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AUSTRALIAN ARMY AVIATION BRIEF HISTORY badge-corps-avaition.jpg (11458 bytes)

After much inter-Service discussion the CAS and the CGS agreed that Army pilots should fly their light aircraft on Air OP duties. With a strength of 6-8 Auster Mk III aircraft the flight was part of 3 (Tac/R) Squadron RAAF, so the RAAF retained ultimate responsibility for the Flight and its operations.

Although the support provided to the Army by the flight was minuscule, it did introduce the Army over a period of nine years to the potential benefits of such a resource. It did so by undertaking Air OP duties for a variety of units and by playing a significant role in the major formation exercises that were mounted from 1958. Valuable experience came also from the inclusion of RAA pilots in 1903 Independent Air OP Flt RA as part of the British Commonwealth Division in Korea. From 1951 to 1953 five Australians served in the Flight including one killed in action. (Captain Luscombe)

A further source of light aircraft support for the Army and experience for the pilots came from the raising of 1 Army Aviation Company in 1957. With Benjamin as its OC, it consisted of a small group of Army officers and senior NCO pilots who operated civil aircraft on charter to the Army.

In total, the Flight and the Company were unable to meet more than a fraction of the Army’s need for light aircraft support and the capacity and age of the Auster Mk III exacerbated the deficiency. In 1958 the Austers were replaced by Cessna 180A models slightly modified for Army service. By that time agreement had been reached in the Defence Committee for the Army to have its organic light aircraft but firm plans to implement that decision were not developed until 1960

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Cessna 180

On 1 December 1960, 16 Army Light Aircraft Squadron was formed at RAAF Amberley from the disbanded 16 Air OP Flight and 1 Army Aviation Company. Six Cessna from 16 Air OP Flight and eleven Bell 47G2 Sioux helicopters made up the original aircraft in the squadron which included a training and an operations flight.

The Squadron became 1 Aviation Regiment on 26 April 1966. Before that date a permanent detachment of two Cessna 180 aircraft were deployed to PNG Command and, in 1965, 182 Reconnaissance Flight of two Sioux helicopters was deployed to Malacca, Malaya to support the Australian infantry battalion of 28 Commonwealth Infantry Brigade. This Flight was later absorbed into 28 ANZUK Aviation Squadron and then disbanded when the Australian forces were withdrawn from the theatre in 1973.

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Bell Sioux

When the first Australian battalion group (1 RAR) entered the South Vietnam theatre in June 1965, 161 Independent Reconnaissance Flight had also been readied for deployment and followed 1 RAR in September of that year. Initially at a strength of two Cessna 180 and two Sioux aircraft, the Flight was increased to four Cessna and six Sioux by the end of 1967. In 1970 three of the Cessna were replaced by Pilatus Porter aircraft, which had already replaced the Cessna in Australia during 1968 and 1969.

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Pilatus Porter

Back in Australia, during 1968, 1 Aviation Regiment deployed 183 Reconnaissance Flight to Lae in PNG and withdrew the original small permanent detachment. At the same time preparations were well in hand to form the Australian Army Aviation Corps. This was done on 1 July 1968 with a Corps strength of 106 officer pilots. Since then officers and other ranks trained in aviation trades other than flying duties have been absorbed into the Corps.

Exactly a year after the Corps was formed, the Army formally took over the Oakey aerodrome from the Department of Civil Aviation on 1 July 1969. When a number of steel temporary buildings were erected at Oakey, 16 Aviation Squadron (Reconnaissance) moved there from RAAF Amberley. A major building programme was eventually approved and construction got under way. By 1 August 1972 enough of the new base was ready for the remainder of 1 Aviation Regiment and for additional Army Aviation units to be raised and moved there. These were Headquarters Army Aviation Centre to control Oakey Army Airfield, and the Army Aviation Centre Base Squadron.

In South Vietnam, 161 Independent Reconnaissance Flight re-deployed from its original location at Bien Hoa to Vung Tau in June 1966. When its airfield was completed within 1 Australian Task Force area at Nui Dat, the Flight established itself there in March 1967. By this time its ten aircraft were delivering a planned flying rate of 1,200 hours a month.

Usually a Sioux was allocated in direct support of each infantry battalion deployed outside the Task Force base. Other routine daily tasks were visual reconnaissance, electronic surveillance and route clearance. Varying degrees of operational risk attended most missions and a number of aircraft were lost. By late 1971 three pilots had been killed in action, three Cessna 180, one Cessna L19 (Bird-dog), a Pilatus Porter, eight Bell Sioux and one Bell Kiowa had been destroyed by enemy action and 14 fixed wing and 20 rotary wing hit by ground fire. Beginning in 1971 the Australian force was gradually withdrawn from the theatre with most of the Flight departing during December 1971. The last members moved out in March 1972 to return to RAAF Amberley.

In the last months of 1971 at Nui Dat, 161 Independent Reconnaissance Flight operated a number of turbine powered Bell Kiowa on loan from the US Army. At the same time in Australia, the process of determining a replacement for the Bell Sioux had settled on the Bell 206B or Kiowa. The first 12 of these aircraft were delivered from the Bell Factory in Fort Worth Texas, but the remainder of the order was built by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation at Fisherman’s Bend. When the deliveries were completed, the Australia Army’s fleet of aircraft were all turbine powered.

Some four years later the Government Aircraft Factory Nomad was introduced into Army Aviation. From the first delivery in July 1977, this twin-engined aircraft added a new dimension to the capacity of Army Aviation by greatly improving its ability to deploy its aviation assets in the field and by providing a faster, larger and longer range aircraft to support the Army.

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GAF Nomad

In February 1976, 183 Reconnaissance Flight was withdrawn from PNG and disbanded. This was the last of the overseas deployments and Australian Army Aviation was now deployed with 161 Reconnaissance Squadron at Holsworthy, 162 Reconnaissance Squadron in Townsville and the remainder at Oakey.

In 1986 the Chiefs of Staff Committee decided that all battlefield helicopters, with no size or weight limitations would be transferred to the Army. The following year on 20 November, 5 Aviation Regiment was raised from 9 Squadron and 35 Squadron RAAF and the Sikorsky S70A Black Hawk helicopter entered service. In January 1989 command of 5 Aviation Regiment was transferred to Army and A and B Squadrons were raised with Black Hawk helicopters for troop lift and Bell UH 1H Iroquois helicopters as gunships.

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S-70A Blackhawk

All pilots were now trained as helicopter pilots and the School of Army Aviation was carrying out operational training on Kiowa, Iroquois, Black Hawk and Nomad. Conversion to fixed wing aircraft was carried out at a later stage on an as required basis.

From July 1991 to January 1992, 1 Aviation Regiment deployed Iroquois helicopters to Espiritu Santo, the Solomon Islands, Samoa and Vanuatu for cyclone relief and searching for crashed aircraft and recovery of the dead. A troop of six Black Hawk helicopters deployed to Cambodia in 1993 on Operation Gemini in support of the United Nations and in 1994 five Blackhawk deployed to Bougainville on Operation Lagoon in support of the peace process.

In October 1992, after 25 years of service, the Pilatus Porters were retired leaving the Nomad as the only fixed wing aircraft in the Army inventory. In order to allow for the tasks requiring a fixed wing aircraft to be carried out, a decision was made to lease light twin engined fixed wing aircraft. In 1995 it was the Embraer Bandeirantes and then in 1996, until the present time, Beechcraft Super King Airs and De Havilland Canada Twin Otters. In 1995, 161 Reconnaissance Squadron re-deployed from Holsworthy to Darwin in support of 1 Brigade. Four Boeing Chinook Medium Lift Helicopters were introduced into service with C Squadron 5 Aviation Regiment.

Three Black Hawk and two Chinook helicopters from 5 Aviation Regiment were deployed to PNG from November 1997 to April 1998 on Operation Ples Drai, distributing food and supplies to starving villagers. From April to July of 1998 three Black Hawk provided similar support in Irian Jaya under Operation Aus Indo Jaya.

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Chinook Heavy Lift Helicopter

As part of the peace monitoring force on Bougainville, 1 Aviation Regiment deployed four Iroquois helicopters under Operation Bel Isi in May 1998. This operation lasted for over three ears until August 2001. 1 Aviation Regiment rotated approximately 300 personnel through this detachment. Most were 171 Sqn personnel however support was provided from other units including the School of Army Aviation and 5 Aviation Regiment.

Also in 1998 the Army Aviation Training Centre, to be commanded by a colonel, was formed to command the School of Army Aviation, the ADF Helicopter School [now the Army Helicopter School], and the RAEME Aircraft Maintenance School [now the Rotary Wing Aircraft Maintenance School]

Kiowas from 1 Aviation Regiment and Black Hawks from 5 Aviation Regiment were deployed to East Timor in 1999 as part of the United Nations Interfet Force.

In 2000, a Commander Divisional Aviation at colonel level was created to command the two aviation regiments, and in 2001 an Aviation Capability Development Group, again at colonel level, was created to introduce new capabilities to Army. The first of their projects was the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (Tiger) which began delivery in 2004

Also in 2001, in December, the Army Helicopter School moved to Oakey from Canberra. All Army Aviation training, other than basic fixed wing flying training at Tamworth, was now located at the home of Army Aviation at Oakey. On 2 April 2002, 16 Brigade [Aviation] was formed from an amalgamation of Aviation Support Group and Divisional Aviation. Headquarters 16 Brigade [Aviation] provides a deployable aviation component headquarters element and is responsible to the Chief of Army for the technical control of Army Aviation and to the Land Commander for the command of Land Command Aviation.

The Australian Army Aviation Corps is now manned by 337 officers and 232 other ranks. It comprises the Army Aviation Training Centre with two schools - the Army Helicopter School and the School of Army Aviation, a Headquarters 16 Bde [Avn] with two regiments; 1 Aviation Regiment and 5 Aviation Regiment.

The Corps has a total aircraft inventory of 114 which includes: six Chinooks, 36 Black Hawks, 25 Iroquois, 42 Kiowa with three King Air and two Twin Otter on lease. It is deployed at Oakey, Townsville, and Darwin.

Thanks to the Australian Army Aviation Association