Without a shadow of a doubt, Alice Springs is the cultural and spiritual centre of Australia, as well as being the actual centre of the big red land. The seemingly barren centre of Australia is steeped in aviation history. All you have to do is head down to the Central Australian Aviation Museum in the Alice Springs suburb of Gillen to see that.
However, a stark reminder of Alice Springs’ true aviation heritage lies right in the heart of the current airport and Asia Pacific boneyard. Once run by the RAAF and the site of the town’s first airport, the aerodrome is now open for tours.
Despite being widely known as the first airport in Alice Springs, planes landed in the town long before its arrival. On October 5th, 1921, nearly two decades before the opening of the seven-mile aerodrome, the first aircraft landed at the township aerodrome. This was located in what is now known as the suburbs of Gillen and Araluen. However, as the military presence in Alice Springs grew in the 1930s, so did the need for a larger airstrip. Thus, construction began on seven-mile aerodrome in 1940. By 1941, the aerodrome was frequented by the Australian Department of Defence, the RAAF and the American Airforce. The site became the main transit base for RAAF transport planes throughout World War II.
The seven-mile aerodrome became an official RAAF airfield on May 28th, 1942, when 57 Operational Base Unit RAAF took over administrative control. 87 squadron RAAF based themselves at the airport for a period of time while carrying out some aerial topographic survey work during World War II. During this time, commercial flights to and from Alice were still allowed to land at the airstrip. However, the majority of commercial air traffic continued to land at the township airstrip. As 1944 drew to a close, military presence in the town decreased, allowing commercial flights to migrate from the Araluen airstrip to seven-mile slowly. From 1946, the town’s original airstrip fell out of favour which eventually saw its total abandonment by 1968. The site became derelict and a popular spot amongst squatters but today, it’s home to the Central Australian Aviation Museum.
In 1958, the seven-mile aerodrome became known officially as Alice Springs Airport with plans to extend the runway. Work on the runway finished in 1961, where it was extended to its current length of 2,438 m (7,999 ft). Today, the airport’s landscape looks very different with a new terminal building, onsite infrastructure including new air hangers, and even a large boneyard that recently became a site of worldwide interest during COVID-19.
The seven-mile aerodrome opened the weekend just gone and will continue to welcome avgeeks and history enthusiasts alike. Be sure to visit in the winter months as temperatures can exceed 45 degrees Celsius in the summer months!
Is your local town or village steeped in untold aviation history? We would love to hear about it.