The Joint Helicopter School at HMAS Albatross is on finals as the first instructors continue their training at the new world-class multi-million-dollar facility.
Contractors with Boeing Defence Australia and Thales are teaching the future instructors to operate the 15 new EC135 T2+ training helicopter and synthetic training devices of the school’s Helicopter Aircrew Training System.
The four Navy and five Army instructors at Albatross are expected to finish their transition training, course development and validation by July, with the next instructor course set to start in September.
In meeting the Australian Defence Force’s needs of all aircrew training for Navy and Army, a world-leading modernised training solution has been developed in preparation for the first trainees incorporating high-end simulation and virtual reality with actual flight time at the state-of-the-art institution.
From early 2018 the school, operating as 723 Squadron, will begin to train up to 130 aircrew each year including pilots, aviation warfare officers, aircrewmen and sensor operators.
Commander of the Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Chris Smallhorn said the current fleet of Navy and Army operational helicopters were cutting-edge aircraft.
“This means we can’t train pilots and crew like we did previously and expect to develop every capability these machines can deliver,” he said.
“The difference will be how good the people are who operate them in the battlefield and the maritime warfare space.
“The training system is designed to make them good enough.”
The investment of $474 million, which includes the refurbished hangars and workshops and new accommodation, should be complete by the end of this year.
There will be a staff of 129 and the school will have – depending on student numbers – an annual flying rate of up to 8,500 hours.
Navy and Army aviation students will start at the school after finishing their initial fixed-wing courses.
On completion of the training at Albatross, students will progress to conversion training on advanced operational helicopter types including the MH60R Seahawk, MRH90 Taipan, S70A9 Black Hawk, ARH Tiger and CH47F Chinook.
Commodore Smallhorn said there was a high level of experience and cross-pollination between the Boeing, Navy and Army instructors.
“One benefit is the mix of the instructor pilot and aircrew experiences will be imbued within the students,” he said.
“The other advantage is the cultural benefit.
“Our business is the art of warfare with the ability to work together in a joint, networked environment as a team.
“When we are doing maritime aviation and operating to and from shore into a forward operating base, the ability to know each other and know how each other operates will tighten the softer elements of joint operations and the ability to work as a team.”
Commodore Smallhorn works with the leadership of Australian Defence Force rotary-wing capability and said it was a close working environment and his relationship with the Army team was important to the success of Navy and Army.
“We speak as one and can work through any issues,” he said.
“When the leadership is working so closely together it naturally means the entire organisation is working comfortably together, which is something we should never take for granted.
“There are cultural differences, but they are important for the environment we operate in on land and sea and the crossover to the littoral.
“The Helicopter Air Training System is a demonstrable piece of the program showing we are working together closely while respecting the context of operations.”
Commodore Smallhorn said Navy would complete the Fleet regeneration of the Fleet Air Arm by December this year.
“The S70B2 Seahawk will be completely replaced by the MH60R Seahawk and the 24th Romeo will be accepted,” he said.
“All the Navy MRH90 Taipans are already here and in January we established the third flight, or capability brick, and they are being used at sea as required by maritime operations and the Fleet Commander.
“The Squirrels, which have been a fantastic aircraft used by all services in peace and at war, will retire by the end of the year.”
The current Navy News (29 June) has an eight page liftout on the Helicopter Aircrew Training System.