DARWIN / NT AVIATION HERITAGE MUSEUM

DARWIN / NT AVIATION HERITAGE

Darwin, capital of the Northern Terrirtory has played an important part in the history of aviation within Australia, with numerous historical events taking place. One of the earliest was in 1919 when a Vickers Vimy landed and won the first prize for achieving the first flight from England to Australia to be done in under 30 days. As aviation developed across the world, Darwin and the Northern Territory became the known as the “Northern Gateway to Australia”. Having such large distances to fly over, meant that for many years Australia led the world in pioneering the art of long distance aviation. The 1920s and 30s saw many famous aviation personalities pass through the Top End as they toured Australia, including Amy Johnson, Amelia Erhardt, Bert Hinkler and Charles Kingsford Smith. By 1940s the war clouds were looming and unfortunately Darwin became the first target of the Japanese offensive in Australia. A large series of attacks by Japanese forces located in Indonesia saw many bombing missions over Darwin occur from 1942 onwards. The number of fighters and bombers used in the attacks were in some cases larger than the attack on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii in 1941. Sadly hundreds of Australians were killed during theses raids. Darwin, shipping in the harbour and the many military bases suffered significant losses. As a result of Darwin being attacked, the RAAF dispersed fighter and bomber units outside Darwin to many roadside airstrips, along with camp sites. Relics from the war can be seen with many aircraft wrecks and scattered over the north of NT. As the war progressed Darwin airport became a major airbase housing fighters and bombers. Many parts of Darwin still show signs of war damage and are left as a reminder to the scars and horrors of warfare. After WW2 aviation returned to Darwin and saw Qantas using Darwin as an overnight stop for their Lockheed Constellation aircraft flying the famous “Kangaroo route” to London. Due to fast moving developments in aviation, Darwin was at times isolated from international aviation due to its location far from other populated Australian cities. In the 1960s the Cold War saw a Bloodhound Surface to Air Missiles detachment located to Darwin to protect the city from overflights of Indonesian bombers. The RAAF has also deployed at times fighters such as Sabre, Mirage and since 1980s F/a-18 Hornets fighters to bases in the Northern Territory.  In the 1970s civil and military aviation played an important role after the Cyclone Tracy destroyed Darwin in December 1974, in assisting with evacuating people, establishing communications and bringing in aid and supplies into Darwin. Darwin’s long runway and tropical climate has seen the airport host aviation manufacturers when they have conducted tropical trials of aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and Concorde.  Darwin airport is also known for the various military air exercises with the best known and large Pitch Black also staged there. These exercises can see many different air forces flying out of Darwin with aircraft from USA, Singapore and Indonesia taking part. Many civil airlines now fly into and out of Darwin airport as the city becomes a tourist destination. A growing GA and warbird community is also located at the airport.

Darwin’s Australian Aviation Heritage Centre

With such a rich and varied history, it was expected that Darwin would need some kind of aviation museum to preserve and display history. The Australian Aviation Heritage Centre was built to preserve and showcase the connection of aviation to Darwin. Located at the northern end of Australia, 8km from Darwin’s city centre, the heritage museum is located within a former WW2 warzone – Darwin Airport. Starting in 1976 with a group of aviation enthusiasts who wanted to preserve aviation and relics salvaged after the destructive Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin, they decided to make a basis of a future collection. The collection grew and a managing society was formed, the Aviation Historical Society of the Northern Territory to co-ordinate the projects. By the late 1980s they had acquired a storage yard at the airport leased from the NT Government. The society took some time to  negotiate with the United States Air Force and the Northern Territory Government to obtain a Boeing B-52G bomber on permanent loan from the USAF and to build a museum to house and display it. By 1990 the museum was opened and now forms the basis for current collection display and future work projects. This building is unique aspect as it is the largest single span building in the Northern Territory. The work by the Society over the year has ensured that a unique and interesting aircraft collection which tells the civil and military side to operations in northern Australia is on public display. From small WW2 wreckage to the towering B-52G Stratofortress – this museum collection has something for everyone. Many heritage displays of pilot items and maps throughout the museum will help enable people to learn about the role of aviation in Darwin since the 1900s. A large bookshop is also stocked full of many good books, clothing items and model kits for enthusiasts to buy. The collection includes the B-52G Stratofortress, Wessex helicopter, Huey Cobra helicopter, replica Spitfire fighter, Sabre jet, F-111A/C, Mirage jet, MU-2, Tigermorth, Heron airliner, partial B-25 Mitchell and many wreckage components from WW2 such as Boomerang, Liberators, Kittyhawk, Zeros, Catalina and engines. Mk82 series bombs are on display with snakeye fins deployed on one model.The B-52 is one of only 3 on public display outside of the USA and was a very special gift for the museum. A unique combined water tower and control tower, once part of the RAAF base is standing tall nearby. Aspects of the connection civil airlines formed in helping to connect Darwin to rest of Australia are seen with Qantas and Ansett displays. Visit for more information on the museum and news – www.darwinsairwar.com.au

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