Redland Bay Flying Boat Base

From 1953 to 1971, Qantas Empire Flying Boats operated from Redland Bay. These were mainly Sunderland Flying Boats travelling from Sydney to the United Kingdom. Ansett, formerly known as Barrier Reef Airways also operated flying boats from Redland Bay, taking tourists to Hayman Island in North Queensland. The flying boats were similar to the one shown below:

Redland Bay was the closest suitable site to Brisbane for a water airport. Since it operated international flights, Brisbane Water Airport at Redland Bay became Brisbane's International Airport for a time.

Pre-1946, flying boats used the Hamilton Reach of the Brisbane River. The State and Federal Governments argued for several years over the continued use of the Hamilton Reach, which was congested with shipping and unusable after dark.

Activity at Redland Bay reached its peak in the 1950's with 105 commercial flying boat movements in July 1953. There was a steady decline after that until the base was finally closed in 1971. After 1971, Qantas began operating the new Boeing 747 long-haul aircraft that made the Flying Boats obsolete.

The terminal for the Flying Boat Base was at Banana Street, Redland Bay, near the present location of the Bay Island ferry service. Flying boat passengers waiting to embark, and those in transit could wait and be refreshed at the Redland Bay Hotel while the Flying Boats were serviced for the onward journey.

The flying boat would leave Rose Bay in Sydney at 7:30pm and arrive at Redland Bay at around 11:00pm. Two hours later, she was back in the air, on route to Noumea in New Caledonia, where passengers would go ashore for breakfast. Several days, and many stops later, the flying boat would arrive in London. By contrast, in 2009, travelling on a long-haul 747, passengers can fly direct from Brisbane to London via Singapore in less than 24 hours for a mere fraction of the cost.

The arrival of the flying boat in Redland Bay near midnight did not go unnoticed by the local residents. A powerful searchlight swept the watery runway to guide the pilot. Launches carrying passengers, luggage, fuel, freight, refreshments and mail made their way to and from the moored flying boat. Voices carried clearly across the calm water.

Locals gathered to watch this majestic aircraft descend from the night sky to touch down on the bay in the area adjacent to the Weinam Creek marina. Ears would strain to hear the first notes of the four powerful unmuffled engines that grew steadily louder until their roar filled the air. In truth, some residents could have done without the twice weekly midnight noises interrupting their sleep.

The Flying Boats brought the world to Redland Bay, putting it on the international air travel map. When operations ceased in 1971, this chapter of Redland Bay's past was closed and largely forgotten. Today a few long-term residents would remember the days when the big sea planes came and went, and the sense of mystery and romance that air travel had in those days.

The photo below shows the area of Redland Bay used by the flying boats.

The map below shows the location of the runways zones.

Reference: Jones, David Embry (2007) Wings on the River: Flying Boats on the Brisbane River and Redland Bay. Published by Boolarong Press, ISBN 1921054271, 9781921054273

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Date: 10 January 2009
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