The Royal Australian Navy has marked the end of an era by handing over the last of its S‑70B-2 Seahawk ‘Bravo’ helicopters to the Australian War Memorial for preservation in the national collection.
Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs, Dan Tehan, said it was important milestone for the Australian Defence Force.
“The Bravo served with distinction in Operation Damask during the first Gulf War, Operations Relex and Resolute for border protection duties and most recently Operations Slipper and Manitou in the Middle East,” Mr Tehan said.
"The Bravo design has served our country for almost three decades in the demanding maritime environment, which is a testament to the quality of the helicopter and those who have maintained it and flown it.”
The Seahawk ‘Bravo’ has been replaced by the latest version of the Seahawk known as the MH-60R ‘Romeo’.
Navy has now received 24 Romeos, which are primarily based at HMAS Albatross at Nowra, to replace the 16 Bravos.
"We are taking a quantum leap in technology as we upgrade to the latest Seahawks, but we will always remember the Bravos fondly as the aircraft that brought us into the 21st Century,” Mr Tehan said.
Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, a pilot himself said the Seahawk had been a dependable aircraft and will always be respected by the Fleet Air Arm.
"The Bravo is one of the most reliable and capable maritime aircraft," Vice Admiral Barrett said.
The Bravo is one of the most reliable and capable maritime aircraft. It provided 29 years of exceptional service to navy. From the very beginning, these aircraft were operationally deployed and proved their value time and time again.Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett
"Many of our pilots, air crews and maintainers have worked on this platform ensuring it provided 29 years of exceptional service to navy.
“From the very beginning, these aircraft were operationally deployed and proved their value time and time again.”
In addition to its physical preservation curators at the Australian War Memorial are undertaking an oral history project to record the stories and experiences of those who flew the Seahawk.
Oral history record the stories and experiences of those who flew the Seahawk
With the retirement of the Seahawk Bravo S-70B- 2 helicopter from service, aircraft 872 (fondly known as ‘Christine’) will be taking up a new home at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra.
In the lead up to Christine’s big move the AWM’s Senior Curator, Stephanie Boyle, visited HMAS Albatross to interview personnel who had a close association with both Christine and the Seahawk Bravo.
The interviews will be used in the AWM’s extensive Oral History Collection.
The AWM sought a broad mix of participation and perspectives, with the histories provided covering the breadth of Bravo operations.
Officer in Charge MH-60R Simulators, Lieutenant Commander Damian Liberale’s association with the Seahawk Bravo started in 1989 at HMAS Nirimba when an aircraft made a short motivational visit to apprentices under training.
LCDR Liberale first posted to 816 Squadron in 1993 and said he saw the oral history project as a unique opportunity.
“I was very keen to participate. The project captures a snapshot of my service career and gives me the chance to share my experiences with people who may have no experience with military and service life,” he said.
LCDR Liberale shared his enthusiasm for the aircraft.
“I was always comfortable flying in them, 100 nautical miles from land, 200 feet over water at night without night vision devices,” he said.
“I always trusted the aircraft, the people who flew them, and the personnel maintaining them.”
Having joined 816 Squadron in 1993, Warrant Officer Aircrewman Brian Pashley has had a long, and often exciting, association with the Bravo Seahawk.
He provided the AWM with accounts of his experiences in the 1994 Sydney bushfires, the 1995 rescue of French sailor Isabelle Autissier after her racing yacht capsized 800 nautical miles south-west of Tasmania, and the 2003 Canberra bushfires for which WO Pashley received the ACT Emergency Services medal.
WO Pashley also received a Bravery Medal for his actions in one of Australia’s largest peacetime search and rescue operations, the 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race where he was winched in darkness, 30 knot winds and a 10 metre swell to rescue an injured sailor.
He said the Bravo was a versatile machine, able to lift heavy loads, flag fly, perform search and rescue, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare.
“It did it all with power to spare and in relative comfort,” he said.
“You could trust the aircraft to do whatever was asked of it.”
Leading Seaman Daniel Crowe is currently the last trade supervisor on the shop floor for the S-70B- 2 draw down and his pride in the aircraft and his team’s work was obvious.
“I have a strong passion for military history, including that of the Fleet Air Arm, and I wanted to be involved in the oral history project to tell the story of what it means to be part of the maintenance team at 816 Squadron and what it was like to maintain the Bravo Seahawk,” LS Crowe said.
“While my history with the S-70B- 2 is actually quite short, only six years, in that time I have done a number of small deployments to the MEAO in support of Bravo Flights on rotation, South East Asia Deployment in 2016 (with 872) on HMAS Anzac, and I was in Kaikoura NZ last year during the earthquake disaster relief aboard HMAS Darwin.
“While the S-70B- 2 Seahawk is retiring I will always have many fond memories to draw upon, the most memorable one being the four-day transit with 872 (Christine) from Darwin to Perth at the end of our South East Asia Deployment.
“We flew over the Bungle Bungle Ranges which was a once in a lifetime bird’s eye view of a very unique part of Australian landscape.
“We get a great sense of satisfaction flying in the machines we maintain, it’s always real privilege and I wanted to share that perspective with the AWM Oral History project.”
The S-70B- 2 Oral History project adds to previous collections for navy’s AS350BA Squirrel helicopter that also saw operational service in the MAEO.