Ipswich is a Defence Force city, with RAAF Base Amberley on its doorstep and the Air Base contributing substantially to Ipswich’s economic prosperity and the community fabric of the region. The base is home to more than 8,000 personnel, with F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler combat aircraft squadrons along with the C-17A Globemaster, the KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport, and soon the C-27J ‘Spartan’ tactical airlifter.
Historically, air operations officially commenced at RAAF Station Amberley in June 1940, and the base played an important part in the Allied war effort in the Pacific during World War II.
Post-war, its role shifted from aircraft maintenance towards operational flying, with the relocation of the RAAF’s heavy bomber squadrons and later the RAAF’s rotary and tactical airlift units.
Over the years, the air base has been home base to Lincoln and Canberra Bombers, the F-111 strike aircraft, Caribou tactical transport aircraft, Chinook and Iroquois helicopters.
In the modern era, the air base continues to be home to combat aircraft such as the F/A-18F and EA-18G fighters alongside air C-17 transport and KC-30 air refuelling aircraft. The base is also headquarters to Air Combat Group, which manages air base support for all fixed air bases nationally and mounts air bases to support air operations in Australia and overseas. Amberley’s future as a mega Defence base is assured for decades to come.
In December 1938, 882 acres of land in the Parish of Jeebropilly was gazetted for Defence purpose at Amberley. Located on the overflow floodplains at the confluence of the Warrill Creek and Bremer River the land was known as “Jeebropilly”, an indigenous name translated as ‘Swamp of the Flying Squirrels’.
The northern part, owned by a pioneer family, the Colletts, was named ‘Amberley’ after their country of origin in Sussex England. So, Amberley had indigenous ‘flying operations’ long before the arrival of the F-111s and Super Hornets.
Construction of RAAF Air Station Amberley commenced in 1939 and operations began in June 1940 with the formation of No 24 Squadron, No 3 Recruit Training Depot and No 3 Service Flying Training School to provide recruitment and training for RAAF aircrews flying AVRO Anson and CAC Wirraways.
After the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941 the US Army Air Corps established an Air Echelon on-base and shipped in fighter aircraft (Kittyhawks, Airacobra and Dauntlass) in kit form for assembly at Amberley for the Pacific War.
With the formation of No 3 Aircraft Depot, Amberley developed into a significant aircraft assembly, salvage and maintenance facility.
In 1942, No 23 Squadron relocated to Amberley, equipped with Vultee ‘Vengeance’ and Bell P-39 ‘Airocobra’ aircraft, then deployed to New Guinea area for light bombing support duties.
In 1944, the squadron was reformed as a Heavy Bomber squadron equipped with B-24 ‘Liberator’ bombers, which were deployed to carry out bombing missions in the South Pacific.
Amberley also hosted other units transiting through to support the war effort including the only US Air Force squadron to be formed outside the United States, the 75th Fighter Group.
Post-war, No 82 Wing relocated to Amberley equipped with B-24 ‘Liberator’ bombers. This pre-empted the transformation in the post war role of Amberley as the RAAF’s major bomber base.
Nos 1, 2 and 6 Squadrons were equipped with AVRO ‘Lincoln’ bombers. No 23 Squadron then reformed as a RAAF Active Reserve unit, which remains an active unit at RAAF Amberley to this day.
The Jet Age & Helicopters
The era of subsonic jet aircraft came to Amberley in 1954, with the arrival of GAF ‘Canberra’ bomber to replace the propeller-driven ‘Lincoln’. This transformed the air base into the modern era jet aircraft and later, supersonic fighter aircraft.
From the mid-1960s the RAAF waited with great anticipation for the arrival of the long-range, supersonic strike aircraft, the F-111, only to be thwarted by structural issues that grounded the jet in the United States.
The RAAF would have to wait five years from the expected delivery date before it got its F-111s.
With aircrews and maintenance personnel trained, and a capability gap a real prospect, the Federal Government decided to lease 24 F-4 ‘Phantoms’ as an interim capability, enabling most of the Canberra fleet to be disbanded.
Helicopters became a major part of base activity from December 1971, when No 9 Squadron with its Bell UH-1H ‘Iroquois’ helicopters relocated to Amberley following active service in Vietnam.
The iconic swing-wing F-111 touched down on Australian soil in June 1973, to serve with No 1 and No 6 Squadrons, and became a familiar sight in Ipswich and Australian skies.
Australia’s love affair with the F-111 centres on its raw power and its famous ‘Dump & Burn’ flypast at air shows and major events nationally.
The F-111 added massive air power capability to Australia, with its 2500 nautical mile range (unrefuelled) and being able to carry a massive bomb load.
Also in 1973, No 12 Squadron reformed with the twin-rotor CH-47 ‘Chinook’ helicopter. The Chinooks were a familiar sight in the region providing mostly troop-lift for the Australian Army but also humanitarian missions. The Chinook was withdrawn from RAAF service and the squadron disbanded in 1989.
In 1992, No 38 Squadron, based at RAAF Base Richmond, was relocated to Amberley, to provide tactical transport support for the Australian Army with its DH-4C ‘Caribou’ aircraft.
The Caribou, which saw active service during the Vietnam War, served for many years providing troop-lift and humanitarian support – including operations from remote airfields in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Iran Jaya.
The Caribou was replaced by the C-27J ‘Spartan’ that transferred to RAAF Amberley from RAAF Base Richmond earlier this year.
Amberley has also become home to a number of Australian Army units along with a number of Defence and Industry organisations that provide contractor services.