The Australian Army Flying Museum sits outside the Army Aviation Centre in Oakey, Queensland. Here you can see a great collection of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters operated by the Australian Army Aviation Corps, including those from the 1970’s through to the end of the Cold War and beyond, to modern conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and UN Peace Keeping duties.
When I arrived at the museum in November 2018 there was a huge downpour, I had driven for almost an hour in the storm, aquaplaning along unfamiliar roads! The museum staff member greeted me with some surprise at seeing a patron turn up in that storm but I only had that morning to see the museum and wasn’t going to miss out! Inside I was warned the roof was leaking in spots and sure enough buckets had been strategically positioned to counter the drops from the heavy storm.
Army Aviation in the 1970’s
The 1970’s saw a number of new aircraft enter Australian Army Aviation Corps service. The first of 56 Bell 206B-1 Kiowa helicopters were delivered in 1971 to replace the ageing Bell 47G Sioux (in service since 1960) in the observation/training role and the last Bell 206 was not retired until October 2018 (of 56 purchased, 12 were delivered by Bell and the rest were licence-built by CAC as the CA-32)!
In July 1973 the army leased Nomad 2, the second prototype of the Australian designed and built GAF N-22 Nomad STOL light transport aircraft. Unfortunately it crashed in October 1973, was rebuilt and became a gate guardian at Oakey. Today its sits outside the Australian Army Flying Museum behind a fence on the active base side, with the Serial Number A18-300 (it is in a bit of a sorry state). Next to Nomad 2 is RAAF de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou A4-195 STOL tactical transport which was in service from 1964 to 2009 and had been deployed to East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
11 production GAF N-22B Nomad STOL aircraft entered service in the mid 1970’s for light transport and liaison duties (11 were delivered between 1975 and 1979, an additional 2 N-22B were delivered in 1982 and another was acquired from the RAAF in 1987). By 1975 the last Bell 47G Sioux and Cessna 180 aircraft had been retired – the helicopters had clocked up 153,855 hours of flying time!
In the 1970’s the Australian Army School of Army Aviation was formed in Oakey and there were flight detachments in Papua New Guinea (disbanded in 1975 when the nation gained independence from Australia), Singapore (disbanded in 1972), Sydney and Townsville. With the end of Australian involvement in the Vietnam War, army training and survey detachments were kept busy on deployments to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and around Australia.
Army Aviation in the 1980’s
In 1980 Pilatus PC-6 Porter STOL light transport aircraft were deployed to Vanuatu to assist their government in conducting electronic warfare missions against rebel forces. In 1986 the ADF Helicopter School was formed at RAAF Fairbairn in Canberra to conduct defence force helicopter training flying the Eurocopter AS350B Squirrel (A22-109 is on display in the museum painted in its original training livery – it flew with all three services and was retired by the RAN in 2017). Although a combined unit across air force, army and navy, it fell under the structure of the army.
The Army Helicopter School relocated to Oakey in 2001 with a decision made for Army training to be completed flying the Bell 206B-1 Kiowa – the Squirrels were then transferred to the Royal Australian Navy. In 2015 the Australian Defence Force ordered 15 leased Eurocopter EC135 T2+ training helicopters for operation by the contracted Boeing/Thales team to provide helicopter crew training at the ADF Joint Helicopter School at HMAS Albatross in Nowra, New South Wales.
In 1989 Bell UH-1H Iroquois (including armed Bushranger gunships with two forward firing 7.62mm miniguns and rockets, along with side mounted twin M60 machine guns) and Sikorsky S-70A-9/UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters operated by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) were transferred to the Australian Army and incorporated into 5 Aviation Regiment. For the first few years they were still predominately supported by RAAF personnel. The first Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopters had been in RAAF operation since 1968 during the Vietnam War and the last of the 25 transferred to the Army were not retired until October 2007.
Army Aviation in the 1990’s and Beyond
In 1992, after almost 25 years service, the last 12 Pilatus PC-6 Porter STOL light transports were retired and 6 GAF N-22B Nomad and 4 new N-24A Nomad aircraft were delivered in 1993 to replace them. Unfortunately an RAAF and army Nomad crashed in two fatal accidents and all Nomad aircraft were withdrawn from service in 1995. A mix of leased fixed wing aircraft were operated after this to fulfill the light transport role (Embraer EMB 110 Bandierante, Beech B200 King Air and de Havilland Canada Twin Otter and in 2004 they were replaced by Beech B350 King Air aircraft).
Army aviation units were involved in disaster and humanitarian relief operations in Australia, Asia and the Pacific region during the 1990’s and 2000’s. In 1993 Black Hawk helicopters supported the UN Mission in Cambodia and again in 1994 they were sent to Bougainville in Papua New Guinea for peacekeeping duties (UH-1H’s returned in 1998 and remained there until 2001).
In 1995 the army received 4 re-manufactured Boeing CH-47D Chinook transport helicopters to provide a heavy lift capability that had been lost with the 1989 retirement of RAAF CH-47C helicopters – the RAAF Chinook’s were returned to the United States and upgraded to D models, 4 of which were delivered to the Australian Army Aviation Corps.
Tragedy struck on June 12th, 1996 when two army Black Hawk helicopters collided near Townsville, Queensland during a counter terrorism training mission with the Special Air Service (SAS). 18 servicemen were killed, including 3 helicopter aircrew and numerous others were injured. A detailed investigation was conducted and as a result numerous operational safety measures were later implemented.
In 1999 Army Aviation Kiowa and Black Hawk helicopters were deployed for UN peacekeeping duties in East Timor. They were joined in 2000 by Beech B200 King Air transports. Due to the ongoing threat of civil unrest, the Kiowa deployment remained until 2008 and the last Black Hawk was not withdrawn until 2012.
In 2003 army CH-47D Chinook helicopters were deployed to the conflict in Iraq (Operation Bastille and Falconer) and UH-1H Iroquois helicopters were sent to the Solomon Islands to support army units during the civil unrest in that nation (deployed mid 2003 to October 2003). In 2006 a pair of CH-47D Chinook helicopters were deployed to Afghanistan to support coalition forces – they had additional armour and offensive weaponry (mini-guns) added to fly in this intense combat zone.
Sadly in 2011, a Chinook crashed whilst on deployment which resulted in the death of Lieutenant Marcus Case. Regardless of this mishap, the deployment of the CH-47D helicopters was very successful and a valuable asset to ADF and coalition personnel. By the time the Chinook helicopters were withdrawn from the conflict in September 2013, they had been deployed and rotated 11 times!
Army Aviation also provided counter terrorism support for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the 2003 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. In 2006 Black Hawk helicopters were deployed to Fiji during civil unrest – sadly again tragedy struck with the crash of a Black Hawk which resulted in the death of two people, including the army pilot Captain Mark Bingley.
Army Aviation in 2018
In the past the Australian Army operated a mixed fleet of fixed and rotary wing aircraft but in 2018 they are solely a helicopter force (the last fixed wing aircraft, Beech King Air B350’s were transferred to the RAAF in 2009), flying the Sikorsky S-70A-9 Black Hawk (34 remain in service from an original 39 delivered), Boeing CH-47F Chinook (7 delivered in 2015 to replace the earlier CH-47D), Eurocopter Tiger ARH armed reconnaissance helicopter (delivery of 22 commenced in 2004) and NHIndustries MRH-90 Taipan multi-role helicopter (the first of 40 were delivered in 2007). While I was at the museum in November 2018, I saw Tiger and Taipan helicopters conducting training flights over the Oakey Army Aviation Centre.