The History of the Royal Victorian Aero Club
Founded by pioneer aviators in 1914 at Point Cook as the Australian Aero Club, today RVAC is one of Australia’s oldest and most respected flight training schools.
RVAC's team of professional instructors is committed to providing Melbourne’s best flight training on offer to pilots of all ages and abilities. We cater to those wishing to learn to fly for recreational, private or commercial purposes. Today, many of our former students and flight instructors can be found flying with airlines and other air services around the globe.
Early Beginnings as the Australian Aero Club
The history of RVAC is an integral part of the history of the development of aviation in Australia.
The organisation traces its history and beginnings back to 1914, only eleven years after the Wright Bros’ famous first powered flight in December 1903, and only four years after the first powered flights in Australia in 1910.
It was at Point Cook, on 28 October 1914, that two instructors and four army officers under instruction, (the first members trained for service with the Australian Flying Corps), unanimously decided to form the Australian Aero Club and to affiliate with the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain. RVAC still holds the original hand-written minutes of this historic meeting. The Australian Aero Club was formally established on 9 April 1915, when military and civilian aviators and others directly interested met to elect office bearers.
A history of RVAC Melbourne’s Flight Operations
One of the original four officers under instruction, then Capt. Thomas White, later became a long-serving member and president of the Club. Another of those four, then Lt. Richard Williams was also a Club member and is the person after whom the RAAF base at Laverton/Point Cook, (“RAAF Williams”) is named. Subsequently, both these men had illustrious military and public careers. Sir Thomas White KBE, DFC, VD served with distinction in both World Wars, becoming Minister for Air and Civil Aviation in the Menzies’ Government and Australian High Commissioner in London. Sir Richard Williams, KBE, CB, DSO was the founder of the Royal Australian Air Force and later the first Director-General of Civil Aviation.
State Aero Clubs
In 1918 and 1919 State sections of the Australian Aero Club were formed in all states, the original Club changing its name at that time to the Australian Aero Club, Victorian Section. Between 1922 and 1924 the Victorian Section became totally inactive, as soon after did all the other Sections, except New South Wales. However, a bank account in the name of the Victorian Section remained in existence to maintain the lineage. In November 1924, the Victorian Section was revived to keep alive the flying skills developed by wartime airmen and to train new pilots to meet the increasing popularity of flying. The Australian Aero Club, Victorian Section was incorporated under this name, as a company limited by guarantee, on 13 August 1926, under the then Victorian Companies Act of 1915. The Club’s annual general meetings are numbered from this date of incorporation.
The Australian Aero Club, Victorian Section was renamed the Victorian Aero Club on 29 October 1934. Just a few months later, on 13 March 1935, the privilege and honour to use the “Royal” appellation was granted. Since that date the Club, following an official change of name, has been known as the Royal Victorian Aero Club – or better yet, RVAC Flight Training Melbourne.
Training Private Pilots and the making of records
Until the mid-nineteen twenties, there was little government control or regulation over flying activities, particularly in regard to training pilots, conducting commercial flights carrying paying members of the public and maintenance of aircraft in an airworthy condition. In 1926, the Club, along with the New South Wales section, was the first to be approved by the Defence Department, which then controlled aviation, to train pilots to the Private Pilot’s Licence standard. To enable this to be accomplished and to ensure a ready supply of pilots for commercial and military purposes, the Department made available two “Moth” aircraft and paid a grant or bonus of £20 for each licence granted.
The nineteen twenties and thirties were the days of achievements and records. Between 1927 and 1935 Bert Hinkler and Sir Charles Kingsford Smith made many famous flights and established numerous records. Likewise Hudson Fysh continued his fine work establishing Qantas.
Today and Yesterday – YMMB Control Tower
Freda Thompson – making history from England to Australia
In 1934, one of our own members made a remarkable flight for which she received little public recognition. Miss Freda Thompson, then aged 28, flew her own Moth Major solo from England to Australia in 19 days flying time. She was the first Australian woman to do this. On the same flight, she made a record five and a half hour flight from Koepang to Darwin. All this was achieved with only a compass and basic maps by which to navigate. Freda Thompson was a very competent pilot and won many of the Club’s competitions. She served on the committee of the Club for three years between 1947 and 1949 inclusive and was President in 1948.
Second World War and Onwards
During the Second World War, the Club became quite small as members joined the armed services. During this time, aircraft were seconded by the Government and fuel was severely rationed. In 1944 there were only 73 members and only 387 hours were flown. After the war and for the next twenty years, a substantial expansion occurred. Again in the post war years, private flying training was subsidised by the Commonwealth Government to ensure a constant pool of trained pilots, particularly for the R.A.A.F.
By 1968 the Club had 1,426 members and was flying over 25,000 hours per year. During those years the Club established sections at many country centres. At various times, some for long periods, others short, there was representation at Nagambie, Shepparton, Tocumwal, Kerang, Wangaratta, Albury, Mildura, Benalla, Ballarat, Ararat, Mount Gambier, Swan Hill, Warrnambool and Millicent. Some of these sections subsequently became independent local flying clubs. The last country sections closed in 1962.
There was then a substantial business decline, starting in 1969 and continuing through to the first half of the 1970’s. This was brought about by a number of reasons, some of which relate to increasing costs as subsidies were steadily replaced with the user-pays system and of course increasing competition. Since the early 1980’s, the Club has been relatively stable in terms of membership numbers and flying hours.
The Move to Moorabbin Airport
The Club operated at the “Commonwealth Aerodrome”, Bulla Road, Essendon from the early 1920’s and remained there for nearly thirty years. With the advent of significant regular public transport in larger aircraft following the Second World War, the Club was no longer able to operate satisfactorily at Essendon. In December 1949, it moved to the newly established Moorabbin Airport. It was the first flying school operator at Moorabbin. The Club was provided at no cost with some of the many refurbished RAAF buildings and hangars transported from wartime training establishments. Many of these buildings and hangars, since renovated, are still in use today at Moorabbin, including some occupied by the Club.
Training and recreational flying was conducted up until the early 1950’s mainly in the de Havilland “Moth” series of aircraft. The Club still has numerous members who learned their flying skills in these aircraft. Then came the Chipmunk, followed in 1958 by the Piper and Cessna aircraft, updated models of which are still with us today.
Towards the Future
More than one hundred years have passed since that first meeting at Point Cook and over fifty years have passed since the move to Moorabbin. During that time a constant stream of member, students and new pilots have passed through our doors, many famous, many unsung.
We are confident that those with a passion for aviation will continue to maintain and contribute to the proud history and traditions of the Royal Victorian Aero Club well into the next 100 years.
Create your own future in aviation by talking to RVAC on +61 3 8586 7777 or by emailing us at email@example.com