ARDU’s origins stem from the WWII need for the RAAF to keep pace with local aircraft production and R&D, through establishment of an interface between developing industry and the operational Service.

As a forerunner of the Unit, the Special Duties and Performance Flight was formed in 1941 and attached to No 1 Aircraft Depot (1AD).

No 1 Aircraft Performance Unit was then formed at Laverton, Victoria on 01 Dec 43 under the command of SQNLDR J.H. Harper, absorbing 1AD personnel. The function of this unit was to undertake type trials of aircraft from local production and overseas; flight trials of aircraft modifications and ancillary equipment; the evolution of tactical methods of employing aircraft and equipment; full scale flight testing as an auxiliary to, or in conjunction with, laboratory research; and co-operation with government departments, manufacturers and scientific research institutions.

Some of the unit’s early trials included performance testing of the Spitfire Mk VIII, Ventura take off tests, Boomerang roll rate testing, and installation of wing guns on the Wirraway. Additionally, testing was performed on captured Japanese 'Oscar' and 'Tony' fighter aircraft for performance characterisation and counter-tactic development.

The end of WWII hostilities did not curtail trials, but expanded their scope, both technically and geographically. For instance, in 1947, ARDU supported American cosmic ray research, and assisted CSIRO with their rain-making trials and UAV development.

The unit was re-named the Aircraft Research and Development Unit during Sep 47 and temporarily relocated to Point Cook, before moving back to Laverton during Oct 48. At this time, three detachments were established to increase ARDU’s presence around Australia. Detachment 'A' supported long range weapons testing at Woomera, headquartered at Mallala, South Australia. Detachment 'B' supported a range of CSIRO experiments, headquartered at Richmond, New South Wales. Detachment 'C' was established at Edinburgh, South Australia and it was from here that Pilot Officer A.J. Bierman was killed when his Meteor crashed near Golden Grove.

In 1950, ARDU test flew Australia’s first jet aircraft to be designed and built in Australia, the Pika. This testing was used to further develop the RAAF’s pilotless drone, the Jindivick, which flew from 1952.

In 1977, the unit’s headquarters moved to its current location in Edinburgh. In 2005, ARDU was reorganised into Development and Test Wing (DTWG), with ARDU retaining responsibility for Army and Air Force developmental flight test as a subordinate squadron.

In January 2016, ARDU was reorganised into the Air Warfare Centre under Plan Jericho. At this time, Army squadron elements were disbanded and reorganised to an Army Chain of Command, leaving only RAAF members.

Though ARDU is currently headquartered at Edinburgh, satellite Test and Evaluation Flights are stationed at Amberley, Richmond and Williamtown, supporting resident Air Command units at those bases.

Across its history, ARDU has continued to play a vital role in developing Australian aviation, both in Defence and civilian sectors. The unit has flown nearly every Air Force and Army aircraft type past and present, ranging from the Mustang and Meteor, to the P-8A and Tiger.  A dedicated team of Test Pilots, Flight Test Engineers and Flight Test Systems Specialists are readily available to plan, conduct and report on flight test, as well as provide SME advice on everything from human factors to testing of tactical datalinks.  

Today, the role of ARDU continues to evolve from a purely Developmental Test and Evaluation (DT&E) focus to one that encompasses the continuum of T&E from start (Acceptance T&E) to finish (Operational T&E).