Australian Defence Forces base Darwin, in the Northern Territory facing Asia, is slowly growing into a major US support location. From March/April till September the base will hold 22 rotary wing of the US Marine Corps.
Located slightly north-east of the city of Darwin, the RAAF Base is a so-called forward operating location with the runway shared with Darwin International Airport. It is home to a detachment of Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft from No. 92 Squadron as well as air force base units.
USMC Squadrons Squadrons HMH-462, HMH-463, HMLA-367 and HMLA-367 will bring a combined force of eight Bell AH-1W Super Cobras, six Bell UH-1Y Venoms and eight Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallions to the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin, according to current plans. They will train together with RAAF elements and provide the US with a jump spot for possible operations in Asia.
The introduction of the European-made NH90 military helicopter hasn’t gone very smooth for many air forces. There has been criticism against the long delivery delays, problems with corrosion, hearing loss for pilots and operational problems in Afghanistan. But on the southern part of the globe the Royal New Zealand Air Force seems to be rather happy with their new helicopter. All eight ordered NH90s have been delivered, and just before Christmas the RNZAF’s merged its NH90s and its five fairly new AgustaWestland A109LUHs together.
During a ceremony at RNZAF Base Ohakea on North Island the Helicopter Transition Unit formally integrated into 3 Squadron on 20 December 2014, with Wing Commander Scott McKenzie as the new guy to lead the unit. Air Vice-Marshal Mike Yardley made a note of is gladness during the event: “The NH90 will now be responsible for search and rescue missions, casualty evacuation, transport for the New Zealand police, government and military, and will be there for national security requirements.”
The words of the marshal were hardly spoken or the NH90 made its first operational debut: a Austrian hiker was missing in the Tararua Forest Park on 23 December. The NH90 crew spotted him in a valley, winched him in and brought him back to the urbanised world.
New Zealand ordered eight NH90s (plus the equivalent of a ninth for spares) in 2006 for about US$ 600 million to replace the Bell UH-1H Iroquois (“Huey”) chopper. The last of 10 Hueys – also with 3 Squadron – is destined to retire in the southern Winter of 2015, when the NH90s and the military personnel that will use them reach full operational capability that will include fast roping and rappelling and more advanced SAR tactics.
The Iroquois has been in RNZAF service since 1966, but apart from getting older the limitations of the UH-1 in today’s operational environment came much to light during New Zealand’s contribution to the Australian-led multinational stability force in East Timor between 1999 and 2002.
The most southern country in the world to use the NH90, New Zealand is also the first in the world that has its full complement of ordered choppers of the type up and running. The first pair arrived in December 2011, the last at the end of October this year. The Belgian Air Component followed suit with its four “army” NH90 Tactical Transport Helicopters in November, but the final of four “navy” NH90NFHs still has to make it. Interesting detail: like in New Zealand the Belgian NH90s serve alongside A109s in the army support role, which Airheadsfly.com caught on camera during our exclusive visit of Beauvechain Airbase in November 2014.
New Zealand’s NH90 story also had its downsides. There was a delivery delay of 3 years, compensated with 1,4 billion US dollars by NHIndustries. And one of the brand new NH90s was damaged up to 9 million dollars in September 2013 after a lightning strike damaged its tail and main rotors plus parts of the fuselage while the machine was on the ground. But the delay and lightning strike that didn’t have an impact on the operational capabilities of the New Zealand armed forces as a whole, like it did in Sweden.
There the government in Stockholm quickly ordered and received 15 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawks in 2010 to meet urgent needs. And while the Swedish Armed Forces are in December 2014 still struggling with nine less than operational green-painted NH90TTHs and one semi-operational grey-painted maritime NH90NFH, the New Zealand Air Force already reached 1,000 flying hours on the type in March 2014. In the same month the NH90 and UH-1H served the Central District police together in recovering 7415 cannabis plants in a law enforcement bust.
With the full complement of NH90s serving alongside A109LUHs and the gradual farewell to the UH-1H, the New Zealand Defence Force main helicopter unit at RNZAF Base Ohakea looks forward to a bright new future.
The US Marine Corps decommissioned its last Bell UH-1N Huey helicopter on 28 August 2014, marking a milestone in the transition to the newer UH-1Y Venom.
The official goodbye was done at NAS New Orleans JRB, where the final UH-1N served with the detachment of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 (HMLA-773).
The final operational deployment flight of a UH-1N was on 5 November 2013, when a machine assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 took off from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, finishing the eight month deployment with the the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group serving the 5th and 6th Fleet at that time.
UPDATED 27 MARCH 2015 | US based Rice Aircraft Services has confirmed in January 2014 it is engaged together with Canadian Eagle Copters to deliver 21 Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters to the Philippine Air Force. But the deal has been hit by delays, with the Philippines reportedly “partially terminating” the contract on 27 March 2015 due to failure to meet the delivery schedule by Rice Aircraft Services. The exact terms of this termination are not clear (yet).
The contract was awarded just before Christmas and calls for the complete refurbishment of the choppers which are commonly known as Hueys. The aircraft became an icon of US operations in the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. Modernised versions serve many civilian operators and armed services today – including the US Marine Corps.
The new Philippine AF Hueys will come from decommissioned or out-of-service inventories, but neither serial numbers nor origin of the machines were published. Rice Aircraft Services/Eagle Copters will deliver the aircraft fully operational but unarmed to the Philippines.
The Philippine Air Force is already operating UH-1Hs from almost all of its 15 air field facilities throughout the country. Officially it has 44 Hueys on strength, but it is widely believed only half of them are airworthy. Eight similar Bell 205s serve primarily as search-and-rescue helicopters.
Last weekend, AIRheads↑FLY took the Autobahn to Bremen, traveled a bit more through some German woods, came across some villages and finally ended up in a large place with lots of helicopters. That place is Fassberg, home of Transporthubschrauberregiment 10, flying NH Industries NH90 helicopters and good ol’ Bell Hueys. And what coincidence, at September 7th Fassberg was home to the Aerospace Day 2013.