Special Hobby 1/48 Wirraway

KIT #: SH 48054
PRICE: 6500 yen at Hobby Link Japan
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


          Three Royal Australian Air Force officers, led by Wing Commander Lawrence Wackett, were sent on an overseas evaluation mission in 1936 to select an aircraft type for local production in Australia. The aircraft selected was the North American Aviation (NAA) NA‑16.  This caused a huge political storm in Australia, since it had been assumed that when the new government-sponsored Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation was created, that British aircraft would be chosen for production.  Charles Grey, ditor of The Aeroplane, waged a detailed misinformation campaign against the type in an attempt to reverse the decision, but W/C Wackett was able to demonstrate that the NA-16 was the most modern type available that could be manufactured by a previously-nonexistant aircraft manufacturing indusry, and the decision was confirmed.

          A production licence was obtained in 1937.  Two NA‑16s were purchased from North American Aviation to act as prototypes. The first being the fixed undercarriage NA‑16‑1A, which was similar in design to the BT‑9; the second was the retractable undercarriage NA‑16‑2K, which was similar to the BC‑1. They were also known by their NAA project accounting codes, NA‑32 for the NA‑16‑1A and NA‑33 for the NA‑16‑2K, which subsequently has led historians to confusion. The NA‑16‑1A arrived in Australia in August 1937 and flew for the first time at Laverton on September 3, 1937. The NA‑16‑2K arrived in late September 1937 and flew shortly afterwards. They were given RAAF serials A20‑1 and A20‑2.

          The NA‑16‑2K was selected for production, with several detail and structural changes, such as provision for two forward‑firing .30-caliber machine guns instead of the NA‑16's one, and a strengthened structure to allow dive‑bombing operations, since the Wirraway was also seen as a close support aircraft for the Army, as well as a trainer.  The first CA‑1 Wirraway, serial A20‑3, made its first flight on March 27, 1939.  The first two Wirraways delivered to the RAAF were A20‑4 and A20‑5, on July 10, 1939. By the outbreak of World War II the RAAF had received six Wirraways. Forty CA‑1 Wirraways were built before the CA‑3 entered production, the change in designation having more to do with the new one being built to a different government contract than any difference between the sub‑types. The CA‑5, CA‑7, CA‑8 and CA‑9 were all similar to the CA‑3; the CA‑16 had substantial design changes, which included wing modifications to allow a heavier bomb load and dive brakes for dive‑bombing.  “Dive bomber” wings were built under the designation of CA‑10A and retrofitted to CA‑3s, ‑5s, ‑7s and ‑9s, with 113 Wirraways converted. CA‑16 A20‑757, the last of 755 Wirraways built, was delivered to the RAAF in July 1946.

          Beside serving as a trainer aircraft Wirraways were also operated in combat roles.  At the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941 Wirraways equipped seven RAAF squadrons: Noumbers 4, 5, 12, 22, 23, 24 and 25.  The first to see combat were a group of five Wirraways based at Kluang in Malaya for training purposes which were pressed into combat against the Japanese, being flown by New Zealanders with Australian observers.  They were quickly dispatched by the Japanese.

          On January 6, 1942, Wirraways of No. 24 Squadron based at Rabaul attempted to intercept Japanese seaplanes flying over New Britain.  One managed to engage, marking the first air‑to‑air combat between the RAAF and the Japanese. Two weeks later, eight Wirraways defended the city of Rabaul from an attack by over 100 Japanese  bombers and fighters, with all but two of the Wirraways lost.  On December 12, 1942, Pilot Officer J. S. Archer shot down a Zero after spotting it 1000 feet below and diving on it, opening fire and sending the Zero hurtling into the sea. This was the only Wirraway aerial victory, and is one more than the number  shot down by its offspring, the Boomerang. Wirraways operated over New Guinea and later Bougainville on ground attack and other Army co‑operation missions in concert with the Boomerang, establishing an excellent record with the ground forces.

          Many RAAF squadrons had at least one Wirraway attached as a squadron “hack.” One Wirraway, A20‑527, was part of Headquarters Flight 5th Air Force, flying in full USAAF markings.

          The Wirraway continued in service after the war as a trainer with both the RAAF and the Australian Navy.  After CAC Winjeels entered service in 1958, the RAAF phased out its Wirraways with a farewell flypast held at Point Cook on December 4, 1958, to mark its retirement. The last RAAF flight was on April 27 1959 when CA‑16 A20‑686 was flown to Tocumwal for disposal. 

          Ten Wirraways survive on the Australian civil aircraft register, with several others in aviation museums in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the United States.


          This kit was first released a few years ago and has been occasionally available since then with new production runs.  It is a limited-run kit, with a detailed cockpit and petite surface detail.  Seats and the engine are made of resin, with the instrument panel and seat belts being photo-etch. Decals are provided for three different Wirraways.


          I have been known to say that Special Hobby’s design philosophy is “Fit?  Fit?!  We don’t need no steenking fit!”  There have been kits released in the past that seem as if each sub-assembly was designed by someone who never interacted with other members of the design team.  Fortunately, that is nrealistic look.

          I started with the cockpit, which was complicated by the fact that all the bits and pieces are butt-joined.  I painted it British interior grey-green before proceeding with assembly.  I wished I had an old Monogram T-6 to steal the cockpit from, but in the end all went together and fit nicely.

          The wings and tail surfaces all have nice sharp trailing edges.  I only needed to use filler along the upper ing to fuselage joint, and the fuselage centerline.

          I did have to reshape the carburetor intake, using photos of Wirraways to get the shape right.  Other than that, the rest of the model was easy.


          I decided to do a late-production Wirraway with the overall foliage green scheme used in New Guinea and Bougainville during 1944-45.  I used Tamiya “Black Green” (RLM 70) which is a close match for Australian Foliage Green.  After painting the tail and wing leading edges white and masking them off, I painted the rest in dark green, post shading the paint with applications of white.

          I used a mixture of kit decals and Red Roo decals for the Boomerang, to create a Wirraway flown by 5 Squadron.  The model was given an overall coat of Xtracrylix clear flat.

           I attached the canopy, which is not accurate, since the roof line is too low by a good 1/16 inch, giving the model a squat appearance.  I will likely replace this with a Falcon vacuformed canopy at some point in the future.  I finished by attaching the pitot tube, landing gear and prop.


           I like the T-6, and have been hoping to get one of these Wirraway kits to complete my collection of T-6 variants.  With the different pieces provided for the upper fuselage ahead of the cockpit, it should be possible to complete one of these as a BC-1 trainer, using the Falcon vacuform canopy for the Monogram T-6.  Combining this kit with a Monogram T-6 for wings and horizontal stabilizers, it would also be possible to do an early Harvard.  Recommended for T-6 fans with experience doing limited-run kits.

Tom Cleaver

January 2014

Review kit courtesy HobbyLink Japan.  Get yours at this link. 

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