The S-70B model Seahawks were introduced at a time when the Wessex was being decommissioned, so they are in essence a 'next step' in the evolution of the Fleet Air Arm's helicopter inventory (bearing in mind that Sea King helicopters had been introduced in the 1970s to assume the anti-submarine role held by the Wessex during the height of the Cold War).
Whereas the RAN’s anti-submarine and search-and-rescue roles were split between the Wessex and Sea King aircraft during the 1970s and 80s, the Seahawk assumed both roles—and others—and became the Fleet Air Arm’s ‘all-rounder’…a distinction it continues to enjoy today (in the form of the next-generation MH-60R variants).
The 2019 Rolex Sydney-to-Hobart Yacht Race is the 75th since the first running in 1945. The Race for the 75th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is expected to attract a fleet of 135-140 for this anniversary. One of the most tragic and controversial in its history, was the 1998 race, which was the 54th annual running of this blue water classic. Conditions that year were particularly treacherous in Bass Strait off South Gabo Island, just past the NSW border. That year the crew of this helicopter operating off HMAS Newcastle, conducted many brave rescues, however the 40 to 50 knot winds tragically claimed six lives and sunk five yachts.
RAN Seahawk helicopters
• Currently form the backbone of the Fleet Air Arm, and have been the RAN’s primary helicopter asset since the late 1980s. All sixteen S-70B variants have been retired and are being replaced by the MH-60R model (24 have been ordered).
• The Seahawk’s primary roles are anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare. Secondary missions include search and rescue, logistics support, personnel transport and medical evacuation.
• Originally a Royal Navy anti-submarine warfare squadron established in 1939. It was re-established as a RAN unit in 1948, and has operated a variety of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.
• Aircraft from 816 Squadron have served in the Second World War, Korean War, Gulf War and War in Iraq, as well as military operations in Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Fiji and the Horn of Africa. Significantly, squadron assets were aboard the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (II) during its collisions with HMAS Voyager (II) and USS Frank E. Evans.
• Over the course of its 29-year career, N24-006/875 made multiple deployments to the Middle East and other international trouble spots.
• It was one of two Seahawks aboard HMAS Newcastle that participated in the search and rescue operation associated with the ill-fated 1998 Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race, and the last S-70B-2 variant to complete an operational deployment.
• Tiger 75 was formally retired from service shortly thereafter and repainted in its current tiger-stripe scheme (which was originally used during its delivery to Australia) in November 2018.