For anyone who frequents the western suburbs of Melbourne, this sight should be familiar.
Located beside the Princes Freeway at Laverton, these aircraft hangars and control tower are all that remains of the airfield that once operated at the RAAF Williams base. Two runways once existed: closest to the freeway was runway 17/35, facing roughly north-south and 1056 metres long, and at a right angle was runway 05/23 which was 1526 metres in length.
The airfield dates back to 1920 when the 160 acre site was acquired by the RAAF, with aircraft manufacturing commencing on the site in 1926. By end of the Second World War flight operations at Laverton had intensified, with various jet fighters and bombers stationed at the airfield, including Vampires, Sabres, Meteors and Canberras.
As for the control tower itself, it has an interesting history as one of the former air force technicians describes:
This tower was originally the jet engine testing facility for the Rolls Royce Avon jet engines used in the RAAF Sabre aircraft in the 1950’s. The Building was subsequently converted into a ATC control tower in 1980 by RAAF No. 1 Aircraft Depot technicians, I was a member of the installation team.
The CA-27 Sabre jet fighter designed and built by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) at Fishermans Bend, Melbourne. Based upon the North American Aviation F-86F Sabre, the Australian variant was built around the Rolls-Royce Avon engine, instead of the General Electric J47 that powered the original jet. Today one Australian built aircraft is still in flying condition: serial number A94-983 has been restored by the Temora Aviation Museum and is see at airshows and flying displays around Australia.
The Avon RA-7 jet engine was another instance of Australian companies building foreign equipment under licence, with a total of 218 Avon engines being built by CAC. The Mk. 26 was used on the Sabre, while the Mk. 109 Avon was used on the Australian-built Canberra jet bomber. The Temora Aviation Museum also has an example of the latter engine, being serial number 3285.
Back at the test site, the main building contained a large set of baffles, since removed.
Located on the second storey, the baffle room opens out to the exterior via the roller door.
Back at ground level was the main testing room.
Unfortunate the conversion to control tower stripped out anything of interest, such as engine mounts or exhaust ducting.
The other side of the wall appears to be where the exhaust led.
A secondary building was located a short distance away, and contained I assume were fuel tanks for the jet engines under test.
The conversion of the test building to a control tower was relatively simple: a steel and glass structure was just placed onto the roof of the building, with lightweight wall cladding, and lots of glass.
By the time the tower was complete in 1980, the RAAF mission had changed to protecting northern Australia, with Laverton falling into a support role, as the RAAFs modern jets such as the Mirage III, F-111, and F/A-18 Hornet were based at airfields elsewhere in the country.
One role the airfield retained was hosting the RAAF Laverton Air Show, which continued until flight operations officially ceased in September 1996. The last aircraft at Laverton departed in February 1998, being a de Havilland Vampire jet from the RAAF museum fleet.
Since the closure of the airfield, suburban development has filled the paddocks to the south of the freeway, now unhindered by aircraft noise. The tower itself has been heavily vandalised, with the glass windows shattered and much of the wall panels and floor scattered around the nearby area.
The airfield land itself was sold in 1998 to property developer Cedar Woods for $10 million, and in 2007 the area was given a new suburb name – “Williams Landing”. Removal of the north end of the runway commenced in 2010, with the control tower finally demolished in March 2011. Today houses continue to creep south towards the freeway.
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