Charleville Airfield, Qantas Hangar and Norden Bomb Site Store
Mitchell Highway, Charleville 4470
Charleville airport has close historic ties with the birth of commercial aviation in Australia. In 1920, two World War I pilots, Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness, registered the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited (QANTAS) with the objective of establishing an aerial passenger and mail service between the railhead townships of outback Queensland and the Northern Territory. Early in 1922 Qantas successfully tendered for a new government mail contract between Charleville and Cloncurry and over the following months landing grounds were established at points along the route. During this period Qantas contracted the erection of aircraft hangars at Charleville, Longreach and Cloncurry. Today the remains of wartime occupation include the surviving wartime maintenance hangar—Hangar 104—which was retained by the RAAF when the US forces departed, and a small concrete shed, built in 1942 as a security store for bombsights fitted to US heavy bombers staging through Charleville. The instruments were removed from the aircraft on landing and taken to this building, where a round-the-clock guard was mounted. It now provides evidence of the determination of the USAAF to protect the secrecy of its new Norden bombsight.
The work of enlarging the existing civil aerodrome at Charleville was requested by the Department of Civil Aviation in November 1941. The work was undertaken by the Main Roads Commission. Early in 1942, after the Japanese invasion of the Pacific, Charleville aerodrome became the terminal for the Pacific ferry route over which heavy bomber aircraft were flown from the US to the South-West Pacific Area. The remote airfield provided a safe haven for storage of valuable aircraft, the dry climate helping to minimise corrosion. Reception, storage and maintenance of US aircraft was the intended wartime role for Charleville aerodrome. The first B-17 bombers began arriving during April 1942. Construction of new runways, dispersal taxiways and four large hangars was completed by July, when the US 45th Air Base Group took control. A fifth hangar was completed by January 1943. However, by then US maintenance operations at Charleville were scaling down. In August 1943 four hangars were dismantled and removed to Eagle Farm aerodrome, Brisbane, for use by the US Air Service Command. The historic Qantas hangar-which was also used by the Americans-survived the war and was later used by Trans-Australia Airlines. The site is now used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
From mid 1942, Glenroy woolscour, on the railway east of Charleville aerodrome, was used as a storage facility for the new US air base. A large fibro-sheeted warehouse and three prefabricated workshops were erected at the site and three 25,000 gallon fuel tanks were installed. These structures were removed by the US forces on their departure in 1944.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Vera Bradley. I Didn’t Know That: Cairns and district Tully to Cape York, 1939–1946, Service personnel and civilians, Boolarong Press, Brisbane, 1995.
Peter Nielsen. Diary of WWII North Queensland, Nielsen Publishing, Gordonvale, 1993.
Howard Pearce. WWII: NQ: A cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II. Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, 2009.
Roger Marks, Queensland Airfields WW2: 50 years on, Brisbane, 1994.