Compiled by Phil Buckley and Graham Slingsby. Photos by Graham Slingsby.
West Sale aerodrome, located in the idyllic Gippsland region of Eastern Victoria, Australia; sits the remains of the once former active fleet of Royal Australian Navy -Fleet Air Arm (FAA) aircraft carrier based Grumman S-2E/G Trackers.
Sadly, for passionate warbird enthusiasts; 11 of these 1950’s era anti-submarine warfare aircraft, are left exposed and languishing in outside storage, at the mercy of the elements.These unsung heroes of the RAN aviation fleet, operated from the 1960s up unto 1984, when the then Australia Labor Government, de-commissioned the fixed-wing element of the RAN (FAA). All Grumman S-2E/G Trackers, A-4G Skyhawks, HS-748’s and MB-326H Macchis were subsequently withdrawn from active FAA service.
Hookway Aerospace purchased 11 of these decommissioned S-2E/G Tracker aircraft from the RAN as a lot, in the early 1990s and flew them down to West Sale Aerodrome from Nowra Naval Air Station (HMAS Albatross).The flying was conducted using a system of 2-4 active Wright R-1820-82WA radial engines available at the time. The system employed, was this: Hookway Aviation would ferry one aircraft down to West Sale Aerodrome; remove the radial engines, truck them back to Nowra by road, re-install the engines on next aircraft and fly back to West Sale Aerodrome.
The process was repeated until all Grumman S-2E/G Trackers were relocated to West Sale Aerodrome.Hookway Aviation’s theory (in principle), was to procure these versatile aircraft, in the hope that others in Australia may eventually buy (invest in) the robust aircraft for a variety of uses such as fire fighting (water bombers), civil SAR/Surveillance operations, or simply as ‘Warbirds.’ Sadly, as history has shown, none of these proposals ever came into fruition. To that end, the Aussie S-2E/G Tracker fleet has remained eerily stagnant – literally left to rot away at West Sale Aerodrome.
Over the last few years, Wellington Shire Council acquired/requisitioned the aircraft after Hookway Aerospace allegedly failed to pay the appropriate Council aerodrome lease fees. Wellington Shire Council is reported to have sold these airframes (via Grays Online Auctions) in October 2013, to a consortium of U.S.A based investors, whose intent was to utilize the airframes for potential spare parts (on existing U.S. “Fire Bomber” Grumman Trackers) or for general re-sale. The fate of the former Aussie Tracker fleet, is now firmly in the hands of these fortuitous investors.
Of recent note over the month of February 2016, is that all of the former RAN (FAA) Grumman S-2E/G Trackers, have been re-positioned from their long term hangar facility, out onto the main apron at West Sale Aerodrome. It is believed that representatives from the U.S.A are about to descend upon West Sale Aerodrome in early March 2016. An astute observer might assume that this may signify the ‘coup de grâce’ for these airframes?
It is noted that most – if not all of the aircraft – are in various states of serious dis-repair and corroded condition. This is not to be unexpected, after nearly 32 years of neglect – with all aircraft parked on an unprotected apron and exposed to the weathering effects of: extreme heat, volumous rain and salt air. It is expected that once all of these aircraft have had various components removed; they will be on-sold to a Melbourne based, scrap metal merchant, for complete destruction.
One of the more fortunate Grumman S-2G Tracker aircraft (Tracker “854” – S/N: N12-153566), was gifted ‘on loan’ to the Gippsland Armed Forces Museum, which is itself, co-located at West Sale Aerodrome. WarbirdNews has spoken to aircraft heritage supporter; Graham Slingsby, and learnt that he has initiated certain diplomatic (and collaborative) negotiations, which will hopefully see “Tracker 854” permanently located and preserved for all time, at the Gippsland Armed Forces Museum.
It is hoped that “Tracker 854” will be retained in its original condition, as a tribute to the RAN (FAA) aircrew and ground crews, who operated these machines upon both HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Albatross. Discussions regarding the future of “Tracker 854” are continuing. We hope to report a positive outcome, in due course.