The 2008 Defence Air Show at RAAF Base Amberley.
The 2008 Defence Air Show at RAAF Base Amberley.

After 80 years, RAAF Base Amberley continues to evolve

THE construction of RAAF Base Amberley in 1939 was described at the time as one of the largest projects to be undertaken in Queensland.

It stands as an integral part of the Ipswich landscape, is a crucial cog in the local economy and plays a significant role in Australia's defence force.

The largest air base in the southern hemisphere celebrated its 80th birthday just last week.

It now accommodates about 6000 people, including military personnel, public servants and aviation contractors, and continues to grow physically and in capability with every passing year.

Group Captain Iain Carty, CSM, was posted to and appointed as Senior ADF Officer at Amberley in January.

Aerial shot of RAAF Base Amberley in the 1940s.
Aerial shot of RAAF Base Amberley in the 1940s.

He has spent nearly 16 years at the base over various duties, starting in 1997.

"(I) have seen the base change remarkably over those years," he said.

"The most significant changes being the expansion of the base and the removal of the married quarters, school and local shops and the most recent redevelopments that have provided new capabilities and a larger Army and joint workforce on the base.

"Of course I have also seen aircraft come and go over that time as we move towards enabling our fifth-generation Air Force and I am impressed daily by the aircraft and people that call Amberley home."

GPCAPT Carty said the base will continue to evolve to "meet the next challenge".

"Amberley is very significant for the region and for those defence, public service, contractor and service support people and families that call the region home," he said.

"As a major operational base, RAAF Amberley also plays a significant role in protecting our country and its national interests."

The arrival of the F-111 to the base in June 1973
The arrival of the F-111 to the base in June 1973

Air base operations began in June 1940 with the first aircraft at station headquarters being the Moth Minor No. A21-26, followed shortly by four CAC Wirraways.

By the end of 1940 there were 54 aircraft based there and over the next two years it was transformed into a centre of excellence for the assembly, maintenance and salvage of aircraft, which was the primary focus of the base during World War II.

In the following years, Amberley became part of a 'quiet revolution' with RAAF leading the way in introducing women to the defence workforce.

In 1948, a Lincoln A73-11 aircraft crashed in the northeast corner of the airfield, bursting into flames on impact and killing all 16 service personnel on board.

Three years later, the first bomber in RAAF service to be fitted with ejection seats, the GAF Canberra Mk 20, arrived at the base.

It was later converted for target-towing and photo reconnaissance roles until 1982.

The first six F-111C aircraft arrived in 1973.

This was followed a few months later with the formation of No.12 Squadron comprising CH-47 Chinook helicopters.

The transfer of the battlefield helicopters from the RAAF to the army in 1989 provided the opportunity for further expansion of aircraft capability on the base and three years later, 10 Caribou aircraft were relocated to Amberley.

parade at RAAF Base Amberley circa 1965
parade at RAAF Base Amberley circa 1965

In 2000, redevelopment works began with the relocation of Combat Support Group from Glenbrook and new headquarters for No. 82 Wing, while the base also hosted several operational combat support units and security and fire training capabilities.

Development of the "super base" continued over the subsequent years with accommodation, airfield upgrades, a gym, military working dog facilities, security and fire training and the headquarters building.

In 2010, after 37 years of service, the F-111 was retired, with two remaining on display - one at the main entrance to the base and the other at the RAAF Amberley Aviation Heritage Centre.

Throughout its years, the base has hosted elements of the Australian Army.

From 1960 to 1973, it was home to Army Aviation and since 2006 has supported a variety of army units.

Amberley now hosts a range of air force, Army and joint capabilities and is a fully operational platform for the conduct of joint operations.