No. 1 Aircraft Depot RAAF

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No. 1 Aircraft Depot RAAF
No.1 Aircraft Depot 1955 (AWM P00448.201).jpg
Aircraft on display at No. 1 Aircraft Depot, September 1955
BranchRoyal Australian Air Force
RoleAircraft maintenance
Part ofSouthern Area Command (1940–42)
No. 4 Maintenance Group (1942–53)
Maintenance Command (1953–59)
Support Command (1959–90)
Logistics Command (1990–94)
Garrison/HQRAAF Point Cook (1921–26)
RAAF Laverton (1926–94)
Motto(s)Providemus ("We foresee")[1]
William Anderson (1921, 1929)
Adrian Cole (1929–32)
Frank McNamara (1933–36)
Frank Lukis (1936–38)
Arthur Murphy (1938–40)
John Lerew (1942–43)

No. 1 Aircraft Depot (No. 1 AD) was a maintenance unit of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Formed in July 1921 at RAAF Point Cook, Victoria, it relocated to the nearby RAAF Laverton in March 1926. As well as servicing aircraft and other equipment, in its early years the depot supported survey flights in Australia and the Pacific region. It was also responsible for training maintenance staff.

No. 1 AD's strength increased from 350 staff in the 1930s to over 2,000 during World War II, when it assembled, tested and repaired aircraft ranging from Tiger Moth trainers to Spitfire fighters to B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers. It also undertook aircraft research and development.

Shortly after World War II, No. 1 AD introduced the first jets into RAAF service. In 1961, it ceased airframe maintenance, but continued to service aero engines. By the 1970s, the depot's main focus was ground-based equipment, though it still handled some aircraft components. No. 1 AD was disbanded in December 1994, its functions having been taken over by other units and private contractors. At the time of its disbandment, it was the oldest RAAF unit in continuous operation.


Pre-war years[edit]

No. 1 Aircraft Depot (No. 1 AD) was one of the first units formed by the Royal Australian Air Force after the new service was established (initially as the Australian Air Force) on 31 March 1921.[2] The original components of No. 1 AD became known as such in April 1921, though the unit did not formally come into existence until July.[3] Prior to this it comprised two elements in Melbourne, one at Spotswood handling the equipment of the Imperial Gift (128 surplus aircraft and associated spare parts donated by Great Britain following World War I), and another at North Fitzroy responsible for motor vehicle repair.[3][4] When No. 1 AD was officially established at RAAF Point Cook, Victoria, on 1 July, the Spotswood component was dissolved, while North Fitzroy continued to operate as a detachment. The unit's inaugural commanding officer was Squadron Leader Bill Anderson, who was also in overall charge of Point Cook.[3]

In January 1922, the depot was organised into a headquarters that controlled stores, aircraft repair, and engine repair sections. The vehicle repair section at North Fitzroy was transferred to Point Cook that April.[3] Point Cook's corrosive seaside atmosphere was however deemed an unsuitable long-term location for aircraft maintenance; the base also lacked railway infrastructure, necessary for transporting large aircraft parts.[5][6] In September 1921, the government had purchased land at Laverton, near a railway station eight kilometres (five miles) inland from Point Cook, for the express purpose of constructing a dedicated home for No. 1 AD as the "warehouse of the Air Force".[7] The depot, staffed by eight officers and seventy-seven other ranks, relocated to the new base on 1 March 1926.[1] It occupied a large hangar that included an administration block, which along with living quarters and ancillary buildings had cost £300,000 to build.[8]

As well as receiving, assembling, testing and maintaining RAAF equipment, No. 1 AD was responsible for supporting research flights.[1] In July 1927, it was the departure point for the Northern Survey Flight, comprising a de Havilland DH.50 and two Airco DH.9s, which reconnoitred air routes and landing grounds in northern and central Australia under the command of the Chief of the Air Staff, Wing Commander Richard Williams.[9] The following month, No. 1 AD formed the Papuan Survey Flight, consisting of two Supermarine Seagull III amphibious biplanes under the command of Flight Lieutenant Ellis Wackett, which photographed the Papuan and New Guinean coasts as far north as Aitape.[10] Anderson, now a wing commander, returned to command the depot from April to August 1929, handing over to Wing Commander Adrian Cole, who served in the post until December 1932.[1]

Single-engined military biplane on floats in harbour
Supermarine Seagull A9-6, which was part of the 1927 Papuan Survey Flight formed by No. 1 AD[10]

By the mid-1930s, No. 1 AD comprised 350 staff;[1] the overall strength of the RAAF at this time was under 2,000.[11] The depot serviced a range of aircraft that included the Westland Wapiti, Bristol Bulldog, Hawker Demon, de Havilland Dragon Rapide, Avro Cadet, Avro Anson, and North American NA-16.[1] The NA-16 was later augmented by the purchase of the more advanced North American NA-33, which was licensed and built in Australia by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation as the CAC Wirraway.[12] To cope with the Government's decision to rapidly expand the RAAF, a Recruit Training Section, incorporating the nascent School of Armaments and Signals, was formed under the depot's auspices by Flight Lieutenant Charles Eaton on 1 March 1935; it was reorganised as Recruit Training Squadron on 1 September 1936.[13][14] No. 1 AD also commenced formal training courses for aircraft fitters and riggers in 1935, leading to the formation of No. 1 School of Technical Training five years later.[15][16]

In December 1935, No. 1 AD's workshops, under the command of Squadron Leader Arthur Murphy, specially modified a Wapiti and a de Havilland Gipsy Moth for Antarctic conditions, to enable an Air Force team led by Flight Lieutenant (later Group Captain) Eric Douglas and Flying Officer Alister Murdoch to rescue explorer Lincoln Ellsworth, who was presumed lost on a journey across the continent.[17] On 3 May 1937, Recruit Training Squadron acquired a new sub-unit, the Communications and Survey Flight, utilising Tugan Gannets and Dragon Rapides for ongoing photographic survey work; the squadron was re-formed as No. 1 Recruit Depot on 2 March 1940.[14][18] Coupled with its aircraft assembly and test facilities, the recruit training unit made Laverton an obvious choice for the establishment of future RAAF squadrons.[13] No. 1 AD's commanding officers during this decade included Wing Commanders Frank McNamara (February 1933 to April 1936), Frank Lukis (April 1936 to January 1938), and Arthur Murphy (January 1938 to May 1940).[1]

World War II[edit]

Six men in caps and overalls working on an aero engine
Fitters at No. 1 AD assembling a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine after a full overhaul, May 1944

Although many squadrons were raised at RAAF Station Laverton during World War II, the base's prime focus continued to be its aircraft depot.[8] Following the outbreak of hostilities in September 1939, No. 1 AD began expanding to handle the RAAF's growing number of training and combat aircraft, among them the Wirraway, de Havilland Tiger Moth, Lockheed Hudson, Hawker Hurricane, and Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk. The depot assembled and tested new aircraft, and ferried them to operational areas such as northern Australia and New Guinea. It was also responsible for the maintenance of in-service aircraft, including their engines, instruments, and armament. As well as RAAF equipment, No. 1 AD repaired battle-damaged US aircraft such as B-17 Flying Fortresses.[1]

In March 1940, the RAAF began dividing Australia and New Guinea into geographically based command-and-control zones; No. 1 AD came under the auspices of Southern Area Command, which was headquartered in Melbourne and was responsible for RAAF units located in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.[19][20] The depot spawned Nos. 1 and 2 Aircraft Parks, which were dedicated to aircraft assembly, in April–May 1940, and No. 1 Replenishing Unit, which was responsible for the upkeep of ordnance and ammunition at units in Southern Area, in June 1942.[21][22] In October that year, control of No. 1 AD was transferred from Southern Area Command to the recently formed No. 4 Maintenance Group, also headquartered in Melbourne, which took over responsibility for maintenance units in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.[23][24]

No. 1 AD undertook research and development on various aircraft types, including Supermarine Spitfires, CAC Boomerangs, and Wackett Woomeras. It also ran comparative performance studies on Spitfires, Boomerangs, Kittyhawks, Brewster Buffalos, and Mitsubishi Zeros.[1] In the case of the Boomerang, 105 CA-12 models were delivered to No. 1 AD for testing between July 1942 and June 1943.[25] As soon as the aircraft began arriving, the depot commenced handling and armament trials that continued for six months, identifying and overcoming such issues as the aircraft's guns freezing at high altitudes, and unusual levels of carbon monoxide in the cockpit.[26] Fighter aces Alan Rawlinson and Wilfred Arthur, along with a United States Army Air Forces pilot, conducted comparative trials between a Boomerang, a Kittyhawk, a Buffalo, and a Bell Airacobra.[27] The depot began despatching the Boomerangs to their operational units in March 1943, and the following month performance-tested a turbocharged version of the CA-14, though this model never entered production.[26][28] No. 1 AD's Special Duties and Performance Flight was responsible for conducting performance trials during the early war years; in December 1943 it became a separate organisation, No. 1 Aircraft Performance Unit, which would evolve into the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) in 1947.[29]

One of the depot's wartime commanding officers was Wing Commander John Lerew, who held the post from December 1942 until November 1943.[1] During his tenure, after investigating the crash of a Vultee Vengeance, he designed a clip to prevent the accidental release of the pilot's safety harness, which was later adopted for all such harnesses.[30] By January 1945, No. 1 AD's strength had increased to its highest level of 2,339 staff.[1]

Post-war years[edit]

Twin-engined, straight-winged military jet, parked on airfield
RAAF Canberra bomber during the 1953 London-to-Christchurch air race; three aircraft were specially modified by No. 1 AD to take part in the event

After the war, No. 1 AD was responsible for introducing the first jets into RAAF service.[1] A Gloster Meteor made its first flight in Australia from Laverton in 1946. By May 1947, No. 1 AD had assembled the first de Havilland Vampire jet in Australia for its maiden flight.[8] In October the same year, the first helicopter in RAAF service, a Sikorsky S-51, arrived at the depot.[31] That month, No. 1 AD also completed fitting out a Douglas Dakota with an office, a lounge suite, and a kitchenette for service as the Governor-General's VIP transport, operated out of Laverton by No. 1 Communication Unit.[32][33] In 1950, the depot received the sole high-performance piston-engined CAC CA-15 to be built, which had been sent to be "converted to components" (scrapped).[34] No. 1 AD took delivery of the first Australian-built English Electric Canberra jet bomber in July 1953.[8] Shortly afterwards, it modified the three Canberras of No. 1 Long Range Flight prior to the unit taking part in the 1953 London-to-Christchurch air race.[35] In September that year, the first Australian-built Sabre jet fighter was delivered.[8]

As part of the RAAF's reorganisation from a geographically based command-and-control system to one based on function, No. 4 Maintenance Group was superseded by Maintenance Command on 1 October 1953.[36][37] In September 1959, No. 1 AD came under the control of Support Command, formed when Maintenance Command was amalgamated with Training Command.[38] Between June 1950 and October 1960, No. 1 AD maintained a detachment at RAAF Station Tocumwal, New South Wales, to store obsolete aircraft awaiting disposal.[39][40]

By 1961, when all airframe maintenance at Laverton was transferred to Nos. 2 and 3 Aircraft Depots, No. 1 AD had serviced forty-two aircraft types throughout its existence. It continued to maintain aero engines, and began supporting telecommunications equipment as well. The aircraft engine repair facilities at No. 1 AD were closed down in 1968.[1] Staff were transferred to No. 3 Aircraft Depot at RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland, to prepare for the introduction of the General Dynamics F-111C swing-wing bomber to Australian service and concentrate on maintaining the new aircraft's engines.[41] No. 1 AD's focus thereafter shifted to ground support, manufacturing, installing, servicing and providing training for navigational, air traffic control, telecommunications and motor transport equipment used by the Air Force and other sections of Defence and government.[1] From 1968 to 1977, the depot was organised into two components, Telecommunications Installation and Maintenance Squadron and Ground Equipment Maintenance Squadron. These were subdivided in February 1977 into Telecommunications Squadron (maintaining ground communications equipment for control towers, transmitters and receiving stations in Australia and the region), Radar Squadron (supporting surveillance systems at RAAF Bases Williamtown, Amberley, Townsville, Darwin and Pearce), Ground Equipment Maintenance Squadron (maintaining motor transport, and other ground-based mechanical and electro-mechanical systems), and Intermediate Level Maintenance Squadron (communications, navigation and other ground-based maintenance at Laverton, as well as spectrometric analysis of oil used by the RAAF in aircraft and other equipment).[42]

On 6 November 1981, the Governor-General, Sir Zelman Cowen, presented the Queen's Colour to No. 1 AD.[1][43] By September the following year the depot's strength was down to 235 staff, but it pioneered the support of various new technologies for the Air Force, in fields such as electroplating, fibre optics, and electronics. It was also responsible for developing and testing components for the F-111, Macchi MB-326 and McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet jets. From 1986, restructuring and outsourcing began to impact heavily upon the RAAF's technical services.[1] In February 1990, No. 1 AD came under the control of Logistics Command, formed when Support Command was split into logistical and training components.[42][44] By then the depot's functions had largely been taken over by other units and private contractors, and it was disbanded on 2 December 1994. No. 1 AD was, at the time, the oldest RAAF unit in continuous operation and, according to the RAAF Historical Section, the oldest continuously operating maintenance depot of any air force.[1]

Commanding officers[edit]

No. 1 AD was commanded by the following officers:[45]

From Name From Name
July 1921 Squadron Leader W.H. Anderson March 1956 Wing Commander R.W.T. Ayre
February 1922 Squadron Leader A. Murray-Jones March 1957 Group Captain J.P. Godsell
July 1922 Flight Lieutenant W.A. Coates January 1959 Wing Commander R.W.T. Ayre
February 1923 Squadron Leader T. R. Marsden June 1959 Group Captain A.G. Pither
May 1924 Flight Lieutenant E.J. Howells September 1959 Wing Commander R.W.T. Ayre
December 1925 Flight Lieutenant R. Christie January 1960 Wing Commander A.G. Pither
March 1926 Wing Commander P.A. McBain June 1961 Wing Commander F.M. Timms
January 1929 Squadron Leader J.R. Bell September 1962 Wing Commander J.R. Lavers
April 1929 Wing Commander W.H. Anderson February 1966 Wing Commander D.M. Furler
August 1929 Wing Commander A.T. Cole January 1968 Wing Commander R.K. Starkie
December 1932 Squadron Leader R. Christie June 1968 Wing Commander H.J. Gent
January 1933 Squadron Leader A.W. Murphy September 1968 Squadron Leader R.R. Prowse
February 1933 Wing Commander F.W. McNamara May 1969 Wing Commander D.C. Mazlin
April 1936 Wing Commander F.W.F. Lukis November 1971 Wing Commander J.C. Swales
January 1938 Wing Commander A.W. Murphy January 1974 Wing Commander G. Grantham
May 1940 Wing Commander C.E. Douglas June 1974 Wing Commander J.O.F. Philip
July 1942 Wing Commander J.C. Stevenson January 1977 Wing Commander C.R.A. Ely
December 1942 Wing Commander J.M Lerew February 1979 Squadron Leader P.J. Winyard
November 1943 Wing Commander S.DeB. Griffiths March 1979 Wing Commander D.K. Leslie
October 1945 Group Captain C.McK. Henry January 1982 Wing Commander L.J. Crowley
November 1949 Wing Commander K.P. Connolly January 1984 Wing Commander T.J. Kelly
July 1951 Wing Commander E.F. Easterbrook June 1985 Wing Commander R.I. Gretton
May 1953 Group Captain E.V. Millett December 1987 Wing Commander P.J. McDonald
October 1954 Wing Commander A.T. Fay January 1990 Wing Commander T.C. Smith
June 1955 Group Captain J.W.C. Black January 1993 Wing Commander M.W. Shaw


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q RAAF Historical Section, Maintenance Units, pp. 1–5
  2. ^ Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force, p. 16 Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c d Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, p. 41
  4. ^ Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, p. 31
  5. ^ Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, p. 33
  6. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, p. 129
  7. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, p. 128
  8. ^ a b c d e RAAF Historical Section, Introduction, Bases, Supporting Organisations, pp. 141–143
  9. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, pp. 392–393
  10. ^ a b Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, pp. 412–413
  11. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, p. 470
  12. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, pp. 274–280
  13. ^ a b Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, p. 131
  14. ^ a b RAAF Historical Section, Training Units, p. 80
  15. ^ Eaton, Mark (21 November 2002). "Proud history continues". Air Force. Archived from the original on 25 August 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  16. ^ RAAF Historical Section, Training Units, p. 91
  17. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, pp. 275, 419–420
  18. ^ Coulthard-Clark, The Third Brother, p. 433
  19. ^ Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 91–92
  20. ^ Ashworth, How Not to Run an Air Force!, p. 34
  21. ^ RAAF Historical Section, Maintenance Units, pp. 23–25
  22. ^ RAAF Historical Section, Logistics Units, p. 48
  23. ^ Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force, p. 479
  24. ^ Southern Area Headquarters, Operations Record Book, p. 240
  25. ^ Wilson, Wirraway, Boomerang and CA-15, p. 96
  26. ^ a b Wilson, Wirraway, Boomerang and CA-15, pp. 145–146
  27. ^ Wilson, Wirraway, Boomerang and CA-15, pp. 90–91, pp. 114–119
  28. ^ Wilson, Wirraway, Boomerang and CA-15, p. 138
  29. ^ Stephens, Going Solo, p. 434
  30. ^ McAulay, We Who Are About to Die, pp. 218–219
  31. ^ "Sikorsky S51". RAAF Museum. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  32. ^ "Governor-General's Plane Ready For Service". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 11 October 1947. p. 1. Retrieved 30 July 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  33. ^ RAAF Historical Section, Maritime and Transport Units, p. 183
  34. ^ Wilson, Wirraway, Boomerang and CA-15, p. 169
  35. ^ RAAF Historical Section, Bomber Units, p. 148
  36. ^ "RAAF abandoned area command system". Air Power Development Centre. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  37. ^ "RAAF Headquarters No. 4 Maintenance Group, Melbourne". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  38. ^ Stephens, Going Solo, pp. 76–77
  39. ^ "Closure of air force base to-day". The Canberra Times. Australian Capital Territory. 14 October 1960. p. 12. Retrieved 30 July 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  40. ^ Osborne, Frederick (29 February 1960). "Closing down of two RAAF bases" (Press release). Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  41. ^ Stephens, Going Solo, p. 293
  42. ^ a b "RAAF No 1 Aircraft Depot". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  43. ^ "Vice-Regal". The Canberra Times. Australian Capital Territory. 9 November 1981. p. 2. Retrieved 30 July 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  44. ^ Dennis et al, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, pp. 150–151
  45. ^ RAAF Historical Section, Maintenance Units, pp. 3–5