Sir Lawrence Wackett KBE, DFC, AFC is widely regarded as the father of the Australian aircraft industry. Born in Townsville in 1896, he joined the Australian army in 1913 to train at Duntroon before transferring to the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) in 1916.
That year he was one of 12 pilots to travel to Egypt to support the Sinai and Palestine Campaign where he demonstrated his gift for mechanical inventions by designing a machine gun mounting which transformed the attacking and defensive capacities of the AFC’s rudimentary aircraft. Later, he transferred to France and played a significant role in the Battle of Hamel earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Force Cross.
In 1924, Sir Lawrence, by then a Squadron Leader, established the RAAF Experimental Aircraft Section at Randwick in Sydney and through remarkable persistence and persuasion which characterized his whole career, obtained Government funding for the construction of a small flying boat, Widgeon I. This was soon followed by the larger Widgeon II, the Warrigal I and in 1930, the Warrigal II. Following British pressure which regarded Sir Lawrence’s local design and manufacture as threatening British interests, the Randwick facility was closed.
Undeterred, Sir Lawrence resigned from the RAAF and continued to design and build aircraft and watercraft with a turning point occurring in 1935 when Essington Lewis then Chief General Manager of BHP, concerned at the likelihood of war in Europe, persuaded the Australian Government to establish a modern aircraft industry. This resulted in the establishment of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) where Sir Lawrence was appointed general manager and chief designer.
Through his determination and leadership he built the CAC, which hadn’t existed three years before World War II, into a major productive enterprise employing 10,000 staff and making an outstanding contribution to Australia’s war effort and manufacturing capability. Among others, the CAC under Sir Lawrence’s leadership, produced such notable planes as the Wirraway trainer, the Boomerang fighter, the Woomera bomber, the RAAF Mustang and the revolutionary CAC Sabre jet fighter which broke the sound barrier and gave the RAAF the most advanced jet fighter in the world.
Sir Lawrence Wackett, long regarded as a towering figure in the Australian aircraft industry, made extraordinary contributions to Australian manufacturing and the nation’s defence. He was shaped throughout his life by the outdoor spirit and sense of independence acquired in his formative years in North Queensland.