• Boeing's roots in Australia's aerospace industry run deep

    ABOVE: A Beaufighter built by Australia's Department of Aircraft Production (later Government Aircraft Factories) flies over Melbourne in 1945.

    May 01, 2012

    Mike Lombardi

    The first time a Boeing plane landed in Australia was during the 1934 MacRobertson air race, from London to Melbourne.

    A de Havilland DH.88 racing plane won, but less than a day behind were a Douglas DC-2 operated by KLM airlines and, two hours later, a Boeing 247D flown by famed aviators Roscoe Turner and Clyde Pangborn.

    At the time, Australia had a small but growing airplane manufacturing base that would eventually grow into three major manufacturers: de Havilland Australia (later Hawker de Havilland), Commonwealth Aircraft Corp. and Government Aircraft Factories (later AeroSpace Technologies of Australia). Today, these three companies are the foundation of Boeing Aerostructures Australia.

    It began in 1927 when United Kingdom aviation pioneer Geoffrey de Havilland established de Havilland Australia as his first overseas subsidiary. The company first focused on production of Tiger Moth trainers, but the need for combat aircraft during the Second World War forced a shift to Mosquito fighter-bomber and reconnaissance airplanes. More than 200 Mosquitoes would be built at the de Havilland plant in Bankstown, a suburb of Sydney.

    Australia’s second major manufac¬turer was Commonwealth Aircraft Corp. Founded in 1936, Commonwealth Aircraft established an assembly plant at Fishermans Bend, Melbourne, where it built a modified version of the North American Aviation BC-1 trainer named the “Wirraway,” an Aboriginal name meaning “challenge.” Between 1938 and 1946, Commonwealth Aircraft assembled 755 Wirraways, which were used as trainers and general-purpose combat airplanes by the Royal Australian Air Force.

    The Wirraway design provided the base for Commonwealth Aircraft’s Boomerang, an indigenous fighter that filled a critical need until a modern fighter could be built. That need was answered with the arrival of the North American P-51 Mustang. Com¬monwealth Aircraft built 200 Mustangs at the Fishermans Bend facility, which had the distinction of being the only Mustang production line outside the United States.

    The Second World War gave rise to Australia’s third major aircraft manufacturer, established by the government as the Department of Aircraft Production. Sharing the runway with Commonwealth Aircraft at Fishermans Bend, the Department of Aircraft production built 700 Bristol Beauforts and 365 Beaufighters. After the war, the Department of Aircraft Production was reorganized and the name was changed to the more familiar Government Aircraft Factories.

    Following the war, all three manufacturers quickly brought the jet age to Australia. Commonwealth Aircraft continued its partnership with North American Aviation, receiving a license to produce F-86 Sabre fighters. De Havilland Australia built Vampire fighters, and Government Aircraft Factories assembled English Electric Canberra medium bombers and, later, French-designed Mirage III fighters.

    In 1961, de Havilland Australia became Hawker de Havilland and in 1986 acquired Commonwealth Aircraft. Together they supported Government Aircraft Factories in the production of Boeing F/A-18 Hornets.

    Government Aircraft Factories was reorganized in 1987 as AeroSpace Tech¬nologies of Australia, portions of which were purchased by Rockwell. In December 1996, with Boeing’s acquisition of Rockwell’s aerospace and defense business, the former Rockwell holdings in AeroSpace technologies of Australia became a wholly owned subsidiary of Boeing.

    Acquiring Hawker de Havilland in 2000, Boeing brought together the three historic manufacturers and in 2009 they were united under one name, Boeing Aerostructures Australia. This consolidated a heritage of some 85 years of aircraft manufacture in Australia.

    Today, Australia is recognized as home to one of the world’s leading centers for the manufacture of advanced composite structures, building critical control surfaces for the 787 Dreamliner and exploring new applications of resin infusion for future airplane developments. Although the names, locations and even the work has changed, the legacy of aircraft manufactured by Hawker de Havilland, Commonwealth Aircraft Corp. and AeroSpace Technologies of Australia lives on as the proud foundation of Boeing Aerostructures Australia.