Corporal Margaret-Rose Nansen, a Personnel Capability Specialist, in her workplace at No. 33 Squadron.

Early History- The War Years

Before and during the First World War Australian military aviation was primarily the domain of the Army with some minor involvement by the Navy. After serving with distinction in the Middle East and France the Australian Flying Corps returned to Australia in 1919 and was disbanded shortly thereafter.

On 29 April 1919, Major General J.G. Legge had produced his 'Outline Policy for the Military Air Force of Australia'. In this he confirmed ideas that had been put forward before WWI with the following statement: 'The Military Air Force of Australia should mainly be composed from Citizen Forces with a proportion of permanent troops. The latter to provide for the instruction of the force and the maintenance of equipment.' Hence, the Reserve elements of the Permanent squadrons came into being and in April 1936 several autonomous Citizen Air Force Units were raised in the major cities of the East Coast and in Perth.

During the years leading up to WWII, the Citizen Air Force Squadrons were the mainstay of training within the RAAF. So much so that by the outbreak of war approximately two thirds of those in uniform were reservists. This proportion tallied well against the original expectations at the time of formation. At the outbreak of war the Citizen Air Force members were called up for the duration and most transferred to the Permanent Air Force in order to overcome the constitutional restriction which prevented their being used outside Australian Territory.

Throughout WWII the Citizen Air Force squadrons retained their identity, though of necessity the personnel had become Permanent Air Force due to the constitutional restriction. No 21 (City of Melbourne) Squadron served with distinction, despite inadequate equipment, in Malaya before the fall of Singapore. Later the unit reformed to initially fly Vultee Vengeance dive-bombers in New Guinea and then Consolidated B24 Liberators from the Northern Territory. No 22 (City of Sydney) Squadron served in Papua New Guinea and followed the Pacific War up to the invasion of the Philippines. The most notable distinction of this unit was the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to one of their Douglas Boston pilots, Flight Lieutenant Bill Newton

No 23 (City of Brisbane) Squadron and No 24 (later to become the City of Adelaide) Squadron were formed in February 1939 and June 1940, respectively.

They became bomber squadrons operating B24 Liberator bombers out of bases in the Northern Territory. From here their missions ranged as far as the Philippines. No 25 (City of Perth) Squadron provided the backbone of the air defence forces along Australia's western coast throughout the war. It began the war from RAAF Pearce with convoy support and anti-submarine patrols along Australia's western coast, followed by a period as Perth's sole air defence. In early 1945 the squadron re-equipped with B24 Liberators at RAAF Cunderdin for heavy bombing operations in the Netherlands East-Indies, Timor and Java, receiving a battle honour award for Eastern Waters 1941-1945.

At the cessation of hostilities most of the previously Citizen Air Force units were brought back to Australia and disbanded, though some continued as Permanent Air Force units. Some pre-War reservists served on to take part in the British Commonwealth Occupational Force in Japan following the surrender.


In 1947 the Australian Government passed an Act to reform the Reserve Forces which had been disbanded at the end of WWII. Although this was primarily aimed at the Citizen Military Forces of the Army, it also meant the return of the Citizen Air Force. Those units that had not been disbanded were renumbered and became Permanent Air Force units thus freeing the original Citizen Air Force Squadron numbers for reformation.

On 1 April 1948 No 21 (City of Melbourne) Squadron reformed at RAAF Laverton, No 23 (City of Brisbane) Squadron reformed at RAAF Archerfield and No 25 (City of Perth) Squadron reformed at RAAF Pearce. No 22 (City of Sydney) Squadron followed on 19 April 1948 at RAAF Bankstown. They were to undertake a role similar to their pre-war training of fighter pilots and ground crew. The equipment in each case was the Australian built CAC Mustang fighter. De Havilland Tiger Moth and CAC Wirraway aircraft were provided for initial and advanced flying training.

Many wartime pilots opted to utilise the skills that they had learned to train the newcomers who flocked eagerly to become members. Pilot training was available to both Officer and Sergeant pilots. As it had done in the mid-thirties, the romance of aviation drew many people into the Citizen Air Force squadrons. The tax-free pay (a feature of Reserve service, which continues today) was handy but seldom identified as being important as the opportunity to serve on or to be near aircraft.

Over the next few years No 22 Squadron moved from Bankstown to RAAF Schofield and then to RAAF Richmond. All the Citizen Air Force squadrons trained hard though the training was often hazardous. Proficiency levels increased but the reality of military service was driven home by the loss of a number of pilots in accidents resulting from the unforgiving nature of aviation.

At the outbreak of the Korean War the RAAF was thrown into the fray, flying Mustangs from Japan. Again a number of Citizen Air Force personnel transferred to the Permanent Air Force to undertake combat duties.

On 30 April 1951 No 24 (City of Adelaide) Squadron was reformed at RAAF Mallala. The aircraft flown were the same as the other squadrons. With the exception of replacing the Wirraways with CAC Winjeels, these were operated throughout this squadron's flying life, which ended in 1960.

About this time the Citizen Air Force squadrons joined the RAAF in their entry into the jet age. Nos 21, 22, 23 and 25 Squadrons received the single seat fighter and two-seat trainer versions of the twin-tailed De Havilland Vampire jet. Both Mustangs and Vampires were operated for a while until the Mustangs began to be withdrawn from service in the mid-fifties. During the later stages of operation the Mustangs had been limited mainly to the ground attack role. No 22 Squadron added the twin engine Gloster Meteor to its operational strength in 1956. No 21 and No 22 squadrons also took part in the beginning of the 'Helicopter Era' when they began operating the Sikorsky S51 Dragonfly in the early fifties. No 22 Squadron also took part in the trialing of the New CAC Winjeel.

Role Change - No Longer Flying Reserve Squadrons

In early 1960 it was announced that the Citizen Air Force squadrons would cease to be flying squadrons and would be restructured as auxiliary squadrons.
Throughout their flying career the Citizen Air Force squadrons had operated more than twenty types of aircraft and made considerable contribution towards the overall operational efficiency of the RAAF. Although the future from this point did not appear to be as glamorous, the contribution was to remain. The ground crews were transferred to the role of maintenance support for the Permanent Air Force units. Lockheed P2V Neptunes of No 10 Squadron were supported by No 22 Squadron while No 21 Squadron supported the Neptunes of No 11 Squadron and the CAC Sabre jets of Nos 75 and 76 Squadrons.

Following the return of No 35 Squadron from Vietnam the technical flights of No 21 and 22 Squadrons were transferred to the support of this unit and No 38 Squadron in 1972. A small number of Citizen Air Force personnel served tours of duty in Vietnam after signing for periods of service in the Permanent Air Force.

In 1981 the Active Citizens Air Force was renamed the RAAF Active Reserve. About this time it began accepting female members. Aircrew members were also accepted for continuation of their flying duties if they left the Permanent Air Force before attaining mandatory retirement age. This mainly occurred within the Airlift Group.

Reservists also supported other areas of the RAAF to varying degrees. By the mid-eighties the Reserve included almost every employment group available to permanent Air Force members plus the unique Reserve officer category of Operations Officer. Operations Officers still exist in the Reserve and their job it is to plan and coordinate aircraft operations. The medical and dental areas of the RAAF were particularly well represented by reservists.

Reserve aircrew supported No's 36 and 37 Squadrons C130 Hercules aircraft operations and No 33 Squadron Boeing 707 aircraft operations at RAAF Richmond.
All these aircraft were maintained by No 486 Squadron, which received Reserve technical support. During this period rather than operating as autonomous Reserve flights, the Reserve technical personnel were employed at Permanent Air Force units, but tended to work as Reserve groups under Permanent Air Force supervision working along side the full-time members rather than as a totally integrated force. The duties mainly involved providing personnel for weekend duty crews. Similar activities at RAAF Amberley provided support for No 482 Squadron maintaining F111, Boeing Chinook and Caribou aircraft. At RAAF Edinburgh support was provided for the Lockheed Orions via No 492 Squadron. At RAAF Pearce No 25 Squadron looked after and flew the Macchi MB326H in the flying training role.

The eighties saw the formation of No 26 (City of Newcastle) at RAAF Williamtown, No 27 (City of Townsville) at RAAF Townsville and No 28 (City of Canberra) at RAAF Fairbairn. No 28 Squadron for some time had a detached flight at RAAF Wagga Wagga. No 22 Squadron had a similar detached flight at Dubbo in the late fifties. The eighties also saw a strengthening of the Equal Employment Opportunity culture within the RAAF and a resultant increase in the number of female members and the importance of the role they play. Further restructuring in 1989 saw the formation of No 13 Squadron at Darwin. This was a reformation of a unit that served in Darwin and the Northern Territory during WWII.

Throughout this period the reservists were administered and trained by their Reserve Squadron while supporting and receiving on-the-job training at the unit that they supported.

Alongside the RAAF Active Reserve, a corps of specialist reservists was established. The Specialist Reserve provided professional services in the fields of medicine, dentistry, environmental health and safety, legal and chaplaincy services, and public relations. The Reserve Staff Group (RSG)  was also established to provide a pool of experienced ex-permanent Air Force who could contribute to the permanent Air Force on an ad-hoc basis. The RSG has subsequently been disbanded and members transferred to the Operational Reserve.

On 1 Sep 2001, No 29 (City of Hobart) Squadron was established. The RAAF Active Reserve now has a squadron in every Australian capital city.


In 2001, the Australian Government passed legislation to enhance and modernise the Australian Defence Force Reserves. The Legislation affects both reservists and their employers and resulted in significant changes to Reserve conditions of employment which still exist today. The changes addressed four key areas:

  • call-out
  • protection measures
  • modernisation of the organisation and structure of the Reserves
  • support initiatives for employers and self-employed reservists


The circumstances for call-out of Reserves were extended to include:

  • war or warlike operations
  • Defence emergency
  • Defence preparation
  • peacekeeping or peace enforcement
  • assistance to Commonwealth, State, Territory or foreign government authorities and agencies in matters  involving Australia’s national security or affecting Australian defence interests
  • support to community activities of national or international significance
  • civil aid, humanitarian assistance, medical or civil emergency or disaster relief.

Call-out is designed for use only when it is necessary to draw on the particular capabilities and specialisations found in the Reserves. Reserve members are subject to call-out by the Governor General on recommendation by the government of the day. 

Employment Protection

When protection measures are in force the employer, in summary, is required:

  • to re-employ the reservist
  • not to compel members to use annual leave/long service leave for Defence Service
  • to treat an employee as being on leave without pay during call-out or protected voluntary continuous full-time Defence Service.

Employment protection measures apply to all types of Defence Service except voluntary continuous full-time service taken on an unprotected basis. When protection provisions are in force, reservists who are students will be able to resume an education course that they had to interrupt. Financial and bankruptcy protection measures will enable reservists to postpone financial liabilities and protect against bankruptcy.


Under the Defence (Personnel) Regulations, new tri-service categories of Reserves were introduced on 1 December 2002. These categories are:

  • High Readiness Active Reserves
  • High Readiness Specialist Reserves
  • Active Reserves
  • Specialist Reserves
  • Standby Reserves.

Today’s Reserve

In the past few decades Air Force reservists have volunteered for duty in support of modern-day conflicts in areas such as the Middle East and East Timor, and provided assistance following natural disasters in Australia and around the world.

Today’s Air Force reservists are integrated into the Australian Defence Organisation. Reservists generally receive training identical to that of their Permanent Air Force counterparts and their contributions to Air Force’s capability are seamlessly delivered to the Permanent Air Force.