History of the

Aircraft Life Support Fitter,
Safety Equipment Worker & Fabric Worker's trades

Although I am unsure, my understanding is that the Fabric Worker trade was in existence sometime between the Australian Flying Corps formation in 1912 and when the RAAF formed in 1921.  But one thing I am sure of is that there has been constant change within our trades over the years.  Some seem to think that the changes have only been in recent times, but after talking to some of the older members of the trade, I can assure you things have been changing for a long time.

Living members from the Fabric Worker era are very hard to find, and accordingly it is hard to accurately detail the start of the Fabric Worker trade.  The earliest records I have are that between 1925 & 1940 there was 18 Fabric Workers in 3SQN.  Some records I have obtained show that in 1944 we had 660 Fabric Workers (396 RAAF & 264 WRAAF) & 353 Fabric Workers Asst's, ( yes 'Assistants') (180 RAAF & 173 WRAAF). 75SQN only had one Fabric Worker Assistant (V.K. Morris in 1946). The Fabric Workers Asst's disappeared after the war.

I have been informed that until 1949 there were no formalized courses, with the members being trained on the job.  It was in 1945, during a hailstorm at Rathmines (near Newcastle), that a large number of Catalina aircraft were damaged. Click here to see pictures and read the article. These aircraft had fabric covered wings and fuselages, and accordingly the repair of these aircraft in quick time necessitated large numbers of experienced Fabric Workers. Thus, a media recruitment for Fabric Workers took place with a change in strategies to run these new recruits through formalized courses.

So they started a training school for the Fabric Worker trade with the first of this training being conducted at Forrest Hills (RAAF Base Wagga). Some pictures of the base at that time (1949) are included in the pictures pages. After the Fabric Worker courses were conducted, the courses were split, with half the members sent to RAAF Base Richmond (for a Parachute course) and the other half sent to RAAF Base Tottenham (for a Life Raft course). After completing both courses they were then posted to a Unit/Squadron.  Some of the aircraft types at that time were;

  • Transport - Avro Anson (x 969), Douglas Dakota (x 124), Bristol Freighter (x 4) & Vickers Viking (x 1),
  • Fighter - CAC CA-15 (x 1), NA/CAC Mustang (x 513), Gloster Meteor (x 112),
  • Fighter/Bomber - DH98 Mosquito (x 344),
  • Fighter/Trainer - DH Vampire (x 193),
  • Strike/Fighter - DAP Beaufighter Mk 21 (x 364),
  • Bomber - Avro Lincoln (x 73),
  • Reconnaissance - Consolidated Catalina (x 168),
  • Observation & Communications - Auster (x 62),
  • Trainer - DH82 Tiger Moth (x 895), CAC Wirraway (x 755), and
  • Helicopter - Sikorsky s51 (x 3).

From the inception of the trade until 1949 I am unsure as to what all the tasks were for Fabric Workers. Some members of this era have said that they did some of the Airframe tasks. Others have said that they also did the surface finishing and that the Surface Finisher trade broke away from the Fabric Worker trade (a point of note is that the Kiwi's Aircraft Life Support Fitters still do surface finishing). The last Fabric Worker listed in 75SQN records was Ross Robinson, in 1964 on Mirages in Williamtown. He went on to become a Safety Equipment Worker. Records I have from 1955 have us listed in the "Safety & Surf. Group", with the trades listed as "Fab. Wkr." & "S.E.W." but no mention of Surface Finisher. One member told me of another member that was sent to the USA to complete a special surface finishing course. He subsequently re-mustered to Surface Finisher during the 'break away'. Another member of this era has told me that he was involved in ejection seat maintenance.

I am unsure as to what the Fabric Workers' were involved in. But given time, maybe as past members view this web site they will shed some light on the information detailed in here. Other tasks that I am not completely sure of are when we started looking after Aircrew Flying Clothing, liferafts and parachutes (these I believe were originally done by Riggers). Also I'm not sure when we took over the servicing of the search and rescue items.

The Safety Equipment Worker name was introduced on 26th March 1954. The authority is dated 26 Mar 1954 and the change was back dated to 1st September 1953. CPL's and above & most members who had already completed the parachute and liferaft courses were automatically re-mustered. Upon enlistment, or re-muster to Fabric Worker, after completing the Fabric Worker course new members would carry out sewing duties at the units for a qualifying period of 12 months then they could apply for the Safety Equipment Worker Course. The SEW course encompassed the flying clothing aspects, and included the parachute & liferaft courses. The Fabric Worker trade was phased out in 1968. (There are no remaining members of the Fabric Worker enlistees. The last was Jack McCosker, who discharged in Sep 2002.)

Then in 1976 we saw the introduction of the 'straight through' Safety Equipment Worker course. This took over from the existing Safety Equipment course but it now included the sewing (Fabric Worker) component of training. Again I am unsure of when but, the training moved from Forrest Hills to a new school under the 2AD command at RAAF Base Richmond. Then in 1987 we once again changed our trade name. This time finally getting rid of the 'worker' tag to what we have today 'Aircraft Life Support Fitter' commonly known as 'ALSFITT' or 'LS'. And as unbelievable as it may seem, we moved our training back to Forrest Hills in January 1993. Another recent change has been the taking over the bay servicing of emergency radio's and distress flares. Also, we are now able to complete ejection seat courses enabling us to carry out Before Flight and After Flight servicing's as well as fitment and removal of parachutes and PSPs into/out of ejection seats. Also I am lead to believe that at present we have a few members who have been working in the ejection seat bay at Williamtown, carrying out bay servicing of ejection seats much like I believe we use to do. Also we presently have a member who is carrying out the duties of 'Trade NCO' for ejection seat servicing's

So as you can see, there has been constant change throughout our existence. The forever turning wheel. And given some time I will add more details (and corrections) to the ALSFITT history. I have still got a few letters that I have to go through and include the information on here. Also I have a 120 minute cassette tape from a member in Townsville that I have to extract his stories from and add them to the site. I also have some rolls of 8mm film from the members' time in Vietnam, which I can hopefully convert into digital media and add it to the site for you to see. I will one day get there, and I will gladly accept more pictures, letters, films or tapes from other members. I also have lots of pictures that I will endeavour to add in the near future.

Till next time, Cheers from the www.ALSFITT.com webmaster!

P.S. Our trade (currently known as Aircraft Life Support Fitter) has been nationally recognised by NITS (formerly ANTA). National Recognition is automatic for current ALSFITT Defence members, for former Defence ALSFITTs & Civilians who have worked in the ALSFITT area can be granted a certificate thru Defence Training with RPL.