials and Tribulations of Tugan Aircraft

Tugan Aircraft Company Ltd was established by Leo Turl and Frank Gannon in 1933 at Mascot, NSW, outside of Sydney. Tugan attempted to negotiate a licence for the popular Miles Hawk light plane. That proved unsuccessful and, instead, then-designer J.V. Connolly began an original design - the Tugan C3 [1] - to rival the Miles cabin plane and the similar Percival Gull. However, this project remained unfinished when John Connolly was hired away in 1934 to become Hawker Aircraft's lead stressman. Connolly was replaced by L.J. Wackett, the former head of the RAAF's Experimental Section. Wackett brought with him the his design for the Cockatoo Docks & Engineering LJW.6 Codock feederliner twin.

The Codock design was refined by Lawrence Wackett into the Tugan LJW.7 Gannet which entered production at Mascot in 1935. In the meantime, the firm had been re-organized as the Tugan Aircraft Ltd. With that, Lawrence Wackett became the new company's Managing Director as well as its Chief Designer. The first LJW.7 flew at Mascot, NSW in October 1935, the second was delivered to the RAAF the following month. The final Gannet (c/n TA.59) wouldn't be completed until October 1937. But, by then, Lawrence Wackett was long-gone from Tugan Aircraft.

In 1936, Wackett had taken five months leave from Tugan to head an RAAF technical mission to Europe and the United States. The object was to acquire rights to licence-build a modern military aircraft in Australia. It was concluded that the North American NA-16 trainer fit the bill. Wackett came back to Australia with the production rights for the NA-32 and NA-33 variants as well as their Pratt & Whitney R-1340 radial engines. The end result would be the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation's Wirraway.

Shortly after Wackett's return, it was announced by the government in Canberra that Tugan's facility at Mascot was to be compulsorily acquired for use by CAC. Insult to injury came when it was revealed that this upstart Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation was now to be headed by  L.J. Wackett. Much of Tugan's staff was also to be absorbed by CAC. It seemed like Tugan Aircraft was finished. The only positive outcome was that the perpetually cash-strapped Messrs. Turl and Gannon (along with other Tugan investors) had come away from the CAC buy-out with £15,000 in capital.

W.S. Shackleton's Return to the Antipodes

Unrelated to all this, a former aircraft designer for defunct LASCo had just reappeared in Australia. When the obstreperous 'Jimmy' Larkin shuttered LASCo, Chief Engineer Bill Shackleton [2] returned to England. There, Shackleton joined forces with Aussie pilot C.L. Lee Murray to form aircraft-maker, Shackleton-Murray. This company only lasted until 1933. [3] Bill then formed WS Shackleton Ltd to act as an agent and aircraft distributor specializing in Australasia. This venture struck gold in 1934.

W.S. Shackleton Ltd supplied four Ford trimotors to Guinea Airways Limited for use in the New Guinea goldfields. The first crated Wasp-powered Ford 5-AT-C (VH-UTB) arrived at Lae in November 1934, the second (VH-UBI) in October 1935. These were followed by two Wright Whirlwind J6-powered Ford 4-ATE trimotors (VH-USX and VH-UDY). These sales netted WS Shackleton Ltd £5,250 per aircraft. But health issues which had first prompted Shackleton's move to Australia now returned. With money from the Ford sales in his pockets, Bill decided to accompanied the last trimotor shipment to New Guinea.

In early 1937, Guinea Airways Limited decided to transfer one of the Fords to Australia. [4] Shackleton had since discovered that the humidity of New Guinea did not agree with him. Taking a chance to return to the drier Australian climate, he boarded Ford 4-ATE VH-UTB for the flight from Lae down to Townsville in Queensland. Traveling further south to Brisbane, Shackleton was able to find some consulting work with the Royal Queensland Aero Club. This involved overseeing the installation of new wings on the club's Hornet Moth VH-AAV, upgrading it from DH.87A to DH.87B standard. The elegantly-curved wings of the DH.87A had given the cabin biplane some nasty stalling characteristics. Club aircraft had some close calls and suffered some damage in bad landings before the 'B upgrades.

Bad Luck Begets Opportunity - The Plucked Hornet Moth

The dangers were well-illustrated by a DH.87A owner operating just across the state border at Moree, NSW. N.M. Kater. VH-UTE had been stalled into a hard landing at Kater's Colmlee Station. The aircraft (c/n 8023) struck with its port wing before ground looping and slamming its starboard wing. Although a candidate for replacement wing panels from de Havilland Australia, 'Mick' Kater had no intention of repairing VH-UTE - his wife, Jean, had been aboard for that ground loop and swore that she would never fly again. Rather than repair the near-new airframe, Kater offered the remains for sale. Shackleton snapped up the damaged DH.87A.

Inspecting the airframe, Bill Shackleton noted that the interplane struts had transferred the shock to the upper wings during that hard landing. The damaged wings and struts were dismounted and left behind at Colmlee Station. The fuselage - still on its main undercarriage - was lashed to the back of the Ford Model 40-A that Shackleton had borrowed for the trip from an RQA Club member. By Boggabila near the Queensland border, it was apparent that the DH.87's main gear was taking a beating. Fortunately, a lorry driver stopped for a late Brekky at the café was returning to Brissie empty. After a bit of haggling and a paid-for meal, a deal was arrived at for the DH.87A fuselage to get a lorry-ride the rest of the way back to Brisbaine.

Shackleton's Shrike and the Resurrection of Tugan Aircraft

Shackleton had no intention of restoring his DH.87A. Instead, he would rebuild the aircraft according to his own scheme - which he styled the Shackleton Shrike. This was to create a high-winged monoplane with much shorter landing and take-off requirements than the contemporary de Havilland DH.85 Leopard Moth monoplane. This was to be accomplished through the use of high-lift devices on an entirely new, 40 foot span constant-chord wing. Fixed, full-length slats covered the leading edge of that wing. The trailing edge was to be fitted with Fowler flaps and drooping ailerons. The question was, where would this work be undertaken.

De Havilland Australia would not welcome the competition, that was sure! On the other hand, small Tugan Aircraft Ltd. had some experience in overhauling RAAF Moth trainers as well as in original construction. Shackleton was able to contact Leo Turl through a mutual acquaintance. Was Tugan to be relocated? Would they be willing to take on Shackleton's custom wing work? Turl responded quickly. Tugan Aircraft was currently 'homeless' and had lost its designer, J.V. Connolly to Hawkers. [5] Consulting engineer, L.J. Wackett had designed the Tugan LJW.7 Gannet light transport [6] but the last example had been completed in October 1937. Lawence Wackett had then departed to head the very Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation which had displaced Tugan at Mascot.

Tugan Aircraft was in trouble. Being eviction from its Mascot premises, with Wackett's departure, it also had no designer or engineer. As captain of an apparently sinking ship, Leo Turl made a bold and blunt proposal. Would Bill Shackleton be interested in becoming Tugan's new Chief Engineer? And was Shackleton aware of any suitable facilities in which to resurrect Tugan Aircraft? He was and he did.

Having bumped into a former colleague in Brisbane, Shackleton knew anecdotally that LASCo's old plant at Coode Island, Victoria was largely idle - being used mainly for storage. Shackleton and Turl travelled south to inspect the old LASCo hangar. Satisfied, they then met with Frank Gannon who was in Melbourne trying to interest potential investors. It was decided that Bill's revised Hornet Moth concept would proceed at Coode Island in hopes of stirring up greater investment interest. As a backup, Shackleton would sketch out a modernization scheme for his all-metal LASCo Lascoter monoplane. [7]

(To be continued ...)


[1] Rather confusingly, like the Miles light cabin plane, the Tugan C3 was also to be called Hawk.

[2] William Stancliffe Shackleton had been chief designer at Beardmore where he designed the 1925 WB.XXVI (WB.26) biplane fighter among others.

[3] The Shackleton-Murray SM.1 lightplane was flown and design work begun on a 30-passenger airliner. However, Lee Murray accepted an offer to join de Havilland where he was involved first with the DH.88 Comet, then the DH.98 Mosquito. Murray became GM of DHC in 1943, then returned to Australia in 1945 as DHA's GM at Bankstown.

[4] Ford 4-AT VH-UTB was flown from Lae to Townsville. New Guinea  to fly Darwin to Adelaide route for GAL.

[5] James Connolly had also been the Secretary of the Australasian Branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS). Having come to the attention of Sidney Camm (through C G Grey, editor of The Aeroplane), Connolly was hired by Hawker Aircraft as a senior stressman in 1935. Tugan then abandoned Connolly's C3 Hawk lightplane design to pursue L.J. Wackett's twin-engined Gannet.

[6]  Lawence Wackett had plans for Gannet follow-ons - the 10-seat Gannet Major and the 4-seat Gannet Junior - but these under-developed concepts were abandoned when Wackett left for CAC.

[7] Amazingly, during their inspection of the old LASCo facility, the wings from the sole Lascoter airframe had been found uncovered but largely intact.

Part Two - The Rebirth of Tugan Aircraft at Coode Island

In the final days of 1937, the Tugan Aircraft Company Ltd. was reborn as a Melbourne-based enterprize. The first order of business at Coode Island was inspecting and refurbishing Shackleton's DH.87A airframe. A new centre section was installed above the cockpit and work began on the wings for VH-UTE. Bill Shackleton had wanted those wings to be metal structures similar to those he had designed for LASCo. Alas, such construction techniques were foreign to Tugan Aircraft's remaining employees. Instead, it was decided that - other than their high-lift devices - the new wings would be simple fabric-covered, wooden structures. This would also serve to speed the construction process.

While Shackleton finalized detail drawings, Leo Turl ensured that the shop floor was prepared to complete the prototype conversion work. Meanwhile, Frank Gannon launched a promotion campaign for Tugan's forthcoming lightplane design. For marketing purposes, the name Shackleton Shrike was ditched in favour of the new Tugan WSS.8 Toolangi. [1] In something of a sop to the Victoria government for funding assistance - the new name came from a State Forest in the Yarra Valley. [2] Another compromise was the use of simple split flaps rather than the more complex Fowler flaps originally planned. On the upside, this change did speed the construction of the new wings set.

Toolangi Flies and The Kraken Wakes

The completed WSS.8 Toolangi conversion was rolled out on 04 April 1938 and the prototype first flew from Coode Island Aerodrome on the following Friday. With its new 40-foot wings, the Toolangi monoplane was actually slightly slower than the standard biplane DH.87A but its short take-off and landing characteristics were spectacular. In fact, landing was so abrupt that it was feared that the standard DH undercarriage may not be adequate to its new tasks. Toolangi flight testing seemed to escape de Havilland's notice but the Tugan prototype's arrival at RAAF Point Cook for inspection woke up DHA. An official complaint was also registered with the Civil Aviation Board for the unauthorized modification of a proprietary airframe.

DHA complaints had weight as they came directly from de Havilland's General Manager, Major Alan Murray Jones. However, by the time these complaints were lodged, the prototype Toolangi had already been flown by Wg Cdr Arthur Murphy, the CO of No. 1 Aircraft Depot at Point Cook. Murphy's enthusiasm about the Tugan conversion's slow-speed handling also had influence. He had personal connections with both the Chief of the Air Staff, Wg Cdr Richard Williams and had served under then-Wg Cdr LJ Wackett at the RAAF Experimental Section. [7] Major Murray Jones had a point but officialdom was lining up behind Tugan. Seeing the writing on the wall, Murray Jones' consulted with DHA's solicitors.

Convinced that de Havilland's legal position was strong, DHA's barristers prepared to present the case to the State of Victoria's Attorney-General. Turl and Gannon knew very well that the newly-revived Tugan Aircraft would not survive a legal challenge from the larger company. With British parent-firm backing, appeals could be taken all the way up to the Attorney-General's Department in Canberra. By then, Tugan would have gone down just on the cost of legal fees. The pair arranged a quiet meeting with Major Murray Jones to see what could be done. In the end, the terms agreed to were quite advantageous to the Tugan businessmen. DHA take possession of the Toolangi conversion with rights to the design in exchange for cash compensation - for Tugan Aircraft for work done and to W.S. Shackleton for the design and purchase cost of VH-UTE.

With no better option available, Bill Shackleton agreed to these terms. His real question was what would Tugan Aircraft do now? It had already been discovered that Shackleton did not hold the rights to the Lascoter monoplane. Those right still belonged to 'Jimmy' Larkin. And, truculent to the end, Larkin would not agree to 'his' Lascoter design being transferred to Tugan Aircraft for further development. There was also the outcome of the Point Cook demonstration to be considered. Although the RAAF were impressed with the flying qualities of the Toolangi, the service had no immediate requirement for a liaison aircraft with such capabilities. They did, however, need a new light utility transport for which the take-off and landing abilities of the Toolangi would be most welcome. It was decided that Shackleton would reinvest his DHA cash into a one-third share of Tugan Aircraft. The Tugan trio had a utility transport to create.

Image The sole Tugan WSS.8 Toolangi conversion after being impressed by the RAAF in November 1939. By this stage, the Toolangi belonged to de Havilland Australia which had re-styled the aircraft as the DHA.87 Australian Hornet. [3] Note that, by 1939, DHA had removed Shackleton's fixed leading-edge slats.

(To be continued ...)


[1] The WSS.8 designation followed both the style and numbering sequence of the Tugan LJW.7 Gannet. It seems that no designations were ever applied to Wackett's planned Gannet follow-ons.

[2] Toolangi is an Aboriginal word meaning tall trees ... which made the need for wooden wing construction rather à propos.

[3] Properly, the conversion was redesignated as the de Havilland Australia DHA-87S (Special) Australian Hornet. That moniker was obviously a take-off on the original Hornet Moth name but was also after the native vespid Abispa ephippium.

You have been busy :smiley:

Part Three - Disappointment and an Opportunity

W.S. Shackleton's DH.87A monoplane conversion was never intended as Tugan Aircraft's final Toolangi design. Tugun also presented a model of the developed liaison/observation aircraft was also presented to RAAF officials at Point Cook. This concept - initially dubbed WSS.8M - was displayed as the WSS.10 Toolangi II. Other than retaining the slatted Shackleton wing and the WSS.8's general layout, the Toolangi II was a completely new design. It was to have Shackleton's preferred metal construction - metal skinning over the steel-tube fuselage and fabric covering the metal wing structure. Alas, the RAAF was not interested.

Top Tugan WSS.10 Toolangi II liaison aircraft project. Essentially a scaled-up WSS.8 (DH.87A conversion), the metal-framed Toolangi II was to be powered by the same 350 hp Armstrong-Siddeley Cheetah engine selected for the RAAF's Avro Anson patrol aircraft.

The primary RAAF objections to the Toolangi II were its intended role and construction methods. It was assumed that larger and more powerful existing RAAF types could handle battlefield reconnaissance better than a lightweight liaison type. But, were such a type acceptable to the service, Shackleton's metal-skinned design would be more difficult to repair in the field. [1] In the view of planning officers, non-frontline aircraft should be constructed from a minimum of 'strategic materials' and preferably be fabric-covered for ease of repair and structural inspection. Indeed, the RAAF would welcome a simple and sturdy utility transport aircraft in exactly that category.

Marching Orders - the Tugan WSS.9 Tasman Utility Transport

The Tugan representative returned to Melbourne from RAAF Point Cook with either a contract or an airplane. But in giving up the WSS.8 conversion and rights to de Havilland Australia, the firm had come away somewhat richer than it had been before. Those funds would be invested in Bill Shackleton's next design - a monoplane utility aircraft. Having previously lost rights to the Lascoter transport to 'Jimmy' Larkin, this would need to be a 'fresh sheet' design.

Mindful of the RAAF's preferences (and of limited company coffers), Shackleton 'backdated' the general Lascoter fuselage to fabric covering. The wing, however, was entirely new - being a scaled-up version of the slatted and fabric-covered wooden structure designed for the WSS.8 Toolangi. This would ensure excellent low-speed handling for the new utility transport. Reviving the planned 'New Lascoter' designation of WSS.9, the new utility prototype became the WSS.9A Tasman. It was a simple, rugged, and boxy aircraft aimed at the civil cargo market as well as the RAAF.

Bottom Tugan WSS.9A Tasman utility transport prototype. Here, VH-UTE is shown with the 3-bladed Curtiss-Electric propeller mounted while still fitted with its unsuccessful 'extractor' cowling design. [2]

Once revealed in the press, the WSS.9A Tasman was immediately of interest to outback operators. But the timing was off. Almost at once, the RAAF order a dozen aircraft of a modified form. Tiny Tugan Aircraft had no ability to deliver that military order while also satisfying civilian demand - even if they had been allowed to under wartime conditions. With even more rugged undercarriages, standard NACA cowlings, and military equipment fitted, the revised WSS.9M model was assigned the name Taipan.

(To be continued ...)


[1] In the RAAF report, it was concluded that Shackleton's contruction method added some the repair complexities of stress-skinned aluminium fuselages without any of the structure benefits of those modern designs.

[2] Intended to improve engine cooling, the 'extractor' cowling actually raised cylinder temperatures.

Part Four - Taipan, the Tugan Tasman in Uniform

Production of the dozen Tasman Mk.I utility aircraft proceeded apace despite Tugan Aircraft's struggles to get access to priority materials during wartime. Evidently, the RAAF was satisfied with Tugan's performance since a follow-on order for 24 Tasman Mk.II was received before the last Mk.I was delivered. The Tasman Mk.II differed mainly in equipment fit - including optional 'rough terrain' wheels (with larger, lower-pressure tires).

Top Tugan Tasman Mk.II of No.4 Communications Unit, RAAF Archerfield, while detached on Special Operations in New Guinea. This aircraft is in the then-standard brown and green camouflage scheme. But, for unrecorded reasons, all Special Ops Tasmans of the time had all other markings painted out.

Note the longer exhaust pipe equipped with Beaufort style flame-dampers. The latter still has its cabin heater tube attached despite all doors having been removed (for cabin cooling, quicker egress, and cargo dropping). Some Special Ops Tasmans were fitted with a Vickers K gun on a swinging mount in the doorway. However, for the most part, Special Ops Tasman crews relied upon a low and quiet approach for self-protection.

The Tasman Mk.II Series 2 - a second tranche of 24 aircraft - had changes to radio equipment and a slight aft extension to the cargo cabin. These two dozen aircraft were followed by 10 Tasman Mk.IIIs. In theory, the Mk.III could be quickly converted into radio- or navigation-trainers. In practice, however, the Mk.IIIs were kept in the utility role and were virtually indistinguishable from the preceding Tasman Mk.II Series 2 airframes.

The next model was the 'universal' Taipan Mk.IV which could be recognized by its enlarged 'Wirraway' style oil cooler and shortened exhaust pipe. Still aimed at the utility role, the Taipan Mk.IVs combined all of the equipment-mounting options of earlier models. A new option was the fitting of pontoons for amphibious operations. This was sometimes referred to at the Taipan Mk.IV(F) ... although it is not clear whether that suffix was an officially sanctioned designation.

Bottom Tugan Taipan Mk.IV(F) in the later 'Foliage Green' scheme. This aircraft has been marked with codes for No.5 Communications Unit but had yet to be delivered to Townsville. As seen, this Taipan was with No.1 Air Performance Unit for pontoon trials in Port Melbourne. For the pontoon trials, the Taipan was fitted with a pair of Edo model 7170 floats on loan from the USAAF. [1]

The float installation was not considered a success - the mounting strut arrangement being too 'draggy'. The Taipan Mk.IV(F) handled well on the water but its performance was decidedly sluggish after take-off. Leading-edge slats were removed in an attempt to increase the economical cruising speed but to no avail. After brief testing by No.1 Air Performance Unit, the pontoons were removed and returned to the USAAF. The sole Taipan Mk.IV(F) - A11-68 - was delivered to No.5 Communications Unit, Townsville, on a wheeled undercarriage.

Perhaps because of its mundane utility role, the Tugan Taipan is hardly remembered today. In 1946, the type had been retired from RAAF service with the survivors being sold off to civilian ownership. Despite its rugged structure, hard use in the Outback put paid to most civvie Taipans. By the late 1950s, few Taipans remained in service. When, in the late 1960s, the RAAF Museum finally decided to honour the wartime type, not a single extant Taipan. The exhibit on display today is a composite airframe, cobbled together from a range of Taipan remains found in barns and wool sheds.

(To be continued ...)


[1] These Edo floats were originally intended for a USAAF UC-64A Norseman utility aircraft.


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