Fleet Air Arm Museum

Wings Over Water

Explore and experience the story of Naval Aviation from its beginnings to the present day.
Explore and experience the story of Naval Aviation from its beginnings to the present day.

About the Museum

Focus and intent

Operating aircraft to ships on an unforgiving ocean is, by its nature, far more hazardous than landing at an aerodrome. Since 1948, in peace and in conflict, the Fleet Air Arm has provided air combat power to Navy at sea.

Dedicated to all those who through duty and sacrifice served their nation as members of the Fleet Air Arm, the Museum seeks to tell their story through sharing our unique collection of aircraft, artefacts and memorabilia.

Visiting the Museum

The Navy cares about the safety and health of our visitors, staff and volunteers, particularly as we navigate the turbulent waters of COVID-19. Groups larger than 10 people are required to pre-book. All visitors will be required to provide contact details on entry for contact tracing.

If you would like to visit or if you have any questions please contact the Museum Manager on 02 4449 2179 or navy.history@defence.gov.au

Our story

In the early 1970s, a small energetic team of Navy volunteers started collecting relics from around HMAS Albatross, including five obsolete RAN aircraft, which became the foundations of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, established in 1974.

The Museum collection increased exponentially through the 1980s and the growing band of volunteers raised over $8m to build the Museum facility at the gates of HMAS Albatross, the home of the Fleet Air Arm.

Today, the RAN Fleet Air Arm Museum is one of the largest regional aviation museums in NSW, containing over 30 aircraft and numerous aviation artefacts tell the story of Australian Naval Aviation and the development of the Royal Australian Navy's Fleet Air Arm.




CAC CA-22 Winjeel prototype
Supermarine Type 309 Sea Otter
Westland Dragonfly H.R.3

Conservation is an important aspect of the Fleet Air Arm Museum and the museum's collection management program. The care of our collection is central to our work here at the museum.

Our conservation plan helps us to provide a framework for establishing and maintaining appropriate standards of collection care and for setting priorities for our conservation work. We apply two types of conservation here at the Fleet Air Arm Museum; preventative and interventive.

Preventative conservation is about ensuring that our collection is stored, displayed, handled and maintained in a way which does not lead to deterioration or damage. This includes testing materials, environmental monitoring such as light and humidity levels, collection assessment and pest monitoring and control.

Interventive conservation is about repairing damage or decay through investigation, cleaning, stabilising, restoring and recording.


Beginnings (1917-1947)

Sopwith Pup

The first successful 'heavier-than-air' flights by the American Wright brothers in December 1903 lead to the commonplace use of aircraft in military and naval service during the First World War.

Three RAN cruisers served with the Royal Navy in the North Sea during World War I, and by 1918 these ships each carried a Royal Navy Air Service Sopwith fighter capable of being launched from a wooden platform constructed over a main gun turret. Once airborne, these aircraft had to land ashore, or 'ditch' near a friendly ship.

In 1929, Navy commissioned HMAS Albatross (I); a 6000 ton seaplane carrier built at Cockatoo Island in Sydney and designed to carry nine RAAF Walrus III aircraft. Initially, cranes handled the aircraft, but later a launching catapult was fitted at the ship's bow. These aircraft had RAAF pilots and maintainers and Navy Observers and Telegraphist/Air Gunners.

By the start of World War II the RAN cruisers Australia (II), Canberra (I), Sydney (II), Perth (I) and Hobart (I), were all equipped with catapults and RAAF Seagull V amphibians. The two Armed Merchant Cruisers Manoora (I) and Westralia (I) also carried Seagull V's.

In late 1945 LCDR Victor Smith RAN, an Observer with wartime service in the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, was sent to Great Britain to plan the establishment of a Fleet Air Arm for the Royal Australian Navy.

Through the efforts of and many others, Australian Naval aviation became a reality in 1948. Later, Admiral Sir Victor Smith became widely known as the 'Father of the Fleet Air Arm'.


Fleet Air Arm launches (1948-1954)

Fairey Firefly AS.5/AS.6
Hawker Sea Fury Mark 11
Bristol Sycamore HR50/51
Douglas C-47A Dakota

The success and growth of naval aviation during World War II made apparent a need for an Australian Fleet Air Arm. The character of naval warfare had changed and the aircraft carrier was now an essential part of any modern navy.

In April 1944 the Australian Prime Minister John Curtin, approached the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for England's help to establish a Fleet Air Arm. The British Prime Minister was eager to accommodate. The process was initially thwarted by a lack of naval manpower, political indecision and financial bickering.

Finally in July 1947 the Commonwealth Defence Council approved the formation of the Fleet Air Arm under the control of the Royal Australian Navy. Prime Minister Ben Chifley approved the acquisition of two light fleet carriers from the UK and in August cabinet approval was given for the light fleet carriers, two naval air stations and three air groups.

In April 1948 King George VI approved the names Sydney (III) and Melbourne (II) for the carriers and Albatross for the RAN Air Station at Nowra.

HMAS Sydney (III) arrived in Australian waters in May 1949, with the 20th Carrier Air Group. After returning from England with the 21st Carrier Air Group Sydney (III) and her Squadrons was deployed in late 1951 to operate as part of the United Nations Forces opposing the invasion of South Korea. Sydney (III) was deployed a second time in 1953 to monitor the Korean armistice.


Navy gets jets (1955-1967)

Fairey Gannet AS1/4
Fairey Gannet T.2/T.5
De Havilland Sea Venom F.A.W. MK 53
Bristol Sycamore HR50/51

The Commissioning of HMAS Melbourne (II) with her angled flight deck, steam catapult and mirror assisted landing system, heralded the introduction of pure jet and turboprop aircraft into the Navy's Fleet Air Arm.

Melbourne (II) arrived in Australia in May 1956, carrying De Havilland Sea Venom FAW Mk 53 fighters and Fairey Gannet AS1/4 Anti-submarine aircraft. The Sea Venom was a purely jet propelled aircraft, powered by a de Havilland Ghost turbojet engine. The Gannet, although a propeller aircraft was powered by a Double Mamba turboprop engine (basically two Mamba gas turbine engines placed side by side each driving one of two co-axial contra-rotating airscrews).

The Sea Venom replaced the Hawker Sea Fury Mk 11 and the Gannet replaced the Fairey Firefly AS-6 in their respective roles.

The Sea Venom was a very advanced aircraft for the time. Its radar, operated by the Observer, allowed for all weather operations, the first Australian military aircraft to do so. The ungainly looking Gannet achieved a reputation for being somewhat temperamental but it was one of the most advanced turboprop designs of its day and proved to be an excellent anti-submarine aircraft.


Defending the fleet (1968-1984)

Grumman S-2E/G Tracker
Douglas A4G Skyhawk
Westland Wessex 31B
Westland Scout AH-1

In the years leading up to the half-life modernisation refit of HMAS Melbourne (II) in 1967, much debate took place at Defence and Federal Cabinet level over the aircraft types to replace the now outdated Sea Venom jet fighters and Gannet anti-submarine turboprops.

Eventually the decision was for Navy to acquire ten new Douglas A-4G Skyhawk fighter/ bombers and fourteen Grumman S-2E Tracker anti-submarine aircraft from the USA.

This potent fixed wing element, combined with the upgraded Westland Wessex Mk 31B ASW helicopters heralded a frenetic period of activity for the Fleet Air Arm. In terms of payload capability in the case of the A-4, and wingspan of the S-2, these were the largest aircraft that could be operated from Melbourne (II) and landing them was exciting to say the least. The US Navy operated the same aircraft from carriers four times the size of Melbourne (II).

By 1968 the composition of the Naval air squadrons was at its highest number ever, with front line and second line Tracker, Skyhawk and Wessex squadrons as well as 723 Squadron operating Bell Iroquois and Westland Scout helicopters in the training and utility role.

The front-line ASW helicopter force was further enhanced in 1975 with the arrival of ten British built Westland Sea King Mk 50s. The Bell Kiowa 206B-1 also supplemented the existing training and utility helicopters.

Also during the 1970s ten more Skyhawks were added to the fighter squadrons and sixteen replacement S-2G Trackers were purchased following the loss of nine of the original S-2Es in a hangar fire at HMAS Albatross.

The Federal Government decision not to replace Melbourne (II) when she decommissioned in 1982 meant the age of Navy fixed wing aviation at sea was over.


Go around again (1948)

GAF Jindivik Pilotless Target Aircraft
Kalkara Target Aircraft
De Havilland Sea Vampire MK T.22 / T.34
CAC Aermacchi MB-326H (Macchi)

The decision to establish a military air base at Nowra was made soon after World War II was declared in 1939. The Royal Australian Air Force occupied the new base in May 1942, followed shortly by the US Army Air Corps and the Royal Netherlands East Indies Air Force.

The base was considered ideal for naval aviation due to its proximity to Jervis Bay. In 1945 the Royal Navy deployed its aircraft from the British Pacific Fleet carriers to the Nowra Base to what was then called HMS Nabbington.

In July 1947, the Commonwealth Defence Council approved the formation of the RAN Fleet Air Arm. HMAS Albatross (RAN Air Station - Nowra) was commissioned on 31 August 1948 and became the home of the Fleet Air Arm.

Growing from a group of World War II temporary huts, Albatross has been Navy's primary land base for the training and maintenance of its Squadrons since 1948. HMAS Nirimba at Quaker's Hill, NSW was commissioned from 1953 to 1954 as a second Naval Air Station and air technical training school.

Navy aircrew training was always been and remains demanding, the operating environment is unforgiving. To land an A-4 on HMAS Melbourne (II) or a Seahawk on the pitching deck of a frigate requires great skill and lots and lots of practice. Much of the training to build these skills was and is still conducted at Albatross and over time many a trainee pilot has often heard the words 'Go around again' from their instructor.

The concrete floor of this Museum was originally the 'Dummy Deck' simulating a carrier flight-deck for aircraft handling, spotting and ranging practice.


RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam

Bell UH-1H Iroquois
Bell UH-1B/1C Iroquois
Bell 47G-3B1 Sioux

During 1966, the increased intensity of the war in Vietnam caused the US Forces to request further military support from Australia, particularly helicopter crews and associated maintenance personnel. Australia had just committed a third Army Battalion to service in Vietnam and this would increase demand for airmobile support from US sources.

Navy offered some aircrew and maintenance personnel to be drawn mostly from 817 Squadron based at Nowra. This was refined to eight pilots, four observers and 40 aviation maintenance personnel from all categories. It was eventually decided that this group would integrate with the US Army's 135th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC). The new unit arrived in Vietnam in September 1967. The 135th would be equipped with 25 new UH-1H troop carriers and 8 UH1-C armed attack helicopters.

The team formed up at Nowra in September 1967 with the unit name of the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam (RANHFV) and joined 723 Squadron for pre-deployment training on UH-1B Iroquois aircraft. After a month of intensive training with assistance from the Australian Army, the RANHFV joined the 135th AHC in Vietnam in early October. Aircrew and maintenance personnel infused into the Company's structure according to rank and category. This first group of the RANHFV was to be deployed for one year, to be relieved by a second group in October 1968. Four groups were eventually deployed with the 135th from 1967 until 1971. The unit lost five aircrew, killed in action, over the period.


Helos take over (1984)

Westland Sea King Mk 50

HMAS Melbourne (II) decommissioned in 1982. Both 805 and 816 Squadrons were disbanded and their Skyhawk and Tracker fixed wing aircraft were offered for disposal.

The Macchi trainers of 724 Squadron were transferred to the RAAF, but 724 continued to operate with a reduced number of Skyhawks. 851 Squadron continued to operate Trackers but by 30 June 1984 the two last fixed wing squadrons were disbanded.

The operating philosophy for naval aviation in the RAN shifted from aircraft carriers to frigates and support vessels operating helicopters. Navy commissioned its first Guided Missile Frigate (FFG) in 1980. These ships were capable of carrying two medium helicopters and interim trials continued through the late 1980s with Bell 206 and Squirrel rotary wing aircraft.

Naval aviation again took a quantum leap in 1989 with the delivery of the S-70B-2 Seahawk anti-submarine helicopter. The Seahawks and utility Squirrels were quickly pressed into active service aboard FFGs and other support ships during the 1990/91 Gulf War.

Navy deployments to enforce UN sanctions against Iraq were maintained through the 1990s. The first of the Anzac Class frigates commissioned in 1996 and they were also equipped with Seahawks of 816 Squadron. The Anzac Class frigates and their Seahawk Flights have had a continued presence in the Gulf region, including the 2003 Iraq War.

The Sea King utility helicopters of 817 Squadron saw active service in East Timor and the Persian Gulf and served in numerous other operational areas including Somalia, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands. 817 Squadron disbanded in 2011 and 808 Squadron formed in 2013 with the MRH-90 helicopter.


Volunteers are drawn mostly from the local community and former Navy personnel. Teams work on aircraft and display maintenance and on administrative tasks and in the archives. We are always looking for more help from people who can make a commitment to join the teams on a regular basis.

If you are interested in becoming part of this team please contact the Museum on (02) 4424 1920.


Book the Museum/Functions

The Fleet Air Arm Museum boasts a function centre with views across HMAS Albatross and of the Museum collection.

Bookings can be made, during opening hours, on (02) 4449 2179.


Plan your visit

Admission  FREE
Opening Hours Monday - CLOSED
Tuesday to Sunday 10:00am-4:00pm
Closed New Year's Day, Good Friday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day

Contact us

Museum Director Mr Stuart Harwood
Postal Address HMAS Albatross
Nowra NSW 2540
Telephone Bookings/Shop (02) 4449 2179
Email navy.history@defence.gov.au


The Museum is located on the New South Wales South Coast, 2½ hours drive from both Sydney and Canberra. Regular train services operate between Sydney Central and Bomaderry (just north of Nowra) however, there are no connecting services - other than taxi - between Bomaderry and the Museum.

Our address is 489A Albatross Road which runs south-west from Nowra, and becomes Kalandar Street that intersects with the Princes Highway. Should you miss this intersection - easy enough - while heading south on the highway, then carry on down through South Nowra's industrial precinct until you reach the Museum signposts at the BTU Road intersection (on your right) on the town's southern outskirts.

Additional directions and maps are available from Google Maps.