Robert McKenzie gets his fifth. Illustrated by Barry Spicer and displayed at the South Australian Aviation Museum, Port Adelaide. Adelaide-born McKenzie became a fighting ace with six aerial victories during World War I.

through Butler, Smith brothers, Melrose, Wilkins, Cowper and Thomas

SOUTH AUSTRALIA CAN CLAIM A FLOCK OF AVIATION FIRSTS, including Australia's first plane flight that happened, by accident, in a Bolivar paddock in 1910.

Engineer Bill Wittber was at the controls when the first flight, nicknamed the “Wittber hop”, happened in a Bleriot XI monoplane that had been brought to Adelaide by businessman Fred Jones.

Wittber was conducting taxiing tests in the Bleriot aircraft in a Bolivar paddock when he suddenly found himself about five feet in the air. He flew 40 feet before landing. This claim to Australia's first flight is disputed, as Harry Houdini's first controlled powered flight occurred a few days later in Victoria.

Bill Wittber went on to claim a first in his own right when he built his own plane and enginee, now displayed at the South Australian Aviation Museum in Port Adelaide.

South Australia's other aviation firsts include the flight from England to Australia by brothers Ross and Keith Smith in their Vickers Vimy bomber and the flight over the Arctic by South Australian-born Hubert Wilkins.

Other aviation pioneers recognised in the history walk at the South Australian Aviation Museum include Jimmy Melrose, who became an international aviation sensation in the 1930s. The suburb of Melrose Parl and the park on the South Esplanade at Glenelg are named after him.

South Australia's first recorded pre-aeroplane ascent was in 1871 with a flight in a coal gas-filled balloon, piloted by Thomas Gale. The balloon flew from the sheep and cattle markets near the corner of North and West terraces, Adelaide, to a point 12 kilometres north east.



Bill Wittber's first plane engine; Harry Butler Albert Park airport

Thomas Gale's first balloon flight over Adelaide in June 1871 has a romantic sequel

Lavinia Balford of Parkside was the first South Australian female to ascend in a balloon when American Thomas Gale brought his machine, the Young Australian, to Adelaide in 1871. Gale’s first flight attempt on Tuesday, June 20, when the balloon only half inflated, left 20,000 onlookers in the Adelaide parklands “disappointed if not disgusted”, according to the Southern Argus – especially the 500 who bought tickets to watch it rise from the grounds of the Exhibition Building, North Terrace. Gale blamed the failure on a narrow coal gas pipe. The South Australian Gas Company came to the rescue with a thicker pipe for another attempt on the Saturday at the cattle yards on western North Terrace opposite Newmarket Hotel. By 2pm, the Register reported, several hundred spectators had paid for admission within the enclosure, and several thousand assembled on North Terrace and nearby parklands. Schrader’s band played “most excellent music”. While they waited for enough wind for the flight, the balloon “gave a lift” to 30 or 40 people to the height of the 60m tether rope. Lavinia Balford was among them. Gale’s first full flight took place at 4.15. His companion was theatre impresario Samuel Lazar, later Adelaide mayor. Lazar threw out copies of the Register to mark the route of his flight that ended near Thorndon Park Reservoir. Over the next few weeks Gale took many more passengers up in Young Australian. He opened the way for many similar balloon events in Adelaide’s parklands. Gale never left Adelaide. He married Lavinia Balford and lived in Parkside for the rest of his life.

Thousands flock to see Fred Jones' imported plane at John Martin's Adelaide store in 1910

Businessman Fred Jones shipped a Bleroit XI (No.37) monoplane in kit form to Adelaide in 1910, after buying it during a trip to Europe as part of his importing and exporting enterprise. The all-wood Bleriot, with a fully braced-wing, was the first aircraft to use the primary flight controls still familiar today. After landing on the Port Adelaide docks from the steamer Schwaben, the disassembled Bleriot XI was taken by horse and cart to John Martin’s stables in Kent Town. It was moved to Eyes & Crowle in Pirie Street, where Carl Wilhelm “Bill” Wittber was employed. Wittber, born in the small northern Adelaide town of Salisbury in 1879, had left school at 14 but continued his education at the School of Mines and Industries (later to become the University of South Australia) and was later apprenticed to Ellis & Clark, electrical engineers. Jones employed Wittber to supervise the aircraft’s assembly and rigging, run the engine and oversee flight tests. Before the flight tests, the plane was taken apart, transported to John Martin’s store in Rundle Street, reassembled and displayed to thousands. Meanwhile, Jones was scouring Adelaide for a site to fly the Bleriot. In March 1910, a paddock in Bolivar, north of Adelaide, on the corner of Whites and Shepherdson roads was selected and its owner, Albert Winzor, agreed. The Bleriot was moved from John Martin’s, after being crated to Bolivar, where it was reassembled. A third person became involved in the test flight. Young Fred Custance had offered his services as pilot for free. Jones accepted.

Bill Wittber's 1910 hop in Bleriot XI monoplane at Bolivar claimed as Australia's first flight

The first attempts to taxi the Bleriot XI monoplane, brought to Adelaide by businessman Fred Jones, in a Bolivar paddock, north of the city, on Sunday, March 13, 1910, were stopped by bad weather. Later, engineer Carl Wilhelm “Bill” Wittber, who'd assembled the plane for Jones, did the first taxiing trials with various throttle settings. When Wittber tried 50%- 60% power, the aircraft rose about five feet and travelled for about 40 yards before landing. This Wittber hop was seen by a large crowd and was reported in The Register as a powered, sustained and controlled flight. On March 17 at Bolivar, volunteer pilot Fred Custance was at the controls for another flight attempt, as Jones, farmer Albert Winzor and two neighbours watched. The Register’s (unverified) report was that: “After covering about 18 yards, the machine rose 12 feet in the air, and at this height made a circuit of the paddock thrice, a total distance of about three miles, in five minutes and 25 seconds. Jones’s own version was that Custance did taxi around the paddock about three times before a first “very wobbly” straightforward flight of about one minute, ending with a “very rough landing”. Against Jones’s wishes, Custance made another attempt to create an Australian record – and crashed the plane. The damaged aircraft was returned to Adelaide and delivered to Duncan & Fraser for repairs. In May 1910, a fire destroyed the plane but the engine was recovered. Wittber persevered. From 1911, he designed and built his own plane, even adding his own six-cylinder radial engine – another Australian first.


in global flights and feats – and ultimately go hurtling into space

Ross and Keith Smith learn their flying and navigation skills by chance during WWI

Adelaide’s famous Smith brothers learned their flying skills by chance in World War I. Ross and Keith Smith were born in Semaphore in the 1890s. They were boarders at Queen's School, North Adelaide, and had two years to Warriston School, Moffat, Scotland; their father's birthplace. Back in Adelaide, Ross joined the Australian Mounted Cadets and was selected in 1910 to tour Britain and the United States of America. He then joined the 10th Australian Regiment, the Adelaide Rifles. But flying wasn't part of the life vision for Ross, a warehouseman for G. P. Harris Scarfe & Co, and Keith, employed by Elder Smith & Co, before the war. In 1914, Ross enlisted as a private in the 3rd Light Horse Regiment to start distinguished service in Gallipoli and the Middle East. He volunteered for the Australian Flying Corps in 1917. Rejected for infantry service on medical grounds, Keith paid his way to England to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. He was posted to a new bomber unit that left for France in 1918 but didn’t see active service. Ross's air war was most active. As an observer and later pilot, he served mainly with No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, defending the Suez Canal. By war’s end, Ross had two Military Crosses and three Distinguished Flying Crosses. Ross’s experience flying the twin-engined Handley Page 0/400 on bombing in Palestine and long photographic flights saw him picked to co-pilot the aircraft in a pioneer flight from Cairo to Calcutta in 1918. An attempt to survey an aerial route to Australia was abandoned at Timor. But it benefited Ross’s later feat with his brother. 

Smith brothers' Vickers Vimy beats 1919 30-day challenge for flight from England to Darwin

Adelaide's Ross and Keith Smith shared the £10,000 offered by the Australian government for the first to fly from England to Australia in less that 30 days, touching their Vickers Vimy down in Darwin in December 1919. The Vickers Vimy (similiar to the 0/400 bomber) was supplied by the manufacturer. With Ross as pilot, Keith as assistant pilot and navigator, and mechanics J.M. Bennett and Norwood-born Walter Shiers, the flight began from Hounslow. Flying conditions were poor and hazardous until they reached Basra. From Basra to Delhi, 2575 km, they spent 25½ hours in the air out of 54. A poor landing area at Singora and torrential rain almost brought disaster, as with Sourabaya where the aircraft was bogged and had to take off from an improvised airstrip of bamboo mats. By December 9, they were at Timor and crossed to Darwin next day. They had covered 18,250 km in just under 28 days with 135 hours flying at an average 137 km/h. The next proposal, to fly round the world in a Vickers Viking amphibian, ended in disaster for Ross Smith in 1922. Ross and Bennett were test flying the aircraft at Weybridge near London, when it spun into the ground from 305 metres, killing both. Ross Smith was given a state funeral in Adelaide. Keith Smith became Australian agent for Vickers. He was vice-president of British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines, a director of Qantas and Tasman Airways, and controlled many Australian-based Vickers companies. In World War II, he was on the Royal Australian Air Force recruiting drive committee and strongly supported the idea of an empire air force.

Walter Shiers provides mechanical backing for Smiths' triumphant England-Darwin flight

Walter Henry Shiers was only surviving crew member at the Adelaide Airport dedication in 1958 of the memorial of the first England-Australia flight led by Adelaide's Ross and Keith Smith. Born at Norwood into a family of 12, Shiers attended Richmond Public School, Keswick, until 1902 when he worked with a market gardener and learned pump and motor maintenance. Enlisting as trooper in the 1st Light Horse Regiment in 1915, Shiers was transferred to what became No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, in 1916. He was promoted to 1st class air mechanic in 1917. Shiers was engineer on the first flight (with Ross Smith as co pilot) from Cairo to Calcutta in 1918 and, a year later, on the first flight from England to Australia with Ross and Keith Smith and the other mechanic J.M. Bennett. Shiers was discharged in 1920 with the honorary rank of lieutenant and awarded the Air Force Medal and a bar for his part in the two flights. After a visit to England in 1922 with the Smith brothers (when Ross died in a crash), he worked for aviation companies at Sydney’s Mascot airport. In 1925, he began barnstorming with pilot Dave Smith. Getting his pilot's licence in 1929, Shiers planned to fly with Smith to England. They left Sydney in 1930 but, after a forced landing in Western Australia’s Ord River area and a crash landing in Siam (Thailand), the flight ended. Shiers joined New England Airways, later Airlines of Australia, as chief engineer until 1939. He then headed the textiles branch of Light Aircraft Co. that made defence parachutes. From 1965, he lived in Adelaide where he died in 1968.

George Hubert Wilkins' epic flights explore the geography/climate of Arctic and Antarctica

Aviator is only one of the claims to international fame of George Hubert Wilkins. Add explorer, naturalist, photographer, geographer and climatologist. Born at Mount Bryan East in South Australia as the 13th child of a farmer, Wilkins experienced drought and developed an interest in climatic phenomena. He studied engineering at South Australian School of Mines and Industries, and pursued photography and cinematography in Adelaide and Sydney. In 1908, he sailed for England to work for the Gaumont Film Co. But ,as a newspaper reporter and cameraman, who learned to fly and try aerial photography, Wilkins’ life turned into an extraordinary global journey. One part of that was being Australian official military photographer of fighting on World War I's western front. In 1919, he entered the England-to-Australia air race but his plane, a Blackburn Kangaroo, experienced engine failure and crashlanded in Crete. Wilkins returned to geography, climate and the natural world. In 1920-21, he made his first visit to the Antarctic. When an Antarctic expedition failed through lack of funds in 1926, he began Arctic exploration by air. In 1928, with Carl Ben Eielson as pilot, he flew from Alaska, eastward over the Arctic Sea to Spitsbergen (Svalbard), Norway. Wilkins carried out the first aerial explorations of the Antarctic in 1928-29. During 1937 and 1938, he played a major role in searching for the Russian aviator Sigismund Levanevsky who disappeared on a flight from Moscow to Fairbanks, Alaska. Wilkins also advanced techniques of flying by moonlight.

Jimmy Melrose rises to global celebrity with record solo flights to England in the 1930s

Young Adelaide aviator Jimmy Melrose’s global celebrity in the 1930s was short but spectacular, hailed as “the next (Charles) Lindbergh” with fame that, as an Australian heartthrob, rivalled Errol Flynn’s. Melrose set several Australian and world flying records in three years before dying in a crash at 22. An only child from a wealthy pastoralist family, Charles James (Jimmy) Melrose grew up with mother Hilda (his father had died) at Glenelg South. While at St Peter’s College, he took flying lessons with the (Royal) Aero Club of South Australia at Parafield airport, gaining his licence at 19. His mother bought him a plane, a DeH Puss Moth, he named My Hildergarde. In 1934, aged 20, he left Parafield on a 12,875km solo flight around Australia, cutting the record by almost two days to five days, 10 hours, 57 minutes. On his 21st birthday, he left Parafield in his Puss Moth for England, reaching Croydon in a record eight days, nine hours. He became a global sensation as youngest entrant and only solo flyer (coming third) in the 1934 Centenary Air Race from England to Australia. Soon after returning to Australia, Melrose crashed his Percival Gull at Penrose, New South Wales. Recovering quickly, Melrose sailed to England and flew back a five-seater Heston Phoenix to start Australia's first flying taxi. A crowd of 8000 greeted him in Adelaide on Anzac Day, 1936. Melrose was killed six weeks later when the monoplane broke up over Melton. The South Australian parliament was suspended at his death. More than 100,000 mourners attended his state funeral procession in Melbourne.

Roy Gropler youngest to make solo England to Australia flight at 19; killed in crash at 22

Roy Gropler was another 1930s Adelaide aviator achiever for a solo flight to Australia from England when he was only 19 – at the time, the youngest to make the flight. Gropler is an interesting comparison to young South Australian 1930s aviator Jimmy Melrose. Both were killed in air accidents – less than two years apart – aged 22. Growing up in Norwood where his father was a grocer, Gropler began flying lessons at 16 at Parafield in the (Royal) Aero Club of South Australia DH-60 Moths. He got his A Licence and a job as the club’s assistant engineer, in 1934. After Gropler helped another pilot with commercial joyflights in Victoria, his father agreed to back him in an air taxi business. Gropler went to England in 1935 to buy his aircraft – a secondhand Klemm L.27a IX, akin to a large wooden “powered glider” but with a long fuel range  – and fly it back. Still inexperienced and flying a light open-cockpit plane, Gropler left on a hazardous 43-day journey through constant weather challenges. One hundred people – much less than for the wealthy Melrose – greeted Gropler at Darwin. Melrose’s death in his “aerial taxi” – plus new alternatives such as the Douglas DC-2 – dimmed the prospects for Gropler’s business. In 1936, Gropler finished third on handicap in the Brisbane to Adelaide air race to celebrate South Australia’s centenary. In 1938, he flew non-stop from to Sydney (7 hours 45 minutes) where he offered joy flights. Weeks later, Gropler and two passengers were killed during a joy flight from Parafield when the port wing fell off in a steep turn. At the time, it was South Australia’s worst air accident.

Jon Johanson builds own plane in Adelaide and sets round-world, South Pole flight records

Adelaide-based Jon Johanson set world records and won one of aviation’s top honours in a home-built Van’s Aircraft RV-4. Johanson became interested in flying while working as a carpenter’s apprentice before going into a nursing career. He completed flight training and took a charter job flying around northern Australia. This is where he met someone building a Van’s RV-4. Encouraged by a builder friend, who offered his workshop and tools, Johanson scraped together $1000 for parts to build his own Vans RV-4. Working an average 80 hours ar week as a midwife and pilot to pay for it, Jon devoted every free minute to his RV-4 over two and a half years. Johanson received a permit to fly it in 1992 and his first round-the world trip was in 1995. Johanson left from Adelaide's Parafield airport on June 26 for Oshkoch, USA, then across the Atlantic Ocean for Europe, the Middle East, Asia and back to Parafield on September 24. Total flight time was 198 hours. After more world trips, in 2003, Johanson again left from Parafield to make the first solo flight in a single-engine home-built aircraft over the South Pole. After landing at the McMurdo-Scott base, he was stranded when the base, not wishing to encourage private flights, refused to sell him fuel. With fuel given by fellow adventurer Polly Vacher, Johanson flew on to Australia. In 2004, Johanson was awarded the gold air medal by the FAI, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (The World Air Sports Federation). At the time, Johanson held 47 FAI world records. He was named the Adventurer of the Year by the Australian Geographic Society. 

Daredevil pilot Chris Sperou dominates Australia and takes on world in aerobatics

Chris Sperou has won the Australian aerobatics championship 13 times and flown in five world aerobatic championships – using tricks he taught himself. Born in Thevenard on Eyre Peninsula’s west coast, Sperou was inspired in his schooldays by watching military planes staging through Ceduna to refuel. Barred by his parents from joining the air force, Sperou worked as a professional fisherman and then a refrigeration mechanic after moving to Adelaide. He joined the Royal Aero Club of South Australia as soon as he turned 21. He trained in DH 1 DeHavilland Chipmunk but soon went solo and quickly engaged in “unusual attitudes”: aerobatics. Sperou won his first national title without being endorsed to fly aerobatics. He represented the aero club in a three-man formation team, winning and helping to win the national title nine times, national aerobatic and unlimited title 13 times. In the world aerobatic titles, Sperou and Australia didn’t have the aircraft to match other countries but won a bronze medal in the USA in 1980. Sperou perfected an unlimited routine of low-level aerobatics in his Super Pitts special bi-plane with a generator trailing smoke. He was the first pilot in Australia approved to carry out the inverted ribbon cut: upside down at 10 metres above the ground and descending to seven metres above the ground to cut a ribbon stretched between two poles with his propeller. Sperou made regular appearances at the Formula One and Adelaide 500 car races. He did stunts for films including The Fire In The Stone  (1984), Run Chrissie Run (1986) and The Blue Lightning (1991). 

Andy Thomas goes into space four times as mechanical engineer for NASA over 22 years

Andy Thomas, Australia’s first space astronaut, made four missions during 22 years with NASA in the United States. Adelaide-born and educated at St Andrew’s Primary School, Walkerville; St Peter’s College and Adelaide University (bachelor and doctorate in mechanical engineering), in 1978 he joined Lockheed in Atlanta, rising to principal aerodynamic scientist by 1990. Thomas was selected by NASA in 1992 and appointed to the astronaut corps. While awaiting space flight assignment, Thomas supported shuttle launch and landing operations at Kennedy Space Centre. He provided technical support to the space shuttle main engine project, the solid rocket motor project and the external tank project at the Marshall Space Flight Centre. Thomas was named as payload commander for STS-77 and flew his first flight in space on Endeavour in 1996. Although Paul Scully-Power had entered orbit as an oceanographer in 1985, Thomas was the first Australia-born professional astronaut to enter space.Thomas next trained at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, to serve as board engineer 2 aboard the Russian Space Station Mir for 130 days. STS-102 (2001) was the eighth shuttle mission to the international space station and Thomas's third flight. During the mission, Thomas spent 6.5 hours installing components to the outside of the space station. From 2001-2003, Thomas served as NASA Astronaut Office deputy chief. On his fourth space flight on STS-114, he logged over 177 days in space. He worked with NASA Astronaut Office exploration branch until he retired in 2014.



with Miller Aviation and Adelaide Airways amid the early players

World War I kills Bill Wittber's plane venture but gets Harry Butler into sky to start airmail

Harry Butler became obsessed with flying during his boyhood on a farm and school at Koolywurtie near Minlaton. He’d heard about Bill Wittber and Fred Custance's flights in the Bolivar paddock in 1910, and on most Saturdays he travelled to Smithfield on a motorbike. On Margaret Smith’s property at Smithfield, Butler joined Bill Wittber, who had designed and built his own plane, including a six-cylinder radial engine (an Australian first). Taxi trials of the plane in 1915 produced longer and higher hops, but the venture ended when the government banned civilian aircraft flying after World War I broke out. Disgusted, Wittber dismantled and burnt his plane. Butler continued his interest in aviation and was finally accepted into the air force at Point Cook. Disappointed by slow progress, Butler went to England and joined the Royal Flying Corps. Excluded from the pilots' course by lack of education, he became a mechanic. His experience and knowledge were recognised and, by 1916, Second Lieutenant Butler was flying in France. Although wounded and twice awarded the Air Force Cross, he stayed in the Royal Flying Corps until 1919 when demobilised with the rank of captain. During the war, Butler solved the lack of communication experienced at the front by dropping messages from the air. This created the concept of air mail. Butler’s first actual air mail flight was in 1917 when he took letters from Glasgow to Turnberry. Butler put the airmail concept into practice with his own planes in South Australia after the war.

Harry Butler returns with Red Devil; sets up Adelaide's first airport Hendon at Albert Park

World War I pilot Harry Butler returned to Adelaide from England with a Bristol monoplane (the Red Devil) and an Avro 504-K. Butler gave stunt displays in the Red Devil and, in 1919, he took it on the first southern hemisphere over-water flight across St Vincent Gulf (108km) to his hometown Minlaton on Yorke Peninsula. Carrying a full mailbag, he was greeted by more than 6000 people. District council chairman Edward Correll received a special letter from state governor Henry Galway. Butler returned to Adelaide with two bags of mail and flew over his old school at Koolywurtie. Butler, with Harry Kauper, converted his Avro 504-4 to two seats and operated Captain Harry J. Butler & Kauper Aviation from a hangar at basic Northfield airfield. Butler bought 24ha at largely-rural Albert Park in Woodville district, and in 1920 set up Hendon, also known as Captain Butler's, aerodrome. With the aviation novelty wearing off, Butler closed the company in 1921. The federal defence department in 1922 bought what was first serious Adelaide airport until the shift to Parafield in 1927. Butler and his Red Devil created other firsts including an aerial photograph of Adelaide and taking people on flights over the city. In 1920, the Ross and Keith Smith returned to Adelaide in their Vickers-Vimy, escorted by Butler's Red Devil.That year, Butler won Australia's first aerial derby in Adelaide but crashed his Avro biplane near Minlaton in 1922. He survived and resumed flying and new businesses but died of a cerebral abscess in 1924. Thousands lined King William Street, Adelaide, to farewell to their hero at his funeral.

Horrie Miller and Joe Larkin part of colourful 1920s birth of national airlines in Adelaide

Horrie Miller added to the colour of Adelaide aviation when he arrived in 1921, with a background as an Australian Air Corps war pilot and in barnstorming (stunt flying). He was an owner of Commercial Aviation Company, whose early flights around South Australia used a G-AUCF Armstrong-Whitworth FK8, later sold to the fledgling Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (QANTAS) at Longreach. Miller set up operations at Harry Butler’s Hendon (Albert Park) aerodrome in Adelaide's west where, in 1924, the first Adelaide-Sydney airmail run started, involving another operator, the controversial Joe Larkin, in the early competitive days of Australian airlines. The airmail route was Adelaide-Mildura-Hay-Narrandera-Cootamundra-Sydney over 24 hours. In 1927, philanthropist and confectioner MacPherson Robertson helped Miller to set up another airline, MacPherson Miller Aviation, and used it to carry chocolates from Melbourne to Adelaide. Many other early flights were to carry medical emergencies: a precursor to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. MacPherson Robertson initially flew out of Hendon (Albert Park) and Parafield, where Miller was the first person to land. The Sydney-to-Perth air race used Parafield in October 1929 when 16 aircraft called in to refuel. Horrie Miller won the event on handicap in his DH9 G-AUHT. MacRobertson Miller Airlines was taken over by Ansett Airlines in 1963.

Parafield Airport from 1927 becomes central to companies setting up interstate services

Parafield Airport opened in 1927 on the day after Harry Butler’s former Albert Park (Hendon) aerodrome closed. Adelaide-based pilot Horrie Miller’s Miller Aviation Company (later MacRobertson Miller Airways in Western Australia) and Australian Aerial Services moved from Albert Park to Parafield, as Adelaide’s interstate links increased. In 1929, two De Havilland Hercules Airlines, carrying 21 passengers, arrived from Perth on the first flight of the East-West Service. Sixteen aircraft landed in the East-West Air Race from Sydney to Perth – won by Horrie Miller in his DH9 G-AUHT. Adelaide Steamship Company announced the new Adelaide Airways in 1935, with flights from Parafield to Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island. A Short Scion and a G.A.L. Monospar were ordered. Adelaide Airways started its Parafield–Mount Gambier–Melbourne route with the Short Scion VH-UUT. Australian National Airways formed in 1936 with passengers flying from Parafield to Perth, Melbourne and Sydney as well as country centres in South Australia. During World War II, Parafield Airport was used by the RAAF as a training unit using mainly Tiger Moth aircraft, with an occasional heavier general service aircraft such as the Liberator Bomber. After the war, the airfield plus many buildings were handed back to the federal civil aviation department and it operated as the city's only civil airport until Adelaide Airport at Brooklyn Park was opened in 1955.

Adelaide Steamship's Adelaide Airways starts chain of mergers that lead to Ansett-ANA

Adelaide Airways was formed as a subsidiary of the Adelaide Steamship Company in 1935, operating out of Parafield airport. Its fleet had different aircraft, including the Short Scion, the General Aircraft Monospar ST-25  and the De Havilland DH.89A. In 1936, Adelaide Airways bought West Australian Airways that had been set up by Norman Beardley in 1921 as Australia’s first scheduled air service, for £25,000. Ivan Holyman approached Adelaide Steamship to amalgamate with his airline (operating between Victoria and Tasmania), aiming to form Australia's most powerful airline to effectively control airline traffic between Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. In 1936, the two companies merged and, along with orient Steam Navigation and Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand, formed Australian National Airways (ANA) the giant among Australian domestic airlines before and after World War II. Adelaide Steamship retained part ownership in ANA until Holyman's death in 1957. The Australian National Airways board then unsuccessfully tried to sell out to the government-owned Trans Australia Airlines (TAA), before reaching agreement with Reg Ansett to sell the airline to him for £3.3 million.

Australia's air safety introduced after 1938 ANA Kyeema crash shocks South Australia

Australian aviation was transformed by the fate of Australian National Airways (ANA) Douglas DC-2 aircraft Kyeema that took off from Adelaide’s Parafield airport on the morning of October 25, 1938. On its approach to Melbourne’s Essendon Airport through heavy fog, it crashed into the western slopes of Mount Dandenong, killing all 18 on board. Among the passengers was Charles Hawker, from the prominent South Australian pastoralist family, and a federal politician touted as a possible future conservative prime minister. Also devastating for the South Australian wine industry was the loss of three leaders: Hugo Gramp (G. Gramp and Sons), Tom Hardy (Thomas Hardy and Sons) and Sidney Hill Smith (S. Smith and Son, Yalumba.) Shocked by the loss of one of its own MPs, the federal government quickly set up a royal commission and an air accident investigation committee public enquiry started on October 30. The result was that civil aviation was taken out of hands of the defence department where it had been a poor relation. A separate civil aviation department was created. The Kyeema crash gave birth to Australia's system of air traffic control. A 33 MHz radio range system was recommended to give pilots accurate information. Australian National Airways (ANA) had been formed in 1936 when Adelaide Airways (an Adelaide Steamship Co. subsidary) merged with Holyman’s Airways from Tasmania. Ivan Holyman, as head of ANA, brought the first modern all-metal airliner (Douglas DC-2) to Australia and introduced air hostesses, free flight-meals and automatic insurance of passengers.


becomes trailblazer with new aircraft; opening of Darwin route

Guinea Airways born in 1926 from Adelaide investors' backing for New Guinea gold mine

Guinea Airways emerged from an airline formed in Adelaide in 1926 to carry freight as part of its parent company's gold-mining operations in New Guinea. The Bulolo area in Papua New Guinea, 64 kilometres inland from Lae, was, before World War I, in German New Guinea. Several Australian miners, looking for gold, had crossed into the German colony but, after the war, it became an Australian mandate and many prospectors made fortunes there. One of these was Cecil John Levien. He believed in the district’s potential and, in 1926, at a meeting in Adelaide arranged by his friend W.P. A. Lapthorne, other Adelaide businessmen also offered support. They formed a company, Guinea Gold No Liability, to test the Bulolo Flats. As the operation grew, Levien saw that the only way to effectively mine the gold in reasonable quantities was to use dredges to be carried over impenetrable jungles and steep mountains by aeroplanes. To be able also to carry passengers plus carry freight, Guinea Gold in 1927 registered Guinea Airways Ltd and commissioned one regular plane. Guinea Airways’ Adelaide directors were C.V.T. Wells, W.P.A. Lapthorne, G. Jeffery, A. Scarfe and Levien. By 1928, Guinea Gold had spent £45,000 on New Guinea operations including the air service, testing its Bulolo South leases, marking the Koranga lease and set up a field organisation. The goldfields continued to prosper with annual production, running into millions of pounds, sent to the Australian mints. Guinea Gold later had less interest in practical mining and more with options, leases and dividends. It wound up in 1968.


Guinea Airways sets up Adelaide to Darwin passenger and airmail service from 1937

Adelaide-based Guinea Airways helped usher in a new era in Australian aviation when it bought two American Lockheed 10A (Electra) aircraft in 1936. Guinea’s VH-UXH was the first Lockheed of its type in Australia. With Australian National Airways’ (ANA) Douglas DC-2, it was the start of fast all-metal aircraft. (ANA emerged later in 1936 from Adelaide Steamship company’s Adelaide Airways merger with Holyman Airways.) Guinea’s VH-UXH was assembled in Adelaide Airways’ Parafield airport hangar.  VH-UXH (able to carry 10 passengers) went to New Guinea, operated as part of its Adelaide parent company’s gold mining. It also did charter flights to Australia, including one to the Melbourne Cup. When Guinea Airways decided the VH-UXH wasn’t suited to New Guinea conditions, it was ferried back to Parafield in 1937 and used to survey a route to Darwin. A weekly service to Darwin started in 1937, carrying mail on a two-day trip, with stops at Maree, Oodnadatta, Alice Springs (overnight), Tennant Creek, Daly Waters and Katherine. In 1937, VH-UXH was chartered by Melbourne Sun newspaper to meet the first England-Australia airmail aircraft arriving in Darwin with photos and details of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Charter work for Guinea Airways increased, enabling it to build a large hangar at Parafield. By 1937, Guinea had three 10A Lockheeds on the  twice-a-week service to/from Parafield to Darwin. This became three flights when it won the government airmail contract to connect with Qantas/Imperial flying boat service to the United Kingdom.


Guinea Airways losses shrugged off with its skills consolidated at Adelaide's Parafield

Guinea Airways added a larger Lockheed 14H (Super Electra) aircraft to its three Lockheed 10As in 1938 to cope with demand for the service from Adelaide’s Parafield airport to Darwin. It was bought by the Adelaide airline for £23,000 and assembled in its Parafield hangar. Parafield maintenance crew, under chief engineer Jack Gething and foreman Percy Stone, kept the Darwin service running efficiently despite the problem of dust in the engines. Guinea’s first major accident was at Katherine in 1939 when VH-ABI was destroyed. It led to a takeoff path of at least 1,200 yards, compared to Katherine’s mere 700 yards. Guinea has another of its 10As chartered by the commonwealth civil aviation department to check the new Lorenz beacon system for major air routes. To cover its losses, Guinea chartered two Douglas DC-2s from Australian National Airlines (ANA) and still made an increased profit of £16,285 that year. It also took over three-times weekly services to Port Lincoln, Cleve and Kangaroo Island from ANA and added a flight to Whyalla. After another Lockheed 10A was lost to a crash and fire south of Darwin, Guinea obtained two Lockheed L14s from Irish airline Aer Lingus Teoranta. When the British government demanded £18,000 duty while they were in the UK waiting to be transported to Australia, Guinea avoided this by sending two pilots to fly them out from Ireland in May 1940 and arriving at Parafield on June 9, in a record 65 hours. The planes – Darwin and Adelaide – were added to the Darwin route.

Major support work for RAAF carried out by Adelaide's Guinea Airways during WWII

Adelaide’s Guinea Airways did charter work for Australian defence forces in the Pacific phase of World War II. A Fox Moth aircraft, bought from Goldfields Airways in Kalgoorlie, and adding to Guinea’s two Lockheed 14Hs and two Lockheed 10As, was used extensively in charter work. In 1942, Guinea did extend its passenger services with the Parafield-Renmark-Broken Hill route. Also during the war, Guinea was contacted to do major servicing of Royal Australian Air Force planes at Parafield. It also did DH Gypsy and Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah engine maintenance at a complex built at Cavan in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, with a staff of 60. The wartime Allied Directorate of Air Transport (ADAT) allotted Guinea three ex-Netherland East Indies Lockheed aircraft that operated on ADAT’s behalf in United States military colours. One was used extensively for defence charters in New Guinea and Queensland. War needs increased Darwin services to six a week and RAAF pilots helped fly Guinea planes. They included sergeant Des Gillespie – later chief pilot for Airlines of South Australia. War demands took a damage toll on Guinea aircraft and its engineers at Parafield. Guinea bought its two Douglas DC-3 in 1944 but lost a de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide biplane in a crash on Mount Kitchener in the Barossa Valley. Near war's end, ex-RAAF pilots became available to Guinea as captains. Guinea operations manager Eric Chaseling died in 1944, aged 48, of lung cancer contracted while test flying in the US. His ashes were scattered over Parafield from Guinea’s Lockheed 10A VH-UXH, the C.J. Levien.


ANA and government's new TAA airline put squeeze on Adelaide's Guinea from late 1940s

The end of World War II brought new pressures for Adelaide’s Guinea Airways. It sold off several aircraft and was left with two Lockheed 10As, a Lockheed 14WF62 and two Douglas C-50s. It leased or bought 11 DC-3s in 1945. At the company’s annual general meeting that year, with profit at £8,659, shareholders rejected a merger with Australian National Airways (ANA) and the directors (including original chairman C.T.V. Wells) were replaced. During that year, Guinea and ANA agreed to share staff and the hangar at Parafield airport but Guinea's operations were to be under the control of ANA at Essendon in Victoria. About 120 Guinea maintenance staff at Parafield were retrenched. Guinea also soon lost 10 senior pilots to the federal government’s new Trans Australia Airlines (TAA). The federal government in 1945 had set up the Australian Airlines Commission. It refused Guinea permission to resume services in New Guinea. In 1947, Guinea sold its two Lockheed 10A aircraft. Its Lockheed 14H was leased to ANA for the Brisbane-Cairns route, then became a standby aircraft at Parafield airport, before being withdrawn from services, left in the open for two years and sold to Sims Metals for scrap in 1951. Although its profit was up in 1947, Guinea ended its Darwin service that year after it lost the Darwin mail contract to TAA. That left Guinea with services to Ceduna, Whyalla (via Port Pirie), Broken Hill, Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island plus charter work for the Weapons Research Establishment at Salisbury from 1951. 

Guinea becomes the Airlines of South Australia in 1960 after takeover by Ansett

Adelaide’s Guinea Airways' colourful life ended in 1960 when its name was changed to Airlines of South Australia, owned by Ansett Airlines. In 1958-59, Guinea had leased a Convair 240-5 from federal government owned Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA) for its Broken Hill route, and TAA became Guinea’s agency when Adelaide operations were transferred from Parafield to the new Brooklyn Park airport in 1955. Guinea’s Convair was replaced by F27 Friendship, also leased from TAA, that worked with Guinea’s DC-3s. In 1957, TAA’s rival Australian National Airways (ANA) was taken over by Ansett. It also took over Guinea in 1959. All Guinea aircraft  – five DC-3s and an Auster – were transferred to the new Ansett-owned Airlines of South Australia, that added a 52-seat Convair 440. Airlines of South Australia had services from Adelaide to Port Lincoln, Minnipa, Ceduna, Cowell, Cleve, Kimba, Radium Hill, Broken Hill, Kangaroo Island, Port Pirie, Whyalla, Renmark, Mildura and Woomera. In the 1960s, services were added briefly to Naracoorte, Millicent and tours to Queensland’s Haysman island while other services were cut. A Piaggo 166 and Fokker F-27 Friendships replaced older aircraft. In 1968, Airlines of South Australia was renamed Ansett Airlines of SA. By 1973, the fleet was down to three Fokker F-27s. In the 1970s, Ansett Airlines of SA tried special-interest weekend flights and began services to Mount Gambier.  In 1980, a route sharing began with Rossair and in 1981 Ansett reverted to the Airlines of South Australia name. With more competition in 1970s/80s, Ansett in 1985 announced another subsidiary Kendell Airlines would move onto South Australian routes. In 1986, Airlines of South Australia ended with a flight to Whyalla.


RAAF Edinburgh base enabling tests of deadly weapons in 1950s

Australia's first fighter pilot Richard Williams, father of RAAF, from Moonta, South Australia

Richard Williams, widely regarded as the “father” of the Royal Australian Air Force, was the first military pilot trained in Australia. He went on to command Australian and British air fighter units during World War I. A proponent for air power independent of other branches of the armed services, Williams played a leading role in setting up the RAAF and became its first chief of air staff in 1922 and served for 13 years over three terms at that rank, longer than any other officer. Williams came from a South Australian working-class background in Moonta Mines. He enlisted in the South Australian Infantry Regiment in 1909 at 19 before joining the regular army for World War I. He was an army lieutenant when he learned to fly at Point Cook, Victoria, in 1914. As a pilot with the Australian Flying Corps, Williams rose to command No.1 Squadron AFC and later 40th Wing RAF. He finished the war as lieutenant colonel. Afterwards, he campaigned successfully for an Australian air force separate from the army and navy. The fledgling RAAF from 1921 faced challenges in the 1920s and 1930s, and Williams was credited with maintaining its independence. An adverse report on flying safety standards saw him dismissed as chief of air staff and seconded to the RAF before World War II. Despite support for his reinstatement, and promotion to air marshal in 1940, Williams never again commanded the RAAF. After the war, he became director general of civil aviation in Australia. In 2005, Williams' Australian Flying Corps wings were carried into space on a shuttle flight by South Australian astronaut Andy Thomas.

Robert McKenzie first of South Australian aces: John Cock distinguishes himself in World War II

Robert William McKenzie became a World War I flying ace, credited with six aerial victories. A chemist in Adelaide before joining the Australian Army Medical Corps when the war started, McKenzie transferred to the Australian Flying Corps and trained as a pilot. In 1917, McKenzie, posted to No.2 Squadron RAAF (originally No.68 Squadron RAF), scored his first victory in an Airco DH.5; he destroyed a German Albatross DV. When his unit was reequipped with Royal Aircraft Factory SE.5as, McKenzie used the upgraded machines to score five victories in just over a month in 1918. World War II South Australian air aces include John Cock from Renmark. Educated at Renmark High and Prince Alfred College, Cock joined the Royal Air Force on a short service commission in 1938 and was posted to the 87 Squadron at Debden. After the outbreak of war, the squadron moved to France where he had five confirmed kills as well as being the first Australian pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft. With the fall of France in 1940, the squadron returned to England and was deployed in the Battle of Britain. Cock continued flying until 1940 when his Hurricane V7233 was hit and he bailed out. He landed in the sea off Portland Bill, swam ashore and was admitted to hospital. A month later, he rejoined his unit and served with distinction. He was promoted to squadron leader with more than 10 enemy aircraft shootdowns. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He returned to the United Kingdom many years later to see the salvage of his Hurricane near Portland Bill.

Bob Cowper among Australia's most highly decorated air aces during World War II

Adelaide’s Bob Cowper was one of Australia’s most highly decorated World War II air aces. The squadron leader and fighter pilot survived dozens of wartime missions and two crashes in his Mosquito. Leader of the famous 456 RAAF Night Fighters, Cowper’s many medals included a Distinguished Flying Cross (with bar) for gallantry, the Medal of the Order of Australia and the French Legion of Honour for his heroics during the D-Day invasion at Normandy in 1944. Born in Broken Hill in 1922, Mr Cowper grew up in Kangaroo Flat outside Gawler and enlisted in the RAAF in 1940 on his 18th birthday. He flew Defiants, Beaufighters and Mosquitoes over Britain, Malta and France, and survived several close shaves during 68 aerial missions. The closest shave was plummeting through the night sky while unconscious, after shooting down an enemy plane. He regained consciousness just in time to open his parachute.  On another occasion, Cowper’s Beaufighter, carrying top secret radar, crashlanded in the Sahara Desert and he was chased by hostile Arabs before identifying himself as an Allied airman. In 1944, as flight commander of 456 Squadron, Cowper earned the title of “ace” for pilots who shot down at least five enemy aircraft. He destroyed six, damaged another and also claimed joint credit for destroying a V-1 flying bomb.

Mallala RAAF reserve No.6 service training school graduates 2,000 pilots for World War II

Mallala, north of Adelaide, was the base for the Royal Australian Air Force’s No. 6 Service Flying Training School after war broke out in the Pacific in 1941.The school formed a reserve squadron for Australia's defence by instructing pilots at the intermediate and advanced level under the Empire Air Training Scheme, operating Avro Anson and Airspeed Oxford aircraft. After graduating more than 2,000 pilots, No.6 SFTS completed its final course in 1945 and became the Care and Maintenance Unit Mallala in 1946. This was one of 40 units across Australia storing surplus aircraft awaiting sale, scrapping or stripping for spare parts. From 1947, the base built for No.6 SFTS was occupied by RAAF units No.24 (City of Adelaide) Squadron and No.34 Communications Squadron supporting tests and transport for the long-range weapons project at Woomera rocket range. In 1949-50, the federal immigration department altered some buildings on the base to house migrant families. This lasted only briefly because the defence department needed the area for other purposes. When the RAAF Base Edinburgh opened in 1954, Mallala wound down and was closed in 1960 with land and buildings sold in 1961. Mallala base’s next phase was as a speedway. Clem Smith is credited with saving Mallala Motor Sport Park that’s again busy with car events, motorcycling and Formula 2 and V8 races. The circuit was bought by the Shahin family, who also owns The Bend raceway at Tailem Bend, after Smith’s death in 2017.

Edinburgh RAAF base at frontline of weapon tests including atomic bombs at Maralinga

The planes and pilots who used Edinburgh RAAF base in the late 1950s and early 1960s were supporting tests of weapons – including the deadliest: atomic bombs. Alongside the wartime Salisbury explosives factory, Edinburgh was built in the early 1950s as a support base for weapons development at Woomera in the far north of the state. Maralinga, part of the Woomera prohibited area, was the site of British major nuclear tests between 1955 and 1963. Seven major nuclear tests were performed, with yields ranging from 1 to 17 kilotons of TNT equivalent. The site was used for hundreds of minor trials, many of them intended to investigate the effects of non-nuclear explosions. The English Canberra B.2 WK165 aircraft, operating out of Edinburgh, was used at Woomera Rocket range and Maralinga atomic test site for weapons research, radar calibration and photographic reconnaissance. With reduced testing activities in the late 1960s, the Edinburgh base later became home to the RAAF's Maritime Patrol Group, as well as No.1 Recruit Training Unit, the Institute of Aviation Medicine and the Aircraft Research and Development Unit. During World War II, the RAAF Mallala base was the No.6 Service Flying Training School. Mallala was selected later as the temporary base for flight test and transport support for the joint UK-Australian Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera.


despite encroachment of northern Adelaide suburbia all around

Adelaide's Parafield an historic spoke from 1927 for the growth of Australian aviation

Parafield Airport was first used as an “all over” aerodrome in 1927, when Miller Aviation Company (later MacRobertson Miller Airways in Western Australia) and Australian Aerial Services moved from the Albert Park (Hendon) airport set up by Harry Butler. Later in 1927, the (Royal) Aero Club of South Australia built a hangar at Parafield, and bought two aircraft for carrying passenger and training. In May, 1929, two De Havilland Hercules Airlines, carrying 21 passengers, arrived at Parafield from Perth on the first flight of the east-west service. In October that year, 16 aircraft landed at Parafield during the east-west air race from Sydney to Perth. Australian National Airways – a merger of Adelaide Steamship’s Adelaide Airways and Ivan Holyman’s airways ­– was formed in 1936, with passengers flying from Parafield to Perth, Melbourne and Sydney as well as South Australian country centres. Young Adelaide aviators Jimmy Melrose and Roy Gropler made epic solo flight to/from Parafield to the UK in the 1930s. Another Adelaide-born airlines, Guinea Airways, pioneered a route to Darwin from Parafield in 1937. During World War II, Parafield Airport was used by the RAAF as a flying training unit using mainly Tiger Moth aircraft, with occasional heavier general service aircraft such as the Liberator Bomber. After the war, the airfield plus many buildings were handed back to the federal civil aviation department and in 1955 Adelaide Airport at Brooklyn Park took over for regular public transport operations. In the early 1980s, the federal government laid the foundation for privatisation of its airports. 

South Australia's Royal Aero Club trains young heroes; a bastion for state's wealthy families

Between 25,000 and 30,000 attended a Parafield air show in 1926 to celebrate the opening of the South Australian section of the Australian Aero Club: the Royal Aero Club of South Australia. Later that year, the club had defence department approval for the loan of two DH60 Gipsy Moths. In 1927, the club built a hangar and bought two aircraft for passenger transport and training. The club was at the forefront of Adelaide upper-class society and many of its members came from Adelaide’s wealthiest and best-known families. Two of club’s earliest members, Jimmy Melrose and Roy Gropler, benefited from its training and went on to become young long-distance solo flying heroes. A friend of Melrose, who was from South Australia's pastoral aristocracy, was Francis Marion Wright (nee Lunn) who gained her A pilot's licence through the Royal Aero Club, Parafield, in 1933. In 1934, she won the Ross Smith Trophy for the highest aggregate score in flying competitiions. When World War II broke out, she was not allowed to fly with the forces but became section leader in the Red Cross women's transport and, as an experienced mechanic, worked on servicing motor vehicles and aircraft at Parafield.

Parafield Airport third busiest in Australia with flight training, charters plus museums, cadets

Parafield Airport, started in 1927 north of Adelaide, lost its status as the city’s main airport in 1955 but remained Australia’s third busiest for aircraft movements from 2000 to 2015. Airservices Australia figures showed Parafield, with 235,384 aircraft movements in 2015, third behind Sydney Airport and Moorabbin in Melbourne for most activity over the whole period since 2000. Owned by the federal government but leased and managed by Parafield Airport Ltd, a subsidiary of Adelaide Airport Ltd, Parafield’s busyness puts pressure on its biggest problem: the encroachment of suburbia on an area that was open space in 1927. The airport is home to the Parafield Aviation campus of TAFE (Technical and Further Education) SA to the University of South Australia Aviation Academy. There are also multiple flight training schools including the University of South Australia Aviation Academy, Flight Training Adelaide (formerly known as Australian Aviation College), Bruce Hartwig Flying School, Adelaide Flight Training Centre, Aerostar Aviation, and Parafield Flying Centre. Several Parafield Airport companies operate adventure flights, tours and aircraft charters, giving direct access  remote regions such as the Flinders Ranges, Lake Eyre and the Tasmanian wilderness. Helistar Aviation, one of the leading Australian helicopter operators, also has its headquarters at Parafield that offers a comprehensive range operators providing aircraft and helicopter servicing and maintenance. The airport hosts a jet fighter museum, founded in the 1980s,  and the Parafield Aviation Heritage Centre. A flight simulator experience adds to the mix. A squadron of the Australian Air League, a cadet organisation promoting youth interest of aviation is also at Parafield Airport.

Parafield tradition of pilot training still strong; UniSA offers diplomas in aviation

The Parafield airport tradition of pilot training, fostered by the Royal Aero Club of South Australia, continues, although its location amid Adelaide's norhern suburbs has become controversial. Originally from Waikerie where he ran his original flying school, Bruce Hartwig, became chief flying instructor for the Royal Aero Club at Parafield in 1980. Hartwig worked with Greg Norris at Parafield to set up what became the first aviation school in Australia to attain an ISO 9001 international quality assurance rating and became one of Australia’s premier specialist aviation schools. he other flight training schools at Parafield in 2019 were Adelaide Flight Training Centre, Flight Training Adelaide, Aerostar Aviation and University of South Australia Aviation Academy. At its Mawson campus, next to Parafield airport, the University of South Australia offers aviation as a tertiary qualification. Its bachelor of aviation (management) offers skills for a career in aviation management, airline administration, or airport and flight operations. Students interested in a flying career can apply for the bachelor of aviation (pilot) specialisation. This complemented with flight training through the graduate diploma in aviation for domestic students or through private flying lessons for international students. Flight Training Adelaide at Parafield is the university’s partner in flight training for its graduate diploma of aviation students.  TAFE SA Parafield campus at Parafield Airport specialises in aviation courses. Adelaide University Gliding Club and Adelaide Biplanes at Aldinga add to the flight training experiences.


Parafield Airport's control tower still the beacon of Adelaide's rich history in aviation

The Parafield Airport art deco control tower, built between 1938 and 1940, was originally used as an operations and administration building and passenger terminal. The building had an all-glass control tower cab on the roof that was replaced by the present modern cab, commissioned in 1981. As of 2008, Parafield’s was the oldest operational control tower in Australia. Similar buildings at Mascot in Sydney and Archerfield in Brisbane are no longer used as control towers. In 1948, Parafield (see the image above) was still Adelaide’s only airport with its control tower a prominent landmark in an area of vacant paddocks. The 1948 image shows the hangar for the federal government-owned TAA (Trans Australia Airlines) to its left. First on the row of main hangars to the right of the tower was ANA (Australian National Airways, from a merger of Adelaide Steamship Company’s Adelaide Airways and Holyman Airways from Tasmania) and further along the Adelaide-born Guinea Airways, with its Lockheed 14 VH-AEW parked outside.  Behind the hangars were buildings left behind by the Royal Australian Air Force when Parafield was home to No.1 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) and other units. In the 21st Century, only the upper floor and tower cab are occupied by Airservices Australia, the federal government agency looking to ensure safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible services to the aviation industry. Airservices Australia also handles complaints for aircraft noise. The rest of the control tower building is occupied by tenants including Adelaide Flight Training Centre. 

Many thousands more flights planned for Adelaide's Parafield in the middle of suburbia

A 2016 federal government 20-year masterplan for Parafield Airport projected its aircraft movements to increase from about 235,000 to 345,437 in 2037, and set the airport’s “theoretical ultimate capacity” at 450,002 movements in 20 years’ time. These increased plane numbers are to keep up with the demand for flight training, with five instruction companies operating at Parafield in 2019. In addition to pilot training, Parafield’s four runways were busy with flights for crop dusting, aerial photography, search and rescue, firefighting and police aircraft. Charter flights to service mining in South Australia also had risen. This activity has intensified the growing problem of Parafield airport’s interaction with housing that has grown around the airport’s perimeter since the 1950s in suburbs such as Mawson Lakes, Parafield Gardens, Para Hills, Pooraka, Salisbury East and Brahma Lodge. The Parafield Airport masterplan envisaged commercial, retail and industrial expansion to add to the 1,000-plus people employed there. But nearby residents say noise from Parafield Airport was getting worse, with one complaining that a plane circled above his house once every 45 seconds between 7am and 11pm. Parafield Airport Limited encouraged tenants to adopt a Fly Friendly program to reduce the impact of operations on the community. Program objectives included climbing to operating height as soon as possible, maintain operating height, reduce engine power as soon as possible; follow the set flight paths; avoid residential areas where practicable; and not flying wide circuits. 



as links increase; regional airlines/airports experience a shakeout

Adelaide Airport, West Beach, takes off in 1955; international flights 1982; privatised 1998

The site of Adelaide Airport at West Torrens (known as West Beach until 1991) was selected in 1946, as Parafield Airport was recognised as unsuitable for future needs in 1941. A site at Port Adelaide, including seaplanes, was considered before the exhaustive search settled on West Beach. Commercial flights at West Torrens started in 1955 and Parafield was turned over to private and military aircraft. Adelaide became linked to a national passenger and freight services through the two dominant airlines: Trans-Australia Airlines (government owned from 1946 and renamed Australian Airlines in 1986 and merged with Qantas in 1992) and Ansett Airlines (after operating as a budget airline, took over ANA, Australian National Airlines, in 1988, and collapsed in 2001). Regional services such as Airlines of South Australia were based at West Beach and flew a network to major South Australian towns and Broken Hill. Adelaide Airport developed along with the jet-age revolution. In the late 1960s, the main runway was first extended, along with many additions to the domestic terminal and state-of-the-art navigational and flight safety communications systems. Adelaide Airport’s international terminal was opened in 1982 for the first scheduled overseas services into and out of South Australia. This coincided with the federal government laying the foundations for airports privatisation in 1986 through the Federal Airports Corporation that took over managing Adelaide in 1988 and made big upgrades. Full privatisation for Adelaide took place in 1998, when Adelaide Airport Limited took on the long-term lease.

Adelaide Airport, with new terminal and hotel, handling eight million passengers a year

Adelaide Airport Limited, who took on the long-term lease of the airport in 1998, embarked in 2003 on developing a $260 million multi-user integrated terminal, replacing the previous “temporary” domestic and international ones, with a new control tower.  The terminal infrastructure provided 14 aerobridges and the capacity to handle 3,000 passengers per hour. Another expansion followed in 2007. A multi-storey car park was opened in 2012 and a walkway bridge and plaza in 2013. Aircraft movements and passenger numbers have substantially increased to more than eight million a year. More than 7,480 tonnes of freight were exported via Adelaide Airport in 2013, up 11.4% on the previous year, with Singapore the most by volume and Switzerland the most by value. The $50 million a 165-room seven-storey AturaAdelaide, Australia’s first hotel directly linked to a capital city terminal, was opened in 2019. A hotel for pets also opened in the airport precinct in 2017. Adelaide Airport has also been an environmental leader with a significant rooftop solar panel system and a stormwater runoff trial with SA Water to improve airside greenery. A 2014 master plan highlighted Adelaide Airport’s plans for growth over the next 20 years, including tripling the terminal’s size by 2044 and building several multi-storey office buildings in a new business area. The growth of international and domestic flights through Adelaide Airport presents a challenge for its location only six kilometres from Adelaide city centre and in the middle of the western suburbs. The airport operates under a 11pm-to-6am curfew on most flights.

Airport named No.9 best in world as features added and international carriers increase

Adelaide was named No.9 in the World’s Best International Airports by the Travel + Leisure website in 2016. This follows being honoured, in 2006, as the Capital City Airport of the Year by the Australian Aviation Industry Awards and rated the world's second-best airport in the 5–15 million passengers category at the Airports Council International awards in Dubai. The airport’s manager, Adelaide Airport Ltd, has worked hard at adding features such as being first in Australia to offer free wi-fi, via Internode and the second in the world to offer a Google street view walkthrough for passengers. Singapore Airlines has been a mainstay of international flights from Adelaide since 1984. It was followed by Malaysia Airlines, Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand. In 2016, Qatar Airways joined international carriers with China Southern starting flights between Adelaide and Guangzhou, marking the city’s first regular flights to mainland China. Adelaide is a heavy cargo destination for the Russian Volga-Dnepr Airlines, who require 2.5km of runway for the Antanov cargo plane. Adelaide also hosts interstate airlines Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger and intrastate carriers Rex Regional Express, Alliance and Sharp, along with Cobham Aviation Services Australia. Adelaide Airport’s vision included turning its business district into a centre for the Asia Pacific region. Attracting high-calibre tenants like OZ Minerals, who moved into new Export Park Building 183, shows its ability to provide a globally connected next-generation hub with industry clusters connected via air access, national and international. 

Adelaide Airport to get $165 million upgrade and expansion with security boost from 2018

A $165 million upgrade to Adelaide Airport terminal started in 2018, boosting aircraft parking and boarding gates, retail and dining space by 80% and creating 16,500 square metres of floor space. Expected to be ready in 2021, the expansion responded to faster-than-expected passenger growth by 50% since 2005 and through to 2029. It was hoped the upgrade would entice more international carriers including aspirations to have a direct service to the USA’s west coast. Other new features will be second longer baggage belt for international arrivals, more space for emigration and immigration and an expanded security screening area, as well as a larger duty-free precinct. Gate 18 would become a permanent international gate. Other international gates would continue to use Adelaide Airport’s unique swing gate system for both international and domestic operations. Johnson Controls will deliver world-class heating, ventilating, and air conditioning control. In an Australian first, Johnson Controls also will install the sophisticated aviation-specific CEM AC2000 Airport access control system, a fully integrated security management platform with the latest Metasys 10.0 building management to Adelaide Airport and Parafield Airport. Offering the only airport-specific access control system designed to run check-in desk enabling, passenger segregation and airbridge control more effectively. The Metasys system is the preferred platform by major international airports and other international airports, such as Heathrow and Gatwick airports in the United Kingdom, use CEM AC2000 Airport.

Last hurrah for Airlines of South Australia in 2005; Rex, QantasLink dominate regional skies

Airlines of South Australia was reborn in 1987 as a small regional airline from the merger of Lincoln Airlines (based in Port Lincoln from 1987) with Augusta Airways (based in Port Augusta). It was renamed Airlines of South Australia in 1997. Airnorth (based in Darwin) in 2003 bought Airlines of South Australia and Emu Airways (another small regional airline, based in Adelaide, operating from Adelaide to Kingscote, Kangaroo Island) and merged the three companies into RegionalLink, owned by aviation services company Capiteq Group. The participating airlines continued trading in their local markets under their own names and the logos. In 2005, Capiteq announced its exit from the state and that Airlines of South Australia and Emu Airways would end because of the entry of QantasLink and other factors. QantasLink came and went within six months in 2005-06 but returned to South Australia in 2010 with its Q400 service to Port Lincoln. It stayed to add the services to Kingscote on Kangaroo Island and Whyalla. Rex Regional Airlines was the other mainstay to emerge from the big shakeout of other smaller airlines to fell to compete on or pioneer uneconomic routes. By 2004, the South Australian regional network was down to eight airports –­ from 20 in 1989. Rex remains the only carrier operating since then, joined by Alliance (2007), Sharp (2008) and QantasLink (2005, 2010). Rex upgraded its fleet to the bigger Saab 340s that compensated for the cutback in flights around South Australia. Rex operates three quarters of South Australian intrastate flights and two thirds of its seats. 

Overcrowded field of South Australian regional airlines thins drastically from 1990s

South Australia’s regional airline activity peaked around 1983 when 12 operators served 28 communities. This followed the federal government dropping all economic regulation of intrastate air services in 1979 with licenses to work intrastate routes approved for safety only. While some states kept of brought their own economic regulation, South Australia didn’t act until the Air Transport (Route Licensing-Passenger Services) Act 2002 was passed after the Ansett/Kendell airlines. The flood of carriers willing to give it a try on some unlikely routes, such as services to Andmooka, Tarcoola and Minnipa. By 1989, 14 out of 24 South Australian regional airlines started flights since 1967 had folded but 12 carriers were still operating to 20 airports – plus remote airstrips receiving federally subsidised flights. The painful shakeout soon started. Those 12 operators – Air Central Eyre, Air Transit, Albatross Airlines, Augusta Airlines, Eyre Commuter, Kendell Airlines, Lincoln Airlies, Lloyd Aviation, North West Airlines, O’Connor Airlines, State Air and Sunstate Airlines – all disappeared. Kendell Airlines, a subsiduary of Ansett Airlines that collapsed in 2001, morphed into Rex Regional Airlines in 2002. Sunstate operated elsewhere under the QantasLink banner. O’Connor Airlines had a 30-run year run from 1977 to 2007 and Sharp Airlines took over Port Augusta and Mildura routes. Southern Sky Airlines bought Albatross in 1997 but only lasted to 1999. In 2000, Whyalla Airlines was lost after it suffered a crash. Great Western Airlines was a bit player 2003-05. Kangaroo Island routes were reduced in 1994.

Upgrade for Kangaroo Island's Kingscote amid airports boosts in South Australian regions

A $21 million upgrade to Kangaroo island's Kingscote airport, opened in 2018, allows larger planes flying directly from interstate, including Melbourne, Sydney or Perth. This was expected to bring an extra 25,00 tourists to the island. Funded by the federal and state governments, the Kingscote Airport now has an extended runway for larger aircraft and amenities raised to International Air Transport Association Class C standards. Mount Gambier Airport, owned and operated by the District Council of Grant, has also benefited from a $3.5 million federally-funded upgrade. Mount Gambier's main point of contention, on price and scheduling, has been that it is only serviced by one commercial airline, Rex, with flights to and from Adelaide and Melbourne as well as charter flights. In the remote far north of the state, Umuwa Aerodrome runway in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands is being raised with improved drainage. Other public regional airports in South Australia are at Andamooka, Ceduna, Cleve, Coober Pedy, Cowell, Kimba, Kingscote, Loxton, Naracoorte, Port Lincoln, Oodnadatta, Parafield, Port Augusta, Port Pirie, Renmark, Streaky Bay, Tumby Bay, Wailkerie, Whyalla and Wuidinna. Private airports are at Gawler, Goolwa, Jacinth Ambrosia Mine, Leigh Creek, Moomba, Murray Bridge, Olympic Dam, Prominent Hill Mine and William Creek.



with museums and chances to experience the grand old machines

Vickers Vimy promised more prominent place of honour in Adelaide's bigger airport terminal

The historic Vickers Vimy – flown from England to Australia by a mainly Adelaide crew in 1919 – is set to get a more prominent place at Adelaide Airport. Both the coalition and Labor parties, along with the South Australian government, promised in the 2019 federal election campaign to fund shifting the aircraft as part of the expansion of the airport’s passenger terminal. The Vickers Vimy G-EAOU (affectionately known as “God ’Elp All Of Us”) has been housed in a purpose-built climate-controlled museum near Adelaide Airport’s original “temporary” passenger terminal built in 1957. After the airport was privatised in 1998, a $163 million passenger terminal was built in a new location, leaving the Vickers Vimy museum in the backblocks of the long-term carpark. The plane’s epic journey was made just 16 years after the Wright Brothers flew the first-ever powered aircraft. The Vickers Vimy crew – led by Adelaide brothers Ross and Keith Smith with mechanics Wally Shiers of Stepney and Jim Bennett of St Kilda, Melbourne – left London, in November 1919 and reached Darwin in 28 days to claim the £10,000 commonwealth government prize as first Australians to fly from England to Australia in less than 30 days. Adelaide Airport’s passenger terminal does have murals, by Adelaide creative company Nicknack, acknowledging South Australia's George Hubert Wilkins, who made the first trans-Arctic flight and the first Antarctic flight, and Nancy-Bird Walton, youngest Australian woman to gain a pilot’s licence at 19, who won the women’s trophy in the Adelaide to Brisbane air race three years later.


Volunteers rescue gems of aviation history – and rockets, too – for their Port Adelaide museum

South Australian Aviation Museum in Lipson Street, Port Adelaide, displays aircraft and aircraft engines relevant to South Australian/Australian aviation. It also has the Defence Science and Technology Organisation's collection of 1950-80 heritage rockets from the Woomera test range in the state’s north. The museum originated from the South Australian Aviation & Warbirds Restoration Group in 1984. The museum volunteers have made many notable rescues of historic aircraft, such as a Macchi MB326H twin seater jet trainer destined to be used for target practice at an artillery range at Port Wakefield. In 2016, a retired RAAF Caribou transport plane has found a new home at the museum after a three-month journey through the outback. The aircraft, made by Hawker de Havilland, is one of 29 that were used in Australia from the mid-1960s. Its final voyage covered hundreds of kilometres on the back of a truck from Queensland to South Australia, including along the remote and dusty Strzelecki Track. Caribous were flown for about 45 years and they were used in Vietnam, right through [Papua] New Guinea, humanitarian relief work through Asia, Australia, for droughts. With its short takeoff and landing, it had a great capability for landing on rough runways. Among its museum’s volunteers has been Alan Killmier, a founder of the Gliding and Soaring Club of SA. He became a joint holder of Australian gliding distance record of 632km over nine hours from Gawler to Strathmerton in northern Victoria.

World War II Pacific rarities being revived at Classic Jets Fighter Museum in Parafield

Restoring rare and classic World War II Pacific conflict fighter aircraft has been a feature of the work of volunteers at the Classic Jets Fighter Museum at Hangar 52, Parafield Airport.The museum’s first restoration coup was a P38 H Lockheed Lightning 42-66841. Out of 9,923 of these big twin-engine fighters made by Lockheed in 1937-45, the museum’s is only one of 25 remaining. It was flown in Papua and New Guinea operations until a forced landing in 1943. Another of the museum’s prizes is a World War II Corsair F4U-1 S/N 02270 salvaged from Vanuatu, where it forcelanded in a lagoon, near Quoin Hill fighter strip, in 1944. The pilot escaped uninjured and its machine guns were removed the next day and the aircraft was abandoned. Restoring this aircraft – the world’s oldest surviving Corsair, with a data plate indicating it was No.124 off the production line – has been ambitious and challenging. Five other Corsair crash sites have supplied many hard-to-find components for the project. The museum founder Bob Jarrett was also helped by the loan of airworthy airframe modules and the ingenuity of volunteers involved in the restoring in adjoining Hangar 107. The museum also presented a range of former RAAF and RAN jet aircraft from the 1950s to the 1980s. It also offered the chance to sit behind the controls of a RAAF Mirage, Sabre and RAN Sea Venom jet fighters. In 2019, Jarrett announced the selloff of 670 items –  including the RAN Sea Venom, a Mirage jet cockpit section and a Jindivick pilotless drone – to finance the completion of the Corsair project.


DC-3 Irene restored by South Australian farmer after many lives – even kids' party room

A Douglas DC-3 aircraft, nicknamed Irene, has been returned to its original state after many lives, including several in South Australia. Built in Long Beach, California, in 1942, the C-47 military (or Gooney Bird) version of the DC-3 operated mainly as a “biscuit bomber” (dropping supplies) around New Guinea and north Queensland in World War II. Named after the crew chief’s wife, it became a civilian aircraft in 1945 and leased to the Adelaide-based Guinea Airways. The transfer toTrans-Australia Airlines in 1946 started a string of different operators and names. Its adventures included being the first taking evacuees out of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy in 1974, a crash landing in lake on the East Lakes Golf Course in New South Wales, wearing the fictitious title “Banana Airlines” for a film appearance, and flying fish from Tasmania across Bass Strait to Essendon. Decommissioned in 1983, Irene was sold to McDonalds Family Restaurants who had her restored and refurbished by North-West Airlines and repainted in the old TAA livery. Adelaide West Lakes McDonald’s franchisee Ross Halliday bought the plane as a dining room and children’s party space in the 1980s/90s and it was a huge winner. When that era passed, Irene was put up for sale and was grabbed in 2000 by aviation enthusiast and pilot Jeff Morgan who took her to his South Australian Mallee farm where he spent many hours eliminating corrosion and then sourcing parts to bring the engines back to life. The cockpit has been restored and fully operating. Irene is sporting its US wartime livery with her name on it again.

Vintage plane scenic flights offered from private Aldinga Airfield, south of Adelaide

Adelaide Biplanes, based at Aldinga Airfield in McLaren Vale wine region on the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide, offers scenic flights along the coast in classic planes including the WACO Classic YMF 5C, Great Lakes 2T 1A-2 or Tiger Moth biplanes. For a more adventurous experience, Adelaide Biplanes has aerobatic flights in its Super Decathlon 2004. The business is also a flying school. It provides trial instructional flights in a Boeing Stearman US Navy trainer biplane. For training towards a full commercial pilots’ licence, Adelaide Biplane has Cessnas, including the S model workhorse, and a Sport Cub. The Sportstar SL/SL Max and Weight Shift microlight trike offer other experiences, and a Pilatus PC12 is available for charter. Adelaide Biplanes was built on the experience and enthusiasm of managing director and chief flying instructor Martyn Smith, a former UK international commercial pilot. Aldinga Airfield was started in 1976 by a small group of mainly private pilots and has grown with strong support from many aviator and non-aviator investors. With 50 privately- and company-owned hangars plus sealed taxiways and lawns, Aldinga Airfield is a gateway to South Australia regions such as Kangaroo Island and Eyre Peninsula. The airfield is outside controlled airspace making it easy for VFR (visual flight rules) pilots to fly in.nd use offerings including Avgas, overnight aircraft parking, hangarage and a seven-day cafe at the Adelaide Biplanes flight office. Aldinga Airfield is used by Country Fire Service support aircraft, state rescue helicopters training and Angel Flight aircraft.


among the aerial emergency response services in South Australia

Country Fire Service in South Australia can call on air support from fleet of water bombers

South Australian Country Fire Service aerial firefighting fleet includes 24 aircraft contracted from private firms for exclusive use during fire danger seasons. Contracting aircraft over short periods (three to five years) allows the Country Fire Service flexibility when selecting, composing and placing aircraft. It also provides new aerial firefighting technologies and maximise resources. Ten single-engine AT-802 air tankers dominated the Country Fire Service fleet in 2019. The AT-802 modern turboprop is a rapid initial-attack air tanker; fast, manoeuvrable and cost effective. They are backed by an Erickson air-crane S-64E: a heavy vertical-lift helicopter that can deliver suppressant and big volumes of water from large dams or lakes. Surveillance aircraft include a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, three Cessna 182 and two AS350BA Squirrels helicopters. More than 150 volunteers manage aerial firefighting airbases; load air tankers with foam suppressants, water enhancers or long-term retardants; give logistical support to heli-tack aircraft like the Erickson Aircrane; and support pilots and other aerial firefighters. The Country Fire Service also can access state rescue helicopters. Aircraft on active standby in peak fire periods are at Woodside, Port Lincoln and Mount Gambier. They are dispatched to any rural fire in primary response zones along with the nearest land brigade team. Standard aircraft response is two air tankers and two surveillance aircraft, supported by another firebomber if needed. More than 42 strategic fixed-wing airbases and helibases support aircraft responses to high-risk bushfire areas.  

Aeromedical jet adds to Adelaide Airport fleet of flying doctor with its South Australian origin

The Royal Flying Doctor Service gained a Medi-Jet 24, the world’s first purpose-built aeromedical jet, in 2019 to serve the South Australia and Northern Territory outback. Besides reducing long-haul critical patient evacuations, the jet provide in-air intensive care and can carry three stretchered patients and four clinicians. The jet joined the flying doctor fleet at its Adelaide Airport $13 million aeromedical base with a six-aircraft hangar, enhanced patient care area and a corporate office. South Australian Ambulance Service’s Medstar team moved to share the same precinct at the airport, saving seven to nine minutes of travel time for medical teams. Adelaide flying doctor base’s pilots and flight nurses provide 24-hour emergency retrievals and inter-hospital transfers, serving all of South Australia, as well as Sunraysia region of Victoria. The Adelaide base is also home to an engineering team maintaining the planes. South Australia has close links with the start of the flying doctor service. In 1911, the Rev John Flynn arrived at tiny Smith of Dunesk Mission at Beltana, 500km north of Adelaide. He saw the rigours of outback life and realised there was no medical care for inland residents and travellers. South Australian Alfred Traeger helped overcome the communication hurdle for Flynn’s vision. Traeger invented a pedal-operated generator to power a radio receiver. By 1929, isolated people were able to call on the flying doctor in an emergency. Flynn was also helped by Adelaide’s Adelaide Miethke, who came up with the idea for flying doctor offshoot, the School of the Air, started in Alice Springs in 1951.

South Australia's shared rescue helicopters get an added life-saving dimension with drones

South Australia's rescue helicopters are shared by four emergency services – police, country fire, health and emergency medical retrieval – in an arrangement unique to the state. The rescue helicopter in Adelaide originated from a trial in 1979/80 between Lloyd Helicopters and surf lifesaving clubs. Its success prompted the state government in 1980 to approve a full-time rescue service operated by Lloyd. Later operators were CHC and Australian Helicopters. Sponsors have included SGIC insurance, Adelaide Bank and Westpac Bank. The state-government’s Motor Accident Commission, shut down in 2019, was sponsor from 2009 and the state government took over its contribution. In 2019, Westpac extended its partnership to 18 years in the service that in 2017-18 completed 49 missions and logged more than 200 flight hours. The helicopter base moved from Harbour Town near Adelaide Airport to the Aldinga Aerodrome to cut response times on the South Coast and Fleurieu Peninsula – a blackspot after drownings in 2015. It also allows helicopters to cover more sky if they patrol from the southern side of Adelaide Airport planes’ flightpath across the coast. The helicopters also watch the coast for sharks and pollutants, helped by a fixed-wing aircraft. Westpac has extended to working with Surf Life Saving SA on a new aerial watcher: drones. Extra drones are being provided to surf lifesavers as part of a mobile patrol unit. Drones can be rapidly deployed, relay accurate vision to spot rips, sharks and distressed swimmers, and sound an alarm to let swimmers know of dangers in the water.

Contact Us

We welcome positive constructive feedback