Royal Australian Navy, April 01, 2014 - Shoalhaven residents had a last glimpse of 817 Squadron’s fleet of Sea King helicopters as the aircraft made their final journey from HMAS Albatross, on what was a suitably sombre, grey and rainy day.
The helicopters were a familiar sight flying over the Shoalhaven for over 36 years, but may not have been immediately recognisable wrapped in heat-shrink plastic and on the back of low loader trailers. The wrapping was specifically designed to protect them on the long journey ahead.
The Sea Kings have been sold to an international specialist in the supply, refurbishment, exchange, maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircraft parts. Through their disposal, the former Royal Australian Navy Sea King inventory will continue to serve the sustainment and support of international military and search and rescue aircraft capabilities.
Heading for Port Kembla, the convoy bearing the aircraft left the home of the Fleet Air Arm, passing the Shoalhaven Visitor Information Centre where the iconic UH-1B Iroquois helicopter marks the entrance to what is a proud Navy town.
One of those standing by to farewell the Sea Kings was Daryl Varcoe, Logistics Manager with Navy Aviation Systems Program Office who has a long history with the aircraft.
“When I began my 35-year Navy career, I cut my teeth on Sea Kings when I first qualified as a young maintainer back in 1976; and I have been involved at various levels in their logistics support and maintenance over subsequent years.
“Like many at Albatross of my age, farewelling them is a time of mixed emotions. To many, they are an old and loyal friend who have served them well and looked after them throughout their Navy careers,” Mr Varcoe said.
“In my opinion, the reliability they have provided to a broad spectrum of operations and sea deployments, in the harsh environments that they unflinchingly operated in, the trustworthiness they engendered in their crews and the loyal service they provided to Navy will be hard to match,” Mr Varcoe said.
Commander Mathew Bradley, Acting Commanding Officer of HMAS Albatross, served in 817 Squadron for seven years up until 2007 and agreed that the Sea King had earned its place in RAN aviation history.
“From a historical perspective the 817 Squadron Sea Kings should be correctly remembered as the 'go to' aircraft within the Fleet Air Arm inventory for many tasks. Right up to the final year of service in 2011, Sea Kings were providing critical life saving support during the Queensland Flood emergency. This level of service reflected many years of domestic operations in times of flood and fire, but it was also conducted against a backdrop of overseas humanitarian and combat operations”.
CMDR Bradley said that while it was sad to see the Sea Kings finally leave, it was important to look to the future. “We can see their legacy in the new generation of maritime support aircraft, the MRH-90, currently being operated by 808 Squadron.” he said.
One Sea King remains, Shark 07 which was gifted to the Fleet Air Arm Museum (FAAM) in Nowra in June 2011.
“It’s good to recognise that the most operationally active airframe, Shark 07, remains in the FAAM as an enduring reminder of the 30 odd years of sterling service that these aircraft provided to Australia,” CMDR Bradley said.
Darryl Varcoe also considered this a fitting tribute. “The superb display of 'Shark 07' at the FAAM provides fitting remembrance of this old and faithful friend and workhorse to the Fleet Air Arm.” he said.