The Navy has celebrated 30 years of service of 723 Squadron’s AS350 BA Squirrels, marking the arrival for the first ‘Battle Budgie’ at HMAS Albatross, Nowra on May 14 1984.
The white and navy blue AS350 B Squirrels were part of an initial buy of 24 helicopters for the ADF, with an original six Squirrels being used by Navy’s then HC-723 Squadron in the light utility, SAR, and the Interim Embarked Training Helicopter roles.
The first batch of five new Squirrels arrived at RAAF Base Fairbairn, Canberra on April 28 1984 direct from the French manufacturer, Aerospatiale, onboard a RAAF Boeing 707, 21 months after contract signature. After re-assembly and testing, the Navy’s first Squirrel, N22-014, flew the short distance to Nowra.
The RAAF used 12 in the helicopter pilot training role, replacing the ageing UH-1B Iroquois at 5 Squadron, Canberra. The Air Force had planned to use six Squirrels for SAR capabilities at RAAF bases Pearce, Williamtown and Darwin, however this proved unsuccessful and they were returned to 5 Squadron. All the RAAF’s Squirrels were eventually transferred to the Army in 1990.
The Navy’s Fleet Air Arm currently operates 13 Squirrels (the six original cabs plus seven former RAAF/Army machines), upgraded to AS350 BA models for improved capability and performance in 1995, and are used primarily for pilot, aviation warfare officer and aircrewman training with 723 Squadron.
Eleven Squirrels have been made surplus sold off or are used as training aids.