Establishment of RAAF Base Fairbairn

19 Mar 1962

The first Air Force presence in Canberra was in in 1927, when a temporary camp was established in for the official opening of Federal Parliament. Following this, 8 Squadron was formed as a bomber-reconnaissance unit in Canberra on 11 September 1939, flying ex-civilian DC-3 transport aircraft, to conduct patrols off the Australian coast and for transport tasks.

On 1 April 1940, the base was formally established as RAAF Station Canberra with the motto “Uphold and Endure” and throughout WWII, the airfield was used as a base for anti-submarine patrols and as a training school for personnel serving in army cooperation squadrons. From April 1942 to December 1943 three squadrons from the Netherlands East Indies Air Force were also based at Canberra.

Headquarters RAAF Station Canberra ceased to function on 31 May 1952 and Headquarters RAAF Canberra was formed the next day. Ten years later, on 19 March 1962, the name was again changed, to Headquarters RAAF Fairbairn, in honour of J.V. Fairbairn, the former Minister for Air who died in an air crash in Canberra on 13 August 1940.

From 1966, Fairbairn was an important location for military helicopter training, with No. 5 Squadron RAAF being located there until 1989. From 1990 to 1998 the Australian Defence Force Helicopter School was located at Fairbairn with one of the school's replacement units, the Army Helicopter School, remaining there until 2001.

Headquarters RAAF Fairbairn was closed on 30 January 1991 and on 28 May 1998 the base was sold to the Canberra International Airport, although part of the base was leased back to the Department of Defence. The base was decommissioned on 27 June 2003.

Today, Defence leases facilities from Canberra Airport including a Special Purpose Air Hangar (SPA Hangar) with apron and the adjacent VIP terminal facility which is known as Defence Establishment Fairbairn, home to Number 34 Squadron. The current 34 Squadron was formed on 12 March 1956 and provides transport for the Australian Government and other VIPs. Defence Establishment Fairbairn can also be used by other Australian Defence Force aircraft when required.

The Air Force also has a significant presence at other Defence Establishments within the ACT and surrounding region. Air Force Headquarters is based at Russell Offices and various other units, functions and projects spread across Campbell Park, Brindabella Park, Fairbairn, HMAS Harman and Headquarters Joint Operations Command in Bungendore. The Air force is also actively involved in the training of the next generation of ADF Officers at the Australian Defence Force Academy and future commanders at Australian Defence College.