RAAF Amberley – 76 Years on


RAAF Base Amberley officially commenced operations in June 1940. After World War II, its role shifted from aircraft maintenance towards operational flying, with the relocation of the RAAF’s heavy bomber squadrons and later by the RAAF’s rotary and tactical airlift units.

The air base has also been home to Lincoln Bombers, Canberra Bombers, F-111 strike aircraft, Caribou transport aircraft, Chinook and Iroquois helicopters. The base is now home to the F/A-18F Super Hornet, C-17A Globemaster and the KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport HERON RPA. The C-27A tactical airlifter and the EA-18G ‘Growler’ will join these aircraft types.

Early History

In December 1938, 882 acres of land in the Parish of Jeebropilly were gazetted for Defence purpose at Amberley. Located on the overflow floodplains at the confluence of the Warrill Creek and Bremer River the land was known as “Jeebropilly”, an indigenous name translated as ‘Swamp of the Flying Squirrels’

The northern part, owned by a pioneer family, the Colletts, was named ‘Amberley’ after their country of origin in Sussex England. So, Amberley had indigenous ‘flying operations’ long before the arrival of the F-111s and Super Hornets.

Construction of RAAF Air Station Amberley commenced in 1939 and operations began in June 1940 with the formation of No 24 Squadron, No 3 Recruit Training Depot and No 3 Service Flying Training School to provide recruitment and training for RAAF aircrews operating AVRO Anson and CAC Wirraways.

After the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the US Army Air Corps established an Air Echelon on-base and shipped in many fighter aircraft (Kittyhawks, Airocobra and Dauntlass) in kit form for assembly at Amberley for the Pacific War effort.

With the formation of No 3 Aircraft Depot, Amberley developed into a significant aircraft assembly, salvage and maintenance facility.

In 1942, No 23 Squadron relocated to Amberley, equipped with Vultee ‘Vengeance’ and Bell P-39 ‘Airocobra aircraft, then deployed to New Guinea area for light bombing support duties.

In 1944, the squadron was reformed as a Heavy Bomber squadron equipped with B-24 ‘Liberator’ bombers, which were deployed to carry out bombing missions in the South Pacific.

Amberley Air Station also hosted other units transiting through to support the war effort. In particular, the only US Air Force squadron to be formed outside the United States, the 75th Fighter Group.

Post-war, No 82 Wing relocated to Amberley equipped with B-24 ‘Liberator’ bombers. This pre-empted the transformation in the post war role of Amberley as the RAAF’s major bomber base.

Nos 1, 2 and 6 Squadrons were equipped with AVRO ‘Lincoln’ bombers. No 23 Squadron then reformed as an RAAF Active Reserve unit and still remains an active unit at RAAF Amberley to this day.

The Jet Age & Helicopters

The era of subsonic jet aircraft came to Amberley in 1954, with the arrival of GAF ‘Canberra’ bomber to replace the propeller-driven ‘Lincoln’. This transformed the air base into the modern era jet aircraft and later, supersonic fighter aircraft.

The Australian Army began its presence at Amberley in1960, with No16 Light Aircraft Squadron equipped with Bell ‘Sioux’ Helicopters and Cessna “Bird-dog” observation aircraft.

From the mid-1960s the RAAF waited with great anticipation for the arrival of the long-range, supersonic strike aircraft, the F-111, only to be thwarted by structural issues that grounded the jet in the United States.

The RAAF would have to wait five years from expected delivery date before it got its F-111s.

With aircrews and maintenance personnel trained, and a capability gap a real prospect the Federal Government decided to lease 24 F-4 ‘Phantoms’ as an interim capability, enabling most of the Canberra fleet to be disbanded.

Helicopters became a major part of base activity from December 1971, when No 9 Squadron with its Bell UH-1H ‘Iroquois’ helicopters relocated to Amberley following active service in Vietnam.

The F-111 – Finally

The iconic swing-wing F-111 touched down on Australian soil in June 1973, to serve with No 1 and No 6 Squadrons, and became a familiar sight in Ipswich and Australian skies.

Australia’s love affair with the F-111 centres on its raw power and its famous ‘Dump & Burn’ flypast at air shows and major events nationally.

The F-111 added massive air power capability to Australia, with its 2500 nautical mile range (unrefuelled) and being able to carry a massive bomb load.

Tactical Transport

Also in 1973, No12 Squadron reformed with the twin-rotor CH-47 ‘Chinook’ helicopter. The Chinooks were a familiar sight in the region providing mostly troop-lift for the Australian Army but also humanitarian missions. The Chinook was withdrawn from RAAF service and the squadron disbanded in 1989.

In 1992, No 38 Squadron, based at RAAF Base Richmond, was relocated to Amberley, to provide tactical transport support for the Australian Army with its DH-4C ‘Caribou’ aircraft.

The Caribou, which had seen active service during the Vietnam War, served for many years providing troop-lift and humanitarian support – including operations from remote airfields in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Iran Jaya.

Amberley Super Base

In the early 1990s, Amberley began redevelopment into a Defence Super Base recognising its geographic location and impressive air combat and air transport capability.

The year 2000 began a new era for the air base, with major base redevelopment planning implemented, which has since provided facilities for the relocation of the Army’s 9th Field Support Battalion and new RAAF operational units.

Airlift and Air Refuelling

Now a familiar sight over Ipswich, the massive C-17A ‘Globemaster III’ arrived in 2006, first with four aircraft, then six and finally eight aircraft assigned to the squadron.

Two years later, the RAAF took on a new opertional support capability with the KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft, which added a new dimension to combat operations support.

RAAF Amberley has also experienced growth in the Defence Corporate and Industry sector, with Boeing, Tasman Aviation, Raytheon, Tenix and other industry companies taking up residence on the air base.

Era of the Super Hornet

The arrival of the first tranche of F/A-18F Super Hornets in March 2009, assigned to No 1 Squadron, began a new era in air power capability at Amberley.

The Super Hornet replaced the ageing F-111, withdrawn from service in June 2011, four decades after it rolled off the production line in Fort Worth.

A variant of the Super Hornet, the EA-18G ‘Growler’ Electronic Warfare aircraft is expected to arrive during 2017, adding to the air power capability on-base.

Acknowledgement: Material for this article from Warrant Officer George Hatchman’s ‘History of RAAF Amberley’.