The Monegeetta Monster

Eats Venturas


Ventura A59-90 under attack from the prototype hole saw during the development of the Monegeetta Monster circa 1948. (Picture: John Hopton via QAM)


Ventura A59-90 after being attacked by the prototype hole saw during the development of the Monegeetta Monster circa 1948. The aircraft serial is discernible aft of the rearmost hole.
(Picture: John Hopton via QAM)


On 13 April 1948, two Venturas (A59-63 and A59-90) were issued free of charge to the Department of Civil Aviation for training purposes. Both aircraft departed RAAF Laverton by road on 15 October 1948. It turned out that the "training" related to the development of a new Rescue and Fire Fighting tender which came to be known as the Monegeetta Monster.


The following article appeared in the January 2011 edition of Aeroplane. It is reproduced here with the permission of the author, Phil Vabre.


The Monegeetta Monster

by Phil Vabre


The Monegeetta Monster at Essendon. (Picture: CAHS G25)


In the late 1940s the Australian Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) fire service was equipped mostly with war-surplus, ex-RAAF appliances. Most of these were of very limited capability and, with larger passenger aircraft entering service, during 1948 DCA embarked on an ambitious program to design an advanced experimental fire tender.

The specifications were laid down by DCA Mechanical Engineer Marshall Fordham. A commercial rear-engine REO bus chassis was purchased for the construction of the vehicle but, lacking any suitable facilities, DCA engaged the Department of Army's Experimental and Proving Establishment at Monegeetta to design and construct a body and equipment to meet the DCA specifications. The Army Experimental and Proving Establishment had been set up during the Second World War at Monegeetta, north of Melbourne, to conduct trials on all kinds of military vehicles and had the engineering capacity to work on the experimental fire tender.

The vehicle that emerged was like no other fire tender before (or since!). Looking more like a cross between an armoured car and a 1940s science-fiction space-ship than a fire tender, it became known from that time forward as the Monegeetta Monster.

Conceptually, the vehicle was very advanced and contained a number of novel features that would later become standard on aviation fire tenders. Unlike standard appliances of the day, the 'armoured' aluminium body was designed to allow the vehicle to approach right up to a burning aircraft whilst shielding the operators inside. The driver sat on the right and protective steel shutters could be lowered over the windows, leaving only a narrow slit for vision. A roof-mounted, trainable monitor could discharge foam at some distance, while under-body sprays discharged foam on the ground immediately ahead of the vehicle, suppressing any fuel fire as the vehicle approached the aircraft. The monitor operator sat on an elevating motorcycle saddle and, when the shutters were down, looked out through an armoured cupola on the front left roof of the vehicle.

A unique feature of the Monster was a special large-diameter hole saw. This was mounted on an extensible shaft on the front of the vehicle and was designed to cut a hole in the side of an aircraft and withdraw the section of aircraft skin, thus creating an emergency exit. To develop this innovative tool, a test rig was built with a prototype of the saw mounted on the back of a war-surplus army truck. The substantial remains of Lockheed Ventura A59-90 were issued to DCA, along with Ventura A59-63, and trucked to Monegeetta where the test rig was used to cut holes in the fuselage. The trials showed that the thin aircraft skin tended to tear badly, a problem that was cured by using a smaller-diameter saw on the Monster. In tests, the cutting time was 1 to 2 seconds.

Another unique feature of the Monster was the provision of two asbestos 'curtains' mounted on horizontal booms on either side of the hull. These booms could be swung forward through 180 degrees and the furled curtains released, forming a protected corridor between the emergency exit the Monster had just created and the vehicle itself, into which crash survivors could emerge safely.

The Monster was completed in about 1950, though the exact date is not recorded. It underwent various trials at Monegeetta before being based at Melbourne/Essendon Airport, at that time the Southern Hemisphere's busiest civil airport. The trials culminated in December 1955 with a filmed demonstration for the press and VIPs at RAAF Laverton, then on the south-western outskirts of Melbourne.

The Fire Service Branch of DCA had been formally created earlier in 1955. Following severe criticism of the airport fire service response to the crash of BOAC L-749A Constellation G-ALAM at Singapore's Kallang Airport on 13 March 1954, the Director General of Australia's Department of Civil Aviation, Sir Richard Williams, placed a minute on file in the latter part of 1954 directing that if the Department was to have a fire service, it had to be established on formal lines and be an efficient operational service, and not be subject to criticism as in the Kallang affair. The December demonstration was intended to show off the capabilities of the new Fire Service Branch.

For the Laverton fire-fighting demonstration, the Monster's 'victim' was Avro Lincoln RF423. Having recently been struck off RAAF charge, the aircraft had its engines removed and the undercarriage retracted in preparation.

The demonstration commenced with one of DCA's new Land Rover-based Light Rescue Tenders dealing with a simulated engine fire. While members of the fire crew attacked the fire with light hand lines and portable extinguishers, another Firefighter used a hand-held circular saw to cut a hole in the aircraft's skin.

Then it was the Monster's turn. A larger simulated fuel-tank fire gave the shining, silver Monster an opportunity to show off its foam-spraying abilities as it closed on the rear fuselage of the Lincoln. The hole saw shrieked as it bit into the skin of the aircraft and in seconds the Monster was pulling away, leaving behind a neat, circular opening in the fuselage. A rather protracted process of winching out the booms and unfurling the asbestos curtains culminated the demonstration. For good measure, the whole evolution was then repeated on the nose of the aircraft.

The December 1955 demonstration was probably the Monster's high point. Unfortunately, the vehicle overall was not a great success. For one thing the asbestos curtains became very heavy when saturated with foam, causing the booms to buckle. The commercial bus chassis would also have severely limited the vehicle's off-road performance, despite the weight-saving aluminium bodywork. The innovative hole saw was fine for military aircraft with relatively small crews, where it was unlikely that a crewman would be adjacent to the fuselage at the cutting point, but would have been deadly cutting into a fuselage full of passengers.

In the event, DCA purchased more conventional fire-fighting appliances and the Monster faded from the limelight. The vehicle remained at Essendon, eventually finding its way into storage in one of DCA's workshops where airways engineering apprentices were sometimes sent to saw off bits of the aluminium bodywork to make chassis for radio equipment. The ultimate fate of the Monegeetta Monster is not known, but it would be years before some of the innovative features of this brave attempt to create a truly modern aviation fire fighting appliance, such as the roof-mounted foam monitor and under-body sprays, became standard equipment.

Monster 'victims'

Lockheed L-137-27-01 Ventura Mk V A59-90 was built to a US Navy order as a PV-1, Bu 49440. Diverted to the RAAF, it departed the west coast of the USA on 12 April 1944 on ferry to Australia via the Pacific. It was received by the RAAF's 2 Aircraft Depot, Richmond, exactly a month later. The aircraft did not see squadron service but its undercarriage collapsed on takeoff at RAAF Laverton on 30 April 1945. The substantial remains were issued to DCA in April 1948, along with Ventura A59-63, and trucked to Monegeetta where they were used for hole-cutting tests.

Ventura A59-63 was also built to a US Navy order and allocated the serial Bu 34995. Ferried to Australia in December 1943, it was allocated to 13 Squadron RAAF and converted as a transport with the radio callsign VHRGR. It, too, was issued to DCA in April 1948 and used in tests at Monegeetta.

Avro 694 Lincoln B Mk 2 RF423 had previously served with 44 Squadron RAF, coded KM-K. It was one of many RAF Lincolns to come to Australia in the late 1940s and early 1950s on various trials and support work. At least nine RAF Lincolns were taken over by the RAAF, and RF423 was one of these. It was brought on RAAF charge on 3 April 1952 and allocated to the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) Trials Flight, then based at RAAF Laverton. The aircraft was struck off charge on 22 March 1955 and issued to DCA on 11 November that year.


Phil Vabre is Vice President of the Civil Aviation Historical Society, which operates the Airways Museum at Essendon Airport, Melbourne, Australia. Phil would like to thank John Hopton, Maurice Austin and Ron Cuskelly for their assistance in preparing this story. See for more information.



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