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File:RAN aviation crest.gif

Ship's badge for the Australian Navy Aviation Group

The Fleet Air Arm (FAA), known formally as the Australian Navy Aviation Group, is the division of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) responsible for the operation of aircraft. The FAA was founded in 1947 following the purchase of two aircraft carriers from the Royal Navy. FAA personnel fought in the Korean War (operating from the carrier HMAS Sydney) and the Vietnam War (attached to a Royal Australian Air Force squadron and a United States Army Aviation company), and participated in later conflicts and operations from host warships.

Initially operating only fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters were first acquired by the FAA in 1952, forming Australia's first helicopter squadron. Helicopter usage increased over time, particularly after 1982, when the carrier HMAS Melbourne was decommissioned and not replaced. In 2000, following the removal from service of the land-based Hawker Siddeley HS 748 aircraft, the FAA became an all-helicopter force, operating in the anti-submarine warfare and maritime support roles. As of 2011, the FAA consists of three active squadrons, operating four helicopter types.[1]


During the 1920s, the RAN attempted to acquire government support for an Australian Fleet Air Arm, modelled loosely on the Royal Naval Air Service and its Royal Air Force-controlled successor, the Fleet Air Arm.[2] This was approved as part of improvements to Australia's military, but opposition by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) prompted the Cabinet to disband the organisation in January 1928, shortly after its establishment.[3] The RAAF assumed responsibility for naval aviation, which consisted primarily of amphibious aircraft flown by No. 101 Flight RAAF (and its successors, No. 5 Squadron, then No. 9 Squadron) from the RAN's cruisers and the seaplane tender HMAS Albatross.[4]

A Hawker Sea Fury on the flight deck of the carrier HMAS Sydney, during the ship's 1949 flight trials

The successes of naval aviation during World War II reignited the idea of a RAN-controlled aviation force, with suggestions that Australia provide the personnel to operate a British aircraft carrier and the attached squadrons voiced during 1944, although the offer was withdrawn in mid 1945 because of manpower shortages.[5] A review by the Australian Government's Defence Committee held after World War II recommended that the post-war forces of the RAN be structured around a Task Force incorporating multiple aircraft carriers.[6] Initial plans were for three carriers, with two active and a third in reserve, although funding cuts led to the purchase of the Majestic class light fleet carriers, Majestic and Terrible from the Royal Navy in June 1947.[7] A Fleet Air Arm was established on 3 July 1947 by the Commonwealth Defence Council to operate aircraft from these two carriers, and also maintain two former Royal Australian Air Force bases as support facilities: these became HMAS Albatross at Nowra, New South Wales, and HMAS Nirimba at Schofields, New South Wales.[8] As Terrible was the closer of the two ships to completion, construction was finished without major modification.[9] The ship was commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Sydney on 16 December 1948.[10] Sydney's maiden voyage saw the delivery of the first two squadrons operated by the Fleet Air Arm: 805 Squadron with Hawker Sea Furies, and 816 Squadron with Fairey Fireflies.[11] The two squadrons operated as the 20th Carrier Air Group (CAG).[11] Sydney returned to England in 1950 to collect the 21st CAG: 808 and 817 Squadrons, with Sea Furies and Fireflies, respectively.[12]

During the Korean War, Sydney was deployed to Korean waters in late 1951, with a wartime CAG of 805, 808, and 817 Squadrons embarked.[13] The Fleet Air Arm operated in a strike, ground support, and escort role during the deployment, which saw three RAN pilots killed and a fourth seriously wounded, while thirteen aircraft were lost.[14] Nine of these were shot down by North Korean flak artillery, with aircraft damaged by flak on at least ninety other occasions.[15] The other four were lost in deck accidents, or crashed because of foul weather.[14] Meanwhile, Majestic was undergoing major upgrades during construction to operate jet aircraft, including the installation of an angled flight deck, steam catapult, and a mirror landing aid.[16] To allow the RAN to operate as a two-carrier force while Majestic was completed, the Royal Navy loaned the Colossus class light carrier HMS Vengeance to the RAN in late 1952.[17] Vengeance arrived in Australia with three Bristol Sycamore helicopters for the Fleet Air Arm.[18] Although not the first helicopters to see military service in Australia (that title belonging to a Sikorsky S-51 of the Royal Australian Air Force), the Sycamores formed the first Australian military helicopter squadron, and prompted the establishment of Australia's first helicopter pilot school.[18]

RAN Gannet aboard USS Philippine Sea

Vengeance was returned to the United Kingdom in 1955, with the crew transferred to Majestic, which was commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Melbourne on 28 October 1955.[19] The new carrier delivered new aircraft to the Fleet Air Arm: the de Havilland Sea Venom jet fighter-bomber for 805 and 808 Squadrons, and the turboprop-driven Fairey Gannet anti-submarine aircraft for 816 and 817 Squadrons.[16] These aircraft were due to become obsolete in the late 1950s, and the RAN considered purchasing modern aircraft of French or Italian design, which were smaller than British developments and better suited to light carrier operations.[20] By the end of the 1950s, with Sydney decommissioned from service and refitted as a troop transport, it was decided that fixed-wing naval aviation would be replaced by a force of 27 Westland Wessex anti-submarine helicopters, to operate from Melbourne.[21] This decision was rescinded in 1963, with Grumman S-2E Tracker anti-submarine aircraft and McDonnell Douglas A-4G Skyhawk fighter aircraft ordered for the Fleet Air Arm.[22] Although Melbourne and her air group played no role in the Vietnam War, Australian naval aviators saw action as part of Royal Australian Navy Helicopter Flight Vietnam (a component of the joint Australian-American Experimental Military Unit) and the RAN Detachment, 9 Squadron Vietnam (attached to No. 9 Squadron RAAF).[23]

A-4 Skyhawk lands on Melbourne

In 1972, the Fleet Air Arm's Wessex helicopters were replaced with Westland Sea King anti-submarine helicopters, although a small number of Wessexes continued to serve in utility and search-and-rescue roles.[24] Melbourne remained in service until mid-1982, when she was placed in reserve.[25] The Australian government initially planned to purchase HMS Invincible from the Royal Navy and operate Harriers and helicopters from her, but the British withdrew the offer after the ship's performance in the Falklands War, and the 1983 election of the Australian Labor Party saw the cancellation of plans to replace Melbourne.[26][27] With no aircraft carrier, carrier-borne fixed-wing aviation in the RAN ended on 30 June 1983 with the decommissioning of several squadrons, and many RAN pilots joined the Army and RAAF, or transferred to the aviation branches of other nations' navies.[28][29] The RAN Skyhawks were sold to the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the Trackers were removed from service and sold to a private company for disposal.[30]

Before being sold off, the RAN Trackers were flown from land bases as patrol and surveillance aircraft, and HS 748 aircraft continued on in the electronic warfare training and transport roles after all other fixed-wing assets were disposed of.[31] The shift from full, carrier-embarked squadrons to single- or two-helicopter flights operating from frigates forced overhauls of the management and organisational style of the FAA, with squadrons made to act with increasing independence and less experienced junior officers taking greater responsibility for the aviation activities of their assigned ship.[32] During the 1980s, the Eurocopter Ecureuil (Squirrel) and Sikorsky S-70 Seahawk were acquired to operate from the Adelaide class frigates.[33] During the early 1990s, these helicopters operated aboard Australian ships deployed to support the international coalition during the Gulf War; they were used for anti-air surveillance and surface search, to deliver boarding parties to interdicted ships, and provide search-and-rescue capabilities.[34] During 1992, FAA Sea Kings were embarked aboard HMAS Tobruk for Operation Solace, part of the famine-relief operation in Somalia.[35]

During the 1990s, the FAA ordered several refurbished Kaman SH-2G Super Seasprite helicopters to operate from the Anzac class frigates in the anti-submarine and anti-surface roles.[36] Although due to enter service in the early 2000s, the helicopters were not operational until 2006, and were grounded shortly after with concerns over their airworthiness, flight control system, crash survivability, and inability to operate in poor weather.[36][37] The delays and problems with the acquisition led to the cancellation of the project in March 2008, and the completed helicopters were returned to Kaman.[37]

A Sea King hovering above the flight deck of HMAS Tobruk in 2008, prior to a Helicopter In Flight Refuel exercise

Since 2000, when the last pair of HS 748s were retired, the Fleet Air Arm has been an entirely rotary-winged force.[38](I) The Fleet Air Arm became responsible for the operation and maintenance of the RAN's helicopter force from the frigates of the Adelaide and Anzac classes and from the RAN's amphibious and support ships.

Current squadrons

RAN squadrons follow the same numbering system as those of the Royal Navy, with operational units numbered from 800 onwards and training units numbered from 700 onwards:



RAN Squirrel helicopter during International Fleet Review 2013

Since 2000, when the last pair of HS 748s were retired, the Fleet Air Arm has been an entirely rotary winged force.[38] Air defence of the fleet is primarily the task of the Adelaide class guided missile frigates, armed with the SM-2 Standard SAM; these are supported when possible by the F/A-18 Hornets of the RAAF.

Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service[40] Notes
Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk United States ASW helicopter S-70B-2 Seahawk 15 Operated by 816 Squadron
MH-60R Romeo Seahawk 0 (24) 24 on order
MRH 90  Europe Transport helicopter TTH: Tactical Transport Helicopter 2[verification needed] 4 more to be delivered.
Eurocopter Ecureuil (Squirrel)  Europe Training helicopter Squirrel AS350BA 6 Operated by 723 Squadron
Bell 429 United States Training helicopter Bell 429 3 Operated by 723 Squadron. Replaced three A109E from 2012.[41][42]


One of the RAN's MRH-90s in 2011

The Royal Australian Navy replaced its ageing Sea King helicopters with six marinised NHIndustries NH90 Tactical Transport Helicopters (designated the MRH-90, or Multi Role Helicopter in Australian service) in December 2011.[43] These aircraft were purchased as part a joint Army-Navy purchase totalling 46 helicopters, with another 7 marked for sharing between both forces.[43][44]

In addition, the 2009 Defence White Paper, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030, stated that the RAN needed 24 new naval combat helicopters by 2014, to replace the Seahawks and compensate for the cancelled Super Seasprite acquisition.[43][45] They are to be capable of both anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, while also being capable of search-and-rescue and troop transport (primarily of boarding parties).[46] Two aircraft were under consideration, the NATO Frigate Helicopter variant of the NH90, and the MH-60 Romeo version of the Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk.[45] The NFH-90 has 80% commonality with the RAN and Army MRH-90s, airframes are to be assembed at existing facilities in Queensland, is built from composite fibre which is corrosion-resistant and better able to survive crashes at sea, and although on order with several European navies, did not enter operational service until late 2010.[46] The MH-60 Romeo has been operational with the United States Navy since the end of 2005, and the commonality with the RAN's existing Seahawks will cut down on refamiliarisation training for pilots and maintenance personnel, the airframe has less interior space than the NFH-90 for the same approximate external size.[46] By October 2009, the RAN was recommending the MH-60 Romeo, as they would be cheaper and less of a technological risk.[47] On 1 June 2011, Defence Minister Stephen Smith announced that the MH-60 Romeo was successful, and the 24 helicopters would be delivered between 2014 and 2020.[48]

Under current plans, the Royal Australian Navy's Canberra class amphibious vessels will operate up to sixteen Army or Navy helicopters.[citation needed] Although the ships are potentially capable of operating STOVL aircraft like the F-35B Lightning II, the ability to operate STOVL aircraft was not a tender criterion, and despite numerous suggestions, the Australian Government does not intend to purchase STOVL aircraft.[49][50][51]


An S-2 Tracker about to be launched from the catapult aboard HMAS Melbourne

Examples of many aircraft operated by the Fleet Air Arm are on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum at HMAS Albatross

Fixed-wing carrier-based aircraft[38]
Name No. operated(II) Entered service Left service
Fairey Firefly 108 1948 1958
Hawker Sea Fury 101 1949 1962
de Havilland Sea Venom 39 1956 1967
McDonnell Douglas A-4G Skyhawk 20 1967 1984
Fairey Gannet 36 1955 1967
S-2 Tracker 32 1967 1984
Supermarine Sea Otter ? ? ?

A FAA Westland Wessex on display at the 1962 Farnborough Airshow

Name No. operated(II) Entered service Left service
Bristol Sycamore 13 1953 1965
Westland Wessex 27 1962 1989
Westland Scout 2 1963 1977
UH-1 Iroquois 7 1964 1987
Bell 206B-1 Kiowa 4 1974 2000
Kaman SH-2G Super Seasprite 15 2001 2008
Westland Sea King MK 50A 13[52] 1976[53] 2011[53]
Land-based aircraft[38]
Name No. operated(II) Entered service Left service
CAC Wirraway 17 1948 1957
De Havilland Tiger Moth 3 1948 1957
de Havilland Vampire 13 1954 1972
Auster Autocar 2 1953 1963
Douglas DC-3 Dakota 4 1949 1977
CAC/Macchi MB 326 10 1970 1983
Hawker Siddeley HS 748 2 1973 2000

A Jindivik target drone on display at Woomera, South Australia

Missiles and drones
Name No. operated(II) Entered service Left service
AIM-9 Sidewinder ? ? ?
GAF Jindivik 42 1966 2000


^(I) A LADS-equipped Bombardier Dash 8 is owned by the RAN, but this is attached to the Royal Australian Navy Hydrographic Service, not the FAA.

^(II) Refers to the number of individual aircraft operated by the FAA over the entire service life, not the number of aircraft in operation at any point within that service life.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Aviation Group". Royal Australian Navy. Archived from the original on 20 September 2008. Retrieved 6 January 2011. 
  2. ANAM, Flying Stations, pp. 15–6
  3. ANAM, Flying Stations, pp. 16–7
  4. ANAM, Flying Stations, pp. 16–21
  5. ANAM, Flying Stations, pp. 29–35
  6. Donohue, From Empire Defence to the Long Haul, p. 33
  7. Donohue, From Empire Defence to the Long Haul, pgs. 38, 45–47
  8. ANAM, Flying Stations, pp. 43–4
  9. Wright, Australian Carrier Decisions, p. 151
  10. Hobbs, in The Navy and the Nation, p. 211
  11. 11.0 11.1 McCaffrie, in Sea power ashore and in the air, p. 173
  12. McCaffrie, in Sea power ashore and in the air, pp. 173–4
  13. McCaffrie, in Sea power ashore and in the air, pgs. 174, 177
  14. 14.0 14.1 Cooper, in The Royal Australian Navy, p. 177
  15. McCaffrie, in Sea power ashore and in the air, p. 178
  16. 16.0 16.1 Hobbs, HMAS Melbourne – 25 Years On, p. 6
  17. Donohue, From Empire Defence to the Long Haul, p. 94
  18. 18.0 18.1 Australian Naval Aviation Museum, Flying Stations, p. 111
  19. Wright, Australian Carrier Decisions, p. 160
  20. Cooper, The Royal Australian Navy, p. 187.
  21. Cooper, The Royal Australian Navy, p. 193.
  22. Cooper, in The Royal Australian Navy, pp. 193–194.
  23. "Naval Operations in Vietnam". Royal Australian Navy. Archived from the original on 5 February 2009. Retrieved 6 January 2011. 
  24. Bishop & Chant, Aircraft carriers, p. 62
  25. Jones, in The Royal Australian Navy, p. 227
  26. Wright, Australian Carrier Decisions, p. 167.
  27. Hobbs, HMAS Melbourne – 25 Years On, p. 9
  28. Jones, in The Royal Australian Navy, pp. 227–8
  29. Mison, Graham. "Sea Harrier Down Under". Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  30. ANAM, Flying Stations, p. 256
  31. ANAM, Flying Stations, pgs. 241-3, 256, 258
  32. ANAM, Flying Stations, pgs. 259, 272
  33. ANAM, Flying Stations, pp. 259–60
  34. ANAM, Flying Stations, pp. 266–71
  35. ANAM, Flying Stations, p. 272
  36. 36.0 36.1 Walters, Patrick (10 February 2007). "Seasprite headed for the junk pile". The Australian. pp. 1–2. 
  37. 37.0 37.1 Walters, Patrick (18 June 2009). "$1.4bn wasted on cancelled Seasprite". The Australian. p. 4. 
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 38.3 38.4 38.5 38.6 Dennis, et al., The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, p. 210
  39. Arney, Steve (2010). "Establishment of 808 Squadron: External Interface Complexities". Presentation delivered to SMM Conference 2010. Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 19 September 2011. 
  40. "Aviation Week & Space Technology 2009". 26 January 2009. Retrieved 27 July 2009. [verification needed]
  41. "Raytheon to provide Bell 429s for interim RAN aircrew training". 19 September 2011. Retrieved 19 September 2011. 
  42. "Raytheon Australia’s Retention and Motivation Initiative Acceptance Activities Commence". Media Release. Raytheon Australia. 31 January 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2012. "Raytheon Australia today announced the beginning of acceptance activities of its first Bell 429 helicopters to be utilised under the Royal Australian Navy’s Retention and Motivation Initiative 2 (RMI 2) Program ..." 
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 Department of Defence, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century, p. 72
  44. "MR90H to replace Sea King and Blackhawk helicopters". (media release). Office of the Minister of Defence. 19 June 2006. Retrieved 11 July 2007. 
  45. 45.0 45.1 Norris, Battling Behemoths, p. 130
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 Johnstone, AIR 900 Phase 8, pp. 5–9
  47. Walters, Patrick (23 October 2009). "Military opts for US chopper". The Australian.,25197,26248125-2702,00.html. Retrieved 24 October 2009. 
  48. Thompson, Jeremey (16 June 2011). "Smith announces $3b chopper deal". ABC News. Retrieved 16 June 2011. 
  49. Borgu, Aldo (2004). "Capability of First Resort? Australia's Future Amphibious Requirement". Australian Strategic Policy Institute. p. 11. Retrieved 23 February 2011. 
  50. Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade (2004) Australia's Maritime Strategy. Page 95.
  51. Gillis, Kim (2007). "Interview. Landing Helicopter Dock Project – Canberra Class". pp. 28–29 [29]. ISSN 1447-0446. 
  52. "ADF Aircraft Serial Numbers RAN N16 Westland Sea King Mk.50A". Retrieved 21 December 2011. 
  53. 53.0 53.1 "Sea Kings make their final flight". Media release. Department of Defence. Retrieved 21 December 2011. 


  • Australian Naval Aviation Museum (ANAM) (1998). Flying Stations: a story of Australian naval aviation. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86448-846-8. OCLC 39290180. 
  • Bishop, Chris; Chant, Christopher (2004). Aircraft Carriers: the world's greatest naval vessels and their aircraft. London: MBI. ISBN 0-7603-2005-5. OCLC 56646560. 
  • Cooper, Alastair (2001). "The Korean War Era"; "The Era of Forward Defence". In Stevens, David. The Royal Australian Navy. The Australian Centenary History of Defence (vol III). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-555542-2. OCLC 50418095. 
  • Dennis, Peter; Grey, Jeffrey; Morris, Ewan; Prior, Robin (2008). The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (2nd ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-551784-2. OCLC 271822831. 
  • Donohue, Hector (October 1996). From Empire Defence to the Long Haul: post-war defence policy and its impact on naval force structure planning 1945–1955. Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs. No. 1. Canberra: Sea Power Centre. ISBN 0-642-25907-0. ISSN 1327-5658. OCLC 36817771. 
  • Hobbs, David (2005). "HMAS Sydney (III): a symbol of Australia's growing maritime capability". In Stevens, David & Reeve, John (eds.). The Navy and the Nation: the influence of the Navy on modern Australia. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-200-8. OCLC 67872922. 
  • Jones, Peter (2001). "Towards Self Reliance". In Stevens, David. The Royal Australian Navy. The Australian Centenary History of Defence (vol III). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-555542-2. OCLC 50418095. 
  • McCaffrie, Jack (2007). "Korea: The first challenge for Australian naval aviation". In Stevens, David & Reeve, John (eds.). Sea Power ashore and in the air. Ultimo, NSW: Halstead Press. ISBN 978-1-920831-45-5. 
  • Wright, Anthony (June 1998) [1978]. Australian Carrier Decisions: the acquisition of HMA Ships Albatross, Sydney and Melbourne. Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs. No. 4. Canberra: Sea Power Centre. ISBN 0-642-29503-4. ISSN 1327-5658. OCLC 39641731. 
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