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A14 Pilatus Porter

Since receiving Cessna 180 and Bell Sioux aircraft in 1959-61, Army Aviation had expanded from the RAAF controlled No 16 Army Light Aircraft Squadron to the establishment of the Australian Army Aviation Corps on 1 July 1968. The flying arm of the Corps was No 1 Aviation Regiment, made up of flights in Vietnam, Malaysia, New Guinea and Australia. The initial order of 11 Sioux helicopters had grown to a total acquisition of 65, and the total order for Cessna 180s had been 19, but their capability had been limited and thus a replacement was sought.

The Pilatus PC-6/B1-H2 Turbo Porter was selected to fulfil this fixed-wing role in the Army, with an order for six on 16 May 1967, followed by a further six in August. Even before delivery, this initial batch had grown to 14 by the order of an additional two on 14 December. The contract was signed with Pilatus Aircraft, of Stans, Switzerland, on 16 November 1967, and these became the first turbine-powered aircraft to be operated by the Australian Army.

The Porter, which was initially powered by a 340 hp Lycoming GSO-480 piston engine, had made its maiden flight on 4 May 1959. The first Turbo Porter, powered by a Turbomeca Astazou turboprop engine, flew in May 1961, and then the PC-6/B1-H2 variant, powered by the ubiquitous Pratt & Whitney PT6, flew in May 1963.

In January 1968 the RAAF serial prefix A14 was allocated to the Porter, with the last three digits of the constructor's number completing the aircraft serial number. All aircraft were ferried to Australia with Swiss civil registrations, with the first aircraft, A14-652, being received at RAAF Amberley on 9 February 1968. The Army accepted the first four aircraft (A14-652, 653, -661 and -662) on 16 February, and held an official handover on 10 May 1968. The new aircraft demonstrated a startling short take-off and landing (STOL) capability, which proved ideal for inserting SAS patrols into strips less than 150 metres (500 feet) long.

Two more aircraft, A14-680 and A14-681, were received in October 1968, followed by the remainder of the order over that December and January. These eight aircraft were serialled between A14-683 and A14-693. A fifteenth Porter, A14-701, was delivered in May 1969. During 1969 the Army allocated these aircraft consecutive serials A14-301 to A14-315, but this change was never implemented.

The last four Porters (A14-725, -729, -730, -731) were delivered in 1971, with the final aircraft, A14-731, being handed over at Amberley on 20 May 1971. However, the last three serial digits of this batch conflicted with Bell Sioux helicopters, and in line with the new Army policy to have unique "last threes" for all aircraft, these four Porter serials were changed to A14-702 to A14-705.

The Porter was flown on operations in Vietnam by No 161 Independent Reconnaissance Flight, and during operations A14-686 was shot down near the Australian Task Force at Nui Dat in December 1969. Another aircraft, A14-703, crashed in 1979 at Learmonth, Western Australia. A new fuselage was acquired from Switzerland, enabling the aircraft to be returned to service. The cockpit section and nose of the old 703 is now held at Oakey, Queensland, for preservation.

Porters also saw service with No 183 Independent Reconnaissance Flight at Lae, Papua New Guinea, and with No 171 Air Cavalry Flight at Holsworthy, New South Wales. During the late 1970s, No 173 General Support Squadron, from Oakey, was also used for photographic survey work in Irian Jaya as part of Operation Cenderawasih, the cooperative mapping program with Indonesia. Porters would photograph the survey geoceiver points to establish their exact locations, tying their results in with the high-level photography taken by RAAF Canberras.

By the 1980s all Porters had been centralised at the Army Aviation Centre at Oakey. Six Porters were operated by No 173 Squadron in the reconnaissance and light transport roles until late 1992. In addition, seven aircraft were used for training by the School of Army Aviation.

To celebrate 21 years of service, a formation of 11 Porters flew over Oakey in October 1989. With 12 aircraft remaining, the Porter was officially retired on 17 October 1992, being replaced by a new order of nine Australian-designed Nomad transports. Although the Nomad lacks the extreme STOL capability of the Porter, it does have greater speed and range.

Of the dozen Porters available for disposal, 10 were sold by CSW Associates of Essendon. The first aircraft sold was A14-705, the last Army Porter, which was registered as VH-ZCZ. The other nine aircraft were bought back by Pilatus in early 1993, with six of these being dismantled by Interair and shipped to Switzerland. Of the remaining three, two were purchased by civilian owners in Australia for sports parachuting.

TECHNICAL DATA: Pilatus PC-6B Porter

DESCRIPTION:

Eight-seat reconnaissance and light transport aircraft.

POWER PLANT:

One 550 shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-20 turboprop.

DIMENSIONS:

Wingspan 15.87 m (52 ft); length 11.00 m (36 ft); height 3.20 m (10 ft 6 in).

WEIGHTS:

Empty 1273 kg (2800 lb); max 2205 kg (4850 lb).

PERFORMANCE:

Cruise speed 213 km/h (115 kts); stalling speed 96 km/h (53 kts); max range 730 km (394 nm); rate of climb 433m (1420ft)/min.

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