The Royal Victorian Aero Club
Over 100 years of history in flight training and aviation development
Our founding members were a group of four Army trainees and two instructors, preparing for action in WW1 as the first members of the Australian Flying Corps. At this historic meeting on 28th October 1914 at their training base at Point Cook, they constituted a club named the Australian Aero Club, later named the Australian Aero Club Victorian Section and later still the Royal Victorian Aero Club. The original hand-written minutes of this meeting are held in the Club’s archives. One of the new club’s activities was to issue pilot licences in Australia on behalf of the Royal Aero Club in England, then the only licencing authority. This only 11 years after the Wright Bros. first controlled powered flight and four years after the first flight in Australia by Ehrich Weiss, also famously known as Harry Houdini.
The founders were trainees R. Williams, T. W. White, G. P. Merz & D. T. Manwell with their instructors H. A. Petre and E. Harrison. Richard Williams saw action in WWl and later campaigned successfully for the creation of the RAAF, becoming its first Chief of Air Staff. After WWII, he served as Director-General of Civil Aviation. Point Cook air base is now named RAAF Wiliams in his honour, as is the main road through the base. Thomas White became a prisoner of war of the Turks in WWl, later escaping to Bulgaria. On his return to civilian life he helped in the revival of the aero club’s activities and became its first president. As a member of the federal parliament he served as Minister for Aviation for a period and was later appointed as the Australian High Commissioner in London. Both Williams and White were knighted. George Merz, unfortunately, was killed in action in Iraq on 30th July 1915. He was the first Australian airman to be killed in action. A road at RAAF Williams carries his name. Our founding members were passionate about the new and exciting field of aviation, starting the legacy that continues today at RVAC.
From the early 1920s the Aero Club operated at the Commonwealth Aerodrome, Bulla Road, Essendon and remained there for nearly thirty years. Sections of the Australian Aero Club were set up in all six states of Australia. August 1926 saw the club officially commencing flight training with aircraft on loan from the Civil Aviation Branch of the Department of Defence and the incorporation of the club as a company named Australian Aero Club Victorian Section. Famous Australian aviators Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, Bert Hinkler and Charles Ulm accepted Honorary Life Membership of the Club.
1930s - RVAC leads aviation
Aerial pageants were held in Melbourne and country areas promoting aviation to the public in newly acquired Moth aircraft. Freda Thompson, an active club member in pageants and competitions, was the first Australian woman to fly solo from England to Australia, a feat she accomplished in a Gipsy Moth in 1934. Freda was elected as Club President in 1946. The Club’s name was changed to Royal Victorian Aero Club by special government approval on 13 March 1935 and a new badge comprising an eagle and a version of the King Edward coronation crown was adopted.
1940s and World War II
All the Club’s eight Moth training aircraft were taken over by the RAAF for the training of service personnel at Essendon and most staff joined the war effort leaving the Club to continue operating with honorary staff and only two aircraft. The wartime rationing of petrol and other supplies further restricted activities. The Club provided maintenance facilities to the RAAF under contract. At war’s end many Tiger Moths were purchased from the government’s disposal commission. One was VH-AQM, which is now on display at the Moorabbin Air Museum in its RAAF colours and registration of A17-377. The Club moved from Essendon to Moorabbin Airport in December 1949 and was housed in ex-army huts provided by the government. One hut was, and still is, used for flight operations and two, side by side, formed the clubrooms, located where the car park now stands
Between 1951 and 1957 the Club trained many National Service personnel at the then Laverton Air Base under contract with the RAAF. The use of VHF radio became compulsory at Moorabbin airport in 1959. The flight system for competitions was created with three flights, Red, Blue and White. The Club transitioned from Tiger Moth training aircraft to Chipmunks during the mid-1950s. In 1956 the Governor of Victoria, General Sir Dallas Brooks agreed to become the first Patron-in-Chief of the Club. Every Governor since has been our Patron-in-Chief.
The Club built and moved to new clubrooms, concurrently with the establishment of an advanced training college for commercial, instructor and instrument ratings in the old clubrooms. Both were officially opened by the Australian Governor-General and Club Patron, Lord Casey in 1966. Piper Cherokee aircraft progressively replaced the Chipmunks as the main training aircraft. The Club received its first liquor licence, opened a subsidiary school named Pipeair Flying School Pty. Ltd. and introduced VDO meters in aircraft for charging purposes for the first time. Sir Reginald Ansett, who took his first flying lessons with the Club in 1929, addressed members at the 1968 Annual Dinner.
The modern era began. Indirect subsidisation by government moved to cost recovery and the ‘user pays’ principle. Rents on properties used by the Club began in the late 1970s and aircraft movement charges in 1981. Computerisation of office procedures began in 1984. The Club’s own unique radio frequency of 128.7 was assigned in 1990.Today’s aircraft livery design commenced in 1995 and our first internet website came online in 1996. Moorabbin airport was sold to private enterprise in 1998. In the early 2000s the Club began training overseas students, progressively updating proficiency by gaining all required regulatory approvals to train both local and overseas students to tertiary standards.
The Royal Victorian Aero Club remains one of the most respected aero clubs in Australia offering flying lessons, aircraft rentals, aircraft maintenance, and aerial surveying. The Club hosts regular social events, flying competitions, cross-country touring, formation flying and has a strong focus on promoting aviation safety, development and education.
Images on this page courtesy of RVAC, AWM, Goodall, Wikipedia
Credit and thanks to Member and Club Historian - Rex Hobson