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Throughout the twentieth century, warfare provided a major catalyst for developments in aviation.

Aircraft were used to provide medical services during World War I. The first recorded aeromedical evacuation of wounded took place in 1915 when a French fighter plane transported Serbian combatants to a medical facility. It was not long before the ‘potential value of aircraft as airborne ambulances became obvious’.[i] In Australia, the first civilian patients were conveyed by aircraft in 1922.[ii] Four years later the (later Royal) Australian Flying Doctor Service was established. It made its first flight in 1928.[iii]

Former World War I pilots were to contribute to the emergence of civil aviation after the war. In 1920, former Australia Flying Corps (AFC) officers Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness established what was to become Qantas. In that year,the AFC was officially disestablished. Its successor, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), came into being in the following year. The RAAF also facilitated the rise of civil aviation.

ANZAC Hall, Australian War Memorial

International rivalries and mounting tensions in Europe in the 1930s were to prompt several countries to intensify their efforts in developing what the United States Signal Corps was in 1939 to call radar. At that time, Britain began to collaborate on this technology with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, as Commonwealth countries, and the United States. Great advances were made in radar during the war and these were taken up by civil aviation after its conclusion.[iv]

After the federal Labor Government’s failed attempt in 1945 to nationalise Australian National Airways (ANA), it established Trans-Australian Airways (TAA) on 8 February 1946. This was done initially by drawing on both government aircraft – through the purchase of ex-RAAF Douglas DC3s – and by recruiting a talented and dynamic group of people largely from the RAAF. For a while, it also operated out of a shed at the Laverton RAAF base. TAA was highly successful, almost bankrupting its older, private competitor.[v]

As air travel became more democratised and airport capacity increasingly strained, some groups have called for greater cooperation between civil and defence aviation. The Tourism and Transport Forum, for example, wrote in a 2011 submission to the Federal government that: ‘Australia will have to use all of its aeronautical assets collaboratively if growing demand for air travel is to be met. The formal shared use airports such as Darwin and Townsville paint an excellent picture of cooperation between civil and military aviation needs. The lease of Newcastle Airport of land and facilities at RAAF Base Williamtown further illustrates the mutual benefits of pragmatic decision making’.[vi]

Heritage Sources

Aviators that trained and served during World War 1 (WW1) eventually went on to establish various civil aviation companies - notably QANTAS. Other airlines, such as Trans Australia Airlines (TAA), were the result of the government bringing together ex-military aircraft and personnel to create a national carrier[vii].

The existing defence-related museum network is readily accessible to the public, and is well represented online. The operation of retired military aircraft is also a substantial element of the current aviation heritage sector; many of these machines are owned and flown by private individuals and organisations. Access to these information sources through a single digital portal would be highly desirable.

Museums, Collections & Archives

Australian War Memorial, ACT

A major collecting institute that has an aviation material regarding aviation’s involvement in the wars. Some examples are various aircrafts such as Albatros D.Va scout aircraft, G for George and Avro 504K two-seat biplane elementary trainer. Also includes extensive records, documents, and photographs of Australian involvement in the wars.

National Film Sound Archive, ACT

Important collection of audio-visual material relating to aviation’s involvement in defence such as  sound recordings of the march of the Australian Air Corp and film footage of the test flight of DH 86 aeroplane VH-USW 'Lepena' for the Department of Defence in 1938.

National Library of Australia

Oral histories from personnel that were involved in RAAF during war and training such as David Rogers and Len Wilmington.

National Museum of Australia, ACT

Eric J. Treloar Collection consists of material from his involvement in World War 1 and his training with the Australian Imperial Forces.

Australian Aviation Museum, Bankstown, NSW

Several examples of military aircraft such as HS-748 Surveillance Aircraft and the Dassault Mirage.

Australian National Maritime Museum, NSW

Photographs and advertisement ephemera regarding seaplanes and naval aviation such as the “Cadets for Naval Aviation” recruitment poster.

Fighter World, NSW

A collection of military aircraft such as the Hawker Hunter and the Boeing Stearman.

Fleet Air Arm Museum, NSW

A museum that contains objects and material regarding aviation’s involvement in the Royal Australian Navy.

Luskintyre Airfield and Aviation Museum, NSW

A private collection of Tiger Moths and other aircraft such as helicopters.

Pay’s Air Services, NSW

Private collection of the late Col Pay’s includes many restored military aircraft including Chipmunks and Mustangs.

Temora Aviation Museum , NSW

Founded by David Lowy AM it contains a collection of military aircraft such as Spitfires and Cessnas.

The Camden Museum of Aviation, NSW

A large private collection of military aircraft, engines and memorabilia such as a Gypsy Moth and a Vampire.

Tocumwal Historic Aerodrome Museum, NSW

Photographs, maps, archival material and models of Tocumwal Aerodrome’s involvement in WW2.

The Australian Aviation Heritage Centre, Darwin’s Aviation Museum, NT

Contains military aircraft such as Mirage, Spitfires and a Wessex helicopter.

RAAF Museums (Townsville, Wagga Wagga, Point Cook)

Collections of the Royal Australian Air Force which are spread out into several locations. Large collections of aircraft and RAAF heritage items such as those from the RAAF Medical Services and Chaplains.

Caboolture Warplane Museum, QLD

Collection of military airplanes and engines some of which are in flying condition such as   Cessna Bird Dog 01G  and Tiger Moths.

Museum of Australian Army Flying, QLD

Collection of military aircraft such as the Australian made Boomerang and Nomad.

Queensland Air Museum, QLD

Mainly devoted to aviation in Queensland but also contains military planes such as Armstrong Whiteworth Meteor and a De Havilland Sea Vixen.

The Beaufort Restoration, QLD

An organisation that is devoted to restoring a DAP Beaufort A9-141.

South Australian Aviation Museum, SA

Has some defence related aviation material such as Westland Wessex helicopter used by RAN and Gloster Meteor used by RAAF in Korea.

Australian National Aviation Museum, VIC

A number of aircraft that were made by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation during World War 2. A collection of military aircraft such as Fairey Gannet and a Bristol Sycamore.

B-24 Liberator Restoration Australia, VIC

Its hangar is home to the only extant Liberator Bomber in the Southern Hemisphere.

Friends of the Anson Museum, Ballarat Airport, VIC

The hangar is home to an Arvo Anson that is currently being restored.

Greenock Aviation Museum, VIC

Collection of Lincoln Nitschke, it has a restored Fairy Battle, Airspeed Oxford Mk 1 and various aircraft gun turrets.

Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum, VIC

Location of the flying boat repair depot during World War 2. Has a seaplane, a Catalina A24-30 and other memorabilia associated with seaplanes and their involvement in World War 2.

National Vietnam Veterans Museum, VIC

The museum has several aircraft that are being restored mainly helicopters used during the Vietnam War such as the Sioux, Cobra and Huey helicopters and aircraft such as a Canberra Bomber and Grumman Tracker.

Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre, VIC

Nhill was the focus of RAAF presence during the war. And also a significant training ground for the RAAF Air School.


Old Aeroplane Company, Tyabb, VIC

Private collection restored warbirds such as a Merlin-powered Kittyhawk, T-38 Trojan and a mock-up of the Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis

The Aviation Heritage Museum, WA

Important military aircraft collection craft such as Avro Lancaster and a Catalina seaplane.


Qantas Huts (former) Sydney Hwy , West Island Settlement, Cocos-Keeling Island, Australia

Building associated with a major refuelling stop during WW2 between Australia and Sri Lanka.

RAAF Base Fairbairn Group Glenora Dr , Majura, ACT

Associated with the development of the RAAF during WW2.

Moruya Airport and World War II Installations, NSW

Bunker used during WW2.

RAAF Base Richmond McNamarra Av , Richmond RAAF Base, NSW

Second airbase in Australia and associated with the development of the RAAF in the early parts of the 20th century.

Daly Waters Aviation Complex, Daly Waters, NT

One of the Northern Territory’s oldest hangars and used by the military during WW2.

Parap Hangar 22 MacDonald St, Parap, NT

Used during WW2 by the RAAF.

Pine Creek Township Airstrip, NT

RAAF airfield during WW2.

WW11 Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Battery Elizabeth River, NT

Used in the defence of Australia during WW2 against enemy aircraft.

WWII B-24J Liberator Aircraft Wreck, NT

Associations with 380th Bomb Group.

WWII Coomalie Airstrip, NT

RAAF airfield during WW2.

WWII Fenton Airfield, NT

RAAF airfield during WW2.

WWII Gorrie Airfield Precinct, NT

RAAF airfield during WW2.

WWII Gould Airfield, NT

RAAF airfield during WW2.

WWII Hughes Airfield, NT

RAAF airfield during WW2.

WWII K5 Anti-Aircraft Battery Site, NT

Used in the defence of Australia during WW2 against enemy aircraft.

WWII Long Airfield & associated camp, NT

One of 2 airfields built for the long range, heavy B-24 Liberator bombers.

WWII Manbulloo Airfield Ops Centre & Abattoir, NT

Wartime airfield control, communications centre and a fresh food processing and supply base.

WWII Pell Airstrip Camp A, 4RSU, Workshop Stuart H'Way, NT

RAAF airstrip used for aircraft salvage, repair and servicing during WW2.

WWII Quarantine Anti-Aircraft  Battery Site, NT

Used in the defence of Australia during WW2 against enemy aircraft.

WWII Strauss Airstrip, Anti-Aircraft Gun Emplacement, NT

Used in the defence of Australia during WW2 against enemy aircraft.

WWII Strauss Airstrip, NT

RAAF airfield during WW2.

WWII Winnellie Camp Buildings, Sidney Williams Hut and the Bellman Aircraft Hangar at Royal Australian Show Society Grounds, NT

Used by the military during WW2 to house personnel and civilians during the war. AS part of the aerial defence in the Northern Territory.

Amberley RAAF Base Group Southern Amberley Rd, Amberley, QLD         

Associated with the development of the air force in World War 2.

Second World War Hangar No 7, Terminal Dr, Eagle Farm, QLD

The base of the Allied Technical Air Intelligence Unit during World War 2 as an assembly depot and aerodrome.

DSTO Aeronautical and Maritime Research Laboratory Lorimer St Port Melbourne, VIC

Aeronautical research facility and aircraft manufacturing during WW2.

Former Ballarat RAAF Base 1 Airport Access Road, Mitchell Park, Ballarat, VIC

Built by RAAF during WW2 and used for training radio and communications personnel.

RAAF Base Point Cook, Aviation Rd, Point Cook, VIC

Listed on the National Heritage List and several other heritage lists, it is the first air base in Australia and the birthplace of military aviation in the country. The first training air school began in Point Cook.

RAAF Williams Laverton Base Wrigley Pde , Laverton, VIC

Site associated with the development and increased importance of the RAAF during World War 2.

Cunderdin Airfield, 82 Aerodrome Rd Cunderdin, WA

Used in training RAAF personnel during WW2.

Truscott Air Base (ANJO), Anjo Peninsula Doongan, WA

Associated with WA’s contribution to WW2.

World War Two Airfield (Pinjarra North), Fairbridge Rd Fairbridge, WA

Associated with WA’s contribution to WW2.

People & Organizations

A large proportion of the individuals involved in defence related aviation are treated within other civilian based themes in this project, as they moved from defence related occupations into civil aviation.



[i] Terence Martin, ‘History of Aeromedical Transportation’, in Aeromedical Transportation: A Clinical Guide, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2006, p4.

[ii] Allan Seymour Walker, ‘Evacuation of Casualties by Air’, Australians in the War of 1939-45, ser 5, vol 4, pt 2, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1961, p358.

[iii] Nicolas Brasch, Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, Heinemann, Port Melbourne, 2001.

[iv] See Robert Buderi, The invention that changed the world: the story of radar from war to peace, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1996.

[v] Stanley Brogden, Australia’s Two-Airline Policy, Cambridge University Press for Melbourne University Press, New York, 1968. See also John Gunn, Contested Skies: The History of Trans-Australia Airlines, 1946-1992, Queensland University Press, St Lucia, 1999.

[vi] Tourism and Transport Forum, Royal Australian Air Force Review into Civil Aviation Access to Military Airfields, Tourism and Transport Forum, np, 2011, p1.

[vii] Brogden, S., 1999, Australia’s Two-Airline Policy, Cambridge University Press for Melbourne University Press, New York, 1968. See also John Gunn, Contested Skies: The History of Trans-Australia Airlines, 1946-1992, Queensland University Press, St. Lucia.