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Government Aircraft Factories (GAF)
Aerospace Technologies of Australia (ASTA)

In 1937, the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP) established its own factory to build fighter and bomber aircraft alongside CAC, sharing the runway at Fishermans Bend, Melbourne. This facility became known as the Government Aircraft Factories, and later as AeroSpace Technologies of Australia (ASTA) before it was bought by Rockwell, then Boeing.

With the outbreak of war inevitable, the Australian Government began planning for the acquisition of more modern combat aircraft. Eventually settling on the British-designed Beaufort bomber, the Beaufort Division of the Department of Aircraft Production (DAP) established a factory alongside CAC at Fishermans Bend. The first of 700 Beauforts was delivered to the RAAF in November 1941, making the Beaufort the first Australian-built type to be used in the defence of the country. In 1942, the Australian War Cabinet decided to follow the Beaufort program at DAP with the construction of the Beaufighter. The RAAF received 365 of these twin-engined heavy fighter aircraft between May 1944 and November 1945.

The Government Aircraft Factories [GAF] manufactured the Lincoln bomber that saw service with 1 Sqn in Malaya. Following World War II, aviation technology moved at a very rapid rate, with the introduction of the jet engine requiring new aircraft for the RAAF. By 1946, DAP Beaufort Division had become the Government Aircraft Factories (GAF), and along with CAC and de Havilland Australia, all of the local companies were heavily involved with licence production of military aircraft for the RAAF. Major programs included the Avro Lincoln, with 73 built by GAF and the Canberra bomber, with 48 built by GAF. GAF was later to produce the first Australian manned jet, the Pika, the Jindivik jet target drone and the Nomad. Two aircraft were designed initially: a manned version called Pika and the unmanned radio-controlled Jindivik. Only two of the manned Pika were built to prove the basic Jindivik design and its electronic guidance and control systems. It was the smallest jet aircraft in the world at that time. They were flown between 1950 and 1954. Jindivik was an unmanned, jet-propelled target plane designed to measure missile performance. Between 1952 and 1997 Jindivik made $34 million in sales to Britain, Sweden and the US Navy.

By the late 1950s, the Avon Sabre fighter was becoming outdated, and in 1960, the Dassault Mirage III was selected as the new fighter for the RAAF. In an indication of the future of the aircraft industry in Australia, responsibility for the Mirage program was divided, with GAF the prime contractor and responsible for construction of the fuselage and final assembly, and CAC manufacturing the wings, fin and engine.

In addition to the continuing military programs, the Australian industry also produced a locally designed civilian type during this period. Designed in the late 1960s, GAF produced the prototype Nomad light transport aircraft in 1971. During a production run lasting until 1984, 170 Nomads were built for civil and military use.

Another area of expertise for the Australian industry was in the field of guided weapons design and production. During the 1950s, GAF had developed the Malkara anti-tank missile for the British Army, and later that decade used this knowledge to develop the Ikara system. A torpedo-carrying guided missile, Ikara was used by the Royal Australian Navy, as well as the Brazilian and British navies. The Ikara design later contributed the basis of the Turana target drone for the Royal Australian Navy.

By the late 1970s, structural problems with the Macchi trainer resulted in a study for the replacement of this aircraft and the CT4 basic trainer with a new type. In 1981, a consortium consisting of CAC, GAF and HdH had formed to design and produce a training aircraft to this requirement. After changes in specifications, the failure of a possible British order for the aircraft and the expenditure of approximately $70m, the Wamira project was cancelled at the end of 1985. In its place, the Pilatus PC-9 was ordered for the RAAF, and HdH, who by this time had taken over CAC, built 65 of the 67 PC-9s ordered by the RAAF. This project was to be the last time aircraft were produced under licence in Australia. Subsequent programs such as the Sikorsky Black Hawk and Seahawk helicopters were assembled by HdH and GAF respectively, from imported components with minor local modifications.

Hawker de Havilland [HdH] and Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation [CAC] were merged on 09 July 1986. The merger produced a streamlined organisation but, importantly, gave the two companies the range of skills and a large enough workforce to compete internationally, and to countenance risk-sharing projects. But the merger also left GAF, already the odd man out as the only Stateowned manufacturer, as the distinct outsider. As a State-owned concern, GAF's dependence on Government work, and particularly defence work, was even greater. GAF was overmanned and unprofitable, yet technologically probably more advanced than any other Australian aerospace firm. The Government Aircraft Factories were incorporated as Aerospace Technologies of Australia Pty Ltd in November 1986 and became operational in March 1987.

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Page last modified: 27-03-2012 18:13:13 ZULU