Two of the Royal Australian Navy helicopter warhorses, the S-70B-2 ‘Bravo’ Seahawk and AS350BA Squirrel helicopters were formally retired from active service in a special ceremony at HMAS Albatross.
The ceremony included Divisions, fly pasts of the base’s helicopter squadrons and a number of special awards, including one to Lieutenant Commander Tony Reyne who has been associated with the Squirrel helicopter for 35 years.
Chief of Navy Vice-Admiral Tim Barrett was the reviewing officer, while Commander Australian Fleet Rear Admiral Stuart Mayer hosted the ceremony.
A large crowd of family and friends and former personnel who had worked on the aircraft were also present at the ceremony.
The Bravo has been in the Fleet Air Arm inventory for 29 years, as part of 816 Squadron, and was operationally deployed throughout its entire service history, while the Squirrel has served the RAN for 33 years amassing an enviable record in both operations and training with 723 Squadron.
Both aircraft have a proud record of service to the nation and the retirement ceremony was a tribute to the aircraft, the personnel who served with them, the families that supported them and their place in naval aviation history.
The AS350BA Squirrel has proven to be one of the most successful airframes in naval aviation history. It provided exceptional utility.
During the 1990-91 Gulf War it carried out shipping surveillance, mine searches and top cover for helicopter boardings, it was deployed in support of bushfire and flood relief operations in Australia including the 'Black Christmas Bushfire' crisis that swept through NSW in December 2001, the 2011 floods in South East Queensland and Victoria, and the 2012 floods in the Wagga region.
Over three decades the majority of naval aviators have trained in the AS350BA and many have fond memories of their time in the mighty Squirrel.
Having served all three services of the ADF the Squirrel has accrued more than 179,000 flying hours in its 33 years of service.
In the case of Navy the Squirrel has served in both peace and on war and war-like operation becoming affectionately known as the ‘Battle Budgie’.
The S-70B-2 Bravo Seahawk was designed specifically for navy’s needs when it was introduced in 1989.
While it is primarily a combat helicopter for anti-submarine and surface operations, the Bravo Seahawk has also come to the assistance of countless Australians, fighting raging fires, supporting flood and cyclone recoveries and conducting rescue operations at sea, one of the most famous and difficult being during the ill-fated the 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
The Seahawk has given the RAN more than 29 years of service accruing in excess of 88,000 flight hours. The ‘Bravo’ of 816 Squadron has been on continuous operational service since 1990; at total of 27 years and 54 rotations to the Middle East Region.
Commander Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Chris Smallhorn, said the Seahawks and Squirrels retire with a proud record of serving the nation.
“These aircraft have proven to be some of the most successful airframes in naval aviation history,” Commodore Smallhorn said.
“Over the 30 years the majority of naval aviators have trained in the Squirrel and many, including myself, have wonderfully fond memories of their time learning to fly.
“The Squirrel has been so versatile in peace and war that it has created a truly impressive chapter in the history of the Fleet Air Arm.
“In 1989, the Bravo was without doubt the most advanced maritime helicopter of its age. It has proven to be a magnificent combat helicopter for anti-submarine and surface operations and also served us exceptionally in secondary utility type missions.”
He said the Bravo had had an almost continuous presence in the Middle East since 1991 and was always on station at home, having come to the assistance of countless Australians and friends of Australia alike.
“It is a testament to the sailors and officers who maintained and flew these aircraft that we retire the same side numbers that our nation purchased,” he said.
“The operational and safety record is exceptional by any measure.
“As we transition to new training systems and the Seahawk ‘Romeo’ helicopters, the efforts of the military, public service and industry partners who keep these complex weapon systems on the front line each day will continue.
“Navy is grateful to all of our support agencies and former Fleet Air Arm members for a job well done.”
But the aircraft will not be lost to the local area.
A Squirrel and Seahawk have both been installed at the Quarterdeck at the Nowra naval base as gate guards.
Two Squirrels are also off to museums, one to the the Army Aviation Museum in Oakey and another to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook.
LCDR Reyne has been given the honour of flying one of the Squirrels on its last official flight next Tuesday (December 5), while the Seahawk, ‘Christine’ heads to the Australian War Memorial on Monday.