Point Cook: Birthplace of the Royal Australian Air Force

 

Point Cook, the birthplace of military flying in Australia, is steeped in history and tradition. For many years, it was a training base of the utmost importance and from its schools emerged many great names in aviation.

Point Cook began in a humble way more than 80 years ago when few countries in the world realised the potential of aircraft as fighting machines. Toward the end of 1911 the Australian government called for quotations for two monoplanes and two biplanes and advertised for trained aviators. This was followed, on September 25, 1912 by Army order No 132, which proposed the organisation of one flight of four aircraft and a personnel strength of four officers, seven warrant officers and sergeants and thirty two air mechanics.

From the many applications, the selection of aviators was narrowed down to seven people; L.F.McDonald,  S.F.Cody, H.Busteed, H.Petre, C.H.Cresswell, F.P.Raynham and L.W.F.Turner. Petre and Busteed were recommended as aviatior mechanics an Cody as organiser and engineer of the flying school. Busteed and Cody eventually withdrew and E.Harrison, although not one of the original applicants, was chosen. Henry Petre and Eric Harrison were to become the backbone of the new school.

Petre, a young English Barrister, had taught himself to fly and had even built his own aircraft. Harrison, an Australian, had been working in England as a pilot with the Bristol Company and was also a competent motor mechanic.

Petre arrived in Melbourne in the “Omrah” in January, 1913. He was sworn into the Army as a Lieutenant and using a motorcycle, he rode many miles searching for a suitable airfield for a flying school. He rejected several sites, including those at Langwarrin, Crib Point, Altona and Canberra, finally selecting Point Cook which, in his own words was “ideally suited for both land and sea planes”.

A price of 6,040 pounds, 2 shillings and 3 pence was paid for 734 acres of grazing land. The estimates for the Flying Corps for the first year, including equipment, pay, uniforms and general running expenses totalled 14,031 pounds and 16 shillings.

Harrison left England for Australia in April, 1913, in the “Otway”. He brought with him five aircraft – two B.E. bi-planes, two Deperdussins and a Bristol bi-plane. The total cost of aircraft and spares was 3,538 pounds.

Canvas hangars were built and tents erected and, in February 1914, the “Central Flying School, Werribee” as it was commonly referred to, was opened. The period from February to August. 1914 was devoted to the testing of the flimsy aircraft and start of the building program. Commencing with the first course, regular series of courses in flying were held and selected graduates led to the early units of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC). In all, eight courses of flying instruction were held at Point Cook during World War I. The first began on 17 August, 1914 and lasted for three months.

With the outbreak of war, Point Cook naturally became the assembly centre for AFC personnel heading overseas. The first group left the unit on 30 November, 1914 for service in German New Guinea. Lieutenant Harrison commanded the group, but the aircraft were never uncrated and the men returned to Point Cook three months later. The next unit, commanded by Captain H. Petre, was known as the “First Half Flight” and consisted of four officers and 41 others. The men sailed from Melbourne in April to fight in the Tigris Valley. No 1 Squadron’s formation followed, leaving on 16 March, 1916 for Egypt under the command of Lieutenant Colonel E.H. Reynolds. The Squadron fought in the Middle East, its most famous member being Lieutenant F.H. McNamara, who won the Victoria Cross for rescuing a comrade in the Sinai Desert under heavy fire. Numbers 2,3 and 4 Squadrons also formed in World War I, each writing an indelible page in the history of the war.

With the end of hostilities, the Aviation Instructional Staff disbanded in September 1918. There was practically no further activity until 1920 when the Australian Air Corps came into being, still part of the Army.

A famous name in aviation, Lieutenant Colonel R. Williams (later Sir Richard Williams) controlled the Corps. Aviation made rapid strides and on 13 August, 1921, by Proclamation, the Force was designated the Australian Air Force and later the Royal Australian Air Force. Point Cook was the first station and consisted of Station Headquarters, No 1 Flying Training School and No 1 Aircraft Depot. This Force was equipped with 20 Avro 504K aircraft, 10 Sopwith Pups, 6 Fairey Mk 3D Seaplanes and 6 Australian-built Avro 504Ks. In store were 128 aircraft and a considerable amount of spares stores, guns, oil, fabric and so on, a donation worth Pounds 2,000,000 from the British Government. This equipment served as the chief supply for the RAAF for the next 12 years.

Refresher flying courses began and airmen were trained in all branches of Air Force work. Many names which were to become famous in aviation entered the RAAF in this era. On 16 February, 1923, the RAAF commenced its cadet training at Point Cook, with courses running for 12 months. From this beginning, grew a great training organisation which was to equip thousands of men for flying and ground duties in later years. The next few years saw much activity at Point Cook, among this activity, seaplane flying, survey flights and the formation of a Fighter Squadron.

At the outbreak of World War II, Point Cook blossomed into the composite training ground of the RAAF and by the end of the war, more than 2,700 pilots had graduated. In addition, there were vast amounts of other training, both air and ground. It was during this period that concrete runways and a drainage system were constructed. In the post-war years, Point Cook continued in its role as a training base. As the peacetime program gradually evolved, new units were formed including Base Squadron Point Cook.

One of the most important dates in Point Cook’s long history was the formation in 1947 of RAAF College, which on 1 January,1961, became RAAF Academy.

Flying training at Point Cook continued until 1992, when Basic Training was moved to Tamworth, New South Wales and Advanced Training to Pearce, Western Australia.

Today RAAF Williams, Point Cook is home to the RAAF Museum and the RAAF College.

Point Cook is known as the worlds Oldest continuous use airport.