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The Forgotten Kangaroo: Exploring the CAC CA-15, Australia’s Abandoned Fighter Aircraft

Australia has a rich aviation history, marked by various aircraft designs and innovations. Among them, the CAC CA-15 Kangaroo holds a unique place. Despite its promising capabilities, this remarkable fighter aircraft never saw active service and remains an intriguing chapter in Australia’s aviation heritage.

Fighting the fighters he created

During the emergence of World War II, the Land Down Under was thrust to the front line following the attack on Pearl Harbor and Japan’s subsequent conquest of the Pacific region. Thus, in November 1942, the Australian Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) – which had previously built the successful CA-12 and CA-13 Boomerang fighters – sought to design an aircraft that could address the evolving demands of aerial combat and compete with the cutting-edge Japanese fighters of the time.

Enlisting the help of chief designer Friedrich David (an Austrian Jew who escaped Germany before the outbreak of the war), the CA-15 Kangaroo project was officially launched in February 1943. Interestingly, David had been involved in the development of several German war planes during his time as an employee at the Heinkel company.

More significantly, he then moved to Japan and contributed to bombers responsible for the Pearl Harbor attack. Ultimately, David fled to Australia and was called upon to create an aircraft that could challenge the many enemy planes that he helped design.

Ahead of its time

The Kangaroo boasted impressive technological advancements for its time. The aircraft’s design incorporated aerodynamic refinements, including a 36-foot (10.97-meter) laminar flow wing and a streamlined fuselage, enhancing its performance characteristics.

The aircraft was 36.19 feet (11.03 meters) long and stood 14.24 feet (4.34 meters) tall. It could reach speeds of up to 495 miles per hour (797 km/h) and was capable of climbing at 5,570 feet (1,698 meters) per minute to an altitude ceiling of 28,000 feet (8,534 meters).

Provisions were made for the Kangaroo to carry four cannons or six 0.5-inch (1.27-cm) Browning machine guns with a capacity of 250 rounds each. It was also planned to be equipped with one bomb, weighing up to 500 pounds (227 kg), in the undercarriage. However, these were never installed.

The end of the war

Challenges in the Kangaroo’s development – including several engine supply issues and the CAC being granted a license to produce the North American P-51 Mustang – had slowed its materialization. Then, when the aircraft was finally ready to be trialed, one fateful test flight ended in a hydraulics failure, partially damaging the aircraft. By the time repairs were done, it was May 1948 – two years after the Royal Australian Air Force had received its first jet fighter.

Overshadowed by the innovations of jet-powered aircraft, the CA-15 project was scrapped in 1950. Had jet technology not entered the scene, the CAC CA-15 Kangaroo could very well have been one of the fastest piston-powered fighter aircraft ever made. Unfortunately, it is instead immortalized as an innovation that could not keep up with technology.