History of the Club and Airport

HISTORY OF BALLARAT AERO CLUB

The Ballarat Aero Club had its original founding in 1928, when it became associated with the Royal Aero Club of Victoria. It continued on this basis until the start of the Second World War, when the circumstances forced it to place its activities on hold.

The Club was re-activated after the War, and in 1955 the Club was registered. At that time, permission was granted by the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Federal Minister for Air, for the Club to use “the light landing area” of the Ballarat RAAF Airfield.

The Club then operated out of an old tram situated at the north-western end of the field. The Royal Aero Club continued to assist the Club with training operations and the use of planes. In 1962, when the Royal Aero Club withdrew its support, the Club was offered the use of its existing premises, hangar and tower (since demolished) by the RAAF on the basis of the Club being locally controlled. In return, the buildings were leased to the Club on a permanent basis at a nominal rent.

In 1987 the Club, at its own expense, carried out extensions to the Club facility, removing the old RAAF tower and providing overnight accommodation, bathroom facilities and a Club lounge and kitchen. The extensions, costing $33,000 provided much needed facilities for Club activities. The present grass runway 31/13 was in fact part of an old road, discovered by the Club’s older flying members as a suitable landing area one very wet Winter.

OUR 50th ANNIVERSARY

The Ballarat Aero Club as we know it is 50 years old this year, the club being founded in 1962.

What needs to be acknowledged is the history that leads to the formation of the Ballarat Aero Club. The Ballaarat Aero Clubs, Royal Victorian Aero Club Satellite Schools and the early aviation pioneers who made history in Ballarat, including establishing what is believed to be the first flying school in Australia.

The first flying activity at Ballarat was in 1912 American aviation pioneer AB Wizard Stone assembled and test flew his Bleriot at Royal Park Buninyong. He then attempted to fly at the Ballarat City Oval but his was unable to start his engine, he made the first successful flight was on the 16th October 1912 from the Redan Racecourse….. That was 100 years ago!

The first known aircraft accident in Ballarat occurred on the 19th October 1912 when the Wizard contacted powerlines when taking off from Ballarat City Oval. It is believed he crashed often.

The first known person to learn to fly in Ballarat was Robert Carey who was being taught by Edwin Prosser at the Ballarat Common in February 1916. Robert Carey also became the first aircraft owner in Ballarat when in he purchased a Bleriot that had been imported by a Frenchman Maurice Guillaux and demonstrated (and crashed) in Sydney.

Robert Carey gained pilot certificate no. 34 which was the first issued to a civilian pilot in Australia. He proceeded to open in Ballarat what is believed to be the first civilian flying school in Australia with his friend and instructor Edwin Prosser as CFI this is believed to have occurred in 1917.

The first Ballaarat Aero Club was formed on the 19th May 1929, the town common was the landing site and the club had 100 members, 25 of which intended to fly. The club had some influence as the president Mr CJ Pryor was also the mayor. This club, whilst successful, was disbanded due to the Second World War.

It was however during the existence of the Ballaarat Aero Club that flying operations were moved to the present site, when in 1934 hangers were constructed; in 1940 the site was assumed by the Commonwealth of Australia for a RAAF training station. It was retained by the RAAF as a training site until 1961.

In 1955 the Ballaarat Aero Club was resurrected as a satellite site of the Royal Victorian Aero Club, who provided aircraft and training for club members in Ballarat.

In the early 60’s the RVAC began to withdraw from its satellite operations and in 1962 two aircraft, a Chipmunk and a Tiger Moth, were obtained from the RVAC, together with an instructor Mr Ray Bennett, and in 1962 the current Ballarat Aero Club was formed.

The inaugural president of the BAC was Mr AE Whitten in all there have been 21 presidents of the BAC. The current president is Matthew Chester and our current CFI is Graeme Brice.

BAC maintains a membership base of around 150 flying members.

The Aero Club over the past 50 years, has not only provided a warm club atmosphere conducive to a strong social position, it has provided an opportunity to further the pursuit of flying in Ballarat and district and to enable many to experience the joy of flight with many going on to become pilots.

The Club operates from its premises at the Ballarat Airport seven days per week and can if required can operate 24/7, the Club has over the years has provided support to the community, being heavily involved in community activity such as school activities, expos and displays and charity events such as Cops and Kids. In addition we have often played host to Emergency Service personnel.

The Club has run and participated in various aeronautical events such as the air rallies, flyaway’s and air shows, The 50th anniversary is an example.

And of course BAC has always run a flying school, this school now incorporates both General Aviation and Recreational Aviation. We can train from first flight experience all the way to Commercial Pilot Licence.

BAC fully owns a well maintained fleet of five aircraft, three GA and two Recreational Aircraft, plus we have several other aircraft available for members’ use, BAC also provides hangarage for a number of aircraft.

Overall over the last 50 years BAC has established it as a successful aero club, a club with substantial assets, well run and a credit to its current members and those that preceded them.

May the next 50 years be even better!

Compiled by Eduard Kuyper
November 2012, for the 50th Anniversary Wings Dinner

HISTORY OF THE BALLARAT AIRPORT

Pilot Training was first offered on the Ballarat Common in 1914-15. In 1934 the airport was formalised with a tin hangar being constructed. In 1940 the site was resumed by the Commonwealth of Australia and a RAAF Base known as Empire Air Training Scheme No 1 Wireless Air Gunner’s School was established (EATS 1 WAGS). The hangar on site was relocated to the CommonwealthFlax Mill and 4 Bellman Hangar and numerous P hut buildings were established on site.

The WAGS operated until 1945. Unlike many other EATS sites the RAAF retained the base as its Radio School until 1961. The then Shire of Ballarat negotiated with the Department of Interior to become the civil operator of the airfield and sought the maintenance on site of the hangars and other structures however a majority of the P Huts were sold by the Commonwealth. [1]

In 2006 the aerodrome was recommended for listing on the Victorian Heritage Register due to its ability to illustrate the Empire Air Training Scheme in Victoria. The site was included on the register on 27 July 2007.

During its operation as a WAGS the wireless operators were majority trained in panel vans and Wackett airplanes.

The aerodrome continues to perform an important role in emergency services operation, civial operation, flight training and as accommodation for many community groups and organisations.

Committee member and Treasurer, Wayne Mitchell, has provided the following article “The History of the Ballarat Airport”.

I gave a talk to Wendouree Probus recently and I was impressed with the history or creation of the Ballarat Airport, so I’m going to share with you. My heartfelt thanks go to Tony Johns for providing most of this information.

In 1929 the one of the earliest aircraft to land in Ballarat was at the Ballarat Common, which is just south of the present airport. This flight was financed by Vacuum Oil and Astor Radio companies to further aircraft flights around the country.

The part of the Ballarat field which is now to the North of the access road had been set aside by the old Dept. of Civil Aviation in the early 1930’s as an emergency landing field for aircraft on civil inter-capital routes, in this particular case being the Melbourne / Adelaide route.

Reliable navigation was in its infancy and apart from mechanical problems when airborn there was the ever present risk of getting lost, either by primitive navigation and also bad weather. At Nhill a rotating light was installed that could be seen by aircraft for 100miles or 160km in today’s language. You may have seen one of these lights just south of the Western highway near Deer Park on boundary road. When the emergency needs for the war came about and the urgent need for new airfields, any established landing ground would naturally get an early priority.

Planning and design for an airfield for the RAAF at Ballarat took place near the beginning of the Second World War, and protracted negotiations took place for the acquisition of the land. It appears from correspondence between various government departments that there was no problem with getting use of the existing emergency landing field. However, it was realised that this piece of land was not big enough for the needs of the RAAF, and eyes were turned to the large Ballarat Common Area to the south of the existing field.

There are hundreds of letters and documents in the Commonwealth archives to do with the negotiations to acquire this land, and the initial attempts were to seek to buy this land, and for the authorisation of finance to do so. It is interesting to note that a sudden breakthrough in these negotiations came when it was realised that it was not necessary to buy this land but that attempts should be made to lease it for the period of the war. The land was at that time managed by a Ballarat Common Committee of Management. It is also interesting to note that in many cases, and particularly in the case of attempts to lease this land, reference continued to be made to leases for the period of the war and six months thereafter.

Now sixty six years later on smiles at the optimism, but no doubt there would not be any point in wording the lease any other way, because had we been defeated in the war such contracts would not have meant much.

Eventually the land south of the present access road was acquired for lease for the period of the war plus six months, and the RAAF training field was established.

At that time the present access road was a straight country road from the Sunraysia Highway to a point at the south west corner of the present airport property where the Ballarat Light Car club racetrack is now situated. To square up the rectangle of the then proposed training field, and provide more space for buildings and training facilities this access road was remade with a dog leg to the north putting a bend in it about 100 metres to the west of the southern end of the present main north/south runway.

The section of this north/south runway that is unused at the southern end from the access road was relinquished as a runway after the lease of this section of the Ballarat Common ceased after the war, although it has been temporarily reopened as a runway on odd occasions for the purpose of the special air displays where longer runway was needed for high performance aircraft.

At the southern end of the North/South runway a 2 kilometre dirt runway can be still seen from the air. I believe this runway had a metal strip place upon it and was used by the Americans to land their big aircraft such as Liberators. The site was sewered and is used each year for the Great Southern Swap Meet.

During the RAAF activity at the airfield the present access road crossed the main North/South runway. At a point on the access road just before this runway there were entrance barriers and a guard house to control road traffic when the runway was active. The sentry box from this guard house was removed in more recent years, and the boom gates are currently stored in the hangar of the Ballarat Aviation Museum, and are kept in excellent condition.

During the war the airport was the home of the No. 2 Radio/Airgunners school. This school continued until the mid 1960’s with National Service personnel being trained. The aircraft they mainly used for training were the Arvo Ansons. There’s one being rebuilt by a committee under the direction of Alan Penhall at the airport There are still a few surviving aircrew from those days alive in Ballarat, though they must be in their nineties.

In the war years there was a control tower attached to where the Ballarat Aero Club rooms are situated now, but unfortunately this priceless piece of the aerodrome history was removed a few years ago due to its unsafe state.

Shortly after the war (1962) the Ballarat Aero Club was established in a disused railway guards van placed at the North Western end of the existing gravel runway 05/23. It will be our 50th anniversary next year which I know we will not let it pass without celebrations.

It is also of interest that the idea of “hot rod” racing that currently takes place at the airport at the western end of 05/23 runway is not entirely new. In the 1950’s a Grand Prix style of car racing took place at times using the main runway s and sealed apron areas with dividers and hay bales to form them into a loop, or racing circuit. These races did involve some Australian leading racing drivers and racing cars, because at that time, shortly after the war a proper race circuits were virtually nonexistent in Australia.

The Ballarat Aviation Museum came into existence when a group of interested people met in the late 1970’s. With the assistance of the Ballarat Shire Council and Government funding an annex to the present museum hangar was built and is currently the main part of the museum. The Museum officially came into being in the early 1980’s. It is recognised as one of the outstanding Aviation Museums in Australia. It has a vast array of artefacts and mementoes of the part that aviation has taken in the 20th Century, and more particularly military aviation and its contribution in the two world wars.

In front of the terminal building is a plague commemorating the sacrifices of the airmen and women who trained there during and after the Second World War. When the RAAF left Ballarat a large plague of appreciation was presented to the City of Ballarat, but extensive searches to find it have not being successful. Originally it was hanging in the old Civil Hall, but has disappeared.

Below are copies of two photographs that hang at the Club house. I recommend that readers of this item study them closely.

Wayne Mitchell
November 25, 2011