The New South Wales State Aviation School

 

NSW State Aviation School

The insignia related to Australian aviators of the First World War are one of my areas of collecting interest. Whilst most of these are associated with the Australian Flying Corps (AFC), there are also some lesser known badges which are closely linked to the Australia’s early military aviators. The New South Wales State Aviation School was a civilian organisation whose existence is directly linked to the story of the AFC. The school wore military styled uniforms and distinctive insignia on their caps and jacket sleeve. Very few surviving examples are known to exist and I am still searching for examples for my own collection. If anybody can help, please contact me. 

NSW Aviation School

Cap badge of the New South Wales State Aviation School. The badge is embroidered in coloured cotton on khaki-grey wool twill with a brown eagle in front of a yellow rising sun. Beneath the eagle’s head is a yellow edged circle bearing the badge of the State of New South Wales in red, yellow, pale blue and white. Around it is a pale blue and yellow scroll ‘AVIATION SCHOOL N.S.W.’ in red. Collection: RAAF Museum, Point Cook.

 

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New South Wales State Aviation School sleeve badge embroidered in coloured cotton on grey wool twill. The embroidery is backed with lightweight buckram. This badge was worn by Alan Ernest Buzacott during his training at the NSW State Aviation School at Richmond, near Sydney, between July and October 1918. He was a member of the 6th class run by the School and obtained his aviator’s certificate on 25 October 1918. Although Buzacott qualified as a pilot he graduated too late to be able to serve in the First World War. AWM Accession Number: REL33412

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The New South Wales State Aviation School opened on 28 August 1916 as a supplement to the Australian Flying Corps Central Flying School (CFS) at Point Cook in Victoria. The school was located at Ham Common, now site of the Richmond RAAF Base. The Premier of New South Wales, William A. Holman was a keen proponent of military aviation, so he put New South Wales State finances behind the development of the school, financing the procurement of two American Curtiss training aircraft, with two additional Curtiss JN-B4 aircraft acquired in 1917. Whilst the aim was to train pilots for the AFC, it was foreshadowed that after the war the school would continue to train pilots for civil aviation purposes.

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Twenty-five students were chosen from 230 applicants for the Flying School’s first course. Applicants had to be 18 to 30 years of age and in good health. Preference was given to commissioned officers, engineers, mechanics or other specified trades. All students trained at their own risk and no compensation was offered on account of death or injury. Instruction included lectures and practical training over 12 weeks followed by an examination. Workshop training, to familiarise students with the construction and operation of aircraft and engines, was required for at least 160 hours while only four hours of flying time were required, of which not less than two were to be ‘in complete charge of the aeroplane‘. The applicant also had to pass the test for the Royal Aero Club Certificate. If unsuccessful, an applicant could qualify as an Aircraft Mechanic, provided he demonstrated ‘the necessary mechanical ability and sufficient merit‘.

Of the initial course, 19 trainees qualified despite delays due to bad weather. Students were housed and taught in purpose-built accommodation on site and referred to themselves as BPs, probably from the term Basic Pilot Training. A total of six training courses were conducted by the flying school with the last completed just before the announcement of the Armistice in 1918. The rationale for the school had always been driven by politics rather than demonstrated need and this did cause some friction with the military. Graduates were deemed as being inexperienced in military flying and tactical skills and as a civilian training school, pilots did not automatically gain commissions in the Australian Flying Corps, but had to submit for further examination by the Central Flying School in Victoria.

 

 

Only a handful of qualifying pilots secured commissions with the AFC leading to considerable frustration. Their services were offered by the Prime Minister to the Royal Flying Corps and some embarked for England to serve either as cadet pilots or mechanics. There was uncertainty as to how long the war would last and their training was also seen to be inadequate by the War Office for the same reasons as those of the Australian military. By the fourth intake a group of students were making their dissatisfaction over their future known. There was also wrangling about allowances and having to fund their own travel to the UK or Egypt to enlist.

Nevertheless, Premier Holman persisted, and two further courses were run prior to the war’s end. The sixth course started in August 1918 and by Armistice in November, a total of 71 pilots had graduated with 20 joining the AFC and 40 going to the RFC (and, after April 1918, the Royal Air Force). Seven graduates lost their lives during the war, 3 in the AFC and 2 in the RFC and 2 in the RAF.

After the war, effort was made to convert the school to a civilian flying school, but the costs associated were becoming prohibitive and the NSW Government eventually asked the Commonwealth Government to take control. In 1923 the Commonwealth purchased the site and in 1925 became RAAF Base Richmond, home to No 3 Squadron.

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Richmond, NSW. 1917. Studio portrait of Wallace (Waddy) Andrew McDougall showing both the cap and shoulder sleeve insignia being worn. McDougal initially enlisted in the AIF as a Gunner (Gnr) on 27 November 1916. He was discharged on 4 January 1917 having qualified as a pilot at the Aviation School in Richmond. On 5 January 1917 he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) and embarked overseas on 21 November 1917, where he completed further training in England, and served in France before returning to Australia on 28 February 1919. (Donor A. McDougall). AWM Accession Number: P02844.001

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NSW State Aviation School graduate Nigel Love in the cockpit of his RE8 serial B3420 along with comrades from 3 Sqn Australian Flying Corps circa 1917/18. Nigel joined the army in 1915 at age 23, and was about to leave for Gallipoli as part of reinforcements for the 18th Battalion when he saw a circular about learning to fly. He was selected in the first intake of 25, out of 230 applicants, for the NSW State Aviation School in August 1916. He graduated as an officer/pilot and received strategic battle training in England before joining 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (AFC) in 1918. The squadron was attached to the newly formed Australian Army Corps on the Somme in northern France, under John Monash. On his return from the war he marked out the site of the new airport at Sydney, with the first passenger leaving from there in November, 1919. Nigel Love also established Australia’s first aircraft manufacturing company and piloted the airport’s first commercial flight from Sydney to Melbourne. Photograph: The Nigel Love Collection

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The Darwin Aviation Museum – Northern Territory, Australia

Darwin Aviation Museum-17Replica of a Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII on display at the Darwin Aviation Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Darwin Aviation Museum (formerly known as the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre) is situated about 8km from the Darwin CBD, on the Stuart Highway in the suburb of Winnellie. It grew out of the activities of the Aviation Historical Society of the Northern Territory Inc  which was established in 1976 with the aim of recovery, restoration and document of aviation relics related to the defence of Darwin in World War II.

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Wreck of the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M-2 Type ‘O’ fighter of Petty Officer Hajime Toyoshima who was forced to land on Melville Island during the attack on Darwin of 19 February 1942. Toyoshima was subsequently captured by a Tiwi Islander, Matthias Ulungura and interned at Cowra in NSW under the alias, Todao Minami. He was one of the camp leaders of the infamous escape attempt on 5 August 1944, blowing the bugle to start the breakout. After recapture he committed suicide and is buried in the Japanese Cemetery at Cowra. Photo” Julian Tennant

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Wreck of the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M-2 Type ‘O’ fighter of Petty Officer Hajime Toyoshima on Melville Island shortly after his crash landing. Inset shows Toyoshima’s POW identification photo. The wreck is on display at the Darwin Aviation Museum.

Over the years the museum has expanded to cover all aspects of aviation history in the Northern Territory and today it features one of the largest private collections of aircraft and aviation artifacts in Australia. Housed in a custom built hangar that was opened in 1990 after the Society was able to secure a B52 G bomber and currently exhibits 19 aircraft, 21 engines and numerous other related displays.

Aircraft include a B-25D Mitchell Bomber (one of the few surviving in the world), a replica Spitfire, Mirage, Avon Sabre, a Royal Australian Navy Wessex helicopter that assisted in the clean-up of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy, F-111C and the centerpiece, the aforementioned  Boeing B52 G Stratofortress 92596 “Darwin’s Pride.” This aircraft entered service with the USAF in December 1960 and made its last flight (to the museum) on 1 September 1989. The museum was chosen for its final resting place as Darwin Airport allowed B52 Bombers to take off at their maximum ‘take off weight’ with full fuel tanks or payload.

This relationship with Australia’s American allies is well documented in the museum and includes several artifacts from the USAAF’s 33rd Pursuit Squadron which flew P-40 Kittyhawks and was virtually wiped out when the Japanese attacked on 19 February 1942, right up to the present day deployment of the  Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF – D).

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Uniform and flying helmet of Lieutenant Robert F. McMahon of the 33rd Pursuit Squadron USAAF who engaged the attacking Japanese aircraft in his P-40 Kittyhawk during their bombing raid of Darwin on 19 February 1942. Photo: Julian Tennant

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United States HMLA-367 patches from the MRF-D 2019 deployment. US Marine Corps Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 (HMLA-367) is a United States Marine Corps helicopter squadron consisting of AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters and UH-1Y Venom utility helicopters. Photo: Julian Tennant

One of the aircraft that I was pleased to see was the De Havillland DH104 “Dove” called Manatuto after a town on the north coast of East Timor. My interest in this aeroplane relates to a beautiful civilian Transportes Aéreos de Timor pilot’s wing  that I hold in my collection.

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Pre 1975 Transportes Aéreos de Timor Pilot wing. Brass and enamel multi-piece construction with rotating propeller. Collection: Julian Tennant

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Transportes Aeros de Timor (Timor Air Transport) De Havillland DH104 Dove ‘Manatuto’  Photo: Julian Tennant

The Manatuto was registered to the Portuguese Government and operated by the Transportes Aéreos de Timor (Timor Air Transport). Originally based at Dili, Manatuto provided regular passenger, mail and cargo service throughout Timor and to Darwin. In October 1975, just before the Indonesian invasion of Timor, the aircraft flew to Darwin. It was admitted to Australia as an ‘aircraft in transit’ but was subsequently declared an illegal import and impounded after the Indonesian invasion before finally being donated to the society by the Portuguese Government in 1978.

Unlike the Darwin Military Museum, which I reviewed in my previous post, the provenance of the exhibits here are well documented and as a collector whose focus is uniforms and insignia I found several pieces that aroused my interest including some of the less well known RAAF uniforms from recent times.

RAAF Flight Service Uniform c1980-1990. Photo: Julian Tennant

RAAF Flight Service Uniform c1980-1990. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Helicopter Air Crew Vietnam display. The mannequin is wearing the Gentex SPH-4 Helicopter Helmet, which was first produced in 1969 although this particular helmet appears to be a post war example. He is also equipped with a US Army issue 2-piece “Nomex” flight suit and the “Armour, Small-Arms-Fragmentation Protective” jacket which was commonly referred to as the “chicken plate.”  Photo: Julian Tennant

The museum also has a small cafeteria and bookshop which, in addition to their range of aviation and military histories also has model aircraft as well as generic Northern Territory related paraphernalia for sale. Overall, this is an interesting museum well worth the few hours I spent examining the exhibits. It is quite easy to get to using public transport as the number 8 bus stops at the front gate, but if you have a hire car and can set a day aside, I’d suggest combining it with a trip to the Defence of Darwin Experience and Darwin Military Museum at East Point which is about 20 minutes away.

Entrance to the Darwin Aviation Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Darwin Aviation Museum
557 Stuart Highway
Winnellie Darwin, NT 0820
Australia

Phone: +61 (0)8 8947 2145
Email: info@darwinaviationmuseum.com.au
Website: https://www.darwinaviationmuseum.com.au/

Open: Every day 09:00 – 17:00

Entry Fees:
Adults: Au$16
Children under 12: $8
Seniors (65+): Au$12
Family pass: Au$36.00

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Australian Airborne Insignia #4 – RAAF Combat Controller Teams

 

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The Combat Controller Teams (CCT) of B Flight, 4 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force are a relatively recent addition to Australia’s special operations capability. They trace their origin to 2006 when the Australian Special Forces Commander asked the Deputy Chief of Air Force whether the RAAF was capable of fielding personnel similar to the United States Air Force Combat Controllers who had been working alongside Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan.

As a result, the RAAF Air Group Combat Commander established the Special Tactic Project Proof of Concept Trial. The aim was for selected volunteers to pass the commando training cycle and trained as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) before deploying in support of special forces.

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Australian Joint Terminal Attack Controller patches 2006 – 2019. Whilst not exclusively Special Forces (the 5 week course trains personnel from all three branches of the ADF), like most contemporary Australian insignia, these JTAC patches have been extensively faked to supply the collectors market. These four patches are examples of original insignia requested for wear by the end users. Collection: Julian Tennant

Between 2008 and 2009, three intakes completed initial training and four members were deployed with the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG). This resulted in the ‘Combat Controller’ mustering (RAAF terminology for ‘trade’) and Air Surface Integration officer stream being created in 2012 and the CCT role declared an Initial Operating Capability.

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RAAF Combat Controller Team member. Note the distinctive CCT qualification patch on his chest. Photo: Department of Defence.

 

RAAF CCT Havoc Strike

A Combat Controller from No. 4 Squadron calls in close air support from a PC-21 during Exercise Havoc Strike 2020. Note the 4 Squadron patch on his right shoulder.  Photo: Corporal Craig Barrett (Australian Defence Force)

 

Exercise Diamond Storm 2019

A Royal Australian Air Force No. 4 Squadron Combat Controller frees a quad bike from its pallet after a parachute insertion into the Mosquito Flats Drop Zone in the Bradshaw Field Training Area during Exercise Diamond Storm 2019. Note the CCT patch on his right shoulder and helmet ANF. Photo: Department of Defence.

Selection to become a combat controller is open to any member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Volunteers first complete an 8 week CCT intake course which provides ground skills training and prepares them for the Special Forces Entry Test (SFET). Those who pass the SFET must then undertake around 18 months of testing and training in which they are required to complete the commando reinforcement cycle, JTAC, aviation meteorology, assault zone reconnaissance and air weapons delivery courses.

2020 Commando Selection Course

A Royal Australian Air Force combat controller from the Australian Defence Force School of Special Operations supervises Commando Selection Course candidates during an early morning physical training session at Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney, on Friday, 16 October 2020. Photo: Australian Department of Defence

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The video below, shows the CCT’s conducting their annual parachute continuation training as part of Exercise Havoc Drop 20-1 which took place 13-17 July 2020 at Wagga Wagga in NSW.

Upon qualification they are presented their distinctive grey CCT beret and qualification brevet, becoming part of B Flight of 4 Squadron, RAAF, which is the squadron tasked with providing operational training to Forward Air Controllers (FAC) and support of the Australian Army’s Special Operations Command. The Squadron is divided into three main roles, FAC(A) is the airborne control of air assets, JTAC training (C Flight) and CCT (B Flight).

Since their formation, the CCT’s have conducted operations with SOTG, participated in several joint exercises with allied nations and recently in late 2019 early 2020, assisted in humanitarian operations within Australia as part of the ADF efforts to combat the devastating bushfires that swept large tracts of the east coast of Australia over the summer months.

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RAAF CCT display at the ‘From the Shadows: Australia’s Special Forces’ exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in 2017/18. Unfortunately I did not record the caption detail surrounding the RAAF CCT Commendation for Gallantry medal group shown in the display. Note the PVC Combat Controller Team patch. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

Beret & Insignia

Special Operations Education & Training Centre

 Special Operations Training & Education Centre Commando qualification beret parade, November 2019. 36 army personnel and 3 RAAF combat controllers passed the 14 month-long commando reinforcement cycle. The RAAF combat controllers are awarded the RAAF ‘air superiority grey’ berets whilst the army personnel receive sherwood green berets. Photo: Sergeant Janine Fabre (Australian Defence Force)

Once qualified, Combat Controllers are awarded a distinctive Combat Controller Team insignia which is worn both as a qualification badge and also on their beret. The badge (NSN 8455-66-162-5061) consists of a Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger on a winged shield. The  dagger represents the close link combat controllers share with the special forces they support. The shield symbolises  the protection of ground forces, from harm during combat operations and the wings represent the air-power integration role of the combat controller.

CCT badge dress regs

Detail from the Air Force Dress Manual showing the embroidered Combat Controller Team qualification Badge.

The badge is worn on the left breast of dress uniforms, 3mm above medals/ribbons or flying badge if applicable. Cloth, metal and a mess dress miniature versions are used, depending on the uniform type.

The metal badge is also worn on a black shield on the CCT beret which, unlike other RAAF berets is ‘air superiority’ grey, the colour signifying the presence of aviation in the daily duties of the combat controller. Mark Corcoran and Arthur Butler, author’s of the excellent reference books, Metal Uniform Embellishments of the Australian Army – Post 53 (‘QE II series’) volumes 1 & 2 also feature some of the prototype variations of the badge on their charliebravobooks blog which is worth checking out.

RAAF CCT insignia

Beret badge and Commando wings worn by the Combat Control Teams of B Flight 4 Squadron RAAF. Collection: Julian Tennant

CCT’s also wear a distinctive parachute qualification wing which differs from the standard Air Force parachutist badge. The wings are referred to in the Air Force Dress Manual as a ‘Commando Badge’ (NSN 8455-66-157-9911) and reflects the Army’s commando parachutist qualification design but has a white parachute with light blue wings on an Air Force blue background. A miniature version embroidered with gold bullion on a black background (NSN 8455-66-134-1212) is worn on the upper left sleeve of the mess dress jacket. The authority for the award and withdrawal of the Commando Badge is the Commanding Officer, 4SQN.

RAAF CCT wings dress manual

Page detail from the RAAF Dress manual showing the distinctive Commando parachutist wings worn by qualified CCT members of 4 Sqn RAAF.

CCT’s have also been seen wearing a variety of Combat Controller Team patches and distinctive RAAF ANF insignia, some of which are shown below. At this stage, these insignia are less well known amongst collectors as they are tightly controlled by the unit and have not (yet) been subect to the massive number of fakes and reproductions that have occurred with other Australian Special Forces insignia. Sadly, it is only a matter of time before the fakes start appearing on eBay and elsewhere. If you do have original examples of the RAAF 4 Squadron or CCT patches or insignia, for sale or trade, I am really interested in hearing from you as I’d love to add these to my collection. 

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CCT and ANF patches circa 2012. A No. 4 Squadron Combat Control Team (4SQN CCT) member on board a C-130H Hercules aircraft during Exercise Pitch Black 2012. Photographer: LACW Shannon McCarthy (Australian Defence Force)

Exercise COPE NORTH 19

CCT patch circa 2019. A Royal Australian Air Force No. 4 Squadron Combat Control Team, load equipment onto a Japan Air Self-Defense Force KC-130H Hercules, as part of Exercise Cope North 19, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Photo: Sgt Kirk Peacock (Australian Defence Force)

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The Aviation Heritage Museum – Bull Creek, Perth, Western Australia

Note: Click on the smaller images to enlarge and read caption information.

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Australian Flying Corps (AFC) pilot standing by a replica of a Sopwith Camel fighter. Photo: Julian Tennant

The North Wing is home to the larger aircraft in the collection and has a greater emphasis on the Royal Australian Air Force and its operations during peace and war. This is very much an ‘old-school’ type museum with an emphasis on artifacts rather than interactive displays or gimmicks to keep the kids entertained. Naturally there is a greater focus on Western Australia’s role and the Second World War does have a much greater emphasis than subsequent conflicts, with Vietnam and more recent conflicts almost entirely absent.

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Entrance to the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant

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1934 period RAAF Mess Dress uniform worn by (then) Flight Lieutenant Ivor. J. Lightfoot. Photo: Julian Tennant

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RAAF mechanic servicing a De Havilland Tiger Moth training aircraft. Photo: Julian Tennant

The layout of the museum may also appear somewhat random, rather than following a cohesive timeline and this may have been dictated due to space considerations. I suspect that it may also be due to the nature of the museum and what it represents in terms of preserving the history of aviation in WA, rather than trying to explain a linear sequence of conflicts or historical events. Many of the items have been donated by members or their families and it is nice to see some of the more unusual (and sometimes banal) objects on display rather than being hidden from public view in a storage facility somewhere. This more than makes up for the somewhat cluttered and disorganised feel of the museum in my opinion.  

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Second World War period Middle East Issue Fly Swat, RAAF officers issue Pith Helmet issued in the Burma / Indian operational theatres and a souvenir dagger from Somalia. Photo: Julian Tennant

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British Airborne Forces Welbike Paratrooper’s Motorcycle. The Welbike was a single seat motorcycle produced during WW2 at the direction of Station IX (the “Inter Services Research Bureau”) for use by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Between 1942 and 1943, 3641 bikes were built and although not much used by the SOE, some were issued to the British 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions, seeing use during Operation Market Garden at Arnhem. Photo: Julian Tennant

As can be expected, the ‘draw-card’ exhibits for most visitors would be the aircraft on display, however as an insignia collector, it is the uniforms and badges that attracted me. The Aviation Heritage Museum does not disappoint in this aspect. It displays some rare and unusual insignia, including what appears to be an Australian Flying Corps patch (see images above), the likes of which I had never seen before, despite having the AFC as one of my primary areas of collecting interest. It also shows some of the older Squadron patches and some more recent items from the more obscure RAAF support units.

My one criticism re the insignia is that some of the displays include obvious (to the knowledgeable collector) fakes such as the AFC wing which is featured on the pilot by the Sopwith Camel in the South Wing. The brevet is one of the copies sold by Lukus Productions and is even available in the museum shop and yet there is no information stating that the uniform being displayed is not authentic in all respects. There were also others that I was not convinced were genuine, but were not marked as being replicas. This is not a good practice IMO as it does potentially undermine confidence in the descriptor didactic panels for other displays as well. However, I only noticed this in a few displays and overall was very impressed by what I uncovered as I made my way through the museum. 

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Leather patch (with photo showing reverse) and Observer wings of the 531st Squadron, 380th Bombardment Group (H), 5th Air Force (USAAF) which flew B-24 Liberator bombers in the South Western and Western Pacific during WW2. The 380th was placed under the control of the RAAF and operated out of Darwin from May 1943 until February 1945. Photo: Julian Tennant.

 

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View of the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant

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3 Control Reporting Unit Patch and Disruptive Pattern Desert Uniform (DPDU) worn by a RAAF airman when he arrived at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on Christmas Eve of 2008. Photo: Julian Tennant.

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Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) Helicopter of 9 Sqn RAAF. Photo: Julian Tennant

In addition to the two display hangars the museum also has a separate library, photo archive, model aeroplane club room and of course a gift shop which features a good selection of aviation related books, including some out of print, second-hand publications, models and other related memorabilia.

The museum is easily accessible by car, or if using public transport by train with Bull Creek train station located approximately 500m away.  It is open every day, except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day from 10:00 until 16:00 and along with the Army Museum of Western Australia, should definitely be one of the museums you see when visiting Perth.

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RAAF Squadron patches and reproduction pilot’s wings on sale in the Museum shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Aviation Heritage Museum
Air Force Memorial Estate
2 Bull Creek Drive,
Bull Creek WA 6149
Australia

Website: https://aviationmuseumwa.org.au/
Email: museum@raafawa.org.au
Phone: +61 (0)8 9311 4470

Open: Every day from 10:00 until 16:00 (except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day).

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A 1992 issue Switlik Caterpillar Club badge for a WW2 Soviet pilot.

Last week’s post featured the Caterpillar Club badge of RAAF pilot Patrick Heffernan who became member number 16000 of Irvin’s European Division of the Caterpillar Club when he was forced to bail out from his Wellington bomber in November 1943.

Back in the 1920’s, along with Irvin, another manufacturer of parachutes, the Switlik Parachute Co of Trenton, New Jersey also thought that the caterpillar was a good idea to promote sales of its parachutes. Members of the Switlik Caterpillar Club, mostly Americans, receive a large certificate and a metal badge bearing the word ‘CATERPILLAR’ along the length of the badge. Like Irvin, Switlik continues to issue Caterpillar Club membership today and has also taken on the role for issuing membership to individuals whose lives had been saved using a Pioneer parachute for their emergency descent.

Switlik Caterpillar Club pin awarded in 1991 to a Soviet bomber pilot named AЕВИНСОН who was shot down by the Germans in June 1941. Collection: Julian Tennant

Switlik Caterpillar Club pin awarded in 1992 to a Soviet bomber pilot named AЕВИНСОН who was shot down by the Germans in June 1941. Collection: Julian Tennant

The Switlik Caterpillar Club badge that I feature here is one that was issued in 1992 to an old Russian airman who made an emergency descent in June 1943. I bought this pin back in 2005 from well-known para insignia collector, Don Strobaugh. He provided the following background to this particular pin.

For more than 50 years, I used to do a lot traveling throughout the world. Several times during those years, I visited an older Soviet friend of mine in Leningrad. I spoke no Russian and he didn’t speak English, so we had a mutual friend who translated for us. I knew that he had been a Soviet paratrooper in 1936, because I had done some wonderful trading with him for 1930’s era Soviet parachutist badges that he had. Kept. During one of my visits in 1990, I also learned that he had become a Soviet Naval Air Force bomber pilot prior to WWII and had made an emergency parachute jump after having been shot down by the Germans on 23 June 1941. I mentioned that there was an organization that recognized emergency parachute jumps and asked if he would like to be a member of the Caterpillar Club. He said yes, so when I returned to the States, I submitted al of the information that he had given me that the Switlik Parachute Company needed to confirm his eligibility for the award. In 1992, when my wife and I went to visit him again, I hand carried the Caterpillar Club certificate and pin with me and presented it to him 51 years after his emergency jump. Last year the pin was returned to me by an anonymous sender from St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad). He had no living relatives that I knew of, so this was probably telling me that he had passed away and someone had found my name associated with this pin. I received only the pin, not the certificate.”

When Don sent me the pin he also included a note which was returned with the pin which had the Pilot’s name, AЕВИНСОН, typed on a small piece of paper, which I think translates to Aevinson, but I have been unable to find out any more about this individual.

As can be seen from the picture, my 1992 period pin, does differ from the type made by the Metal Arts Co. of Rochester, New York (below) which Switlik issued during WW2 and are more often associated with the Switlik Caterpillar Club. I am not sure when Switlik changed the design and manufacture of their pin to the style that I have.

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Caterpillar Club pin issued by Switlik during WW2. This pin was made by the Metal Arts Co. of Rochester New York. The pin was made in two sizes with a smaller version using a single screw post for attaching the badge to the shirt.

The two different sized Switlik Caterpillar Club badges made by the Metal Arts Co. during WW2.

The two different sized Switlik Caterpillar Club badges made by the Metal Arts Co. during WW2.

Cindy Farrar Bryan shows some good pictures of the Caterpillar Club pins, membership cards and documentation in this post which recounts the story behind how her father, S/Sgt. George Farrar, a waist gunner on a B-17 in the 384th Bomb Group, earned his membership after an emergency jump in September 1944. The US Militaria Forum also has a great thread about the Caterpillar, Goldfish and Sea Squatters Club badges which includes lots of detailed pictures featuring both the front and backs of the various pin types and is an invaluable resource for collectors. And finally, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum recently published a great article on the ‘first’ members of the Caterpillar Club and also holds the Lt. Col. Falk Harmel Caterpillar Club Collection (1922-1940) which includes photographs and detailed reports of each of the first 700 documented emergency parachute jumps.

Flatbed scan of my two Caterpillar Club pins. The top example is Soviet bomber pilot, AЕВИНСОН's Switlik badge awarded in 1991 in recognition of a jump made in 1941 and the lower pin is the Irvin Caterpillar Club badge awarded to RAAF pilot, Patrick Heffernan for his emergency descent in November 1943. Collection: Julian Tennant

Flatbed scan of my two Caterpillar Club pins. The top example is Soviet bomber pilot, AЕВИНСОН’s Switlik badge awarded in 1992 in recognition of a jump made in 1941 and the lower pin is the Irvin Caterpillar Club badge awarded to RAAF pilot, Patrick Heffernan after bailing out from his Wellington bomber in November 1943. Collection: Julian Tennant

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Two more variations of Caterpillar Club pins held by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The top is the type awarded by Pioneer Parachute Co. Inc.  I am not sure which company the bottom badge represents. Collection: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

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WW2 Caterpillar Club pin to RAAF pilot, Group Captain P.G. Heffernan

The Caterpillar Club began in 1922 shortly after an American aviator, LT H.R. Harris, made an emergency descent using an Irvin parachute over McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, USA. The lucky escape captured the attention of two visiting newspaper journalists, Maurice Hutton and Vern Timmerman. After discussions between Hutton, Timmerman, parachute manufacturer Leslie Irvin, Harris and another airman, Lt. Frank B. Tyndal, it was decided to form a club that recorded the names of individuals whose lives had been saved making an emergency descent using a parachute.

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Milton H. St. Clair, parachute engineer and co-founder of the Caterpillar Club, points to a sign for Caterpillar farm tractors. Photograph – Smithsonian Collection NASM-9A16107

Parachute engineer and founding club member, Milton H St. Clair, came up with the idea of using the caterpillar as the club’s symbol after a discussion as how to best represent membership. He recalls,
“Not long after our conversation I received literature about the Caterpillar Tractor Company from a relative, showing the design of their advertisements that is a wavy streak with ‘Caterpillar’ written across its face. I immediately got in touch with Timmerman and Hutton, and suggested to them that the organisation be called ‘Caterpillar Club’ for several reasons, namely; the parachute mainsail and lines were woven from the finest silk. The lowly worm spins a cocoon, crawls out and flies away from certain death if it remains in sight of the cocoon. A better example of what a pilot or passenger should do in the case of an uncontrollable plane could not have better figurative depiction. Hutton and Timmerman gave enthusiastic support to this name.”

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A November 1943 article from Aviation Week magazine commemorating the then Colonel Harris’ achievement of becoming Caterpillar #1.

Two companies are usually associated with Caterpillar Club awards, Irvin and Switlik, although other parachute companies also used the symbol for brief periods of time. The pin featured here is an example awarded by the Irving Air Chute Company during WW2 for members of its Caterpillar Club European Division  and I will feature my Switlik pin in a future post.

The Irving Air Chute Company was formed by Leslie Irvin in Lexington Kentucky. A clerical error had resulted in the addition of a ‘G’ to Irvin’s name when the company was registered and this was amended to the Irvin Air Chute Company post WW2. In 1926 Leslie Irvin went to Great Britain where he established the Irving Air Chute of Great Britain Ltd at Letchworth, Garden City, Hertfordshire and as a result the European Division of the Caterpillar Club was formed.

Irvin’s Caterpillar Club European Division badge was originally made in 9ct gold (and later in gilt brass), is 20mm long and 4mm wide with ruby eyes. They were made by the jewellers, Mappin & Webb London. The badges produced in America were originally 10ct gold. The badge has a blank reverse upon which the recipient’s name is engraved behind the gold attachment pin. Many of the British made awards also feature a ‘9ct’ gold mark at the base. The pin was presented in a blue velvet lined presentation box, accompanied by a membership certificate and card.

Irvin Caterpillar Club pin presented to RAAF pilot Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E, A.F.C after he made an emergency descent on the 6th of November 1943. The pin measures 20mm long, 4mm wide, has ruby eyes and is engraved "G.C. P.G. HEFFERNAN" on the rear. Collection: Julian Tennant

WW2 Irvin Caterpillar Club European Division pin presented to RAAF pilot Group Captain (later Air Commodore) Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E, A.F.C after he made an emergency descent on the 6th of November 1943. The pin measures 20mm long, 4mm wide, has ruby eyes and is engraved “G.C. P.G. HEFFERNAN” on the rear. Collection: Julian Tennant

The pin that I have in my collection was presented to Royal Australian Air Force pilot, Group Captain (later Air Commodore) Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E, A.F.C., who entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1925 and in June 1929 went to the Air Force as a Pilot Officer. Heffernan had a long career which included qualifying as a RAAF parachutist in October 1930 and being awarded the Air Force Cross for his part in the rescue of RAF personnel from a Wellesley Bomber which had crashed in Western Australia in 1938. He was formally awarded his membership as no. 16000 of the Caterpillar Club European Division in February 1945 as the result of a training accident that occurred in November 1943.  He gives the following account of the jump that earned him membership of the Caterpillar Club in Bill Johnson’s book, Ripcord Australia.

“I joined the RAAF in 1929 and along with six other RAAF pilots we were sent to the UK in in 1943 to command various RAF squadrons, whose aircrew were predominantly Australian. Air Commodore DEL Wilson was to command RAF station Wyton, but after some operational flights he was shot down and became a POW. I was to command the Wellington OTU [27 Operational Training Unit RAF] where most of the Australians were crewed up. Wing Commander Balmer, Forsyth and McCormack were to command various squadrons.

I was taking part in a “Bullseye” which was a miniature bomber raid in which OTU crews took part before going on real ops. There were about 70 Wellingtons in this stream and were at 17000. Just as I was about to alter course over the last turning point, I looked down to reset the compass and as I looked up another Wellington appeared right in front of me and I skewered my aircraft on his port wing. I was knocked out and when I came too I found the aircraft in a steep dive as the controls had been jammed forward in the impact. Half the nose was ripped away and my bomb aimer had disappeared. I tried to contact the rest of the crew but the intercom was out and yelling down through the cabin door did not get any results, so I assumed that they, on possibly seeing me unconscious, had bailed out. I opened the top escape hatch and when I went to stand up, found that my right leg was broken. So, I hooked my finger in the loop of my flying boot and managed to kick my way out. I hit the mainplane and missed the tail. The chute opened OK and within a few seconds I hit the ground with a wallop.

It was a very dark night and after my eyes became used to the darkness I could see a white gate some 150 yards away, so thought I could crawl to it, but as soon as I put weight on my leg I passed out again. When I came to, I realised the futility of my attempts, so wrapped myself in the chute and tried to settle in for the night. It was now 22:30 on 6.11.1943. When it became daylight, I sat up and watched for any movement and about 08:00 I saw a chap riding a bike so yelled out and he came over. I told him my story and he went off to get an ambulance. He came back with a thermos of hot tea and a bottle of Red Label. I can assure you that a mix of 4 parts Red Label to 1 of tea was very welcome. The ambulance arrived and I went to Ely hospital where I remained for the next 14 months. It was found that I had broken my leg in 3 places, also had 3 broken ribs and a broken radius in my right arm. All these injuries were caused when the other chap’s wing came into the cockpit.

NOW, here’s the amazing part of the story. Usually in a Wellington the pilot wore a chute harness and the pack was stowed in the nose so when an emergency arose the bomb aimer passed the pack up. That night BOTH the other pilot and myself went to collect our chutes and were told they were being folded so BOTH of us asked for a seat type which we wore. In my case I would have had no chance of getting the pack because of my injuries and when the other aircraft broke away it went into an inverted spin, so that the moment the pilot released his aircraft harness, he was thrown out of the aircraft. Had he been wearing only a chute harness (no pack) he would have been a dead duck, but only damaged his knee on landing. So BOTH of us were very lucky, as we were the only survivors of both aircraft. Being in an inverted spin, his crew would have had little chance of getting out; I cannot understand why my crew failed to get out and can only assume that they were knocked out by the impact of the collision. The other pilot was Canadian and was not in the “Bullseye” but was doing a night cross country flight and his track crossed the “Bullseye” stream and that is why we almost hit at right angles.”

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England circa February 1945. Air Vice Marshal Wrigley at a luncheon at the Irvin Air Chute factory pinning a caterpillar pin on Group Captain P. G. Heffernan AFC, Royal Australian Air Force, as member number 16000 of the European Division of the Caterpillar Club. The delay between the date of the incident and presentation of the award is most likely because of Heffernan’s lengthy 14 month recovery in Ely hospital and helps to explain the presence of the walking stick. Australian War Memorial Image Accession Number: SUK13845

Patrick Heffernan, O.B.E., A.F.C continued to serve at various RAAF Headquarter establishments after the war and in 1953 was awarded an O.B.E. for his service. He retired as an Air Commodore on the 15th of September 1956 and died in 1994.

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WW2 and 1950’s era RAAF pilot’s wings, Caterpillar Club badge and Returned From Active Service badge numbered AF 113893 belonging to 0318 Air Commodore Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E., A.F.C. Collection: Julian Tennant

Related: The Winged Boot

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The RAAF Museum Point Cook, Victoria, Australia

The RAAF Museum Point Cook, Victoria, Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

The RAAF Museum Point Cook, Victoria, Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

Situated approximately 30km west of Melbourne at Point Cook, the RAAF Museum was established in 1952 as a repository for the preservation of aircraft, documents and memorabilia associated with the AFC and RAAF. The location is apt as Point Cook is also the birthplace of both the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) and its successor, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).  In 1972 the museum opened to the public and the collection has subsequently grown to over 100,000 items. I first visited the museum back in 1981 and have returned several times to see it evolve and grow. Smaller items such as heraldry and ephemera are changed reasonably regularly and some of the things I saw on my previous trip were no longer on display, so for this week’s post I have again included a lot of pictures. Note that as with all my weekly posts, when the pictures are laid out as a mosaic pattern, you can click on them to see a larger view with the caption.

My last visit to the museum had been back in 2014 when I spent some time in the Research Centre trawling through the records relating to the insignia worn by the Australian Flying Corps as part of my research and contribution to Bob Pandis’ book Flight Badges of the Allied Nations 1914-1918, Volume II, but I have been wanting to visit again and reacquaint myself with the exhibits. The opportunity presented itself this past week when I made a trip to Melbourne to visit my ageing parents and I am glad that I was able take a few hours out of my schedule to take another look.

The museum consists of several parts including external displays of aircraft and a Bristol Bloodhound missile launcher. However, most of the aircraft are housed in the various hangar displays which are divided into different sections across the complex. These are descriptively named the Technology Hangar, Training Hangar, Aircraft Display Hangar 180, Strike Reconnaissance Hangar 178 and the Restoration Hangar 187 where one can watch the conservators restore various aircraft including a de Havilland Mosquito (A52-600).

The aircraft collection is no doubt fascinating for the plane buffs, but as an insignia collector for me the really interesting stuff is housed in the Heritage Galleries which are situated in the main building. These galleries feature objects tracing a chronological the history of the AFC and RAAF from its birth as the Central Flying School on the 7th of March 1913 up until the present day. My main aviator collecting interest is focused on wings of the Australian Flying Corps up until the formation of the RAAF in March 1921 and the museum has some incredibly rare pieces on display including the very first set of wings (known as the AMF Pilots Badge) awarded.

First pattern Australian Flying Corps pilots badge, authorised by M.O. 801/1915 on 21st December 1915 and often referred to as the AMF (Australian Military Forces) wing. Photo: Julian Tennant

First pattern Australian Flying Corps pilots badge, authorised by M.O. 801/1915 on 21st December 1915 and often referred to as the AMF (Australian Military Forces) wing. Photo: Julian Tennant

Third pattern Australian Flying Corps brevet, authorised by M.O. 68/1918 on 16th February 1918. It should be noted that despite these wings only being authorised in February 1918, this style of wing were unofficially worn as far back as November 1916. This particular example is the issue variation that became commonplace after formal authorisation. Photo: Julian Tennant

Third pattern Australian Flying Corps brevet, authorised by M.O. 68/1918 on 16th February 1918. It should be noted that despite these wings only being authorised in February 1918, this style of wing were unofficially worn as far back as November 1916. This particular example is the issue variation that became commonplace after formal authorisation. Photo: Julian Tennant

The First World War gallery also includes items such as the maternity jacket with RFC wings worn by Captain Douglas Rutherford (1 Sqn AFC) who was rescued by Lieutenant Frank McNamara V.C. after being shot down behind enemy lines in Palestine in 1917. It was this rescue that resulted in McNamara being awarded the Victoria Cross, the first for an Australian aviator.

Maternity jacket of Captain Douglas Wallace Rutherford, 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. Note the use of the RFC pilot's brevet. Photo: Julian Tennant

Maternity jacket of Captain Douglas Wallace Rutherford, 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. Note the use of the RFC pilot’s brevet. Photo: Julian Tennant

'A Dangerous Life!' Oil painting by Norman Clifford completed in 1969. This painting shows Captain Les Holden, in his red SE5A Fighting Scout, in mock combat with two pupils of No 6 (Training) Squadron, Australian Flying Corps over Minchinhampton, Gloucester, England in 1918. For Holden and other 'fighting instructors' life was hardly less dangerous than a combat pilot since they had to contend with pupils enthusiastic but unpredictable and inexperienced manoeuvres. Photo: Julian Tennant

‘A Dangerous Life!’ Oil painting by Norman Clifford completed in 1969. This painting shows Captain Les Holden, in his red SE5A Fighting Scout, in mock combat with two pupils of No 6 (Training) Squadron, Australian Flying Corps over Minchinhampton, Gloucester, England in 1918. For the ‘fighting instructors’ life was hardly less dangerous than a combat pilot since they had to contend with pupils enthusiastic but unpredictable and inexperienced manoeuvres. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

In addition to exhibits relating to Australia’s air power contributions in the world wars, post war conflicts including Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq plus the various Peacekeeping deployments and Civil Aid Operations, the galleries also feature exhibits about specific branches such as Chaplains, the RAAF Medical Service and Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (later Women’s Royal Australian Air Force). There are also displays that cover aspects such as basic training, life at postings such as the RAAF Base Butterworth in Malaysia and the RAAF Marine Section.

Vietnam War souvenir RAAF Zippo and Vulcan lighters. Photo: Julian Tennant

Vietnam War souvenir RAAF Zippo and Vulcan lighters. Photo: Julian Tennant

Ugly Club badge retrieved from crash site of last Aust MIA's during Vietnam war. On the night of 3 November 1970, RAAF Canberra bomber A84-231, Call Sign 'Magpie 91' flew a bombing mission from coastal Phan Rang to the Ho Chi Minh trail near the Vietnam-Laos border. A typical mission for the Canberra bomber crews of No 2 Sqn RAAF. The two man crew (Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver) reported a successful bombing run and turned back for the coast. Shortly thereafter, the aircraft disappeared from radar and the crew were never heard from again. Both crew were listed missing in action (MIA) until the crash site was discovered in the highlands of Quang Nam province in 2008 and repatriation of the last two Australian MIA's from Vietnam began. The "Ugly Club" was a club formed by members of No. 2 Squadron (RAAF) in Vietnam. Members were expected to be able to present their badge upon request at any time. The badge on left was retrieved from the crash site and belonged to the pilot, Flying Officer Michael Herbert. The badge on the right is an example of the badge and is on loan from Rodney (Curley) Pearce a former mechanic with 2 Sqn. Photo: Julian Tennant

Ugly Club badge retrieved from crash site of the last Aust MIA’s during Vietnam war. On the night of 3 November 1970, RAAF Canberra bomber A84-231, Call Sign ‘Magpie 91’ flew a bombing mission from coastal Phan Rang to the Ho Chi Minh trail near the Vietnam-Laos border. A typical mission for the Canberra bomber crews of No 2 Sqn RAAF. The two man crew (Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver) reported a successful bombing run and turned back for the coast. Shortly thereafter, the aircraft disappeared from radar and the crew were never heard from again. Both crew were listed missing in action (MIA) until the crash site was discovered in the highlands of Quang Nam province in 2008 and repatriation of the last two Australian MIA’s from Vietnam began. The “Ugly Club” was a club formed by members of No. 2 Squadron (RAAF) in Vietnam. Members were expected to be able to present their badge upon request at any time. The badge on left was retrieved from the crash site and belonged to the pilot, Flying Officer Michael Herbert. The badge on the right is an example of the badge and is on loan from Rodney (Curley) Pearce a former mechanic with 2 Sqn. Photo: Julian Tennant

Bell UH-1B helicopter (A2-1020) and Supermarine Seagull V 'Walrus' (HD-874) on display in the Technology Hangar. Photo: Julian Tennant

Bell UH-1B helicopter (A2-1020) and Supermarine Seagull V ‘Walrus’ (HD-874) on display in the Technology Hangar. Photo: Julian Tennant

UH-1H 'Bushranger' gunship, A2-377, was one of four helicopters initially converted to a gunship after being delivered to No 9 Squadron in 1968. It flew a large number of fire support missions during the Vietnam War. Upon return to Australia the aircraft continued to serve with No 9 Squadron and was part of the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsular in the mid-1980's. In 1989 it was transferred to the army and served with 171 Sqn, Australian Army Aviation Training Centre, Aircraft Research & Development Unit (ARDU) and A Sqn, 5 Aviation Regiment until June 2007. Photo: Julian Tennant

UH-1H ‘Bushranger’ gunship, A2-377, was one of four helicopters initially converted to a gunship after being delivered to No 9 Squadron in 1968. It flew a large number of fire support missions during the Vietnam War. Upon return to Australia the aircraft continued to serve with No 9 Squadron and was part of the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsular in the mid-1980’s. In 1989 it was transferred to the army and served with 171 Sqn, Australian Army Aviation Training Centre, Aircraft Research & Development Unit (ARDU) and A Sqn, 5 Aviation Regiment until June 2007. Photo: Julian Tennant

There is also a small gift shop which includes books, souvenir items and a comprehensive selection of Squadron patches for purchase. As far as I am aware, these are the same patches that are used by the squadrons, originating from the same manufacturer, the only difference being the lack of Velcro backing. In addition the shop sells some REPRO aviator brevets and collectors should not confuse those with the issue wings.

Reproduction/fake RAAF pilot's brevet sold with the souvenirs in the RAAF Museum gift shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

Reproduction/fake RAAF pilot’s brevet sold with the souvenirs in the RAAF Museum gift shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

Every-time I visit this museum I find something new to look at and this visit was no exception as there were pieces on display including some items from recent deployments to the Middle East which had not yet been displayed during my previous trip. There were also some things such as the rare Roo and Caterpillar Club pins that resonated with my parachuting/special forces collecting interests.  For a visitor to Melbourne it can be a bit difficult to get to as it is located on the RAAF base about 25 minutes’ drive from Melbourne although there is also a bus service, the Werribee Park Shuttle, which stops at the RAAF Museum on flying days (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays). However, despite its location, the RAAF Museum should be on the agenda for anybody visiting Melbourne with an interest in aviation or military history.

RAAF Museum
RAAF Base Point Cook
Point Cook Road
Victoria 3030
Australia

View location on Google Maps 

Phone: 03) 8348 6040

Email: RAAF.MuseumInfo@defence.gov.au

Website: https://www.airforce.gov.au/raaf-museum

Opening hours

Tuesday to Friday: 10am-3pm

Weekends and public holidays: 10am-5pm

The Museum is closed on Mondays (except public holidays), Good Friday, and Christmas Day.

Entry

Admission to the RAAF Museum is free, however, donations are gratefully accepted.

Note that as the museum is located within the grounds of the RAAF Base, all visitors over the age of 16 will need to bring photo identification to enter the Base.

Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! If you like what you see here, please follow this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages