31 March 1921

The Royal Australian Air Force is formed.

The Royal Australian Air Force traces its history back to the Imperial Conference held in London in 1911, where it was decided aviation should be developed within the Armed Forces of the British Empire. Australia implemented this decision, the only country to do so, by approving the establishment of the Central Flying School in 1912. The location for the proposed school was initially to be at Duntroon, Australian Capital Territory, but in July 1913 Point Cook, Victoria, was announced as the preferred location. The first flights by CFS aircraft took place there in March 1914.

The Australian Flying Corps was formed as a Militia unit, with staff and students to be selected from the Citizen Forces. After an abortive deployment to German New Guinea at the end of 1914 as part of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, it earned a most creditable reputation in both Palestine and France during World War I as a part of the Australian Imperial Force. The Australian Flying Corps remained part of the Australian Army until 1919, when it was disbanded along with the AIF. Although the Central Flying School continued to operate at Point Cook, military flying virtually ceased until 1920, when the Australian Air Corps was formed. The Australian Air Force was formed on 31 March 1921. King George V approved the prefix “Royal” in June 1921 and it became effective on 31 August 1921. The RAAF then became the second Royal air arm to be formed in the British Commonwealth, following the British Royal Air Force.

The service was rapidly expanded during World War II and at its height, it was the fourth largest air force in the world, consisting of 53 squadrons based in the Pacific and a further 17 in Europe.

In 1911, the Imperial Conference that was held in London determined that the armed forces of the British Empire needed to develop an aviation branch. At the time, aircraft were a newly emerging technology, but nevertheless Australia implemented the decision, the only country to do so. The first step taken by the government was to approve the establishment of the Central Flying School in 1912. Initially, it had been proposed to establish the school at Duntroon, in the Australian Capital Territory, where the Royal Military College had been established in 1911, but in July 1913 it was determined that Point Cook, Victoria, was the preferred location. The Australian Flying Corps was subsequently formed as a Militia unit, with staff and students to be selected from the Citizen Forces, and the first flights by CFS aircraft took place in March 1914.

Soon after the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the AFC sent aircraft to assist the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force in capturing German colonies in what is now north-west New Guinea. These colonies surrendered quickly however, before the planes were even unpacked. The first operational flights did not occur until 27 May 1915, when the Mesopotamian Half Flight was called upon to assist the Indian Army in protecting British oil interests in what is now Iraq. The corps later saw action in Egypt, Palestine and on the Western Front throughout the remainder of World War I. By the end of the war, four squadrons – Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 – had seen active service; another four squadrons – Nos. 5, 6, 7, and 8 – had also been raised to provide training in the United Kingdom. The AFC was disbanded along with the rest of the Australian Imperial Force in 1919, following the end of hostilities. Although the Central Flying School continued to operate at Point Cook, military flying virtually ceased until 1920, when the Australian Air Corps was formed. The following year, this was separated from the Army on 31 March 1921, when the Australian Air Force was formed as an independent service; in June that year King George V gave his assent for the service to use the prefix “Royal” and this came into effect on 31 August 1921.

Upon formation, the RAAF had more aircraft than personnel, with 21 officers and 128 other ranks, and just 170 aircraft. Initially, it had been planned to expand the force to 1,500 personnel – three-quarters permanent staff and one quarter reserves – who would serve in six squadrons: two of fighter aircraft, two of reconnaissance aircraft, and two squadrons of seaplanes. These plans were scuttled a year after formation due to budget constraints and until 1924, the service’s strength remained steady at just 50 officers and 300 other ranks; of the six planned squadrons, only five had been raised, albeit cadre strength, and these were subsequently merged into a single mixed squadron until 1925. A slightly improved economic situation in 1925 allowed the re-raising of Nos. 1 and 3 Squadrons, which were initially composite units equipped with fighters and bombers. Later in the decade, they were reorganised with No. 1 Squadron becoming a solely bomber formation, while No. 3 focused on army co-operation roles; smaller squadrons – in reality only flights – of fighters and seaplanes were formed within the RAAF’s flying training unit, No. 1 Flying Training School, which had been raised at Point Cook.

Throughout the inter-war years the fledgling RAAF focused on local defence and providing training opportunities to Australia’s naval and military forces. It also undertook aerial survey missions, meteorological flights, public displays, and provision of defence aid to the civil community, undertaking search and rescue missions and bush fire patrols. In the late 1930s, the force was expanded amidst concerns about a future war in Europe. Additional squadrons were raised and bases established away from the south-east coast, including airbases in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. This expansion saw the RAAF increase its personnel from under 1,000 in 1935 to around 3,500 in 1939, and the establishment of a force of 12 squadrons, with plans for a further six, by the outbreak of World War II in September 1939.

31 March 1889

The Eiffel Tower in Paris is officially opened.

March 31st saw the grand opening of the iconic Eiffel Tower! Named after engineer Gustave Eiffel whose company constructed the tower, it was a huge controversy of the art world, dividing opinions of it’s design but has gone on to become one of the most visited monument in the world, receiving its 250 millionth visitor in 2010.

On March 30 1885, Gustave presented a paper to the Societe des ingienieurs Civils detailing the project, it’s possible technical difficulties and the practical uses that the tower would have. He concluded by highlighting that it would symbolise “not only the art of the modern engineer, but also the century of Industry and Science in which we are living, and for which the way was prepared by the great scientific movement of the eighteenth century and by the Revolution of 1789, to which this monument will be built as an expression of France’s gratitude.”

The main structural work was completed at the end of March 1889 and, on 31 March, Eiffel celebrated by leading a group of government officials, accompanied by representatives of the press, to the top of the tower. Because the lifts were not yet in operation, the ascent was made by foot, and took over an hour, with Eiffel stopping frequently to explain various features. Most of the party chose to stop at the lower levels, but a few, including the structural engineer, Émile Nouguier, the head of construction, Jean Compagnon, the President of the City Council, and reporters from Le Figaro and Le Monde Illustré, completed the ascent. At 2:35 pm, Eiffel hoisted a large Tricolour to the accompaniment of a 25-gun salute fired at the first level.

There was still work to be done, particularly on the lifts and facilities, and the tower was not opened to the public until nine days after the opening of the exposition on 6 May; even then, the lifts had not been completed. The tower was an instant success with the public, and nearly 30,000 visitors made the 1,710-step climb to the top before the lifts entered service on 26 May. Tickets cost 2 francs for the first level, 3 for the second, and 5 for the top, with half-price admission on Sundays, and by the end of the exhibition there had been 1,896,987 visitors.

After dark, the tower was lit by hundreds of gas lamps, and a beacon sent out three beams of red, white and blue light. Two searchlights mounted on a circular rail were used to illuminate various buildings of the exposition. The daily opening and closing of the exposition were announced by a cannon at the top.

Illumination of the tower at night during the exposition
On the second level, the French newspaper Le Figaro had an office and a printing press, where a special souvenir edition, Le Figaro de la Tour, was made. There was also a pâtisserie.

At the top, there was a post office where visitors could send letters and postcards as a memento of their visit. Graffitists were also catered for: sheets of paper were mounted on the walls each day for visitors to record their impressions of the tower. Gustave Eiffel described some of the responses as vraiment curieuse.

Famous visitors to the tower included the Prince of Wales, Sarah Bernhardt, “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Thomas Edison. Eiffel invited Edison to his private apartment at the top of the tower, where Edison presented him with one of his phonographs, a new invention and one of the many highlights of the exposition. Edison signed the guestbook with this message:

To M Eiffel the Engineer the brave builder of so gigantic and original specimen of modern Engineering from one who has the greatest respect and admiration for all Engineers including the Great Engineer the Bon Dieu, Thomas Edison.

Eiffel had a permit for the tower to stand for 20 years. It was to be dismantled in 1909, when its ownership would revert to the City of Paris. The City had planned to tear it down but as the tower proved to be valuable for communication purposes, it was allowed to remain after the expiry of the permit.

31 March 1889

The Eiffel Tower is officially opened in Paris.

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On March 31, 1889, the Eiffel Tower is dedicated in Paris in a ceremony presided over by Gustave Eiffel, the tower’s designer, and attended by French Prime Minister Pierre Tirard, a handful of other dignitaries, and 200 construction workers.

In 1889, to honor of the centenary of the French Revolution, the French government planned an international exposition and announced a design competition for a monument to be built on the Champ-de-Mars in central Paris. Out of more than 100 designs submitted, the Centennial Committee chose Eiffel’s plan of an open-lattice wrought-iron tower that would reach almost 1,000 feet above Paris and be the world’s tallest man-made structure. Eiffel, a noted bridge builder, was a master of metal construction and designed the framework of the Statue of Liberty that had recently been erected in New York Harbor.

Eiffel’s tower was greeted with skepticism from critics who argued that it would be structurally unsound, and indignation from others who thought it would be an eyesore in the heart of Paris. Unperturbed, Eiffel completed his great tower under budget in just two years. Only one worker lost his life during construction, which at the time was a remarkably low casualty number for a project of that magnitude. The light, airy structure was by all accounts a technological wonder and within a few decades came to be regarded as an architectural masterpiece.

The Eiffel Tower is 984 feet tall and consists of an iron framework supported on four masonry piers, from which rise four columns that unite to form a single vertical tower. Platforms, each with an observation deck, are at three levels. Elevators ascend the piers on a curve, and Eiffel contracted the Otis Elevator Company of the United States to design the tower’s famous glass-cage elevators.