Reflections on RAAF Base Richmond as Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) turns 100 | Photos

On 31 March 2021, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) marked the centenary of its establishment at Point Cook in Victoria.

RAAF Base Richmond is the second oldest base, with links to aviation since 1912.

Pioneering aviator William Hart visited Ham Common (the site of the base today) in January 1912, and requested permission from Council to use the grazing land for aviation.

After relocating his Boxkite biplane by rail, Hart made the first recorded flights from Ham Common on 3 April 1912.

Businesses closed and crowds watched the spectacle, with Hart transporting the Mayor, Alderman T Waters, and shareholders of Hart's Aviation Company.

His vision included a flying school, airmail, and a factory, and in August 1912 Hart transported a new monoplane to Ham Common.

These ambitions were cut short after Hart was severely injured in the monoplane's crash on the Lowlands on 4 September 1912.

Although Hart flew again in January 1914, the torch at Ham Common passed to French aviators Maurice Guillaux and M Jean Marduel.

They too wanted to establish a flying school, but Guillaux returned to Europe following the outbreak of war in 1914, leaving Marduel and a Caudron biplane at Ham Common.

The first military flight at Ham Common occurred in January 1915, when Captain Henry Petre of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) flew the Caudron.

The AFC wanted the biplane for its Central Flying School at Point Cook, but Captain Petre could not climb above 300 metres with a passenger on board, and its sale stalled.

Marduel had no such trouble with the Caudron, and in September 1915, he and fellow aviator Andrew Badgery outlined a plan for a military flying school.

Despite military aviation being a Federal responsibility, the idea inspired the State Government, which purchased the aviation ground at Ham Common and constructed a massive hangar.

The new military flying school opened in August 1916, and completed six courses during the war.

Following the Armistice in 1918, the State Government wanted to sell off the aerodrome.

In July 1919, Alderman W Day led a deputation from the Council to ask the Premier to keep it, as pioneering aviators continued flying to Richmond.

This included Sir Ross and Keith Smith, who visited Richmond in January 1920 after their historic flight from England to Australia.

Richmond's hangar was the only one large enough to service the Smith's massive Vimy biplane, a point emphasised by Council when highlighting the aerodrome's military potential.

In August 1920, Premier John Storey said he would engage the Department of Defence to purchase the aerodrome, and that October, the Gazette reported it would be used by the military.

That future was not assured, and on the formation of the Air Force in March 1921, Richmond was described by a Sydney newspaper as too remote for military use.

But in July 1921, Wing Commander Richard Williams - the RAAF's first Chief of Staff - selected Richmond.

It had existing facilities, access to road and rail, and excellent surrounding country for flying.

The Federal Government purchased the aerodrome for £9,318 in March 1923, and a further £177,400 spent developing it.

On 30 June 1925, the RAAF's re-established No. 3 Squadron arrived at Richmond after several days flying from Point Cook.

The squadron's Commanding Officer, Flight Lieutenant Frank Lukis, was first to land in his DH.9 biplane around 2pm.

On 1 July 1925, RAAF Station Richmond was formally established.

The Gazette described the arrival as an "aerial invasion", adding "But no alarm has been caused....On the contrary, Richmond - 'flying Richmond' that is - is enthusiastically pleased."