Obviously, before any flights were made in W.A., there were no airfields. For their demonstration flights, early aviators made use of whatever large open area they could find to which the public had ready access.
J.J. Hammond's first flight, in 1911, was made from the Belmont Park racecourse. For his early flights in 1919, Norman Brearley used the WACA ground, and even in 1928, when Langley Park was being used regularly for flights, Bert Hinkler used Perth Oval. Another such area, used for occasional joy flights in the 1920s, was the old Kensington Park racecourse on the South Perth foreshore (this having been replaced for horse racing by Belmont Park in 1913).
Due to other demands on them, sports grounds could not be used when daily operations were called for. The first regular airfield was in Langley Park, on the Perth foreshore; the section west of Victoria Avenue, where the Terrace Road car park is now, was used (the eastern section not being landfilled at the time, and therefore quite boggy). The area came into use when Norman Brearley persuaded Michael Durack, the Member of Parliament for the Kimberley electorate, to allow him to construct a hangar at the bottom of his garden on the Esplanade. It was used by Western Australian Airways from 1921 to 1925, when Maylands Aerodrome became available.
With the growth of aviation in W.A., it was clear that Langley Park was too limited in its capacity. In 1923, only two years after W.A. Airways commenced operation, the Commonwealth Government procured an area on the river foreshore at Maylands. It opened as Maylands Aerodrome in 1924.
Maylands attracted tenants whose names remain familiar, including W.A. Airways, M.M.A., the Royal Aero Club and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Although it was an essential facility, it possessed severe limitations, not only in its size (maximum takeoff length being no more than about 900 metres), but also from being located on low-lying land near a river; in spite of the construction of large levy banks along the river front, it was flooded seriously once, in 1926.
Maylands functioned as Perth's main airport until after World War II, and remained the centre for general aviation operators until June 1963, after Jandakot Airport opened. After its closure, it was used for a time as a police training centre (with some hangars being retained as part of the complex). Some of the area has now been developed as a public golf course, a fitting step given that Perth Airport was built on a previous golf course.
West Subiaco Aerodrome / Brooklands
In the 1930s there was an airfield on the grounds now known as McGillivray Oval, called West Subiaco Aerodrome, or (later in its existence) Brooklands.
This was established by Herman Ittershagen, a W.A. businessman (also agent for Lanz tractors and the Klemm monoplane, and German Consul in WA) who saw a use for light aircraft in supporting his country business operations. From 1928, he employed Harry Baker to fly spare parts to country destinations in a Klemm, having leased land for an airfield on the outskirts of Subiaco.
He also encouraged the formation of the Subiaco Aero Club at his airfield, which had a period of success in the early 1930s. Its base became known as the West Subiaco Aerodrome, officially opened in that name in October 1931. The club conducted pilot training (including glider flights), and organised a number of air shows to enhance the public's interest in aviation.
Late in 1931, in an attempt to increase support for the airfield, Ittershagen permitted addition of a motor racing track; the name "Brooklands" was used for the venue to mirror the combination of an airfield and race track at the famous Brooklands track in England. More public shows were held, but interest was insufficient, and the Brooklands endeavour, and shortly afterward Ittershagen's own company, Wings Ltd, were put into liquidation. The aerodrome seems to have fallen into disuse about 1933. (At right, a street map from the 1940s showed the site was still recognised)
In the same way that Maylands was developed in response to the limitations of Langley Park, land for a new airport near Guildford was procured when the inability of Maylands to accommodate the increasing sizes of passenger aircraft became clear. The purchase took place in 1938, but World War II intervened before any civilian developments had commenced.
Known initially as Guildford Aerodrome, the new airfield was brought into operation as a military base in 1942. However, with major operational and training facilities at Pearce and Cunderdin, the Guildford field was only used in a limited way, as a permanent base for one squadron (number 85), a temporary home for a few other squadrons, and a staging point for through-routed aircraft. This meant that major airlines Qantas and Australian National Airways (ANA) were able to commence limited services from there as early as 1944, although the transfer of most of Maylands' airline operators did not occur until later.
The first services from Guildford were by ANA DC-3 to the eastern states, and Qantas Liberators to Ceylon. After the end of the war, the Qantas service through Darwin resumed, so WA's major airport lost its (limited) international status. But the state airlines MMA and Airlines (WA) transferred their operations from Maylands in 1948, and Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA) commenced services with DC-4s in that year (with ANA changing to DC-4s in 1949).
It was in 1952 that the airport gained its current name, triggered by the introduction by Qantas of the Lockheed Constellation on its route through Perth to South Africa.
Over the following years, the airport had experienced several upgrades, initially in response to major local events. In association with the Commonwealth Games in Perth in 1962, a new terminal was added. In October 1986 the current international terminal was opened - just four months before the America's Cup was contested off the Perth coastline. More recently, there has been further expansion as charter operations have grown in scale, particularly to service the mining industry.
Caversham, also known as Middle Swan Airfield, was just one of numerous temporary airfields established during World War II, and mainly rates a mention here because of its proximity to Perth, and its subsequent uses.
It was constructed for the benefit of the Royal Navy and U.S. Navy. There is little record of the amount it was used.
After the war, it was used briefly by a gliding club, and its runways were converted into Perth's first major motor race track. Its first official motor race appears to have been a "Victory Grand Prix" on 7th April, 1946, held by the W.A. Sporting Car Club. It remained in use for motor racing until 1968, and its runways (now no longer surfaced) can still be seen on aerial photos and using GoogleEarth.
With the opening of Perth Airport, airline operations transferred from Maylands, but smaller "general aviation" companies remained there. However, as the general aviation industry grew, a larger facility was called for.
A site on farmland at Jandakot, south of Perth, was chosen. It opened in June 1963, and all companies operating from Maylands moved their bases to Jandakot within the next couple of years.
Jandakot is now the centre for a wide range of general aviation operations:
- Royal Flying Doctor Service
- State government: Department of Environment and Conservation, Fire and Emergency Services (both for bushfire spotting and control), Police
- Pilot training: Royal Aero Club, Singapore Airlines, China Southern Airlines, plus many others.
- Helicopter charter: Heliwest, Jandakot Helicopters
- Aerial survey: Airflite, Fugro and others
- Aeronautical Engineers
In spite of now averaging over 1,000 aircraft movements per day, Jandakot is capable of handling projected growth for some years yet. However, it is under pressure from residential expansion, its original farming and bushland surrounds being long ago built out by housing developments.