The CAC Wirraway was a training and general purpose military aircraft manufactured in Australia by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) between 1939 and 1946.
It was an Australian development of the North American NA-16 training aircraft.
The Wirraway has been credited as being the foundation of Australian aircraft manufacturing.
In June 1939, in light of the declining situation in Europe and the increasing likelihood of a major conflict, the Chief of the Air staff recommended the expansion of the RAAF to a total of 32 squadrons; of these, preparations for 9 general purpose squadrons, which were intended to be equipped with the Wirraway, were immediately put into motion.
On 25 August 1939, one month after the first deliveries of the Wirraway had occurred, an official State of Emergency was declared; on 3 September 1939, as the Second World War broke out in Europe, Australia decided to mobilise the entirety of its air force, placing all squadrons on short call for combat operations.
However, during the first year of the war, the Wirraway was still being introduced in quantity within many squadrons; this effort was delayed by a temporary shortage of available spare parts.
As its American “cousin” the T-6 (both types having been derived from the NA-16) did for many Allied Air Forces during the Second World War, the Wirraway served as one of the RAAF’s main trainer types from 1939.
Beside serving as a trainer aircraft they were also operated in combat roles, including as an emergency fighter.
At the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941 Wirraways equipped seven RAAF squadrons: Nos 4, 5, 12, 22, 23, 24 and 25.
A group of five Wirraways based at Kluang in Malaya for training purposes was pressed into combat against Japanese ground invasion forces, these were generally flown by New Zealanders with Australian observers, and had some successes.
As early as 1941, reports on the capabilities of Japanese fighter aircraft fuelled the perception that the Wirraway would be incapable of effectively engaging such aircraft; however, the type was judged to possess some merits in combat despite being considered to be obsolete.
Regardless, the type was often put into action against the advancing Japanese forces.
On 6 January 1942, Wirraways of No. 24 Squadron attempted to intercept Japanese seaplanes flying over New Britain, only one managed to engage an enemy aircraft, marking the first air-to-air combat between RAAF and Japanese forces.
Two weeks later, eight 24 Squadron Wirraways defended the city of Rabaul from over 100 Japanese attacking bombers and fighters, resulting in the destruction or severe damage of all but two of the Australian aircraft.
On 12 December 1942, Pilot Officer J. S. Archer shot down a Japanese fighter aircraft (thought at the time to be an A6M Zero, but found after the war to be a Ki-43) after having spotted it around 1000 feet (about 300 metres) below him and dived on it, opening fire and sending the Zero hurtling into the sea.
This was the only occasion that a Wirraway shot down another aircraft.
In response to a request by Sir Thomas Blamey for an army cooperation squadron operating a relatively slow aircraft, No. 4 Squadron, equipped with the Wirraway, was dispatched to Port Moresby during early November 1942.
Operating over New Guinea, the type performed aerial reconnaissance, photography, artillery spotting, communication, supply drops, dive-bombing, ground attack and propaganda drops.
In this capacity, the Wirraway proved to be fairly suitable, however, due to the risk of being misidentified as a hostile Zero, altitude restrictions were often imposed to deter incidents of friendly fire from Allied anti-aircraft gunners.
Having become known for its versatility, fighter versions of the Wirraway operated over New Guinea for some time on ground attack and other Army co-operation tasks until other RAAF aircraft such as the Boomerang and American Curtiss P-40s were made available in sufficient quantity to replace them.
By mid-1943, nearly all frontline use of the Wirraway had come to an end, having been replaced by the newer Boomerang, itself a fighter orientated derivative of the Wirraway.
The majority of front line squadrons of the RAAF had at least one Wirraway attached to serve as a squadron ‘hack’, that is, an aircraft employed on errands such as visits to headquarters or other bases.
At least one aircraft (formerly A20-527) flew as part of Headquarters Flight 5th Air Force in full United States Army Air Forces markings.