Seventies and Eighties
With the formation of the Australian Army Aviation Corps and the acquisition and development of the Army Aviation Centre at Oakey, the foundations were set for the consolidation of the growth that had occurred in the sixties.
A decision was taken to re-equip with Bell 206B-1 helicopters to replace the Sioux and the first of these arrived in Australia in 1972. The turbine engine helicopter was similar to the OH56-A Kiowa aircraft that had been leased from the US Army and operated very successfully by 161 (Indep) Recce Flt in South Vietnam. By the mid-seventies the Army also procured the GAF N-22 Nomad, a twin turbine STOL aircraft suitable for the Army’s liaison and light transport support. With the withdrawal of the Sioux and the Cessna, the all turbine Army fleet consisted of the Kiowa, the Porter and the Nomad.
In 1972, Training Squadron of the 1st Aviation Regiment came under command of the newly formed HQ Training Command and was re-titled the School of Army Aviation. It remained in Amberley, while the 1 Aviation Regiment was housed in temporary accommodation at Oakey while the permanent facilities were being constructed. By this time Army Aviation had a Flight in Singapore, PNG and Sydney, as well as a detachment at Townsville. The Flight in Singapore returned to Australia at the end of 1972 and was disbanded and the detachment in Townsville was upgraded to a Flight. Shortly thereafter sub-unit titles in 1 Aviation Regiment were changed to squadron.
With the withdrawal of 161 Flight from South Vietnam, the focus for aviation support changed to training and supporting survey operations. These latter operations were conducted in Indonesia on Sumatra and (then) Irian Jaya, in Papua New Guinea and on the Australian mainland, and provided challenging flying conditions and valuable experience. Growth, however, slowed; the original number of Kiowas ordered was significantly reduced and plans to raise a new Squadron at Puckapunyal shelved. Notwithstanding, 161 Recce Squadron in Sydney occupied a new purpose designed airfield at Holsworthy and the School of Army Aviation relocated from Amberley to the new permanent facilities at Oakey. 1 Aviation Regiment, however, continued to occupy the temporary buildings on the airfield, colloquially known as Silver City.
In 1975, 183 Recce Squadron was withdrawn from PNG and disbanded, and for the first time since 1965, Army Aviation had no permanent deployments overseas.
In addition to the survey operations and support to Army exercises, 1 Aviation Regiment and School of Army Aviation aircraft were often called out to assistance to the civil community tasks including flood relief, post cyclone search and rescue tasks and support for bushfires. This was at a time when there were few civil helicopters in Australia, and the Army and Air Force rotary wing assets were often called out for search and rescue.
In 1980, in response to rebel activity on Vanuatu, two Porters and supporting ground crew self deployed to the island group and conducted operational electronic warfare missions in support of the national government. This was the first time since withdrawal from South Vietnam that Army aircraft had been deployed on an operational task.
On 20 November 1986, the Chiefs of Staff Committee sitting in Canberra took the decision to transfer to Army the ownership of the battlefield helicopter fleet then operated by the Air Force. This meant that the new Black Hawk helicopters, then about to be introduced into service to replace the Iroquois, would be owned, maintained and operated by Army, albeit the medium lift Chinook fleet would continue to be operated by Air Force. This decision heralded another major growth period for Army Aviation.
Exactly one year after the decision a new regiment, 5 Aviation Regiment, was raised onto the Army’s Order of Battle, and the first fourteen personnel commenced raising the unit at RAAF Townsville in January 1988. The transfer plan called for the move of 9 Squadron, RAAF, from Amberley to Townsville where it would be disbanded and become A Squadron of 5 Regiment, and then the rotary wing element of 35 Squadron, already resident on the Townsville would disband one year later and become B Squadron. During this period, the Black Hawks would be delivered to 5 Regiment for conversion and operational training for RAAF and Army aircrew.
In an echo to the early days of 16 ALA Squadron, 5 Aviation Regiment was reliant on the support of the Air Force personnel who remained in the unit for several years as Army experience and expertise in airmobile and logistic support operations were gained and developed. It was clear that the 1990s would be a period of tremendous change and challenge for Army Aviation.
© THE AUSTRALIAN ARMY AVIATION ASSOCIATION