100 Years of the Royal Australian Air Force

Established in 1921, the Royal Australian Air Force is the second-oldest independent Air Force in the world.

Early History and World War I

Military aviation came of age during World War I when airships and early aircraft were mainly used for reconnaissance. Australia’s eight Australian Flying Corps (AFC) squadrons were part of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), and were attached to larger British Royal Flying Corps / Royal Air Force formations.

The white painted with black check pattern Sopwith Camel aircraft, Serial E7267, which was used by Captain A H Cobby DFC DSO and Bars, of No 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps (AFC), while serving as an instructor with No 8 (Training) Squadron in the snow at Leighterton aerodrome in England. Two Avro 504’s are in the background.  Source: AWM

During World War I, 800 officers and 2,840 men served in the AFC and 175 lost their lives. Many AFC veterans helped to lay the groundwork for the future Royal Australian Air Force, and after the war others would enter industry to make significant contributions to civil aviation.

In January 1920, the AFC was replaced by the Australian Air Corps, which became the Australian Air Force on 31 March 1921, with the King’s consent given on 13 August 1921.

World War II

In World War II, Australian air and ground crews fought in Europe (see; G is for George, Mrs. Yarra’s Boys, F/O Les Clisby), North Africa and the Middle East; over the North Atlantic, the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the Mediterranean; India, Burma (Two Week in January, 1945), Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, China, the Netherland East Indies, New Guinea (The RAAF’s Boston Tea Party), the Solomon Islands, the Philippines and Borneo. They also fought over Australia, its territories, and its approaches.


In late 1944, the RAAF peaked at over 182,000 personnel and 6,200 aircraft in 61 squadrons. In 1945, Australia had the fourth-largest air force in the world (after the USA, USSR and UK).

Over 215,000 men and women served between 1939-45, and 9,870 Air Force personnel lost their lives. Over 55 per cent of these deaths occurred in the air war against Germany over Europe.

Recent Conflicts and Peacekeeping

The Air Force plays a major role in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions throughout the world, including Bougainville, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Somalia and the Sudan, in which many hundreds of Air Force personnel have been involved.

Members of RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam, lead by Flight Lieutenant D. J. Lancaster, march in single file along the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut airfield. Their arrival marked the beginning of a seven year commitment by the RAAF Caribou unit in Vietnam. Note the photographer capturing the single column with his camera. Source: AWM

Since 1945, over 60 Air Force personnel have lost their lives in conflict or through accidents during operations. Globally, Air Force has between 500 and 700 people on operations each day, contributing to coalition operations, peacekeeping and humanitarian and disaster relief.

Note on sources for the above text; all of the above is summarised from the RAAF History Page. For further reading, a good place to start is also the Aces High blog

Centenary Fly By, 31 March 2021

On a beautiful autumn day the RAAF celebrated its centenary with a fly fast at the nation’s capital in Canberra. Comprising around 60 aircraft, both modern and historical, as well as the RAAF’s display team, the Roulettes it was a truly spectacular event. Below are a selection of photos taken by the author.

Copyright ©2021

This article, its text, and photos of the model(s) is my original work and is protected by copyright in its entirety, except where noted.  All research sources are listed above in the References and Credits section above, including photos from official sources. All other images were sourced from the internet and are used here under protection of fair-use.  Any copyrighted images will be removed or credited forthwith upon request by its rightful owner.

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