In Focus

Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld: ‘The concept of an air force was alien’

The Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, tells Chris Frame how the pioneering organisation had to overcame the odds at its birth, but went on to change Australian aviation

How significant was the formation of the RAAF 100 years ago in a global context (eg: how rare was an air force at the time)?

At the time of the RAAF’s formation there was only one other independent air force in the world, the Royal Air Force (RAF). There were a number of air corps formed as adjunct arms of the navies and armies in other nations, but these were not truly independent air forces as was the case in the United Kingdom and Australia. Globally though, the formation of the Australian Air Force was of some significance as it demonstrated a model for the establishment of an air force for small-to-medium sized nations. However, there are no examples of any other air forces being formed on the same model at the time. Nor do we see any during the same period being formed on the UK model either. A number of nations were establishing flying arms during the period, but it was not until 1923 that there were serious attempts to establish independent air forces.

While the formation of the RAAF on 31 March 1921 could be seen as a major step in itself, there were a number of other factors which should also be considered in assessing the significance of the Australian experience. First, the Air Force was formed as part of a peacetime national defence policy, as opposed to the wartime imperatives which drove the formation of the RAF. Part of the government’s rationale was to provide the RAN and Army with a cost-effective air service, so in essence we were born Joint. The Air Council, the air defence policies of the day and the roles of the RAAF in its early years all reflected that we were intended to act as a joint partner in unison with the RAN and Army.

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