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Australian Defence Force MRH 90 helicopters grounded: report

written by australianaviation.com.au | July 25, 2019
A file image of an Australian Army MRH 90. (Defence)
A file image of an Australian Army MRH 90. (Defence)

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has grounded its entire fleet of 47 Airbus MRH 90 Taipan helicopters following a recent precautionary landing caused by a tail rotor vibration.

News of the grounding was first reported by The Canberra Times on Wednesday.

The report said an Australian Army MRH 90 was flying from the LHD HMAS Adelaide off the Queensland coast to Brisbane recently when it experienced the vibration, causing it to make a precautionary return to the ship.

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“The aircraft captain aborted the mission and returned to HMAS Adelaide for a precautionary landing,” the report said, quoting a Defence spokesman. “No personnel were injured during the incident.”

“While the investigation is underway, the ADF has ceased all MRH-90 flying pending further technical investigation and advice.”

The Navy operates six MRH 90s from the ADF’s larger pool, and regularly rotates aircraft back through the pool for periodical maintenance, most of which is conducted by Airbus at Brisbane Airport or a combined Airbus and Army team at Townsville.

The aircraft are operated by Navy’s 808SQN at Nowra, and Australian Army’s A and B SQNs of 5 Aviation Regiment (5Avn) at Townsville.

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The grounding follows an ABC report in June which revealed Project AIR 9000 Phases 2, 4 and 6 which resulted in the acquisition of the MRH 90 in three batches to initially complement and ultimately replace Army’s S-70A-9 Black Hawk and Navy’s Sea King helicopters, remained on the federal government’s Projects of Concern list.

The MRH 90 was originally scheduled to have been declared fully operational (FOC) in 2014, a milestone which, despite improvements in aircraft availability and sustainment in recent years, is still yet to be formally achieved.

As a result, Army has been forced to retain about a dozen Black Hawks for the special operations support role some five years beyond their originally planned retirement.

The grounding will likely have a significant effect on the ADF’s ability to provide airborne assault and logistics support to the multi-national Exercise Talisman Sabre currently underway off central Queensland.

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20 Comments

  • Mick C

    says:

    Not good timing for Airbus with both the SF and replacement ARH Helicopter programs under way.

  • alan

    says:

    Could ask RNZAF to send some more of their operational ones over to help

    • Chris

      says:

      Alan RNZAF don’t have enough to share. Australia has as many on one boat (LHD) as NZ owns. The country with the most numbers and greatest flying hours is Australia. If things are to happen to this aircraft it will happen in Australia first.

  • Alan

    says:

    Back to the good old reliable and proven workhorse, The Blackhawk. These aircraft should be in the Australian defence force once again.

  • Scott

    says:

    Are RNZAF ones effected or just Aussie built ones. i believe theres three RNZAF frames in Aussie at the moment for talisman sabre

    • Andrew

      says:

      The Kiwi aircraft continued flying – different tail-rotor blades.

  • Brad Harrison

    says:

    A simple question. How often were the Blackhawks grounded en masses compared to the NH90’s? Tired of people attempting to defend these European pieces of junk. The Tigers are to be replaced probably 20 years before their working lives expire and the NH90’s will be not far behind. Billions of dollars wasted but no one held responsible in the acquisition of these lemons. Any other industry and the people responsible would be in serious trouble. But hey, it’s only a few billion dollars.

    • Paul A

      says:

      In the early 90s there were frequent Black Hawk fleet groundings and ‘before next flight inspections’. Deja vu – all the Bell Huey olds & bolds were coming out of the woodwork saying get rid of them and buy 412’s. What was different then was Sikorsky bending over backwards to help. That’s not happening now.

  • G4George

    says:

    I will never understand why they did not go with the Blackhawks which were proven compared to the unproven MRH, they are always screaming for royal commissions how about one on the failed Tigers and Taipans, billions have been squandered on these lemons.

    • Chris

      says:

      It was for a spot on the UN top table. The MRH are designed for peace keeping UN missions and carrying people. They also got perfectly into a C17 folded up, pull them out, unfold and fly. Other helicopters need a day to be rebuilt.

      Great helicopter for what is was designed for although it is being used for a different purpose.

      • Steve

        says:

        AIR 9000 program was about trying to reduce the number of helicopter types. The Blackhawks were not suitable for use at sea hence the Navy brought Sea Hawks which ha d number of different systems including control actuation. The Blackhawks were not marinised and would corrode if put on board more than few days. The MRH-90 is much more resistant to salt corrosion even though the Dutch found some issues on their frigate variants.

        • Derrick

          says:

          Yes, hence Sikorsky build the MH-60S Knighthawk to overcome the issues with the black hawks for navy use.

  • Andy Wilson

    says:

    Yet again Australia has acquired dud defence assets. The personnel responsible for these purchases have proved to be as incompetent and bloody useless as the legion of predecessors – those who lumbered the RAN (and we taxpayers!) with COLLINS & Seasprite. The widespread incompetence and stupidity beggars belief with respect to these two projects. However, NOT ONE person has ever been held accountable or responsible for what have become farcical outcomes. Time to drain the swamp.

    • Paul

      says:

      It’s the government mate. The people you voted for.

      • Bob

        says:

        At least you got to palm off all the Seasprite pieces of s**t to us before they really started costing you. What a bargain we got 😉

    • James

      says:

      European helicopters have served other Defence Forces very successfully for 30+ years, the RAF and SAAF to name but two. I think the problem with MRH was cultural, it was never intended to be manned with Loadie/Door gunners but with a Flight Engineer/Loadie. The FE could support the aircraft technically in the field and handle the rear cabin work. The intent was to as far as possible go into secure LZ’s. Support if required, was to occur with gunships overhead. Defending your aircraft with hosing door guns is arguably of higher morale value than tactical value. In the modern battlespace with a MANPAD threat, it’s deeply flawed. It seems to me, the Tiger and MRH helicopters have been more of a victim of “resistance to change” rather than failed platforms?

  • Darren

    says:

    I always felt there should have been a reduced buy of the MRH90 with a number of MH-60S for the Navy. Ideally a number to serve on the LHD’s plus the supply ships. Their compatibility with the MH-60R and the fact it comes with folding rotors and other features that make a true maritime helicopter make it a better fit. There is even an opportunity to have some set aside the for East Coast Counter Terrorism unit (Still using Blackhawk’s). I guess 24 would give us enough for 2 x 6 on the LHD’s plus the supply ships of 1 each with some capacity still at home for training/surge. While it does not have the lift of the MRH90 the split fleet would see us with some transport helicopters (aside from the CH-47F) at present.

  • Fabian

    says:

    Maybe, whoever wins the attack helicopter program, Australia should purchase around a fleet of 25-35 transport helicopters that has commonality with that attack helicopter. The blackhawk has similar commonality with the apache and the UH-1Y venom has similar commonality with the AH-1Z viper. This will ease the need for transport from the MRH-90 but the two airframes can benefit from each other. The MRH-90 can carry passengers than the Venom and Blackhawk but the other two have light attack capability and are favoured amongst special forces.

  • PAUL

    says:

    Romeo Romeo where art thou Romeo…oh Navy has them…. mind you BH did have its issues initially.. RNZAF Rotor blades different?? interesting….

  • Mick C

    says:

    Paul
    Why would the Army want Romeos?

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