By Henry Simpson – Young Historians
2021 Marks the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) which was established as its own service branch on March 31st 1921 from the army controlled Australian Flying Corps. To mark its centenary the RAAF has established an historical squadron with the reformation of No.100 Squadron, operating warbirds.
The aircraft on the squadron have been drawn from The Temora Aviation Museum and the RAAF Museum at Point Cook and include a spectrum of types representing the service from the First World War through to the Cold War. The aircraft in the newly reformed squadron include the world’s only airworthy Lockheed Hudson, CAC (Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation) built Mustang, Boomerang and Sabre, a Gloster Meteor, as well as two Supermarine Spitfires and an English Electric Canberra.
I was fortunate that Wing Commander Philip Beanland, the commanding officer of No.100 Squadron, was able to answer some of my questions about the new unit and how they hope to preserve Australia’s flying heritage for future generations. The flight’s aircraft are drawn from both civilian and military ownership; “100 Squadron was formed by bringing together two important Australian aviation flying heritage museum fleets: the flying component from RAAF Museum based at Point Cook, and the Temora Aviation Museum in New South Wales.” He is keen to highlight the role these organisations have played in preserving these aircraft so far; “The RAAF Museum managed, through the efforts of committed individuals, to become a Tier One Aviation Museum. It is a tribute to the maintainers that these aircraft are so pristine and ready to work.” Meanwhile; “In the case of the former Temora Aviation Museum fleet the Air Force and the Australian public are benefiting from the prescient and dedicated vision of Mr David Lowy. Mr Lowy assembled and operated a world class heritage flying operation, and then deeded eleven heritage aircraft to the Air Force to keep the collection together and in Australia. 100 Squadron will now stand on the shoulders of these two great collections created through the passion and commitment of many fine people.”
Despite their different backgrounds the aircraft; “are all on the civilian register and operated primarily under the civilian aviation regulatory framework, with additional overlay of Air Force aviation safety components.” As an RAAF Squadron the aircraft will be operated and maintained by military personnel but some of those have been drawn from the civilian warbird scene for this task, as Philip comments; “The pilots are a mix of full-time and Reserve Air Force Officers. A significant proportion are Specialist Capability Officers (Reserve) selected for their unique qualifications and experience operating heritage aircraft in the civilian environment and invited by the Air Force to join 100 Squadron. Maintenance and technical airworthiness is managed by a full-time Air Force Senior Engineering Officer, supported by a mix of civilian and Air Force maintenance personnel and engineering contractors.”
Parallels may be drawn to the likes of the civilian partnership with the USAF Heritage Flight and in particular the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Philip described that they have benefited “a great deal by studying other heritage aircraft operations, particularly the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF). The executive at BBMF has been extremely generous in sharing hard-won experience with us, sharing publications and safety information. (The Royal Australian) Air Force believes we have optimised our structure to leverage off the strengths of our broad spectrum of personnel: full-time Air Force, reservists, and our highly qualified third-party contractors. That said, when we collectively get down to a task the uniforms and logos lose significance because we are all working for the same outcomes.”
Of note is the broad remit of the squadron’s aircraft featuring everything from the WW1 vintage Sopwith Snipe up to the Vietnam era Canberra Jet bomber. On this he comments that; “Operating disparate aircraft types, particularly from different classes and ages of design philosophy, brings added complexity to the task.” he continues saying; “The technical and operational airworthiness oversight that are mainstream today were learned while operating these types at various times in our recent history,” highlighting that; “Modern airworthiness oversight is being used to ensure we safely operate a diverse range of historic aircraft. 100 Squadron will capture the corporate knowledge currently used to maintain and operate these aircraft safely.”
Whilst Second World War warbirds make up the majority of the flight, the presence of a strong classic jet element is most welcome, these types have been harder to maintain in civilian hands in recent years and airworthy examples of early jets have drastically reduced in number in countries like the UK. The direct involvement of the RAAF in preserving these types safeguards their future to allow the public and future generations to experience the flying heritage of the Korean and Vietnam war years.
For the Heritage Squadron Philip describes; “Our vision is to capture knowledge and best-practice processes now, for such that the young people preparing and displaying our aircraft in the decades to come. There are a few of us in the 100 Squadron mix that were taught about maintaining and operating these aircraft from WWII Air Force veterans. For example, I learnt to fly tail-wheel aircraft from a WWII RAAF Wirraway, (an Australian built derivative for the North American T-6), instructor. We are perhaps the last generation to benefit from that first-hand experience and it is our responsibility to pay that forward.” This is a sentiment that I share and is all the more important as we are now losing the last surviving WW2 veterans and with the industry needing to ensure that the operation of classic aircraft can be passed on to the next generation.
“The 100 Squadron mission statement captures the nature of our task and the responsibility vested in it. The Mission Statement: “100 Squadron is trusted to maintain the priceless artefacts of our national heritage in airworthy condition to professionally conduct flying displays in order to commemorate those who have fallen in service of this country, to promote today’s Royal Australian Air Force and inspire future generations. Then, Now and Always.” Indeed “Then, Now and Always” is the theme chosen for the RAAF’s centenary celebrations with aircraft from the squadron having already appeared at several events to mark the anniversary this year including the flypasts over the capital city Canberra. As Philip elaborates; “100 Squadron represents the ‘Then’ component with its fleet from yesteryear. In doing so the Australia public and current Air Force members are able to visualise the connection to ‘Now’. To know where we have come from, and where we are now, gives valuable context when planning the future. The technology will change, and our mission will evolve, however our service to Australia remains, that is the ‘Always’.”
Philip is also keen to point out some of the interesting history behind 3 of the squadron’s aircraft.
Firstly, the CAC CA-18 Mk23 Mustang [A68-170]: “Interestingly, this aircraft has always been owned by the RAAF. It is an Australian version of the P-51D built in 1949 under license at Fisherman’s Bend, just around the corner from RAAF Base Point Cook. Of note RAAF Point Cook is the oldest continuously operating military airfield in the world and is also the birthplace of the RAAF and appropriately the location for 100 Squadron HQ.” Secondly, the Spitfire Mk XVI [TB863] which was built in Castle Bromwich in 1944; “Saw actual wartime service with 453SQN RAAF and is one of two Spitfires in 100 squadron.” While the CAC CA-13 Boomerang [A46-122] which was: “Rebuilt by one of our Specialist Capability Officer Reserve pilots is an incredibly significant heritage aircraft that also tells a story of Australian military aviation leading up to the outbreak of WWII. The ‘Booma’, he is keen to mention, “is the only Australian designed and built fighter type aircraft to see production.”
In addition the squadron’s Lockheed Hudson [A16-112], which was built in 1939, is also a war veteran having performed anti-submarine patrol, bombing and armed reconnaissance missions during the war.
100 Squadron RAAF itself is not a new unit and comes with its own history. Australian Minister for Defence Personnel Darren Chester said at the foundation of the squadron that after a 75-year absence it is fitting that RAAF reactivates it in the same year as it commemorates its centenary. “First established during the Second World War in February 1942 at RAAF Base Richmond, 100 Squadron was an Air Force bomber and maritime patrol squadron, trained on Australian-built Bristol Beauforts. The squadron conducted several successful missions throughout the war, taking part in the famous Battle of the Bismarck Sea in March 1943, and eventually disbanding in New Guinea on 19 August 1946.” “The heritage fleet of 100 Squadron will continue to recognise the service of previous generations and inspiring the next generation of pilots.”
Nicola Curry of the Temora Aviation Museum comments that; “The re-formation of No. 100 Squadron further strengthens the relationship between the Temora Aviation Museum and Royal Australian Air Force and continues to ensure the long-term future of these historically significant national assets,” highlighting how the involvement of the RAAF has directly helped to preserve this aircraft in flying condition.
It is great to see the RAAF taking action to preserve these historic aircraft which will no doubt be a high point of this year’s anniversary events and beyond. This move has also helped support Australia’s warbird industry that also includes other rare types such as the Lockheed P-2 Neptune and Super Constellation operated by the HARS Aviation Museum.
I would like to thank Wing Commander Philip Beanland, Nicola Curry at the Temora Aviation Museum and Kate and Kyle at the Australian Department of Defence for helping with the production of this article.
People can learn about the historic aircraft operated by 100 Squadron at: https://www.airforce.gov.au/about-us/history/historic-aircraft.
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