It is also home to the Fleet Air Arm Museum (formerly known as, and now incorporating, Australia's Museum of Flight). The museum is a high profile tourist attraction and a visit is highly recommended.
The base, located near Nowra, New South Wales, was established in 1941 as Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base RAAF Nowra. It was then transferred to the Royal Navy as HMS Nabbington in 1944, and operated as a naval air station until it was decommissioned in late 1945.
HistoryIn 1948, the airfield was commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Albatross, as the primary shore base for the Fleet Air Arm. The current site of HMAS Albatross was identified in 1938 and land was purchased in June 1939. Construction proceeded at what seems to be a leisurely pace considering it was war time, until the base was declared operational in July 1941.
The airfield was used by squadrons of the Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers of RAAF when it opened in 1942. Martin Marauder bombers of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) were also based there in 1942–43 for training as torpedo bombers.
This base was used by Mobile Overseas Naval Air Base (MONAB) No. 1 from 21 December 1944 to 15 November 1945. The base supported the British Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers by providing shore based facilities for the Carrier Air Groups when the carriers were in Sydney for repairs and resupply.
At the end of the Pacific War the British Pacific Fleet returned through its main base in Australia and FAA Squadrons transited through HMS Nabbington until it was decommissioned on 15 November 1945.
HMS Nabswick (Mobile Naval Air Base / MONAB 5) moved from the nearby Jervis Bay airfield to Nowra where it operated until 18 March 1946 when the unit was decommissioned and the site was returned to the RAAF.
In 1947, the RAN's own Fleet Air Arm was formed, and the Nowra airfield was chosen to be its main shore base.
HMAS Albatross was commissioned on 31 August 1948, taking the name previously carried by the RAN's seaplane carrier, and the first squadrons were delivered by the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney in May 1949.
Over the course of the next decades, the RAN purchased larger, faster and more capable aircraft, which led to the facilities at Albatross being expanded. Workshops and test facilities for jets were installed following the entry into service of the De Havilland Sea Venom in 1955, while a new control tower was built in 1958.
The purchase of A-4 Skyhawks and S-2 Trackers with advanced avionics led to more facilities being installed in the late 1960’s to service them.
On 5 December 1976, a fire was deliberately lit by a Fleet Air Arm member in the aircraft hangar. The fire destroyed or seriously damaged twelve of the thirteen S-2 Trackers in the RAN's possession.
The Skyhawk and Tracker squadrons flew from the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne until the carrier was decommissioned on 30 June 1982. This signalled the beginning of the end of the Fleet Air Arm's front line fixed wing capabilities, and also a scaling back of activities at Albatross.
In February 1991 a total of six RNZAF A-4 Skyhawks and 50-60 RNZAF personnel were stationed at the base to provide the ADF with Air Defence Support, and participated in many exercises often flying below radar coverage and ambushing Australian warships on a number of occasions.
These kiwi Skyhawks were stationed at Nowra until No. 2 Squadron RNZAF and No. 75 Squadron RNZAF were disbanded following election of the Labour Government under Helen Clark in December 2001.
TodayToday, Albatross serves as home base for the four helicopter squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm, and for the Navy Aviation Group, which coordinates all of the RAN's aviation activities.
The primary task of HMAS Albatross is to support the four Naval Air Squadrons, which provide air support to the fleet.
The four Squadrons and the aircraft they operate are:
• 723 Squadron with AS350 Squirrel helicopters
• 725 Squadron with MH-60R Seahawk helicopters
• 808 Squadronwith MRH-90 helicopters
• 816 Squadron with S-70B Seahawk helicopters
Albatross also has a number of lodger unit
• Naval Weather and Oceanographic Centre (NWOC)
• Training Authority – Aviation
• Naval Aviation Systems Program Office (NASPO)
• Australian Joint Acoustic Analysis Centre (AJACC)
• RAN Tactical Electronic Warfare Support Section (RANTEWSS)
• Aircraft Maintenance and Flight Trials Unit (AMAFTU)
• Army Parachute Training School (PTS)
• T. S. Shoalhaven (Navy Cadet unit)
• No. 330 (City of Shoalhaven) Squadron Australian Air Force Cadets
Since 1986 there have been Learjet target tugs based at Albatross, operated by civilian companies under contract to the RAN. The first company was Lloyd Aviation, then from 1990 to 1996 Fleet Support (a company later bought by National Jet Systems) and from 1996 until the present Pel-Air. Each company has used four or five Learjet 35/36 series aircraft to provide this service. The present incumbent Pel-Air also uses IAI Westwinds for non target-towing support operations.
The naval base had the unusual distinction of being shared by a small civilian passenger terminal, which at various times was utilised by the Masling and later Hazelton Airlines companies flying small propeller driven aircraft on scheduled services for the Nowra community.
Until 2004, the Royal Australian Navy Gliding Association (RANGA) also operated from the runways at Albatross with a small fleet of gliders used by both Navy and civilian members.