Establishment of RAAF Base Richmond

01 Jul 1925

RAAF Base Richmond lies approximately 50 kilometres north-west of Sydney, and is situated between the towns of Richmond, from which the base takes its name, and Windsor. On 7 July 1921, just over three months after the Royal Australian Air Force was established as an independent service, the Air Board proposed Richmond as the site where the first RAAF units in New South Wales would be based.

Richmond was activated as a RAAF station when No. 3 (Composite) Squadron’s first 3 aircraft arrived there on 30 June 1925, as part of the unit’s relocation from Point Cook, Victoria. At the time No. 3 Squadron was organised into 3 flights: A Flight (Army cooperation) equipped with D.H.9s, B Flight (Fighter) equipped with S.E5As, and C Flight (Bomber) equipped with Avro 504s.

On arrival at Richmond No. 3 Squadron was accommodated in one iron hangar and one small building at the west end of the aerodrome. Fortunately, in 1925 the Australian parliament approved £177,000 for extensive building works at Richmond. The first recorded operational flight conducted at Richmond was that of two D.H.9s which took off on 11 August 1925 to fly to the Brisbane Show. No. 3 Squadron remained the only unit at Richmond for about a year. In August 1926 No. 101 (Fleet Cooperation) Flight arrived from Point Cook. By that stage the base construction program was under way although barracks and mess buildings were not completed until the following year. In 1928, the provision of building to be used by No. 3 Squadron for use as a School of Aeronautics was approved.

In September 1928, Kingsford Smith took off from Richmond in the Southern Cross when he undertook the ever first trans-Tasman flight to New Zealand. He completed the flight 14 hours and 25 minutes. On the 18th of July 1935, Kingsford Smith flew the Southern Cross for the last time from Mascot aerodrome in Sydney to RAAF Richmond for storage, after it had been bought by the Australian government.

Several new units were stood up at Richmond in the lead up to and during World War II. No. 5 (Fleet Co-Operation) Squadron, although on 1 January 1939 it was renumbered No. 9 Squadron. No. 22 (Cadre) Squadron also formed at Richmond on 20 April 1936 and was later re-designated No. 22 (City of Sydney) (General Purpose) Squadron, establishing a link to the local community which has been built on over the years.

No. 2 Aircraft Depot was also formed at Richmond in 1936 followed by No. 4 Squadron in 1937, was renumbered No. 6 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron in 1939 before being re-formed again at Richmond in 1940. Nos. 8 and 11 Squadrons were formed at Richmond in September 1938.

The base saw significant development during the war, including extension of the aerodrome, the introduction of camouflage, and the establishment of a Wireless / Telegraphy High Frequency Direction Finding Station. No. 1 Radio School was formed at Richmond in August 1941 to train officers and airmen in radio location techniques.

In June 1949 Richmond became home for the RAAF’s transport fleet with the arrival of No. 86 Wing, comprising Nos. 36, 38, and 486 (Maintenance) Squadrons.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the maintenance facilities of No. 2 Aircraft Depot at Richmond underwent significant upgrade as the unit assumed responsibility for major maintenance, repair and modification of new air platforms being introduced into service. These included Hercules C-130As and C-130Es, DHC-4 Caribous, Neptune SP2Hs and Orion P-3Bs, albeit No. 11 Squadron operating the Orion’s moved from Richmond to RAAF Base Edinburgh in February 1968.

On 31 March 1952 Headquarters RAAF Station Richmond was disbanded and Headquarters RAAF Richmond and Base Squadron Richmond were formed with a total workforce of 2,001.  No. 86 Wing which had been disbanded in 1964, was reformed on 2 February 1987, again at Richmond. The wing’s aircraft which now included the Boeing 707s became a familiar sight on disaster relief domestically and in the region.

Richmond’s future was uncertain in the 1990s and early 2000s given budgetary constraints, significant force restructure and commercialisation of support functions. Consideration of where to site Sydney’s second airport was also in the mix. However, the issue was settled in 2007 when the then Minister for Defence, Dr Brendan Nelson, announced that the base would be kept indefinitely, updating a 1998 announcement by Prime Minister John Howard that it would be kept until 2010.

From September 2015, the New South Wales Large Air Tanker fleet began to be located at Richmond on a seasonal basis and from July 2019, RAAF Base Richmond became a year-round base for a single Boeing 737 Large Air Tanker and a spotter aircraft, with other Air Tankers operating from Richmond during the bushfire season.

RAAF Richmond is home base for a number of units responsible for coordinating the wider RAAF air mobility enterprise, including Headquarters Air Mobility Group, No. 84 Wing and the Air Mobility Control Centre. Also calling the base home are support units such as the Air Mobility Training Development Unit and Army’s No. 176 Air Dispatch Squadron, Air Lift Systems Program Office, No. 3 Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Aircraft Research and Development Unit, No. 1 Security Forces Squadron, No’s 22, 65, 87, 453 and 464 Squadron.

Related base

  • RAAF Base Richmond