(L-R) Petty Officer Aircrew Chris Hodgkinson, Lieutenant John Flynn, Lieutenant Ben Thomson and Leading Seaman Aircrew Liam Carruthers in front of the MH-60R helicopter on the flight deck of HMAS Perth. (photo: ABIS Richard Cordell)
September 8, 2016 - HMAS Perth, currently conducting security operations in the Middle East region as part of Operation MANITOU, is equipped with the Royal Australian Navy’s newest and most capable pieces of technology.
Significantly extending the ship’s firepower, self-protection and detection suites – is the new MH-60R or 'Romeo' Seahawk helicopter.
This is the Navy’s 63rd Middle East rotation and the first time an Australian warship has deployed with an embarked Seahawk Romeo.
Inside the ship’s aviation department is a team of highly skilled personnel, focused on ensuring the first operational deployment of the aircraft goes according to plan.
The Flight Commander and lead pilot is Lieutenant Commander Josh Carey.
"It's a very capable aircraft which considerably increases Perth’s potency and reach," he said.
"Since deploying, we have been focused on achieving a high flying rate of effort in order to increase our knowledge of this aircraft and all her systems."
Affectionately referred to by aviators and enthusiasts alike as the ‘Romeo’, it bears a striking resemblance to its older sibling, the S-70B-2 Bravo. Its aesthetics however is where any resemblance ends, especially given the 20-year technology advancements on the platform.
“I’m often asked if it is anything like the Bravo,” said Lieutenant Commander Carey.
“The answer is no, as this aircraft represents a major generational change."
“As a weapon system the two aircraft are simply not comparable.”
Leading Seaman Aircrewman Liam Carruthers, is Navy’s first exclusively trained MH-60R Sensor Operator and is on his first operational deployment.
"I went through my Squirrel aircrewman conversion course and the day I got my wings I was told I was going to be one of the first to go to Florida (USA) to be trained on the Romeo,” Leading Seaman Carruthers said.
"It was a fantastic opportunity, I was there during 2013-2014 for 18 months and I learned a lot."
"I was a maintainer on the Bravo and now I’m enjoying being an aircrewman for the Romeo," he said.
The aircraft now boasts a complete airborne Operations Room.
“With all of its systems working together, we can paint a very accurate picture for our ship," Leading Seaman Carruthers said.
Chief Petty Officer Daniel Simeon is the Senior Maintenance Sailor for HMAS Perth's aviators.
Prior to working with the Romeo he maintained Squirrel, Iroquois, Jet Ranger, Sea Sprite and Wessex helicopters.
"As well as this aircraft deploying for the first time, it's the first time I have deployed on operations," Chief Petty Officer Simeon said.
"I'm lucky to have a very good maintenance crew of 12, consisting of engine and airframe technicians and weapons and avionics technicians."
“Before I began working on the Romeo I was sent to the US for training. I became 725 Squadron’s quality manager over there and when I returned, I was given the first maintenance flight."
So far, from a maintenance perspective the aircraft has performed extremely well on this deployment.
"We collect maintenance data from the onboard sensors which we input into a ground based computer system," he said.
"We also provide data for the Navy and the MH-60R systems program office, so they can work out the aircraft fatigue lifespan.”
Chief Petty Officer Simeon was also provided a unique experience which has evolved into a greater appreciation of the aircraft.
"During September 2014, I visited the factory in the United States where this aircraft is built,” he said.
Lieutenant Commander Carey completed the demanding United States Navy Test Pilots course in 2011, which provided the opportunity to fly T-6 Jets, the CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter and the MV-22B Osprey, amongst others.
A career milestone considering that is where NASA recruits pilots for astronaut training, but still nothing to compare with his current job.
"Leading the team I have on Perth and being a Flight Commander during this deployment has been my number one career highlight so far,” he said
"I’m looking forward to an expansion of the Navy’s capability as a result of the successes we are having on Perth. This role is leaps and bounds above my former job as a pilot."