Lieutenant Commander Tony Reyne farewells the Squirrel after 35 years

GREAT MACHINE: Warrant Officer Stu Walters and Lieutenant Commander Tony Reyne who have both had a long association with the Squirrel helicopter farewell the little workhorse last week.

GREAT MACHINE: Warrant Officer Stu Walters and Lieutenant Commander Tony Reyne who have both had a long association with the Squirrel helicopter farewell the little workhorse last week.

The retirement of the S-70B-2 ‘Bravo’ Seahawk and AS350BA Squirrel helicopters from the Royal Australian Navy on Friday marked the end of a big era.

Over the years hundreds of pilots have flown both the Bravo and Squirrel, but one man who probably felt that retirement more than others was Lieutenant Commander Tony Reyne who has had a 35-year association with the helicopter at 723 Squadron at HMAS Albatross.

“It’s sad to be retiring but everything comes to an end,” LCDR Reyne said.

LCDR Reyne made one last flight over the Shoalhaven and the base last Friday.

“The grandkids wanted to watch Pop take one last flight,” he joked.

LCDR Reyne was also given the honour of flying one of two Squirrels on their last official flight on Tuesday (December 5),  to their new homes, one going to the Army Aviation Museum in Oakey and another to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook.

Read more: HMAS Albatross puts on a show to farewell the Bravo Seahawk and Squirrel helicopters

“It’s been a great career and something I’ve thoroughly enjoyed,” he said.

At last week’s retirement ceremony LCDR Reyne was also presented with a Gold Discharge Medallion by Chief of Navy Vice-Admiral Tim Barrett to mark his 35 years association with the aircraft and 723 Squadron.

“I think they gave me the award because I’ve been here so long,” he joked.

“I’m coming up to 48 years continuous service.”

He would have to be one of the longest serving pilots at the Nowra Air Station.

The Royal Australian Navy AS350BA Squirrel Helicopters from 723 Squadron were retired last week. Photo: Justin Brown.

The Royal Australian Navy AS350BA Squirrel Helicopters from 723 Squadron were retired last week. Photo: Justin Brown.

“I’m 65, I’m a senior still flying these aircraft,” he said.

“I’m blown away by that. I’m probably the only one in the ADF still doing it.

“Medicals are always going on and at my last review I was told ‘I’m still fit to fly - but I have to sit in the co-pilot’s seat’.”

LCDR Reyne has spent more than 30 years of his career at 723 Squadron.

“My last stint started in 2004 and lasted for 13 straight years,” he said.

“There has been a lot of standouts over all those years - I really enjoy doing the training.

“You get young raw students whose skill level is down and train them and see them develop and go off to operational flying, which is great.

“There are people here I trained many years ago which is a buzz.

“I don’t want Tony Reyne clones, I just want them to develop their own skills.

“And it was a thrill to see them go on to bigger and better things.”

As for the Squirrel helicopter, LCDR Reyne said it was great little workhorse.

“The Squirrels came in ’84 I think as an interim aircraft to replace the Iroquois, a utility aircraft that could also be used in search rescue,” he said.

“It was only suppose to be around for a little while until we got something bigger and better.

“It’s still here 33 years later having moved into the training role.

“We first sent the aircraft to sea on the new FFG Destroyers when the Seahawk crews were working hard to get those aircraft up and going. They were training people and couldn’t get enough aircraft at sea on the ships we had, so we supplemented with the Squirrels.

“We did that for a number years until ’97.

“The aircraft had a hydraulic hiccup in 2001 and the army moved away from using them for training, preferring the Kiowa.

“We started using the Squirrel for training here in 2001 and since then they have been used to train pilots, observers and air crewmen.”

Throughout his career LCDR Reyne has notched up more than 10,000 flying hours.

“I suppose that is up there within the navy when it comes to flying records,” he said.

“It’s something I never thought about. It just happened. I just enjoyed my job.

“It’s pretty cool to be able to fly everyday.”

Perhaps the greatest compliment to LCDR Reyne was when presenting with his award Vice Admiral Barrett, off mike, said he ‘saluted his service and the support of his wife Jill’.

Warrant Officer Stu Walters has worked on the aircraft as a maintainer for a number of years.

“It is a great little aircraft,” he said “a fairly simple airframe, engine and gearbox compared to other aircraft I’ve worked on.

“I’ve worked on fixed wing and rotary aircraft. It is quite simple to work on compared to other systems in other aircraft.

“I have worked on and off with the Squirrel for a number of years. I first came to the squadron in 1992 staying for a few years and then came back again about two and a half years ago to look after the maintenance.

“The safety record of the Squirrel is impeccable which is something we are very proud of.

“We take airworthiness of the aircraft very seriously.

“We have a good bunch of maintainers looking after the aircraft and it is important to us to keep the aircraft safe and the pilot and aircrew safe.”

He said there had been no major issues with the Squirrel helicopters.

“We did some hydraulic modifications in the early ’90s to help the crew fly the aircraft better and that’s about it.

“We are a close team with the pilots, we need to know what the aircrew feel and pick up on the aircraft so we can ensure it is right.”

A Squirrel and Seahawk have both been installed at the Quarterdeck at HMAS Albatross as gate guards.

Squirrels will also be on display in museums at the Army Aviation Museum in Oakey and another to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook, while the Seahawk, ‘Christine’ headed to the Australian War Memorial on Monday.