Royal Australian Navy helicopters join bushfire rescues

The Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (FAA) is 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 — MH-60R Seahawk helicopters from 816 Squadron, MRH-90 helicopters from 808 Squadron and EC135 helicopters from 723 Squadron — are all playing roles to support the firefighters and emergency crews on the ground.

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.

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.

Apart from helicopters, a fleet of navy ships and aircraft are deployed to rescue Australian nationals currently trapped by bushfires and supply them food, water and medical help.

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