THE commanding officer of HMAS Albatross, Captain Gordon Andrew, will farewell the Nowra Air Station for the last time on December 20 as his two-year term as base commander comes to an end.
He will be replaced by a well-known former Nowra pilot Captain Simon Bateman, who has been living in Nowra and commuting to work in Canberra.
He is no stranger to the region, having previously been the commanding officer of 816 and 805 squadrons.
Although sad to be leaving, Captain Andrew said he arrived at HMAS Albatross at one of the most exciting times in the base’s history.
And he believes the future looks just as bright and exciting.
“It’s been a great time to be at Albatross,” he enthused.
“Just before I arrived there was the 817 Squadron decommissioning and that was a sad occasion but since I arrived everything has been very positive.
“We had the commissioning of 808 Squadron, started work on new buildings, opened new accommodation blocks – everything has been looking forward.
“There has been no looking back with regrets or losing capabilities. It has all been about new capability, new buildings and growth.”
And there is more to come.
“We are only about halfway through renewing the Fleet Air Arm and that will continue for another three or four years at least. And the redevelopment will probably go for about three or four years,” he said.
“And after that there is still more work to be done with the helicopter training school to come here in three or four years’ time, extensions to the museum to include the Historic Aircraft Flight Restoration Society (HARS) from Albion Park.
“On top of that there is a large project looking to replace the tower and radar and refurbishing all the air traffic control facilities, which the air force will be running but that is about five to six years into the future.”
Work has also started on housing the new MH-60R Seahawk Romeo helicopters.
“The MH-60R helicopters are coming hell or high water and the countdown has started,” he said.
“The first two Romeo helicopters, which will provide antisubmarine warfare capabilities for the next 25 years, have rolled off the production line and have been handed over to the Royal Australian Navy in Jacksonville, Florida.
“From there it is 52 weeks in America to train, build a squadron and build capability and then they come back to Australia. That’s a hard floor of 52 weeks.
“So we need to have facilities ready to go when they arrive.
“That will be challenging and ambitious but we have met every milestone so far and it’s all on track.
“It’s going to be a busy time in the next year. Construction has started and there will be 450 workers on the site at any one time.
“Work will be undertaken on seven work fronts, with two shifts, six days a week with the possibility they could go 24 hours a day, working six days a week as well.
“It is a fairly intense period. We have 52 weeks, it’s got to happen.”
The facilities for the new squadron will be located on what is known as the western pad, and close to Aviation Technology Park, where support facilities for the squadron will be based.
The new buildings will actually be the home for two squadrons, 816 (Seahawks) and 725.
“The complex will contain hangars and office accommodation to run both squadrons,” he said.
“There will be a shared service down the middle and a squadron on either side.
“It is an L-shaped building overall and the short leg of the L will be home to the simulators.”