Since 1958, helicopters have been used extensively by the Australian Antarctic Program for ship-based ice-reconnaissance flights, station resupply activities, short distance field-party support, and for a limited number of flights between our Antarctic stations.
Supporting ANARE operations
Although the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was the major operator of intracontinental fixed wing aircraft over the years, since the early days of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) helicopter support has been provided by commercial operators handling ship-based operations.
Up until 1966, small but versatile piston-engined helicopters demonstrated their value to ANARE. These included the Hiller 12C, owned by Trans Australia Airlines (now Qantas Airways), and Bell 47G operated by Helicopter Utilities. From the 1966–67 season, turbine-powered Hiller FH100 helicopters operated by Helicopter Utilities were used. These were replaced in 1969–70 by Hughes 500 helicopters (now McDonnell Douglas) hired from Jayrow Helicopters.
In the late 1970s and late 1980s, the Light Bell 206 Jetranger, Hughes 500 and occasional Alouette and Bolkow MBB helicopters, continued to play significant roles in support of land- and ship-based programs.
In 1986–87 season, the Aerospatiale AS 350 ‘Squirrel’ series of helicopters operated by Helicopter Resources Pty Ltd joined the fleet. The AS 350 Squirrel series, a versatile aircraft suited to the Antarctic conditions, operated with a good mix of payload, range and simplicity of operation enabling it to efficiently fulfill the wide range of Australian Antarctic Program activities. Additionally, the Sikorsky S76A medium twin-engined helicopters were introduced in the 1994–95 summer season.
Both the Sikorsky and Squirrel helicopters were fitted with modified airframes, navigation and electronic systems to support aerial photography and mapping programs at heights of up to 4000 metres. They employed a range of cameras, radar echo sounding, fauna surveys and laser terrain profiling enhancing capabilities to support science projects. The Sikorsky S76A was last used in the 2001–02 season, but the Squirrel series continues to play an important role in the Australian Antarctic Program operations.
Continuing a vital role
Today's helicopters continue to provide a relatively fast, reliable, low-volume personnel and cargo transport capability between stations, and to remote field locations to support scientific projects across the Australian Antarctic Territory without the need for major infrastructure at various sites.