Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lost airfields of the Central Coast - Tuggerah

So far I have counted over 40 airstrips, airfields, airports, landing fields and aerodromes within 100km or so of Sydney, give or take a few more distant outliers. Many are lost, however, redeveloped and recycled for other uses. Tuggerah is one of those "lost" but not completely forgotten WWII 'dispersal' strips. There are many online sources available and I quote some sources as I go - but here is my take on its story.  

Tuggerah airstrip was constructed as a single runway by the Australian Army at Lake Road, Tuggerah, in 1942 (by one account "over 100 men" worked on the construction from a camp based in Church Rd). 

The gravel runway ran from Wyong Road in the south to a point north east of the current substation near Lake Road (possible named for a Mr Lake rather than its proximity to Tuggerah Lakes, BTW).  This is my 'indicative' image of that runway alignment, with thanks to Google Maps:
A network of coastal landing strips were constructed at this time to be used for emergency landings by land-based aircraft travelling along the seaboard. As engine failure and bad weather quickly closing off alternative navigational options were very real issues faced by aviators at that time, emergency strips were considered vital to safety. That situation really only changed in the immediate post-war decades as aircraft reliability, fuel range and navigational aids improved steadily. 

It was this fear of "ditching" or "buying the farm" that prolonged and promoted the use of seaplanes and flying boats over "land-based" aircraft for many years. There was of course a major RAAF seaplane/flying boat base at Rathmines on Lake Macquarie, just north of Tuggerah. PBY-5 Catalinas, a flying boat equipped with retractable landing gear, were known to use Tuggerah for "circuit and bump" or "touch and go" (sometimes also called "crash and dash"!) practice. Now that would have been memorable for the locals!

WWII satellite airfields also allowed larger squadrons (of fighters or bombers) to split up for safety (the 'fewer eggs in one basket' tactic) and to ease congestion and storage constraints at larger fields. These airstrips would work as satellites from a larger parent aerodrome, be it a Navy or Air Force base. Whilst a strip may putatively "belong" to the RAAF or RAN it was often operated by British or US forces. Typically they contained aircraft "hides" and possibly hangars plus rudimentary support buildings for pilots, emergency and maintenance crew. 

Plans were made to house up to 8 "medium bombers" at the site, the strip to be operated as a satellite of  Fleurs, located just under 100km by air south and west of Tuggerah and west of Liverpool, near Kemps Creek in Sydney. Fleurs was 'home' - the parent airfield in Sydney - for a US Naval Air Wing during part of WWII. However as the Pacific War rapidly advanced and the active Japanese threat changed the US Naval operations focused on bases in Brisbane and Perth. It is not known exactly what (if any) US operations actually occurred at Tuggerah.

It has been said that post-war the Tuggerah runway was built over on the southern end with the then state Electricity Commission and a local landowner taking possession of much of the northern section. Other reports have been sighted that following decommission attempts were made to keep Tuggerah as an emergency landing ground for commercial air traffic between Brisbane and Sydney. A further newspaper article suggested that the airstrip was heavily depleted of gravel by locals, rendering it unusable. Shortly after fences were built across the strip, as this newspaper report of a 1950 Avro Anson crash illustrates.
Another airstrip was apparently located north of this Tuggerah site, just south and east of Wyong Racecourse. Wyong Airstrip was reportedly operating between 1970 and 1990; originally a 2000' strip, the direction was changed and a 3000' strip created.  Reportedly made on an original landing site used by Reg Ansett c1936, the airstrip was closed due to contaminated ground from a chemical fire rendering more development unviable. However the site is now the location for the Mercure Kooindah Waters Resort... so they remediated the contamination?

Apparently, yes!

Prior to construction the site (Kooindah Waters - my addit) had been described in the environment impact statement (EIS) as highly degraded. On the site extensive earth works and the removal of vegetation had occurred, dense weed infestations had colonised the earth works areas and actual and potential acid sulphates had been placed at the surface following the excavation of lakes. Large amounts of fill material had been spread across the site some containing coal chitter which was considered contamination.

Additional challenges were faced where a drum dump had been declared over what would be holes 10 and 11. The drum dump was due to a fire of stored paints onsite in 1987. Soils contained heavy metals and extensive remediation was required.


Quoted from an AGCSA website document


Want even more? Here is an updated list of Sydney's airports.  

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