Fighter World History

Fighter World has its origins in the original RAAF Williamtown Base Museum. This was established in the early 1980s and comprised a wartime hut located near the main gate. Display items included aircraft parts and equipment, uniforms, photographs and memorabilia. It was recognised from the early days of the museum’s operation that the building was inadequate and the deterioration of historic aircraft left on open display at the main gate was of great concern. There were no other buildings on the base that could be used to house the exhibits so a long term plan was developed using an alternative approach.

In the early 1980s the Federal Government established a project, the Steel Regions Assistance Programme (SRAP), to stimulate economic growth.  Fighter World was incorporated as an independent body with a Committee of Management including prominent local citizens and senior personnel from the RAAF Base to qualify for a grant under the SRAP. $500,000 was provided by the Federal Government for the construction of the Main Hangar and building began in late 1988 being completed in early 1989. The timing was fortunate as the original museum building was condemned as a structural and fire hazard and closed in late 1989.

The decision to advance beyond the idea of a simple museum was based on tourist appeal and a desire to avoid confliction with the aims of the RAAF Museum, Point Cook. Focusing on fighter aircraft and their operations and providing a detailed explanation of the component systems of the air defence environment, provided a way of satisfying both of these aims while making the display unique to RAAF Base Williamtown and the Tactical Fighter Group (TFG).

The display was to contain the following elements:

  • The early days;
  • People and musterings in the modern RAAF;
  • Propulsion systems;
  • Armament;
  • Communications;
  • Airframes;
  • Escape and life support systems;
  • Operations in the defence of Australia; and
  • Simulation of flight.

To build such a display initial costs were estimated to be around $3 million. Federal funding ceased with the completion of the Main Hangar so other sources of funds had to be found to complete the project. Fundraising activities showed much early promise; however, increasing economic hardship in the local region and the plight of many victims of the 1989 Newcastle earthquake diverted the aid of many interested organisations into assistance to the local community.
Despite the desperate times Caltex, Westfield Holdings, Newcastle Permanent Building Society and Boral made significant contributions and much support was received from Port Stephens Council and local RSLs. This enabled the interim display to be opened by the Minister for Defence in anticipation of the RAAF 50th Anniversary Open Day on 16th February 1991. Unfortunately the Open Day was cancelled by Air Force Office as a result of security problems relating to the Gulf War.
The Fighter World display started with the aircraft that were on open display at the front gate. The aircraft were painstakingly restored by squadrons that have proud histories of operations associated with the type. The Sabre was sponsored by 3 Squadron and is painted in 3 Squadron colours. The Meteor was operated by 77 Squadron in Korea and painted in the original colours of that aircraft. The Vampire is a tribute to 26 Squadron whose technicians rescued it from severe deterioration related to its time spent sitting in the open and it remains one of the very few intact aircraft of its type. It was also the first Vampire built in Australia. Two Mirage fighters were stored on base and includes A3-3, the first Mirage built in Australia and A3-102 ‘Daphne the Dual’. These aircraft are on permanent loan from the RAAF Museum, Point Cook and their superb condition is a testament to the skills of the men and women of 481 Wing who maintained them during their service life.

The formation of Air Combat Group in January 2008 marked a significant development in the organisational structure of the RAAF. Air Combat Group was formed through the amalgamation of the Tactical Fighter Group with Strike Reconnaissance Group. These Groups were constructed around the combined capabilities delivered by Fighter/Attack and Strike aircraft. In addition all Fighter/Attack and Strike aircraft aircrews have conducted their lead-in jet training at RAAF Williamtown using the facilities available in the Newcastle and Hunter Region.

Today the display at Fighter World, located at the home of Air Combat Group - RAAF Williamtown, is fundamental to the telling of the Air Combat Group story and the Defence of Australia. The region’s long association with these aircraft and their crews ensure any exhibits remain a firm favourite with the people of Newcastle and the Hunter.

In 1989 the then Prime Minister, ‘Bob’ Hawke, in accepting the honorary position of Fighter World Patron, described the newly formed establishment in the following way:

"Fighter World pays tribute to Australia’s great pilots and the planes they flew, as well as demonstrating the latest advances. It relives the triumphs of the past, and points the way to the future. Australia’s proud fighter role will be dramatically exhibited in the Fighter World display centre - the only such centre of its kind in the world."