On the 11th August 1921 the now Essendon Fields Airport was gazetted that the site and be acquired by the Commonwealth Government for the purpose of formally establishing an airfield.
This year marks 100 years since its establishment on March 1st, 1921. Originally known as St Johns, after an early landowner 93 acres of farmland were gazetted for aviation purposes. The airport was proclaimed as Essendon Aerodrome by the Commonwealth Government in 1921.
Prior to the proclamation, the aerodrome had been used by the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Aero Club (renamed the Royal Victorian Aero Club), having initially been based at Point Cook. The Aero Club remained at Essendon until the late 1940s when it transferred to Moorabbin Airport where it remains today.
Rapid growth continued as the airport established itself as the main airport within the state of Victoria. Hart Aviation, Holyman’s Airways, Australian National Airways, Ansett, Trans Australian Airways, QANTAS all were regular features on the airport’s runways and taxiways. 1930 Matthews Aviation started a flying boat service to Tasmania using a Saunders Roe Cutty Shark.
Matthews Aviation Saunders Roe Cutty Sark VH-UNV after arrival in Tasmania.
Holymans, De Havilland DH-86s, and their crew’s parade.
ANA DC-3s are prepared for their day’s missions.
QANTAS operated Lockheed Super Constellations to the airport. VH-EAM is one such aircraft.
ANA Douglas DC-4 ‘Loongana’, was one of several within the airline’s fleet.
A Butler Air Transport Vickers Viscount VH-BAT is seen at the airport.
Brain & Brown, a long-time resident of Essendon, operated the last airworthy Avro Anson. Today this aircraft still flies based in New Zealand.
TAA entered the jet age with the arrival of the Boeing 727. Both of the airlines were required to bring their aircraft into the country at the same time. Which was due to the two airline policies in place at the time. So a coin was tossed to determine which airline should have the right to land first at Essendon Airport. It was Ansett-ANA who won. VH-RME under the command of Capt A. Lovell landed first, with T.A.A.’s VH-TJA under the command of Capt D.A. Winch arriving a few minutes later.
VH-RMF of Ansett-ANA alongside a company Vickers Viscount.
Also known as IPEC Air Pty Ltd the company commenced regular air freight operations using a chartered DC-3 aircraft operated by Brain and Brown in 1963. The expansion of the company was slow initially. The Government’s Director-General of Civil Aviation said in 1964 the operation of freight services on trunk routes was not justified on economic grounds. IPEC pursued this through the course system and won.
It then purchased an out-of-hours Australian-registered Argosy 101 from Brain and Brown in 1976 and after refurbishment to make it airworthy, this aircraft entered service with IPEC on the Bass Strait route in February 1978. Two Argosy 222 aircraft were subsequently imported and introduced into the Bass Strait trade in October 1978 and March 1979. In 1982 the airline introduced the Douglas DC-9F into its fleet. Eventually, a second example would also join. IPEC later became part of the TOLL group.
IPEC’s DC-3 VH-EWE is seen at rest before a night of freight flights. (Historic Australian Aircraft Image)
Three Armstrong Argosy aircraft would serve the airline until they were retired and chopped up. VH-BBA was the 101 series version.
VH-IPF was one of two DC-9Fs operated by IPEC.m
The IPEC Fleet lined up.
Australian Air Express
Another cargo operator that called Essendon home was Air Express. The operator served Launceston in Tasmania and King and Flinders Islands in Australia’s Bass Strait. Operating noisy and fantastic aircraft like the Bristol Freighter and later the Douglas DC-4.
VH-ADL was operated by the cargo from 1965 until its retirement in 1979. Today the aircraft is preserved at the Australian National Aviation Museum at Moorabbin Airport.
The DC-4 one of two purchased from Qantas operated from 1977 until 1979. VH-EDB was named ‘Tasmania Tiger’
The airport over the years has held a number of Open days where the public is invited to be up and close with the local operators. So let’s go through my visits to them over the years. The 1984 event was significant with many types on display. Over the years further events have seen a great variety on display. This year the airport will hold another open day which will be held on Saturday the 9th of October.
RAAF CT-4 A19-053.
Lockheed 12A Electra VH-ABH is still flying today.
VH-ABM is a Riley Dove, that operated flights for Penguine Express. This aircraft is now on display at the Ballarat Aviation Museum.
RAAF Lockheed P-3C Orion A9-756. Today the aircraft is on display within the South Australian Aviation Museum.
Australian-built DAP (Bristol) Beaufort A9-13 is now part of the Australian National Aviation Museum at Moorabbin.
Then owned by Pacific Air Express was Douglas C-54 VH-PAF. This is now part of the HARS collection at Albion Park.
Ansett Australia Fokker F-28 VH-FKA
HARS Lockheed Super Constellation departs for its display.
Super Constellation VH-EAG or ‘Connie’ is the flagship of the HARS group.
VH-BOB is an Australian-built CAC Mustang. Flying as A68-104 and owned by the Eastgate family.
Aerospatiale SA365C-1, VH-PVF performs an aerial repelling display.
Overview of the outdoor display. With Iskra VH-ISK front and centre.
Aircraft at the airport
The airport has hosted many different airlines, companies, and aircraft over the years. Here are some examples.
VH-ATD was operated by the Department of Civil Aviation. It flew with them from 1977 until 1998.
Two ex-Royal New Zealand Air Force, North American T-6 Harvards. These were imported by the AARG which is now the Australian National Aviation Museum at Moorabbin.
Another Department of Civil Aviation aircraft was VH-CAN.
ANA Douglas DC-4 VH-ANE rests between flights.
Ansett ANA operated the ATL-98 Carvair. This conversion of the Douglas DC-4 saw the grafting of a new nose and the fitting of DC-6 Tail.
Ansett-ANA Lockheed Electra was a common sight at the airport.
Ansett-ANA DC-6s at rest.
Looking out of the control tower across the apron.
Brain and Brown Cargo C-47 at rest.
TAA Lockheed Electra VH-TLA with Fokker F-27s in the background.
RAAF Convair CV-440 A96-313 at rest.
RAAF Beechcraft Kingair at rest.
VH-PVD was part of the Police Air Wing.
VH-ZPM an Aero L-39 Albatross was a former jet trainer used by the Ukraine Air Force.
The RAAF Roulettes have visited and used the airport for their display many times over the years.
VH-RMX was a former Ansett Air Freight Boeing 727. Independent Air Express used the type for a number of years.
For a brief time, Impulse Airlines operated their Beechcraft 1900D aircraft to the airport.
When the interstate football teams play at the MCG their fans need transport. Alliance Airlines Fokker F70 and F100 aircraft occupy the ramp.
Invasion from the West, four Cobham BAe-146 and RJ aircraft occupy the hardstands.
Short Stop’s T-6 Texan VH-OVO prepares to depart.
Free Spirit Airlines Beechcraft 1900C VH-FSA.
Another Dauphin helicopter was shared by the Vic police and Air Ambulance.
Alliance Airlines Fokker F-50 VH-FKV landing at the airport.
JetGo used Embraer jets for its time serving the airport.
Bristol Helicopters operated this Sikorsky S-92 VH-NBP, operated from the airport for a period.
Private warbird ex Singapore Air Force SIAI S-211 VH-DZJ is based at the airport.
National Centre for Aerospace Research Grumman Gulfstream N677F was a visitor.
One of many Global Express seen at the airport over the years.
Another International visitor VP-CJR
The airport today has had a huge amount of development and this continues even now. The airport has spent an enormous of effort on upgrading the terminal, new hangars, and the establishment of the Automotive percent. The airport is home to the emergency services of Victoria with the Police, Ambulance, RFDS, and Fire Fighting assets when required. These up to date facilities, provide the best coverage across the state.
Overview of the Victorian Air Ambulance fleet.
The fleet of Victorian Air Ambulance Agusta AW-139s is operated by Babcock Mission Critical Services. VH-YXG is seen on return to the airport.
The Victorian branch of the Royal Flying Doctors Service operates the Beechcraft Kingair.
New and Old Kingairs of the RFDS.
A single example of the Kingair is also in service with the Victorian Police Airwing. VH-PVE is seen on departure.
The Police Airwing now operates the Agusta Westland AW-139. Three examples including VH-PVO shown here are operated.
VH-XNF is operated by Cobham SAR services. Operating in the Search and Rescue role, the aircraft is regularly seen within the bay.
Now a regular site at the airport, the Erickson Air-Crane or Elvis to the general public. These S-64s deploy during the Southern Fire Season.
The Pilatus PC-24 is seen from time to time when moving patients for care. VH-FZQ departs the airport for another mission.
The Tasmanian Ambulance service also operates the Kingair.
Another user of the Kingair is the NSW Air Ambulance.
VH-OVG Gulfstream 150, is operated by Careflight on behalf of the Northern Territory Government.
Link Airways and Sharp Airlines currently operate scheduled flights to and from the airport. Destinations including King Island, Griffith, Flinders Island, and Wollongong are regular routes.
Link Airways is a regular feature of the airport now.
VH-VEM part of the Link fleet continues to operate using the newly refurbished terminal.
Sharp Airlines has used the Airport for a number of years. One of its Metro 23 fleet is shown at rest.
Another ‘airline’ operating from Essendon Fields is Shortstop Jet Charter. It operates services to King Island and Scenic dinner flights in their World War Two era Douglas DC-3 VH-OVM. Along with the DC-3 the company provides a host of aircraft for charter use.
Another operator at Essendon Fields also has a fine example of the Douglas C-47/ DC-3 VH-TMQ. Aerologistics, fly the aircraft on charters.
Large numbers of Bussiness Jets call the airport home, with JetCity, Linfox Aviation, Pratt Aviation, Execujet, Platinum, all basing elements of their fleets there or handel bizjet operations.
Smaller businesses, including Amber Aviation, Bombardier, Cobham, GAM, Melbourne Heli, Pearson Aviation are just some of them.
This Melbourne University Cessna 172R is another regular of the airport.
VH-PDV, is a Gumibal Cabri G2 owned by Melbourne Heli.
VH-MAY is a Robinson R44.
Skytraders Casa 212 VH-VHB is part of the Antarctic Research agency. VH-VHB is one of two in the fleet.
Aerologistics operates Australia’s sole air-worthy GAF Nomad, VH-ATO.
Former Royal New Zealand Air Force PAC CT-4E NZ1991, now flies as VH-ETV
Cirrus CR22 VH-YYT departs the airport on another flight.
As a long-term visitor to the airport from my earliest days of being up on my father’s shoulders, to working with local operators and covering their aircraft and exciting adventures, with my beautiful woman. Essendon Fields Airport holds nostalgia and a real sense of pride for me to see an airport continue to grow and prosper.
I’d like to dedicate this article to the people who work at the Airport, those who know me by name, and those I’ve met across the years. This is for all of you.
Happy 100th Essendon Fields Airport, and here is to celebrating another 100 more.