Royal Australian Navy retires S-70B-2 Seahawk, AS350BA Squirrel helicopters

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) formally retired the S-70B-2 Bravo Seahawk and AS350BA Squirrel helicopters from active service at a ceremony, on Dec. 1, at HMAS Albatross.

The Seahawk has been in the Fleet Air Arm inventory for 29 years and was operationally deployed in the Middle East throughout its entire service history. The Squirrel has served for 33 years amassing an enviable record in both operations and training.

The retirement of the two aircraft was done as part of Ceremonial Divisions at HMAS Albatross and Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, a fellow aviator, took the opportunity to congratulate Albatross on the fine turn out.

RAN S-70B-2 Seahawk

The first Seahawk Bravo was delivered to the Navy in 1988 and the last one in 1989. The S-70B-2 will be replaced by its modern, fifth generation variant, MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’, in the RAN fleet.

Labelled a Role Adaptable Weapons System due to the flexibility it brought to the Fleet, the S-70B-2 was proved a magnificent combat helicopter for anti-submarine and surface operations, and proved exceptional in its secondary utility type missions.

The Seahawk is an integral part of the RAN ship’s weapons and sensor systems. With its unique sensor suite and integrated weapons systems the helicopter extends the combat radius of the ship by finding, localising and attacking where appropriate, surface or submarine targets either independently or in conjunction with other forces.

A typical Seahawk mission involves up to three hours of low level operations over the sea, day or night, in all weather conditions, often recovering to a ship’s deck which pitches and rolls dramatically in heavy seas, and is generally wet with spray.

The Seahawk’s sensors include: search radar, magnetic anomaly detector and sonics processing for both active and passive sonobuoys. Both forward-looking infra-red and electronic support measures are also to be fitted. The Seahawk’s main weapon is the Mk46 anti-submarine torpedo.

RAN AS350BA Squirrel

The AS350BA Squirrel has served the Royal Australian Navy for 33 years, initially as an embarked platform for the Adelaide class frigates and as an aircrew training platform replacing the UH1B Iriquois.

It is a true tri-service aircraft having been ordered for Australian Defence Force (ADF) service as a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) airfield search and rescue aircraft and as the basic rotary trainer for the Navy and Australian Army in the Joint Helicopter School at RAAF Fairbairn.

The AS350BA Squirrel has proven to be one of the most successful airframes in Australian naval aviation history.

It was also deployed in East Timor and on numerous disaster relief operations, including the 2001 ‘Black Christmas Bushfire’ crisis and the 2011 South East Queensland and Victoria floods.

The Squirrels served with all helicopter-capable RAN ships during the 1991 Gulf War. The aircraft, fitted with updated avionics and a door mounted machine gun were used for shipping surveillance, top cover for merchant ship boardings, mine searches and light logistics support.

The Squirrels were upgraded to AS350BA models in 1995 providing capability and performance improvements. Replaced by the more capable S-70B-2 Seahawk aboard the frigates in 1997, the Squirrel ceased dedicated embarked operations and was used in the role of lead-in helicopter training. The training role includes the conversion of all Navy pilots to rotary wing flying, preparation of pilots for operational flying and flying observers and aircrewmen for their basic utility training. The aircraft also provides training support for ship’s flight deck teams.

However, during September 1999, an AS350BA was again embarked at sea, this time in HMAS Anzac as part of the Navy’s contingent for the East Timor crisis.

At HMAS Albatross, all pilots, observers and aircrew undertake conversion training to rotary wing aircraft with 723 Squadron in preparation for further training in operational helicopters. The squadron also operates a helicopter aerobatic pairs display team which participates at major airshows and local public events.

Ms Dallas McMaugh

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