On 31 March 2020, the Royal Australian Air Force will mark 99 years as an independent service. On this day it is important to take time to pay tribute to the men and women who have served and the importance of their service to Australia’s rich history and national security.
Wing Commander Mary Anne Whiting reflects on the rich history of the Royal Australian Air Force over the last 99 years.
Air Force 99 – Coming of Age – Our History, Our Heritage, Our Air Force
In 1912 Australia began to establish military flying when it purchased five aircraft from Britain and recruited two pilots and four mechanics. On 26 September the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) was formally established.
On 1 March 1914 flying began at Point Cook and at the outbreak of World War I the AFC was ready to begin training. The AFC served in the Middle East, Britain and the Western Front. In 1917 the Royal Australian Navy also began operating aircraft, engaging in air action in June 1918.
In 1919 the Government decided to form a single air service to serve Australia’s needs. The AFC was disbanded and in January 1920 the Australian Aviation Corps was established pending the formation of the Air Force.
On 31 March 1921, the Australian Air Force was established with Wing Commander, later Air Marshal Sir Richard Williams, KBE, CB, DSO appointed the First Member of the Air Board – later known as the Chief of the Air Staff. The prefix ‘Royal’ was endorsed by King George V and came into effect on 13 August, 1921. At its formation the Air Force consisted of 249 officers and other ranks.
Although the RAAF was formed as an independent Service, funding restrictions in the 1920-30s limited development of the new service. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939 the RAAF consisted of just 3,489 personnel and 246 aircraft.
The RAAF came of age during World War II, expanding to a strength of 20,000 officers, 144,000 airmen and 18,000 airwomen with the establishment of the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force. It flew in every air campaign of the war and in every part of the globe. As part of the Commonwealth’s Empire Air Training Scheme it was train over 40,000 aircrew.
Post-World War II the RAAF was immediately engaged in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan and the Berlin Airlift. Later it fought in the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency and Vietnam.
The introduction of the Vampire and Meteor aircraft heralded the arrival of the jet age; the supersonic era with the Mirage, F-111, F/A-18, and now the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The RAAF has developed into a modern, technologically advanced air force, able to prosecute air operations in defence of Australia while also contributing to global stability, as well as peacekeeping missions and support for the Australian and regional community during times of disasters and national emergency.
Interested in learning more? New Release Taking the Lead by Mark Lax provides an in depth perspective of the Royal Australian Air Force from 1972 to 1996. His new book is not just about aircraft, bases and flying; It considers the strategic environment of the era, the factors that affected personnel and training, how the RAAF’s force structure advanced and how the RAAF managed its successes and failures. Read More
The Royal Australian Air Force 1972 – 1996