171st Aviation Squadron (Australia)

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171st Aviation Squadron
Soldiers from the Australian Army 2nd Commando Regiment fast rope from an S-70A-9 Black Hawk from the Australian Army 171st Aviation Squadron during exercise Talisman Sabre 2015.jpg
Commandos from the 2nd Commando Regiment fast rope from a 171 Avn Sqn Black Hawk during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2015
BranchAustralian Army
RoleSpecial operations aviation
Part of6th Aviation Regiment
Garrison/HQHolsworthy Barracks
Aircraft flown
HelicopterS70A Blackhawk

The 171st Aviation Squadron (171 Avn Sqn) is an Australian Army helicopter squadron equipped with S70A Black Hawk helicopters and provides support to the Special Operations Command. The squadron is based at Luscombe Airfield, Holsworthy Barracks, Sydney and forms part of the 6th Aviation Regiment.[1]


The squadron primarily supports the Tactical Assault Group, troop lift support is also provided to other Special Forces based at Holsworthy and Perth, and to other east coast and southern Australian based units.[2]

In March 1997, the Board of Inquiry into the Black Hawk Training Accident in June 1996 recommended that dedicated Army aviation assets be allocated in support of the counter terrorist and special operations capability and that the units be collocated during training, planning and the conduct of operations.[2]


The 171st Aviation Squadron traces its lineage back to the 161st Reconnaissance Flight which was formed in June 1965 based at RAAF Base Amberley.[3][4] The Flight was part of the 16th Army Light Aircraft Squadron which in 1967 became the 1st Aviation Regiment.[5][4] The Flight served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1971 and during this period was renamed the 161st (Independent) Reconnaissance Flight.[3] On return from Vietnam, the Flight was based at Oakey.[3] On 31 January 1974, the Flight was re-designated as the "171st Operational Support Squadron" following a restructure of the 1st Aviation Regiment using the number from the disbanded 171st Air Cavalry Flight.[3][5][6]

On 19 December 2002, the Prime Minister announced the creation of the Special Operations Command and that the government would accelerate the purchase of the MRH-90 Taipan helicopters to enable a squadron of helicopters to be based in Sydney as a potent addition to the Tactical Assault Group East.[7][8]

On 28 November 2004, 'A' Squadron of the 5th Aviation Regiment based at RAAF Base Townsville swapped designations with the 171st Operational Support Squadron.[9][10] The squadron was equipped with the Sikorsky S-70A Black Hawk with the role of providing support to the Special Operations Command.[10]

The squadron separated from the 1st Aviation Regiment and was placed under the command of the 16th Aviation Brigade as an independent squadron and was re-designated as the "171st Aviation Squadron".[11][9] The squadron was commanded by a lieutenant colonel in addition to the conventional squadron commander of Major rank.[9]

In July 2005, Holsworthy Barracks was selected as the location in Sydney to relocate the squadron.[12] In December 2006, the squadron relocated to temporary facilities at Luscombe Airfield with the redevelopment of the airfield expected to be completed by late 2008.[13]

The squadron was involved in operations in East Timor as part of Operation Astute.[14] On 29 November 2006, a Squadron Black Hawk helicopter crashed during Operation Quickstep while attached to HMAS Kanimbla off the coast of Fiji.[9] The helicopter's pilot, Captain Mark Bingley, and Trooper Joshua Porter from the Special Air Service Regiment were killed in the crash.[15][16]

In March 2008, the squadron became part of the newly raised 6th Aviation Regiment following implementation of a recommendation from the Board of Inquiry into the Crash of Black Hawk 221 to raise a regiment.[1][17][9]

Current aircraft[edit]

A Commando from 1st Commando Regiment jumping from a 171 Avn Sqn Black Hawk in 2013

The squadron is equipped with S-70A-9 Black Hawks and was planned to transition to the MRH 90 Taipan, an Australian variant of the NHI NH90, with the withdrawal of the Black Hawk from service by December 2013.[18][19] However, the MRH 90 Program encountered significant problems, and in particular, the NH90 had not been operated in a dedicated special operations role, delaying the withdrawal in order to develop a special operations capable MRH90.[18][19] The Chief of Army extended the service of 20 Black Hawks to 2022 with 18 based at Holsworthy and two retained at the Oakey Army Aviation Centre in Queensland.[18]

In February 2019, under Plan Palisade the first two of 12 MRH90 helicopters were delivered to the 6th Aviation Regiment.[20][19][21] This required developing a Fast Roping and Rappelling Extraction System (FRRES) and a gun mount for the cabin door.[18][19] The Taipan Gun Mount can fit either a M134D minigun or MAG 58 machine gun and when not in use can be moved into a outward stowed position to provide clearance to enable fast roping and rappelling.[22][23]

The Army is acquiring up to 18 light helicopters under Project Land 2097 Phase 4 for the 6th Aviation Regiment to operate in dense urban environments with deliveries expected to commence in 2022-2023.[24][25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "6th Aviation Regiment". Australian Army. 16 May 2012. Archived from the original on 12 September 2016.
  2. ^ a b 171st Aviation Squadron Relocation - Holsworthy Barracks NSW - Statement of Evidence to the Parliament Standing Committee on Public Works (PDF) (Report). Department of Defence. October 2005. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d "Unit History". 161 Possums. Retrieved 3 August 2016.
  4. ^ a b Australian Army Flying Museum (February 2015). "Army aviation in Australia 1970-2015" (PDF). Australian Army. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 October 2016.
  5. ^ a b "1 Aviation Regiment". The Australian Army Aviation Association. Archived from the original on 22 June 2009.
  6. ^ "1st Aviation Regiment". The Australian Army Aviation Association. Archived from the original on 21 July 2006.
  7. ^ Prime Minister John Howard (19 December 2002). "Expansion of Special Forces Counter Terrorist Capability and new Special Operations Command" (Press release). Commonwealth of Australia. Archived from the original on 23 February 2003.
  8. ^ Foxcroft, Sgt. Sybelle (9 September 2004). "Need a lift? Army looks to Europe for troop-lift carrier". Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1105 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. ISSN 0729-5685. Archived from the original on 22 March 2011.
  9. ^ a b c d e Black Hawk 221 Board of Inquiry (2008). Report of the Board of Inquiry into the deaths of Captain Mark Bingley and Trooper Joshua Porter following the loss of Army Black Hawk 221 on 29 November 2006 whilst deployed in HMAS Kanimbla for Operation Quickstep (PDF) (Report). Department of Defence. Retrieved 3 August 2016.
  10. ^ a b "5th Aviation Regiment". Australian Army. 22 April 2014. Archived from the original on 4 August 2016.
  11. ^ "1st Aviation Regiment". Australian Army. 8 March 2012. Archived from the original on 8 June 2015.
  12. ^ Minister for Defence Senator Robert Hill (30 July 2005). "Black Hawk helicopters to be based in Sydney". Ministers for Defence (Press release). Archived from the original on 31 December 2005.
  13. ^ "Aircrews fly high at new work site". Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1160 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. 22 February 2007. ISSN 0729-5685. Archived from the original on 4 April 2011.
  14. ^ Webster, Flt-Lt Lauretta (9 August 2007). "Choppers rotate in Timor-Leste". Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1172 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. ISSN 0729-5685. Archived from the original on 4 April 2011.
  15. ^ "Report of the Board of Inquiry into the Crash of Black Hawk 221 Released" (Press release). Department of Defence. 15 July 2008. Archived from the original on 2 August 2008.
  16. ^ "Two of our best lost in tragedy". Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1158 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. 14 December 2006. ISSN 0729-5685. Archived from the original on 21 March 2011.
  17. ^ Gubler, Abraham (2008). "Army Aviation's New Decade of Growth". Asia Pacific Defence Reporter. 34 (5): 16–19.
  18. ^ a b c d Kerr, Julian (1 February 2016). "Air: MRH90 Taipan – reaching for 2016 milestones". Australian Defence Magazine. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  19. ^ a b c d Australian National Audit Office (2020). "Multi-Role Helicopter Project Data Summary Sheet". 2019–20 Major Projects Report - Department of Defence (PDF). Canberra: The Auditor-General. ISBN 9781760336066. ANAO Report No.19 2020–21. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  20. ^ Jennings, Gareth (6 February 2019). "Australia begins SOF helo transition from Black Hawk to MRH90". Janes. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  21. ^ Department of Defence (2018). Budget Related Paper No. 1.4A - Defence Portfolio (PDF). Portfolio Budget Statements 2018-19. Department of Defence. p. 134. ISBN 9780648097730. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  22. ^ Department of Defence (21 April 2020). "Additional Estimates – 04 March 2020 - Question 84 - MRH90 design - Senator Kitching". Senate Standing Committee Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  23. ^ Tillett, Andrew (27 October 2020). "Army helicopter's gun failings leave special forces vulnerable". Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  24. ^ McLaughlin, Andrew (6 August 2020). "Army seeking special operations rotary wing support capability". Australian Defence Business Review.
  25. ^ Ziesing, Katherine (5 September 2019). "Special Forces helicopter: Industry brief for Land 2097 Phase 4". Australian Defence Magazine. Canberra. Retrieved 21 March 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • Eather, Steve (1995). Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force. Weston Creek, Australian Capital Territory: Aerospace Publications. ISBN 1-875671-15-3.