Southern Cross Award Winner
Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)
Formed shortly after the First World War in 1921, the Royal Australian Air Force can proudly lay claim to the title of the world’s second oldest air force – and the first to be formed during peacetime. While addressing a need for sovereign air power for Australia’s defence, its creation was also guided by a desire to open up the air frontier, and to serve the needs of a young and ambitious nation.
Air Force’s first major contribution to the development of Australian civil aviation came in 1924, when Acting Chief of the Air Staff Wing Commander Stanley Goble and Flying Officer Ivor McIntyre became the first aviators to circumnavigate Australia – flying 13,600km in a Fairey IIID seaplane while undertaking an aerial survey of the Australian coastline. A crowd of 10,000 welcomed them home on their return to Melbourne, with both men carried up St Kilda beach to rapturous acclaim. Goble and McIntyre’s ground-breaking survey helped determine locations for airfields around the country, and signalled the beginning of concerted government efforts to open up air routes across Australia.
More support to the Australian community was to follow, and by the 1930s Air Force was busy helping fight bushfires – providing critical reconnaissance flights during the summer fire season. But it was the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games that provided one of Air Force’s most visible contributions to the Australian community, when a Canberra bomber was tasked with carrying the Olympic flame from Darwin to Cairns for the start of the 4,500km torch relay down the east coast to Melbourne. The flame, which was carried in two miner’s safety lamps, had arrived in Darwin from Greece on a Qantas airliner, and had been entrusted to Air Force’s safekeeping.
If Air Force’s contributions to the Australian community and the development of Australian civil aviation started with the opening up of air routes in the 1920s, it reached a new peak with its pivotal role in the response to Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day 1974 – also setting a new benchmark for Australian disaster response. Air Force spared no effort in rushing to the devastated city’s aid, with limited operations restored at RAAF Base Darwin as soon as debris was cleared from the runways, and a C-130 configured for aero-medical evacuation landing on a runway marked only by flares at 10pm. Air Force would go on to evacuate much of Darwin to safety – a feat that would be repeated nearly 45 years later in March 2019 as Cyclone Trevor bore down on remote communities in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
In 1989 Air Force took on a different role in the large-scale movement of civilian passengers, after an industrial dispute shut down Australia’s civil air transport network. Between August and December, Air Force stepped in to provide civilian air transport services using its fleet of ex-commercial Boeing 707 airliners, C-130 Hercules medium-lift transports, and HS-748 navigational training aircraft. The public overwhelmingly accepted their experience of ‘RAAF Airlines’ as something of a novelty, and by the time the dispute was resolved, and Air Force ceased flying civilian passengers on 15 December 1989, Air Force had flown 6,524 hours and carried 172,287 passengers.
It was the 1990s that drew attention to Air Force’s role in providing search and rescue operations for Australia’s 52.8 million square kilometre search and rescue zone, with a series of high profile rescues of solo yachtsmen and women in the wild seas of the Southern Ocean. Working seamlessly with the Royal Australian Navy, Air Force AP-3C Orion aircraft located each sailor in distress thousands of kilometres from Australian territory, before remaining on station until each could be rescued by sea.
In 2014 Air Force Orions were in the spotlight again, joining E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft flying missions around the clock in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. RAAF Base Pearce, just outside of Perth, became a hub for an international search effort – but this time without success. Throughout its 98-year history, Air Force has been steadfast in its support of Australia – always ready, willing and able to help build our nation, assist the community, and help ensure the ongoing growth and development of Australian aviation. As a proud Australian institution and one of the founding and driving forces behind aviation in Australia the Royal Australian Air Force is honoured to be named as the 2019 recipient of the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame Southern Cross Award.