Establishment of Point Cook

31 Mar 1921

RAAF Point Cook is located on the shores of Port Phillip Bay, 20 kilometres south west of the Melbourne central business district, near the township of Werribee, Victoria and is synonymous with the birth of military aviation in Australia.

An Army Order from September 1912 proposed the creation of a flight of an aeroplane squadron leading to Henry Petre and Eric Harrison being recruited in England to establish an aviation school. Petre arrived in Australia in January 1913 recommended selection of the Point Cook area for the school.

The Central Flying School opened at Point Cook in February 1914 with the first flight on 1 March, about 2 years after work commenced to form an Australian military flying corps.

Flying training commenced on 17 August 1914, thirteen days after the start of World War I. The first pilots’ course graduation in November 1914 coincided with the first ever operational deployment of men and aircraft from the base when two pilots, four mechanics and two aircraft deployed to German New Guinea. The flying unit did not see action and, in fact, never unpacked its aircraft.

The Australian Half-Flight, formed at Point Cook, included 4 officers from the Central Flying School, as well as 41 other ranks, but no aircraft. The unit embarked in Melbourne during in 1915 and was sent to Mesopotamia, the modern Iraq. In 1916, Nos. 1, 3 and 4 Squadrons of the Australian Flying Corps were formed at Point Cook before deploying to Egypt and to the Western Front.

After World War I ended, the Australian Flying Corps disbanded in 1919 leaving its aircraft with the Royal Air Force. In Australia, military flying virtually ceased until 1920 when the Australian Air Corps was formed as an Australian Army unit.

On 31 March 1921 The Australian Air Force was formed as an independent service and the third arm of Australia’s military forces. It acquired the prefix ‘Royal’ with effect 31 August 1921 after approval was granted by King George V.

Nos. 1 to 5 Squadrons, Royal Australian Air Force were formed at Point Cook in 1922. The flying school was now designated No. 1 Flying Training School. The Base had 20 Avro 504Ks, 10 Sopwith Pups and six Fairey seaplanes.

Point Cook was designated as No. 1 Station Royal Australian Air Force and remained the only Australian military air station until 1925. In 1923 the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) set up a cadet training scheme operated by No. 1 Flying Training School at Point Cook to provide pilots for the RAAF.

Point Cook's most rapid growth occurred after the declaration of war on 3 September 1939. A vastly expanded training program included training in flying, navigation, reconnaissance, signalling, armaments, operations and instruction. Numerous new squadrons and units were formed to provide trained aircrew under the Empire Air Training Scheme. The Station Headquarters at Point Cook was established in October 1941 to coordinate the new activity.

The Aircraft Research and Development Unit was established at Point Cook in 1946 as No. 1 Air Performance Unit. It moved to RAAF Laverton, now RAAF Williams - Laverton in 1948 and then to RAAF Edinburgh, South Australia, in 1976. The Central Flying School was reformed in April 1940 at RAAF Point Cook but moved to Camden in May. It returned briefly to RAAF Point Cook in 1944 before moving to its new home at RAAF Base East Sale.

RAAF College was established at RAAF Point Cook on 1 August 1947 assuming the role of cadet instruction from No. 1 Flying Training School. The new cadet training course had the character of a modern university education, lasting four years and aiming to provide graduates with a thorough grounding in the principles of air power and the art of leadership, as well as theoretical and practical flying training. In January 1961 RAAF College became the RAAF Academy forming a partnership with the University of Melbourne offering degree level education.

RAAF Staff College was formed in nucleus form at Albert Park Barracks on 15 February 1949 but moved to Point Cook on 1 June in time for the first course to commence on 14 June. Staff College was conceived as an institute to prepare senior officers for future command appointments; it moved to Canberra in 1960. Also in 1949, the Aviation Medical Section of Station Headquarters, Point Cook, and the Medical Training Section of No. 6 RAAF Hospital, Laverton, merged to form the School of Aviation Medicine.

In 1952 the RAAF Museum was formed under the administration of Headquarters Point Cook becoming an independent unit in 1988. Today the RAAF Museum showcases the exploits of prominent military aviators and displays Australian military aviation memorabilia and more than twenty aircraft previously operated by the Australian Flying Corps and the Royal Australian Air Force.

The Royal Australian Air Force continued to evolve and most of the units based at Point Cook either disbanded or relocated. In 1986 the RAAF Academy closed with the formation of the tri-service Australian Defence Force Academy. RAAF College was eventually reformed to provide initial and postgraduate officer training for the Royal Australian Air Force and relocated to RAAF Base Wagga. On 31 March 1989 RAAF Bases Point Cook and Laverton were amalgamated under a single command and management structure to form RAAF Williams. Under this arrangement, Point Cook became RAAF Williams – Point Cook. In 1993 an era came to an end when No. 1 Flying Training School was closed at Point Cook.

Under the Defence Reform Program introduced by the government in 1997, RAAF Base Point Cook was one of 4 southern RAAF bases slated for closure. Fortunately, the heritage value of RAAF Base Point Cook to the Australian nation was recognised in 2004 when it was included on the Commonwealth Heritage list as a Listed Place. In 2007 the base was placed on the National Heritage List also as a Listed Place and on 20 September 2007, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence announced that Point Cook would be retained as a Defence asset.

In 2017 RAAF Base Point Cook once more regained its separate identity. The Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal G.N. Davies, renamed it RAAF Base Point Cook ‘in perpetuity’ to reflect its original name and unique status as the only RAAF Base on the National Heritage List and the oldest military air base in Australia.

Having been in operation since 1914, RAAF Base Point Cook is Australia’s oldest military air base and one of the world’s oldest continually operating airfields. Today Point Cook is home to No. 21 (City of Melbourne) Squadron. The squadron provides airbase combat support to RAAF Base Williams. The RAAF Museum is also based at RAAF Base Point Cook.

Related base

  • RAAF Base Point Cook