DARETON’S Men in a Shed is always a fascinating place to visit and the ‘Weekly recently popped in to see the boys and to take a look at one of their current projects − the restoration of a Sabre fighter jet.
Mildura’s Greg Wood is working on the Sabre Jet restoration project being undertaken on behalf of the Mildura RSL by the Men’s Shed.
“The restored aircraft will go on static display at Mildura Airport. It will never fly again, and it is basically a shell having had almost all of its working parts, including the engine, removed,” Greg said.
“It’s got nothing at all in it – I call it Crayfish – all shell and no guts!”
The day the ‘Weekly visited the Men’s Shed it was the anniversary of the first Sabre Jet taking to the air in Australia on August 3, 1953.
The Sabre saw action in the Korean War where the Americans used them and they were known as an F-86 whereas the Australian built version is a CA-2.
“The Sabre we have had two guns fitted to it − one either side of the fuselage – the Americans had two guns either side,” Mr Wood said.
The Sabre is part of the Royal Australian Air Force’s Heritage Collection.
The first of the Australian Sabre Jets were built at the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation factory at Fishermen’s Bend in Melbourne.
Mildura RSL manager of Veterans Services Paul Mensch said that the Sabre jet was purchased by John McLauchlan and donated to the Mildura RSL in late 2019 and has been in storage at the Mildura Airport awaiting restoration.
“Unfortunately, COVID 19 put that on hold until the Mildura RSL struck up a deal with the Dareton Men’s Shed to take on the restoration task a few months ago,” Mr Mensch said.
“A Memorandum of Understanding was entered into between the Mildura RSL and the Dareton Men in a Shed and work has commenced.
“Expenses are approved by the Mildura RSL on a case-by-case basis and while there is no specific budget in place, obviously there is going to be ongoing costs to get the job done properly.
“The Mildura RSL believes that this aircraft will be an excellent addition to the Mildura RAAF Museum and Memorial at the Mildura Airport and will prove to be a huge drawcard for both locals and visitors to the region.”
Mr Mensch added that Gregg and Sons Steel in Buronga has donated steel and aluminium materials for the project, something the Mens’ Shed and the RSL are very grateful for.
Mr Wood said that in addition to himself, there are three other members working on the project which involves a lot of preparation and they need to find a lot of parts for the plane.
“We have a heap of parts that came with it, but we do need to find them to see what goes where and then they need to cleaned and fitted and so it’s fairly time consuming – it’s a big project,” he said.
“Once we do the main fuselage which we are working on at the moment, we will tackle the wings.
“The wings aren’t connected to the aircraft at the moment and we will repair and paint them, but they will then need to be fitted to the fuselage after it has been transported to the airport.
“Where there are panels missing we are manufacturing the component ourselves.
“In the case of a missing door, we will remake that and cover the gap over.”
Mr Wood joined the Men’s Shed only two months ago and when he started, the Sabre had just arrived, and it represented the ideal project for him to become involved in.
“I’ve only been at the Men’s Shed for about eight weeks and unbeknown to me, the plane had only just arrived here and so I said ‘Well, this will suit me to work on something like this’ and it’s gone from there,” he said.
“The restoration will take some time to complete given we are only out here on Wednesday for six hours and three hours on Saturday.
“I take a lot of work home with me and I’ve cleaned up some parts removed old nuts and inserted new ones … and we do that for other parts making new ones out of aluminium sheets.
Mr Wood is a panel beater by trade so he’s ideally suited to this work.
“I served my apprenticeship as a panel beater and worked for 12 months and then I started driving trucks, which I did for most of my working life, but I still did some panel beating on and off as a side line and I also had an interest in aircraft,” he said.
“When I retired I was looking for something to do and a friend or ours recommended the Men’s Shed at Dareton which I didn’t know existed and so I came out and now I’m a member. I am really enjoying it. They’re a good group of blokes, very casual and easy going and everyone’s willing to give a hand.
“Personally for me it’s been great. I’m 70 in November and I really enjoy the hands-on ‘fixing things up stuff’.
One of the other members working on the Sabre is Dareton’s Andrew Cannard who said when the Sabre arrived at the shed it had a lot of tape over the fuselage joins.
“We peeled the tape off, but it left a sticky residue on the surface and it took us a while to get that off, which we had to do before we could sand it back in readiness to be painted,” he said.
“I and two others spent three or four weeks getting the residue off and we tried a variety of ‘potions’ to do that and ended up finding an off-the-shelf cleaner called ‘Glitz’ and it came-off, but it was the elbow grease that really did it best and lots of it!
“I love the work and the variety of projects, I think is the best thing about this place. Something will show up and it’s always interesting − an old tractor or truck − and we’ve got a hand-built tractor from the late 1940s.”
There’s no doubt about it, the Dareton Men in a Shed would have to be quite unique, boasting a fascinating collection of all sorts of machinery and gadgets, which after all is the ultimate bloke’s shed!
By John Dooley.
ABOVE: Dareton Men’s Shed members Andrew Cannard and Greg Wood with vice-president Bob Jones in front of the fuselage of the Sabre Jest being restored by the group on behalf of the Mildura RSL.
ABOVE: Dareton Men in a Shed member Greg Wood is loving restoring the former RAAF frontline fighter jet.