RMAF Butterworth (Malay: TUDM Butterworth, formerly the RAF Butterworth & RAAF Butterworth) (IATA: BWH, ICAO: WMKB) is an air force base near the town of Butterworth in the state of Penang, directly opposite the island itself and is operated by the Royal Malaysian Air Force.
RAF Butterworth was commissioned in October 1941, as a Royal Air Force station which was a part of the British defence plan for defending the Malayan Peninsula against an imminent threat of invasion by the Imperial Japanese forces during World War II. During the Battle of Malaya, the airbase suffered some damage as a direct result of aerial bombing from Mitsubishi G3M & Mitsubishi G4M bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service based in Saigon. Brewster Buffalos from the airbase rose to challenge the escorting Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters but was mauled during several of these engagements by the highly trained and experienced Japanese fighter pilots.
The airbase was subsequently captured by units of the advancing 25th Army (Imperial Japanese Army) on 20 Dec 1941 and the control of the airbase was to remain in the hands of IJA until the end of hostilities in September 1945, whereupon the RAF resumed control of the airbase and Japanese prisoners of war were made to repair the airbase as well as to improve the runways before resuming air operations from the airbase in May 1946.
During the Malayan Emergency that was to last from 1948 to 1960, RAF as well as RAAF and RNZAF units stationed at the airbase played an active role in helping to curb the communist insurgency in the jungles of Malaya by attacking suspected hideouts and harassing the communist guerrillas. The base also served as a vital front-line airfield for various other units on rotation from RAF Changi, RAF Kuala Lumpur, RAF Kuantan, RAF Seletar and RAF Tengah.
In 1957, the RAF transferred the control of the base to the Royal Australian Air Force and it was promptly renamed as RAAF Butterworth, the base became the home to numerous Australian fighter and bomber squadrons stationed in Malaya during the Cold War era. Two of the notable RAAF units were 3 Sqn and 77 Sqn which saw service with their CAC Sabres during the Malayan Emergency through the Confrontation with Indonesia. From August 1964 onwards, these Sabre jets responded on several occasion to incursions by MiG-21 fighter jets of the Indonesian Air Force flying towards Malaysian airspace but the Indonesian aircraft always turned back before crossing the international boundary, thereby averting possible escalation.
Another notable unit was the 75 Sqn, which was based there with its Dassault Mirage IIIs from 1968 to 1983.
As of October 2008, the Australian Defence Force continues to maintain a presence at RMAF Butterworth as part of Australia's commitment to the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), with No. 324 Combat Support Squadron and a detachment of AP-3C Orion aircraft from No. 92 Wing RAAF being located at the base. In addition, the Australian Army maintains an infantry company (designated Rifle Company Butterworth) at Butterworth for training purposes.
On 30 June 1988, the base was handed over by RAAF to the Royal Malaysian Air Force and was again renamed as RMAF Butterworth. The flying squadrons stationed at the airbase are as follows:
Possible partial conversion to civilian use
Due to the shortage of land on Penang island and its rapidly increasing population, the state government of Penang had put forth a suggestion to the Malaysian federal government that RMAF Butterworth be re-developed into a major new airport (which would be renamed as the Penang Butterworth International Airport) to replace the current Penang International Airport at Bayan Lepas on Penang island. The land freed up at Bayan Lepas, Penang would be slated for new public and private housing development projects. The existing air terminal at Bayan Lepas could be turned into a long distance bus terminal. Also, part of Bayan Lepas airport facilities could be retained for use as a heli-base and VTOL aircraft base, which could take aircraft like the Bell Boeing Osprey, even if the Bayan Lepas runway is re-developed for roads and housing. The new Penang Butterworth International Airport could also have a railway station much like Kuala Lumpur International Airport has one for transportation interconnectivity to other parts of Malaysia.
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The content above was published at Airports-Worldwide.com in 2010.
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