The Latrobe Valley Aero Club was formed in 1949 by a small group of enthusiasts, many of whom were ex-servicemen who had learnt to fly with the R.A.A.F. during WW2 and wished to maintain their skills in peacetime. Prominent amongst these flyers was Des Kelly, A.M., who held the position of President for twenty-one years.
At first, members had to rely on a borrowed aircraft for their flying, operating from a paddock on the Brinsmead family’s property, south-west of Morwell. Then, following a successful Air Pageants in 1950 and 1951, the Club raised sufficient funds to purchase their first aircraft, a Tiger Moth, VH-ATR.
With its own aircraft, the Club started flying training with a part-time instructor, the late Fred Robinson, D.F.C. More Tiger Moths were bought and added to the fleet. The country centres at Bairnsdale and Sale were established (and later at Yarram, Orbost and Meeniyan). In 1953, the Club appointed its first full-time Chief Flying Instructor, John Kellow.
To facilitate aircraft maintenance, the Club established its own aircraft overhaul workshop. This facility trained many an apprentice aircraft mechanic for the industry.
By the mid-fifties, surplus R.A.F. Chipmunk trainers became available and the Club was quick to upgrade its ageing fleet, operating four of these aircraft. The trend toward travel flying in the late fifties led to the purchase of two Piper Tri-Pacers to offer pilots a four-seater cabin, touring aircraft.
They were joined in 1961 by a Piper Comanche, an advanced aircraft with retractable undercarriage. This faster aircraft proved popular for the growing number of charters and “safari” type flights through outback Australia.
Growth and Rise
This period saw the Club establish itself on the present site of what is now Latrobe Regional Airport in 1959, developing over the years, many facilities enjoyed today – hangars, clubhouse and refuelling installation. The Club played a significant role in the establishment of the Airport and the ongoing operation and development of the Airport over the years.
The mid-1960s were boom years in flying training in Australia and the Club grew rapidly. At its peak, the Club employed a full-time staff of 13 including a Manager, five flying instructors, maintenance engineers and apprentices and office staff. The Club flew over five thousand hours in one year.
The early sixties saw the development and production of an all-Australian training aircraft – the “AIRTOURER”. This promised a modern, cheap and economical aircraft for Club use. Latrobe Valley Aero Club bought the first production Airtourer and, by 1966, was operating five of these aircraft, almost exclusively for training.
A Turbulent Patch
Just as quickly as it started, the flying boom ended and, by the late sixties, the Club was facing one of its most challenging periods. Aircraft were sold, the workshop closed, country centres discontinued, and just a handful of staff was left to carry on.
These economies proved effective and in 1973, the Club purchased a new Cessna 172. This began a gradual fleet re-equipment program. Since then the Club enjoyed a more or less steady growth pattern through the to the end of the decade.
The New Century
The new century brought new challenges and opportunities including a fleet re-equipment program. Today it owns and operates three Cessna 172s and a Tecnam P60 for recreational pilot training. The Club also has access to several cross-hired aircraft providing a well-balanced fleet to meet the flying needs of members and the Latrobe public. It employs a full-time Chief Pilot/Head of Operations, a number of part-time instructors and administration staff.
The Club’s activities, although primarily flying training and private hire, also include charter flights and aerial work such as fire-spotting and aerial photography. The Club has conducted a fire patrol over the Latrobe Valley during the summer period for the last quarter-century.
Since its first Aerial Pageant in 1950, the Club has run a large number of aviation events both at the Latrobe airport and other locations throughout Gippsland.
Over the years the Club has trained many hundreds of pilots, from all walks of life – students, nurses, teachers, farmers, businessmen, construction workers, doctors, etc – ranging in age from sixteen to sixty. Most have learnt to fly for sport or recreation; some for business and travel, and others have made flying their careers.
Pilots who learnt to fly with Latrobe Valley Aero Club are now flying international and domestic airlines, with the Armed Forces, Commuter Airlines, charter and flying training activities, and aerial agricultural operations.
The Club has fostered and encouraged a many of the organisations that are established on Latrobe Airport, including No. 426 Squadron Australian Air Force Cadets (formerly No 26 Flight Air Training Corps), Gippsland Aeronautics (now GippsAero), East Coast Aviation, Latrobe Flying Museum and the Latrobe Valley Sport Aircraft Club and the Latrobe Valley Gliding Club.