12th December 2013 – Nearly a decade ago, a Sar-El volunteer was making his way back to his working station after partaking of the midday meal at the Israel Defense Forces base mess hall. Quite unexpectedly, from the clear sky above came a loud roar. The sound caused him to shift his gaze upward.
Some 2,000 feet above the man saw an Israel Aircraft Industries Kurnass 2000 in a climbing turn to the right with afterburners lit. He smiled as the powerful fighter ascended ever higher, recalling that in the not too distant past Jews were not particularly known for aerospace engineering. Times had certainly changed. Yet, several decades previously one Jewish engineer had earned a noteworthy reputation and produced a remarkable design for Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) in Australia. The man’s name was Friedrich or “Fred” David. An extant, although unairworthy, example of the fruits of his labors his sits inside the Golden Hill warehouse facility at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida.
Shortly before Rosh Hashanah, Yonatan, a member of Jews in Aviation’s Central Florida Chapter, escorted J.R. Hafer, publisher of 20th Century Aviation Magazine, to see Boomerang Serial Number A-46-165. Yonatan explained to Mr. Hafer that the aeroplane design was in large part a result of work by Fred David.
According to The Australian.com and other sources, Fred David was an Austrian-born Jewish refugee who worked for the Heinkel aircraft company in Germany. When the Nazis began persecuting Jews, David “was transferred to Japan by his sympathetic employer, Ernst Heinkel. . . .”
It appears that Fred David’s first project in Japan was to apply Heinkel design features to Japanese requirements. His contributions resulted in the Mitsubushi A5M Claude fighter and the Aichi Type 99 Val dive-bomber. It is worth noting that Thomas P. Lowry and Commander John W.G. Wellham state in the photograph section of the book The Attack on Taranto that, “Vals were as agile as most fighter planes in 1940 and sank more ships than any other dive-bomber in World War II.”
Gary Sunderland adds the following to the story: “Meanwhile the feared ‘Kempi-tai’ secret police began to take rather a close interest in the young engineer from Germany. Questions about his family background caused Fred to depart in haste. Fred ended up in Australia just as war broke out, where he found himself behind barbed wire in an internment camp. As a German citizen, Fred was now an enemy alien in a country at war with Germany.” An online posting (When the only Australian air defence was a Boomerang) states the following: “It has been estimated that of the 10,000 civilians interned in Australia during World War II, around 2,000 were of German-speaking Jewish origin.”
Soon thereafter Australia was reeling as forces of the Empire of Japan were pushing southward and threatening the county. In 1942 the Japanese began bombing northern Australia, and Imperial Japanese Navy submarines attacked naval vessels in Sidney Harbor.
Aircraft shipments to the beleaguered Aussies were too few and irregular to supply the numbers of fighter planes necessary to mount an adequate defense. Thus, the situation was dire. Australia needed to domestically produce an aircraft at least until shipping lanes were again relatively secure and Allied factories could manufacture sufficient numbers of airplanes to meet worldwide demand.
Author René J. Francillon recorded (page 3) in The Commonwealth Boomerang that the Boomerang “was born from the sudden needs created by the war’s impact on that young nation at a time when the Mother Country was bearing the brunt of the war effort in Europe and when the United States had not yet fully turned their gigantic industrial resources into the arsenal of the free world.”
During this period only two types of military aircraft were in production within Australia. One was the CAC Wirraway, which was a single-engine armed trainer or ground attack plane based upon the North American NA-33 Harvard. The other was the Bristol Beaufort twin-engine bomber.
The license-built 1,200 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines being built at a CAC factory could be utilized, and the Wirraway loosely served as a guide for the Boomerang’s airframe design. The Twin Wasp powered the Grumman Wildcat naval fighter in service with the U.S. Navy and Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. However, it was hardly realistic for CAC to expect a final product that could match the vaunted Mitsubishi A6N Zero because the Wildcat itself was inferior in overall performance.
Lawrence Wackett reportedly recalled (see Simon Caterson’s article When the only Australian air defence was a Boomerang) a critical pre-production discussion. When the Boomerang project was first discussed with officials, “We explained that we knew the fighter we could build would not be as good as the best Spitfires used in Britain but, then, Australia had no fighters at all, and what we would offer would be vastly superior to any aircraft at that time in Australia.” Furthermore, Wackett said, “Any fighter which could destroy a Japanese bomber or ship-borne reconnaissance aircraft would be of value, if only for second-line defence.” Permission to proceed was forthcoming.
Mr. Wackett, a WWI flier and CAC’s Managing Director, recruited Fred David for the company. Fred was installed as chief engineer at CAC and placed in charge of the top-secret stop-gap fighter project. Secured by CAC, the stage was set for Fred David to make his valuable contribution to the war effort. The Australian National Aviation Museum’s Boomerang page describes the situation: “Fred David, Chief Engineer at CAC, sketched a drawing of a single seat fighter, using the most powerful engine available in production in Australia, and using as many Wirraway components as possible to allow for rapid production. The online article Magnificent Men Who Built a Vital Flying Machine states an irony: “As David worked to provide Australia’s front-line air defence capability against invasion, he was obliged to report to police weekly.”
Manufacturing of the Boomerang prototype took place at CAC’s Fisherman’s Bend factory in Melbourne. On December 21, 1941, detailed design began. By May 29, 1942, the first aircraft had test flown. Remarkably, the first Boomerang had gone from drafting boards to tarmac within only 22 weeks.
The diminutive and somewhat pugnacious CA-12 aeroplane soon underwent evaluative testing. Geoffrey Pentland wrote (page 8) that, at the time of the first Boomerangs’ debut, the type “was acknowledged . . . to be the world’s fastest single engined aircraft to 10,000 feet.” The CA-12’s top speed was 305 miles per hour at 15,000 feet.
Within the text (page 6) of The Commonwealth Boomerang are details about the CA-12’s flight-testing with existing RAAF types. A “rate of climb of 240 feet per minute was demonstrated, but “the maximum speed was only slightly superior to that of the Buffalo . . ..” Program managers and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) commanders knew that Brewsters in British, Dutch and American service had dubious success against Japanese machines. An Australian War Memorial compilation (Australia in the War of 1939-1945, The Role of Science and Industry) of comparison trials quoted (page 6) in the same publication stated the following: “At 10,000 feet the Boomerang is more maneuverable than the Kittyhawk [P-40E] and can turn inside it,” and although the Curtiss design was slightly faster in level flight, the CA-12 possessed a better rate of climb. Another finding was that “the Airacobra had a greater speed advantage over the Boomerang than the Kittyhawk,” but the P-39D was “out maneuvered at the same height in concentric attack (turning circles).”
Two negative qualities were that “Boomers” displayed a tendency to ground loop, and they languished upon attaining medium altitude. Without a turbosupercharger, the type could not hope to provide an effective offense or defense at higher altitudes. Nevertheless, the Boomerangs’ complement of two 20 mm Hispano cannon and four Browning .303 machine guns was formidable. The Boomerang appeared in three marks or marques. They were CA-12, CA-13 and CA-19. A single CA-14A was also produced.
Boomerangs entered RAAF squadron service in the latter part of 1942. On October 19, 1942, No. 83 Squadron replaced its Bell P-39/P-400 Airacobras with the new machines and No. 84 Squadron also took some into inventory. No. 85 Squadron likewise exchanged its Buffaloes for Boomerangs. At home, No. 83 and No. 85 Squadrons RAAF and their Boomerang fighters were limited to home defense only.
Geoffrey Pentland notably states on page 2 of his book that at “the time the first Boomerangs were available for operational service the emergency which precipitated the design had somewhat decreased and American Kittyhawks and British Spitfire VCs were available.” Nevertheless, No. 84 Squadron went on combat operations with Boomerangs, but pilots complained of the Boomers’ inadequate speed and poor high altitude performance. Subsequently, the unit converted to Kittyhawks some eight months after receiving their Boomerangs.
However, No. 4 and No. 5 Squadrons received Boomerangs and found them to be excellent close support aircraft. With these squadrons, based in New Guinea, the Boomerangs performed admirably in support of ground forces. Although not originally designed for the ground support role, the CAC Boomerang was in many aspects the A-10 Thunderbolt II or “Warthog” of its time. They were easier to fly than most fighters of the era, and this permitted aviators to get in low and close to targets or troops. Pilots found the nimble, rugged, long-legged and very potent Boomers perfectly suited to “army cooperation” (support of ground forces) missions.
In fact, Boomerangs worked quite effectively in conjunction with RAAF Wirraways and Royal New Zealand Air Force Chance-Vought Corsairs. Geoffrey Pentland recorded (page 8) that Boomerangs, “born out of urgency and at first greatly underestimated, had finally proved . . . a useful, highly efficient and deadly weapon.”
Unfortunately, two Boomerangs fell victim to friendly fire. A Kiwi Aircraft Images’ article (CAC Boomerang) states that one Boomerang [A46-88-911] “was shot down by U.S. ground fire, and another [A46-136-959]. . . was damaged in an attack by a P-38 flown by Lt. G.R. Johnson.” Geoffrey Pentland indicated that Boomerang A46-88-911 was downed on July 7, 1943, and it was the first to be “lost on operations.” Pentland records that the Lockheed P-38 Lightning encounter, which resulted in a “forced landing,” with A46-136-959 took place on November 15, 1943. Fortunately, both RAAF pilots survived their downings.
Readers should note that Fantasy of Flight additionally has a Wirraway and P-38J pending restoration at the Golden Hill facility. Also, an F4U-4 Corsair is displaying inside the main facility’s “Carrier Deck” area, and an airworthy Curtiss TP-40N is in residence. Furthermore, Fantasy of Flight has a P-39 currently under restoration in Australia.
The author sincerely thanks Fantasy of Flight, Jews in Aviation and publisher J.R. Hafer for their cooperation during the preparation of this article.
Sources and Suggested Readings
A-10/OA-10 Thunderbolt II
A-10 Thunderbolt II (“Warthog”)
Aichi D3A – Wikipedia
Australian War Memorial
Bell P-39 Airacobra – Royal Australian Air Force Museum
Brewster Buffalo – Royal Australian Air Force
CAC Boomerang – Wikipedia
CAC Boomerang Drawings – Design Bureau
CAC Boomerang – Exploring the myths and facts
CAC CA-12 Boomerang
CAC Wirraway — Wikipedia
Chance-Vought Corsair – Wikipedia
Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation — Wikipedia
Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Boomerang Restoration
Fred David – Feldgrau.net
Gary Sunderland, Elliptical Wings Part 2: The Fred David Story, Small Scale Squadron Down Under – Flying Aces Squadron 65 newsletter
Geoffrey Pentland, Coomonwealth Boomerang Described, Tornonto: Kookaburra Technical Publications, 1966.
Grumman Wildcat & Martlett — Wikipedia
Israel Aerospace Industries
Jeff Daniels, ed., Aircraft World — Wars I & II (Concise Colour Guides), Stamford, CT: Longmeadow Press, 1988, 118-119.
Jews in Aviation
Magnificent men who built a vital flying machine
Mitsubishi A5N – Wikipedia
Mitsubishi A6N — Wikipedia
P-39 Airacobra — Royal Australian Air Force Museum
Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp — Wikipedia
René J. Francillion, The Commonwealth Boomerang (Profile Publications Number 178), Leatherhead, Surrey, England: George Falkner & Sons Ltd., 1967.
Richard A. Franks, The CAC Boomerang: A Detailed Guide to the RAAF’s Famous WWII Fighter (Airframe Album), Bedford, Bedfordshire, England: Valiant Wings Publishing, 2013.
Royal New Zealand Air Force – Wikipedia
Simon Caterson, When the only Australian air defence was a Boomerang, On Line Opinion.com.au
The Australian National Aviation Museum CAC CA-12 Boomerang A46-25
Thomas P. Lowry and John W.G. Wellham, The Attack on Taranto: Blueprint for Pearl Harbor, Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 1995.
William Green & Gordon Swanborough, The Complete Book of Fighters, New York: Smithmark, 1994, pp. 113-115.