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Category: Air support

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RAN Fleet Air Arm History

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"Second to None"


Fixed wing page 1 Fixed wing page 2

Helicopters Page 1

  • Fairey Firefly
  • Fairey IIID
  • Fairey Gannet
  • De Havilland Sea Venom
  • De Havilland Vampire
  • Douglas Dakota long nose
  • Sea Otter

See these planes on Naval Air 1

  • GAF Jindivik
  • Grumman Tracker
  • Macchi MB 326
  • Hawker Siddeley HS.748
  • McDonnell Douglas Skyhawk
  • Sea Fury

See these planes on Naval Air 2

1914.The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force took two aircraft with them to support their operations in New Guinea. 
The two aircraft, a Maurice Farman Floatplane and a BE2a (BE2c shown left) were taken from the Central Flying School in Point Cook. 

The German forces in New Guinea were quickly overrun and the two aircraft remained in their crates until returned to Australia.

The Royal Australian Navy first became involved in naval aviation during World War 1 when aircraft were operated from the gun turret launching platforms of RAN cruisers operating with the Royal Navy.
A plane leaving the turret platform of HMAS AUSTRALIA, 1918
After the war, a purpose built seaplane carrier, HMAS ALBATROSS, was commissioned in 1929.

However, operating expenses were high and in 1933 the ship was placed in reserve - finally being sold to the Royal Navy 1938.

During World War 2, RAN cruisers carried aircraft flown and maintained by RAAF personnel with the RAN providing the observers. 

The Seagull during WW2, flying over "mother", HMAS HOBART>>

Click to enlarge

When the British Pacific Fleet came to Australia in the latter part of the war, about 24 RAAF pilots volunteered to transfer to the Royal Australian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RANVR) and these men subsequently served aboard RN aircraft carriers and at RN Air Stations established in Australia.

After the war, the Australian Government recognised the importance of sea-borne air power and in 1947 authorised the formation of the RAN Fleet Air Arm. 

The FAA came into being with the commissioning in 1948 of the Air Station HMAS ALBATROSS (at Nowra), 805 Squadron (Sea Furies) and 816 Squadron (Fireflies). 

Click to enlarge

The following year the Light Fleet Carrier, HMAS SYDNEY, was commissioned. Two further Squadrons, 808 and 817 were commissioned in 1950. In 1951, SYDNEY, with the Sydney Air Group embarked, sailed north to take part in the Korean War.

HMAS Sydney ends her Tour of Duty in Korea with her planes flying ceremonial escort

It was the intention of the Australian Government to equip the RAN with two aircraft carriers but technical advances meant that the second carrier, HMAS MELBOURNE, would require fitting with an angled deck and a steam catapult to accommodate the new generation of aircraft. 

Whilst MELBOURNE was undergoing modernisation, the Royal Navy loaned to Australia the aircraft carrier VENGEANCE. HMAS MELBOURNE commissioned in 1956 and at the same time the RAN acquired Sea Venom all weather fighters and Gannet anti- submarine aircraft.

The RAN introduced helicopters into operational service early in the development of this technology - firstly Bristol Sycamores and then the anti-submarine Westland Wessex. 

As SYDNEY could not operate Sea Venoms and Gannets the ship changed to a training role and later became a troop carrier taking men and material to the war in Vietnam. 

"The Vung Tau Ferry"

HMAS Sydney .
May 1965 -11th March 1972

The troop transport HMAS Sydney was the first RAN ship to have operational service in Vietnam. She completed 22 voyages in 7 years.

Sydney was a former air craft carrier that had served in the Korean War.

She was converted to a troop carrier and ran an almost ferry like service between Australia and Vung Tau for the 7 years of her commitment to the Viet Nam conflict.

  • HMAS SYDNEY paid off in 1975 after a very distinguished commission.

The Fleet Air Arm was heavily involved in the Vietnam War with aircrew and maintenance personnel from 723 Squadron serving in-country with 9 Squadron RAAF and the United States Army's 135th Assault Helicopter Company. During the fifties and sixties, MELBOURNE and her squadrons took part in operations in the Far East Strategic Reserve. In 1967 the MELBOURNE took delivery of a new generation of aircraft, the Douglas Skyhawk (A4G) and the Grumman Tracker (S2E). In the early seventies the Westland Sea King helicopter was introduced as the Wessex replacement.


The paying-off of MELBOURNE in 1983 marked the closing of the RAN fixed-wing aircraft carrier era. 

However, the Fleet Air Arm continues its role in providing sea-borne air power and the focus today is on the embarked helicopters. 

Click to enlarge

The Sea Kings, Squirrels and the Seahawks helicopters continue to provide the Royal Australian Navy with a significant capability afloat. The Kaman Seasprite (SH2-G) is the most recent acquisition of rotary wing aircraft for RAN

Kaman Seaprite, RAN

The RAN's first Kaman SH-2G Seasprite N29-161656 at Avalon, Vic., 12 Feb. 2001. (Courtesy Andrew Skorzetz - Andrew's Australian Aviation Photos

The RAN Fleet Air Arm has seen active service in Korea, the Malaya Emergency, Indonesian Confrontation, Vietnam, the Gulf War, East Timor and more recently, the War Against Terrorism.

Over the years since 1948, the RAN Fleet Air Arm has operated 22 different types of aircraft - a real challenge to the aircrew and the maintenance personnel.

The RAN Fleet Air Arm has forged a proud tradition over the years. A tradition of professional service and outstanding achievements. The Fleet Air Arm men and women of today carry on these high standards of dedicated service.

Admiral Sir Victor Smith, regarded as the "Father" of the RAN Fleet Air Arm, in the nineteen fifties adopted the motto-:"Second to None" for the FAA. This motto is as true today as it was in Sir Victor's day.

Partly from


The decision to build an airfield on the land now occupied by the home of the Fleet Air Arm, HMAS ALBATROSS, was taken soon after the declaration of WWII in 1939. In 1944, the British Admiralty directed certain Naval forces to the South West Pacific area, and this of course necessitated the provision of shore base establishments for the Royal Navy and its Fleet Air Arm in Australia.

On 3 July 1947, the Commonwealth Defence Council approved the formation of a Fleet Air Arm which would be controlled and operated by the Royal Australian Navy. The initial planning provided for the purchase of two aircraft carriers, necessary aircraft and the establishment of shore facilities. The carriers were later named HMA Ships SYDNEY and MELBOURNE and the shore facilities were established at Nowra, NSW.

HMAS Albatross was commissioned on 31 August 1948 and the 20 Carrier Air Group,comprising Sea Fury and Firefly aircraft, were transported from England to Australia onboard the carrier HMAS SYDNEY. These aircraft, operated by 805 and 816 Squadrons, disembarked to Nowra in May 1949. In November 1950, they were joined by the 21st Carrier Air Group of 808 and 817 Squadrons also flying Sea Furies and Fireflies.

The Fleet Air Arm has been expanding ever since. As more capable aircraft have been acquired, so ground support facilities have had to be built to service the more sophisticated equipment. In April 1955, Sea Venoms and Gannets arrived and as a consequence radar workshops and additional test facilities were required.

In 1965, it was decided to buy American aircraft to replace the ageing British Gannets and Sea Venoms. MacDonnell Douglas A4G Skyhawks and Grumman S2E Trackers were obtained to operate from the carrier and Fleet Flagship HMAS MELBOURNE. The Fleet Air Arm has in service the SeaHawk helicopter which restored to the RAN many of the capabilities lost when the Tracker Squadrons disbanded in 1983, and is currently negotiating the purchase of 11 Kaman SH.2G(A) Super Seasprite helicopters to enhance the war fighting capability of the new ANZAC class frigates.

The Fleet Air Arm of today comprises not only operational squadrons but also a vast support network dedicated to maintaining those aircraft and improving the skills of the individuals who maintain and operate them. Departments such as the Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Training Unit (AMAFTU) are responsible for the trial, installation and development of modifications to aircraft, as well as the development of procedural guidelines for the operation of aircraft from various classes of ship.

The Air Warfare Systems Centre (AWSC) offers full mission training on Sea King and SeaHawk simulators. The Centre is also responsible for the development and maintenance of complex SeaHawk computer software.

The history of the Fleet Air Arm has not been lost either - the RAN Historic Flight was formed in 1985 with the aim of restoring to flying condition as many ex - Navy aircraft types as possible. It is a separate activity to that of the Naval Aviation Museum. Established in 1974, the Naval Aviation Museum aims to preserve the heritage of Australian Naval Aviation and the Fleet Air Arm. It also endeavours to present the deeds and sacrifices of those naval air personnel who have served their country both in war and peace.


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces