Grand achievement for Navy MAWO

Published on LEUT Ryan Zerbe (author), LSIS Leo Baumgartner (photographer)

Topic(s): MH-60R Seahawk, HMAS Parramatta (F154)

Flight Commander Lieutenant Commander Damien Liberale, RAN onboard HMAS Parramatta alongside Fleet Base East.
 (photo: LSIS Leo Baumgartner)
Flight Commander Lieutenant Commander Damien Liberale, RAN onboard HMAS Parramatta alongside Fleet Base East.

One thousand hours, 41.6 days or 60,000 minutes. However you add it up, that’s a lot of time in a warfighting aircraft.

Maritime Aviation Warfare Officer Lieutenant Commander Damian Liberale recently celebrated this impressive feat by achieving 1000 hours of flying time in Sikorsky Seahawk helicopters while deployed in HMAS Parramatta.

Lieutenant Commander Liberale, of 816 Squadron’s Flight 4, racked up his 1000th hour during a night-time sortie in Parramatta’s embarked helicopter - dubbed ‘Medusa’.

He returned to Parramatta to an honour guard and the applause of his shipmates.

While it took seven years for Lieutenant Commander Liberale to achieve 1000 hours flying Sikorsky S70-B-2 ‘Bravo’ helicopters and their successor, the MH-60R ‘Romeo’, his relationship with them goes much further back.

“I was a Seahawk maintainer for 15 years before I was an Aviation Warfare Officer, so I have had a very close relationship with both S70B-2s and MH-60Rs,” Lieutenant Commander Liberale said.

His time as a naval aviator has seen him fly counter-narcotic operations in the Middle East as well as United Nations operations in North Asia, and he has many fond memories of his time in the air.

“A favourite memory would be conducting the first joint Australia-United States MH-60R live Hellfire missile firing during Exercise PACIFIC VANGUARD in May last year,” Lieutenant Commander Liberale said.

“It was great confirmation that the training pilots, aircrew and maintenance team had undergone was sufficient to get a missile on-target and doing that with a coalition partner felt like a real collective accomplishment.”

While some elements of flying have changed, Lieutenant Commander Liberale still feels the excitement of being in the air.

“Things like regulation and governance have continuously evolved and personnel involved in maritime aviation must review and remain abreast of these contemporary requirements, but the thrill and enjoyment of flying remains the same,” Lieutenant Commander Liberale said.

“I’ve loved the opportunity to fly over locations like Ashmore Reef, the Great Barrier Reef, Djibouti and other remote locations most people never get the opportunity to see from the airborne perspective. It’s a great privilege,” he said.

Maritime Aviation Warfare Officers like Lieutenant Commander Liberale act as Mission Commanders for Navy helicopters, managing weapon and sensor systems and directing operations from the air.

Navy has 24 MH-60R ‘Romeo’ helicopters assigned to 816 and 725 Squadrons at Nowra, providing submarine hunting, anti-surface warfare and search and rescue capabilities.