Aviation Archaeology Mk.II, Online on Zoom, Saturday 17 February 2024, Morning and Afternoon Sessions (AEST)

On 17 February 2024, we will be bringing you our next Spotlight event: Aviation Archaeology Mk. II.

At this Spotlight we will bring together a number of world renowned speakers and aviation archaeologists to present live, via Zoom, followed by a audience Q&A session. Registration is free and is now open.

Click here to register

Michael O’Donnell, Brisbane at war: the development of airfields around Brisbane during WWII

Queensland was on the frontline in support of Allied offensives against the Japanese invasion of the South West Pacific and New Guinea. In response to the expansion of Japanese forces, Brisbane’s aviation landscape was transformed to support preparations for the war in the South West Pacific. Sites and facilities built or upgraded included airfields, which went from two at the start of WWII to twenty-one by its end. The expansion of this aviation landscape transformed Brisbane in the post WWII era. Some facilities were converted to civilian use and others were retained for military use. Some of the sites and structures are still in use today, 76 years after WWII. However, today there is limited understanding or visual indication of what remains or lost to time of this significant WWII cultural heritage. This paper explores one aspect of the research that is looking at the whole military (naval, army air force and civil military) cultural landscape of Brisbane during WWII, what was there, what happened to it and what has been lost.

Michael G. O’Donnell is a Master of Philosophy candidate at University of New England who is researching the cultural landscape of Brisbane during WWII, which is looking at the maritime, aviation and land-based defence facilities developed and used by the military. He has experience as a senior heritage officer with the Queensland Government. He has conducted research into Queensland submerged aircraft wrecks and is interested in conflict, aviation and maritime archaeology and understanding cultural landscapes. Michael has had a lifelong interest in aviation, which started as a child attending airshows with his father, who was a recreational pilot. Micheal is a former full-time and now reservist maritime warfare officer with the Royal Australian Navy.

Richard Osgood, Broken Pots Mending Lives

Military crash sites are places of extreme trauma and yet an exploration of these events has the potential to provide catharsis to veterans of more recent conflicts. This talk will examine some of these themes as part of Operation Nightingale – a programme which uses archaeological work to aid the recovery of military personnel.

Richard Osgood has worked for the Ministry of Defence in the UK since 2004 where he is the senior archaeologist for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation. His archaeological work includes the excavation of army camp sites, First World War trenches, and tanks and aircraft of the Second World War.

Michael Rivera, Investigating the history behind a World War II plane crash: a unique archaeological study in Hong Kong

Dr Rivera will present the results of the archaeological investigation into the remains of a WWII-era plane that crash-landed in the mountains of Tai Tam on 16 January 1945. This unique project represented an exciting opportunity to explore a unique event in Hong Kong’s history and its connection to the global conflict of World War II. By examining the physical remains of the crash site and conducting historical research to contextualize the surface remains found, important details about the events leading up to, and after, the TBM-Avenger bomber aircraft’s initial crash have been discovered. The findings also shed light on the technological capabilities of historical, geophysical and archaeological researchers in Hong Kong. And finally, the research highlights the potential for further community involvement in learning and reflecting on the city’s rich past.

Dr Michael B. C. Rivera is a Filipino-Chinese researcher, educator, public speaker and biological anthropologist based at the University of Hong Kong. Obtaining his PhD in 2019 from the University of Cambridge, his main research focuses on human history and development over the last six million years. He is the lead archaeologist managing the investigation of the remains of the Avenger that crashed in Hong Kong in 1945. Dr Rivera is currently working on establishing a greater presence of interdisciplinary studies, bioanthropology and archaeological science in Hong Kong. He has collaborated on projects in the Philippines, Singapore, and further beyond in Southeast Asia and Europe. Dr Rivera also works extensively in making scientific work and research ideas accessible through various forms of teaching, social media and public engagement.

Jeffrey Wedding and Susan Edwards, Chasing a Cat’s tale: Lake Mead’s PBY

The OA-10A was the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) equivalent to the United States Navy Consolidated PBY-5A, commonly known as the “Catalina”. The OA-10A was built under contract by Canadian-Vickers during World War II and 230 were delivered to the USAAF between December 1943 and February 1945. Among these Catalinas was serial #44-33869 which served as a stateside trainer until scheduled for disposal in 1946. The surplus airframe was acquired and converted for post-war civilian use by the Charles Babb Company of Los Angeles.

During the second leg of its multi-legged shakedown flight, the plane took off from the Boulder City Airport on October 24, 1949, and attempted a water landing in the Boulder Basin area of Lake Mead in southern Nevada, USA. Unfortunately, the landing gear was still extended, and upon contact with the lake’s surface the plane flipped and burned. Four of the five souls aboard perished.

First documented as a cultural resource in 2007, the amphibious aircraft now rests in two major sections at the bottom of Lake Mead. Previously at a depth of roughly 190 feet, a dive that was once out of reach for recreational divers, drought induced record-low water levels have made the wreck a little more accessible at approximately 135 feet below the surface. The Lake Mead Catalina is illustrative of how the National Park Service (NPS) balances public access and preservation of unique underwater resources for future generations.

Jeffrey Wedding has 30 years of experience in archaeological and historical research in the western United States (including Nevada, California, Utah, and Arizona). His current research focus is on archaeological sites associated with World War II and Cold War era military training exercises in the desert regions of southwestern California, southern Nevada, and western Arizona. Other areas of interest include the historical archaeology of mining, transportation (particularly aviation and railroading), and ranching in the West during the 19th and early 20th Century. Although principally an historical archaeologist, Mr Wedding also has considerable experience recording, excavating, and interpreting prehistoric archaeological sites in the Great Basin and Mojave Desert regions.

Susan Edwards has spent much of the last four decades conducting archaeological and historical research throughout the western United States. Her current research focus is on sites associated with America’s nuclear testing and weapons development and other Cold War scientific programs as well as military training landscapes. Other research pursuits include the historical archaeology of mining and ranching in the West, and 19th/early 20th century Overseas Chinese, as well as prehistoric archaeological research topics such as the Virgin Anasazi occupation of Southern Nevada and the Arizona Strip. Recently she spearheaded an investigation to obtain ancient human DNA from plant-based artifacts to study population dynamics in the southern Great Basin and Southwest.

Hunter Whitehead, Pensacola’s underwater fleet: exploring the United States cradle of naval aviation

For over a decade, the author has undertaken a systematic archaeological examination of submerged naval aircraft located off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, a significant site in the annals of naval aviation and a crucial locus for aircraft carrier qualification training. The objective of the study is to establish baseline characterizations of both identified and as-yet-undiscovered aircraft, thereby illuminating their historical and technological contexts. The methodology employed encompasses geophysical surveys and diver investigations, facilitating a comprehensive understanding of these submerged artifacts.

Hunter W. Whitehead is an archaeologist with experience in maritime archaeology, cultural resource management, marine geophysics, and historical archival research. He completed his Master’s in Historical Archaeology at the University of West Florida, with a concentration on maritime and aeronautical archaeological studies. He has been a leading expert in aircraft wreck studies and has focused on sites offshore Pensacola, Florida and within Lake Huron. In 2020, he founded the AerAqua Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of aviation heritage in the United States and around the world. Hunter’s professional career has consisted of archaeological surveys and investigations in offshore, coastal, and inland maritime environments including investigations along the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes coasts. Hunter’s current projects involve geophysical surveys in search of World War II and post-war naval aircraft wrecks within Texas and Florida.