Monday, June 14, 2010

Fleurs, the US Navy, a WWII airstrip and the CSIRO

Fleurs is located in western Sydney along Elizabeth Drive out of Liverpool. Kemps Creek is close to the south east and Badgery's Creek is south west. It was the site for a US Naval Air Wing during World War II with a host of satellite airfields nearby. Kind of ironic that we let this infrastructure slide after the war, only to have to rebuild it nearby (if on a far grander scale) just a few decades later.

So what was Fleurs? Of course it would have been home to generations of indigenous people before it became an aerodrome, after which is became an airfield popular amongst post-war gliding clubs.

After that the CSIRO established a radiophysics facility that was handed over to firstly the University of Sydney and then to the University of Western Sydney. Nowadays it looks at least partly privately-owned (or leased?) with at least a substantial portion remaining in public ownership. At least that's how it looks - you may know more!

Anyway, here's a location map, courtesy Google maps (my extra edits though): 
Wikipedia has this to say:

Fleurs Aerodrome - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Fleurs Aerodrome was a parent aerodrome built on behalf of the Royal Australian Air Force near Penrith, New South Wales, Australia during World War II.

Construction started on the aerodrome in 1942 and was still under construction in 1944 as part of a proposal to base a United States Navy Fleet Air Wing in Sydney should the need arise. Initially planned with three runways, No.1 (5000ft) and No. 3 (6000ft) runways were serviceable, however construction of No. 2 runway (5000ft) was abandoned. A total of eight aircraft dispersal hideouts were constructed and accommodation was a farm house and a former Civil Constructional Corps camp.

In 1969, Fleurs was considered as a site of the second airport for Sydney. The aerodrome is now utilised as precision ground-reflection antenna range operated by the University of Sydney, known as the Fleurs Radio Observatory.
Well, it was an Radiophysics observatory. Not any more, though! And no, I haven't managed to pin down that suggested operational 2nd runway, although I'd guess it crossed the obvious remaining strip and ran roughly northwest by south east, based mostly on the available land. The image I've made (below) combines a map available from the earlier CSIRO link (above) with Google's data... as I said, at least one runway is plain to see!
 And what were these "parent" aerodromes, satellites and "dispersal fields"? Well (apparently)
"...Satellite aerodromes were constructed to alleviate congestion at ‘parent’ aerodromes. The degree of congestion at any of the ‘parents’ could be indicated by the number of satellites. For instance, in Western Sydney between Blacktown and Penrith (at the foot of the Blue Mountains), Fleur
had five satellites. Fleur was a Station for the United States Navy Fleet Air Arm (USN FAA). As Australia needed the assistance of the US with its extensive defence assets, the government considered it appropriate to provide any necessary infrastructure from which the US fleet could base itself in the southern hemisphere. It was an objective of the US Navy to have one ‘parent’ and six dispersal airfields in the Sydney region and Fleur met this requirement. The presence of the US in the State and at its aerodromes is obviously significant due to their success in the South-West Pacific Area campaign."

Post-war there is an extensive history of gliding (or sailplaning) at Fleurs. The primary driver appeared to be the Southern Cross Gliding Club, although several other clubs were certainly present. The club moved operations to Camden aerodrome c.1954 citing "smooth runways" and "the CSIRO were coming to take Fleurs anyway". Fair enough then.  

Interestingly there's a private airstrip at Luddenham, just 6km or so from Fleurs. (If you check it out today on Google Maps you'll find what looks like a Cessna 337 parked outside a small hangar.)  

There are 3 wartime images on Flickr showing a bit of real, historic Fleurs activity: a Bell Airacobra (and again, but maybe not Fleurs?) and a suspected '24 Oldsmobile.And the State Library of NSW has a general ground-level view of of Fleurs: "40 degrees from crest at 3950 foot on runway looking south west".

As an aside, here are some Sydney gliding history dot points (and yes, I have flown from Camden in a club glider and managed to land it again - just once was enough!):
  • The first “glider” flight in Australia was made in December 1909 by George Taylor at Narrabeen, NSW. It was more like a hang-glider but does it really matter?
  • There was a Granville Glider Club c.1930
  • A test flight was conducted c.1930 at Duck Creek, Auburn
  • Flights were conducted from the Cronulla sandhills, c.1931
  • And Nowra, 1936
  • Narromine, 1940
  • Matraville, 1941
  • Bunnerong (later Heffron) Park, c.1945
  • Doonside, 1946 (close to Fleurs)
  • Fleurs, c.1946 and 
  • Camden at least from c.1953 (probably earlier).   
Some selected sources (apart from Google Maps):
And more to read on this site (just search the site if no working links):
  • Whalan Reserve, a WWII dispersal airfield near Mt Druitt
  • A bit more I also wrote on Fleurs 
or checkout my list of Sydney and surrounding airstrips and airports

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