Tail swaps for Romeo

Published on CPL Dan Pinhorn (author and photographer)

Topic(s): MH-60R Seahawk, HMAS Ballarat (F155)

Royal Australian Navy sailor Able Seaman Aviation Technician Aircraft Jim Allen works on an MH60R Sea Hawk during a 'tail swap' prior to it flying out to HMAS Ballarat in the Middle East region. (photo: CPL Dan Pinhorn)
Royal Australian Navy sailor Able Seaman Aviation Technician Aircraft Jim Allen works on an MH60R Sea Hawk during a 'tail swap' prior to it flying out to HMAS Ballarat in the Middle East region.

A ‘tail swap’ of HMAS Ballarat’s MH-60R Seahawk helicopter was conducted at the main operating base in the Middle East region (MER) recently as part of the scheduled ship’s maintenance period.

A tail swap is a routine changeover of an aircraft to ensure deeper maintenance is completed and wear on the engine and airframe is consistent across the fleet.

Royal Australian Navy sailor Able Seaman Aviation Technician Avionics Jonno Becker works on an MH60R Sea Hawk during a 'tail swap' in the Middle East region.

Royal Australian Navy sailor Able Seaman Aviation Technician Avionics Jonno Becker works on an MH60R Sea Hawk during a 'tail swap' in the Middle East region.

The deputy engineer of 816 Squadron (an operational support squadron), Lieutenant Lee Lawson, oversaw the process in his role as the officer in charge of the maintenance team. 

“The MH-60R Seahawk is a complex aircraft,” Lieutenant Lawson said.

“The helicopter that was on HMAS Ballarat required routine deeper maintenance, which is best supported by the engineering base with 816 Squadron.” 

The replacement helicopter was transported from HMAS Albatross in the back of an Air Force C-17A Globemaster.

“The advance team came early to receive the outgoing aircraft, with the rest travelling on the C-17 with the replacement aircraft.”

Also on the 12-person team was Able Seaman Jim Allen, an aviation technician, who flew over with the replacement helicopter in the C-17A. 

“Upon arriving in the MER, we had to remove all the tie down and blanking plates from the replacement aircraft and conduct minor maintenance to make it fit to fly again,” Able Seaman Allen said.

“We then had to prepare the other helicopter for travel back to Australia too.”

While the Seahawks were in the same location at the main operating base in the MER, the maintenance team undertook normal calendar servicing on both aircraft. 

“It was good to test our knowledge on how to do things without the support you would have if we were home,” Able Seaman Allen stated. 

“Being in a confined area and out of your comfort zone, it was satisfying to find solutions to the challenges that sprung up. It made it an overall good experience, I think it’s good to get away and do your job elsewhere other than just at the squadron.”

The MH-60R Seahawk first become operational as part of Operation MANITOU in 2015. They have the ability to give a far greater tactical picture for the ship in the area of operations.

Commonly referred to by its ‘Romeo’ designator, it is a significant increase to the capabilities of the ship.