IKARA and ADASTRA
by Mike Wood
missile preserved at Australia's Museum of Flight, Nowra.
Charles F. Adams class destroyer (DDG) HMAS Perth at Brisbane
(Photo: Ron Cuskelly)
approached by the Royal Australian Navy and the Department of Supply in July 1967
with a request to quote for survey style photography of the Ikara sea trials.
Being a prestigious client it was an ideal contract to look to, and we were delighted
to win it.
To clarify operational details, including the security angle, Lionel Van Praag
and I were invited aboard HMAS Perth to meet the Navy team running the trials.
This was on 26th July when the ship was based in Sydney. At that time, 1967, Ikara
was in the top secret bracket and security was a concern to them.
The first trial was scheduled for 9th August, and to ease their minds in this
latter regard, we nominated as crew, three of our flight personnel who had been
commissioned RAAF aircrew, thus having ready clearance. The crew was Lionel, pilot,
Vic Petersen on camera and myself as navigator. (Later, after the company's bona
fides had been confirmed, security clearances were simplified, although we were
still subject to the Official Secrets Act.)
Cdr. Ike Wilson was the RAN director of the trials, and the Department of Supply's
representative was Malcolm Barrett. The latter, who retained that role for the
duration of the trials, was a most helpful liaison officer, and flew with us,
as observer, on several sorties.
On 8th August
1967, we took Hudson VH-AGP down to HMAS Albatross, a shore station at Naval Air
Station Nowra, south of Sydney where we had a further briefing and later enjoyed
the hospitality of the wardroom. However, this first trial ran into a series of
problems, not only with the Ikara launch, but also with ship/aircraft communication,
and when bad weather arrived the trial was scrubbed.
and Second Trial:
back at Adastra's base at Mascot led to some disquiet. We had flown seven sorties
over a four day period and there was concern over the amount of time that one
of our survey units had been committed to the work with no result. As it turned
out, however, in the long run, this initial trial proved its worth in that liaison
became smoother, many of the technical glitches were ironed out, and aborted trials
in the years ahead were often due to low cloud or a heavy sea state.
Lionel and I attended the Navy's debrief on 11th August at HMAS Rushcutter, the
naval depot. The client also expressed concern, and after a long meeting, decided
that more time was needed to solve their own problems.
On 17th November we were again invited to Rushcutter to what was labelled the
Sea Trials Conference. Although this was another lengthy affair, greater confidence
was evident and a second trial was set down for 13th December.
For the second trial (VH-AGX, same crew) we flew first to the RAN strip at Jervis
Bay and picked up as observer, Lt. Taff Hughes. Over three days, we again flew
seven sorties, but this time came back with positive photography, both colour
and black and white. Our client expressed complete satisfaction with the results
and we were assured of an on-going contract for the duration of the trials.
of the Trials:
From that first,
aborted attempt in August 1967 to the cessation of the trials in early 1974, Adastra
provided survey coverage of the Ikara firings on at least 54 occasions. (This
figure was arrived at from my diary entries. There were a few trials during my
absence on field work which I didn't record.)
|Lionel Van Praag
On a number
of the early trials we were advised by the control ship of a Grumman Tracker operating
in the firing zone, but at a safe altitude below us. What we discovered was that
the Tracker was also following the missile after launch. This intrigued Lionel
and me. But, as it transpired, any suspicions that the Navy boys were setting
up their own photographic unit were groundless.
Some years later, in June 1973, the Trackers again appeared in the firing zone.
We had been asked to prepare for a new style of two-day trials, one day to involve
infra red film for the standard Ikara firing, and day two to cover, with colour
film, a torpedo launch from a Tracker. There were six such trials that year. Once
again results were mixed, my notes indicating positive outcomes on only five days,
the remainder being spoilt by misfirings, rain or heavy sea state.
nominated by the client was the standard Wild RC8 with a 6 inch focal length lens.
At one of the RAN debriefings the problem of low cloud and the ensuing reduced
photographic coverage was discussed. This prompted me to suggest using the RC9
(focal length 3.5 inches). Perhaps because their plotting set up was based on
the 6 inch lens, they were reluctant to switch cameras. Further discussion led
to the idea of using the two cameras on the same trial. Of course our only aircraft
with dual camera hatches was the DC-3 VH-AGU. The first chance to put the proposal
into practice was on 17th February 1970 - one of the sorties described in Peter
Shute's account which follows. (The crew was Dave Brennan, pilot, Lionel co-pilot,
Peter Shute and John Collins on cameras and myself as navigator.) As it happened,
the weather was almost cloudless and the colour imagery from the RC8 gave the
client his requirement, with the black and white shorter focal length coverage
being of curiosity value only. The experiment was not repeated, even though AGU
was often available for subsequent trials.
Earlier I mentioned
technical glitches being ironed out. If this had been 100%, our contract would
not have lasted the six or seven years that it did. Indeed, one memorable trial
in March 1970 caused a deal of consternation. John Collins and I were in the Cessna
185 VH-AGE, and at launch, with camera rolling, we were just starting to follow
the missile when its guidance system went awry. It doubled back on its track and
splashed down dangerously close to the launch vessel. There was a sudden deathly
silence on the airwaves and we stooged around awaiting instructions. Some time
later, a subdued voice announced shut down of the trial and we headed home, but
with the evidence of a genuine near miss.
We were always
made welcome in the wardroom when overnighting at Albatross. This was an experience
we all enjoyed, but probably more so by the younger members of our crew, who would
have been new to the sometimes arcane traditions of an officers' mess. As our
operations became routine, preflight briefings were more commonly held in Sydney
and we found it expedient to obtain A.T.C. clearance at Mascot and fly directly
to the firing zone. Thus, overnights at Albatross became infrequent.
account (which follows) mentions the use of marker dye. My understanding of its
purpose was to fix the splashdown point of the missile. Basic photogrammetry would
then provide track and distance and confirm the accuracy or otherwise of the firing.
On only one occasion of the 50 odd trilas I'd flown on, were we asked to help
locate the torpedo, which was designed to surface at the end of its run. I assume
it was tracked by a version of Asdic, and its recovery was routine.
By far the
aircraft which featured most in the Ikara trials was the Cessna 185 VH-AGE. Naturally
it was more economical than a Hudson or the DC-3, and it was also the first of
our light aircraft to be converted to a two-man operation. (The "Flying Gregorys"
in the Aero Commander VH-AGA had been operating as a tandem team before this,
but that handsome duo deserve a separate story). To both operate the camera and
at the same time navigate the aircraft within prescribed tolerances required a
high level of experience. This was especially so over poorly mapped terrain and
we found that younger crew members had difficulty with the task. Sadly, the concept
of training (except, of course, for pilot conversion) was quite foreign to Adastra's
administrative wing. New crews were usually thrown in at the deep end, so to speak,
and as a consequence a lot of their work was rejected. This philosophy always
irked operational personnel.
6th January 2004