History repeats as Commander Air position reinstated

This article has photo gallery Published on Ms Dallas McMaugh (author), LSIS Jayson Tufrey (photographer), LSIS Justin Brown (photographer), ABIS Leo Baumgartner (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Albatross, NSW

Topic(s): HMAS Albatross, Fleet Air Arm

Commander Rick Neville at HMAS Albatross. (photo: )
Commander Rick Neville at HMAS Albatross.

Commander Rick Neville will soon find himself at the centre of a ‘back to the future’ moment as the Fleet Air Arm inscribes his name on the ‘Commander Air’ honour board at HMAS Albatross.

The honour board lists many illustrious and familiar names of Fleet Air Arm personnel who once held the ‘Commander Air’ title, dating back to the foundation of the Fleet Air Arm when HJ Lawe OBE was appointed the first Commander Air in 1947.

Other names on the board include Commodore Toz Dadswell (1967), WW2 Fighter Pilot Lieutenant Fred Sherborne (1958), Rear Admiral Neal Ralph (1973) and Commander Ted Wynberg (1994), who are all fondly remembered at Albatross due to their long association with the base and impressive service histories. 

The last Commander Air to be listed was MT Jerrett in 1990, before the position was absorbed into the duties of the HMAS Albatross Executive Officer after the fixed wing elements of the Fleet Air Arm were disbanded in 1984, following HMAS Melbourne’s decommissioning in 1981.

Those names are very familiar to Commander Air Neville, who has fond memories of the days of Melbourne and fixed wing flying.

“I flew in Tracker aircraft as an Aircrewman before completing Aviation Warfare Officer training and accumulated many hours in numerous aircraft types such as the Seahawk, Sea King, Wessex and Iroquois to name a few.

“I am very excited to be the first in a new ‘Commander Air’ generation at Albatross.

“There have been many, many fine Naval Aviators that have gone before me and I only hope I can live up to the high standards they have set,” Commander Neville said.

Originally, the Commander Air was the head of the Air Department, which included all Fleet Air Arm Squadrons and was embarked in the carriers Sydney and Melbourne when the Carrier Air Group (CAG) embarked.

They were responsible for the ship’s entire aviation operation.

With the recent introduction of new aircraft types such as the MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’ helicopter and the Joint Helicopter School, Albatross has become a much busier airfield.

Considering this, as well as the increased use of the other Navy airfields at HMAS Stirling and Jervis Bay, a more wide ranging portfolio was needed to oversee the airfields and their operations.

New compliance requirements, particularly the newly developed Defence Aviation Safety Regulations, also required a dedicated position, so it was decided to reinstate the Commander Air position.

Albatross’s Executive Officer, Commander David Hutchinson, described the role as a challenging one.

“It’s a very busy environment.

“Coordinating airspace for the Fleet Air Arm Squadrons and Parachute Training School requires high level organisational skills.

“In addition to this, the airfield is also used as the operational base for local emergency services.

An example would be the 2017 bushfires when Albatross supported a range of aircraft and vehicles to ensure the safety and protection of people and property in the local community.

“That’s a huge responsibility,” Commander Hutchinson said.