THEY were once known as the workhorse of the navy and dominated our local skies, but now the Sea King helicopters are preparing to make another spectacle, this time for their final journey.
HMAS Albatross’s five aircraft and a spare airframe have been wrapped in protective heat-shrink plastic by local company Integra Packaging ahead of their shipment overseas, where they will be broken up for spares.
The six aircraft will make their final journeys to Port Kembla on Monday and Tuesday on the back of semi-trailers, travelling north on the Princes Highway.
At the port they will be placed on a ship, and will leave for the UK on March 29.
Australian representative for British company Aerospace Logistics (ASL) John Rowe said the giant helicopters will make a spectacular sight travelling along the highway.
Three aircraft will be transported each day, with the trucks and their precious cargos leaving HMAS Albatross and travelling over Nowra Hill and down BTU Road to the Princes Highway, before making their journey north.
Due to the size of the aircraft and road works on the Princes Highway the shipments are only allowed to be on the main roads between 10am and 3pm each day.
The first load is expected through Nowra shortly after 10am.
In January last year, five of the Sea Kings were sold to Aerospace Logistics and will be used as spares for numerous countries which continue to operate the Sea King.
The company will also take a former Royal Navy airframe that had been brought to Australia for spares, back to the UK.
ASL, a specialist repair and support organisation for legacy equipment and platforms, plans to use the aircraft and inventory to sustain and support the worldwide capability of other Sea King fleets.
The Sea Kings were withdrawn from RAN service in December 2011 after 36 years of continuous service.
They had flown more than 60,000 hours while in service.
The navy purchased a dozen Sea Kings in the 1970s and later obtained additional airframes to replace originals lost in crashes.
They entered service as submarine hunters and were later relegated to the general service utility role.
A disastrous crash in Indonesia eight years ago marked the beginning of the end for the Sea Kings, which have now been replaced with six MRH-90 helicopters, operated by 808 Squadron.
The Sea King helicopter provided assistance throughout Australia in times of natural disaster and in difficult rescue missions at sea and inaccessible locations.
In 1994, the Sea Kings were involved in one of the largest firefighting efforts in Australia’s history – dumping water on bushfires raging near the NSW towns of Grafton, Gosford, Bulahdelah and in Sydney’s western suburbs.
In 1998, two Sea Kings worked throughout the night and day to help rescue yacht crews in treacherous weather conditions and mountainous seas during the disastrous Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
One of the Sea Kings’ last major operations occurred in January 2011 when two aircraft and crew were deployed to Roma in southwest Queensland to provide assistance in search, rescue and recovery efforts during the Queensland flood disaster.
This event saw the Sea Kings, in company with three Army Blackhawks, winch dozens of people to safety and evacuate hundreds more in conditions almost beyond comprehension.
The efforts of the Sea Kings and their crew were recognised in September last year with four RAN members involved in the winch rescue of a man from floodwaters at Laidley Creek during the Queensland floods awarded a Group Bravery Citation.
Sea King Shark 07 was excluded from the sale and is now on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Nowra.
It was the helicopter with the most operational history, having served in the Middle East and East Timor.