The Australian Antarctic Program has used helicopters since 1958 for:
- ship-based ice reconnaissance flights
- station resupply activities
- short distance field party support
- a limited number of flights between Antarctic stations.
Supporting ANARE operations
Helicopter support for Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) has been provided by commercial operators handling ship-based operations.
Up until 1966, small but versatile piston-engined helicopters were used by 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, helicopters played significant roles in supporting land and ship based programs. These included the Light Bell 206 Jetranger, Hughes 500 and occasional Alouette and Bolkow MBB helicopters.
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 are versatile and suited to Antarctic conditions. The Squirrel's mix of payload, range and simplicity of operation enabled it to fulfill a wide range of Australian Antarctic Program activities. The Sikorsky S76A medium twin-engined helicopters were also 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 4,000 m. 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. The Squirrel series still play an important role in Australian Antarctic Program operations.