Fleet Air Arm’s firefighting support caps off busy 2019

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Geoff Long (author), ABIS Leo Baumgartner (photographer), ABIS Shane Cameron (photographer)

Topic(s): Fleet Air Arm, Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST

A row of Royal Australian Navy Fleet Air Arm aircraft on standby at Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamtown, Newcastle, as part of the firefighting efforts in New South Wales. (photo: ABIS Leo Baumgartner)
A row of Royal Australian Navy Fleet Air Arm aircraft on standby at Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamtown, Newcastle, as part of the firefighting efforts in New South Wales.

The Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (FAA) has capped off a high tempo year by supporting firefighting efforts on the east coast of Australia, during one of the most dangerous bushfire periods the nation has ever seen.

Helicopters from three squadrons based at HMAS Albatross were used: MH-60R Seahawk helicopters from 816 Squadron, MRH-90 helicopters from 808 Squadron and EC135 helicopters from 723 Squadron, with all playing roles to support the firefighters and emergency crews on the ground.

The Royal Australian Navy is renowned for its high quality of training, which provides crews with skills that can be readily used in support of emergency operations, while its cutting-edge technology delivers capability not available elsewhere.

Executive Officer 723 Squadron, Lieutenant Commander Gavin Johnston said the squadron delivers a significant capability for rotary wing aircrew training in Australia.

“Taking part in operations such as the firefighting efforts in New South Wales gives our newly qualified crews an opportunity to consolidate the skills and knowledge that they have gained during training,” Lieutenant Commander Johnston said.

During the firefighting deployment 723 Squadron’s EC135 helicopters reached the key milestone of 10,000 flying hours.

Commanding Officer 723 Squadron, Commander Bruce Willington, said the fleet of 15 EC135 helicopters reached the milestone in only three years.

“I would like to congratulate my skilled and committed aircrew, maintenance teams and support personnel who have all contributed to this milestone,” Commander Willington said.

The first EC135 helicopters joined 723 Squadron in 2016 and have since completed more than 6700 flights, while training the newly formed instructor workforce and delivering an initial rotary qualification to 34 pilots, 11 Aviation Warfare Officers and 33 Aircrew for the Navy and Army.

Meanwhile, Navy’s MH-60R Seahawk helicopters provided advanced technology though their Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) cameras and sensors. Each night, soon after dusk, the aircrew from 816 Squadron were joined by RFS specialists for flights over fire grounds to assess and map current fire movements.

The MH-60R, affectionately known as the Romeo, is the navy's next generation submarine hunter and anti-surface warfare helicopter but readily adapts to support a variety of missions including search and rescue, utility and humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations.

Navy’s Fleet Air Arm is regularly called on to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief in response to bushfires, floods, cyclones or other emergencies.

While enjoying well-earned family time over the Christmas/New Year period, as always, Fleet Air Arm personnel will remain ready to respond if called upon to support those in need.

Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 19-20 imagery is available on the Defence Image Gallery: https://images.defence.gov.au/S20192970.