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A2 Bell Iroquois

The RAAF operated Dragonfly and Sycamore helicopters in the 1950s, and had been involved with the introduction of the Sioux to Army service, but it was not until 1962, when the Iroquois was introduced, that the full capability and flexibility of the modern helicopter was available to the RAAF.

The prototype Bell XH-40 flew in October 1956 and entered service with the US Army in 1959 as the UH-1 (nicknamed "Huey"). The later model, redesignated UH-1B, flew in 1961 and in April that year the RAAF showed great foresight in ordering eight of this version for search and rescue. No 9 Squadron, under Squadron Leader R.A. Scott, received the first aircraft on 29 October 1962. These aircraft were serialled A2-384 to A2-391 and had been allotted US Army serials 62-4606 to 62-4613. The Iroquois began exercising in troop support for the Army, and this was to become a major role for No 9 Squadron.

In December 1962 a second batch of eight UH-1Bs were ordered that were delivered twelve months later as A2-714 to A2-721. In May 1964, No 5 Squadron was formed at Fairbairn with four aircraft, and deployed to Malaysia to provide support during the confrontation with Indonesia. A third batch, delivered in late 1964, A2-1018 to A2-1025, incorporated the Lycoming 1100 shp T53-L-11 engine, replacing the previous T53-L-9.

In April 1966, No 5 Squadron reformed at Fairbairn, and No 9 Squadron then deployed with the third batch of aircraft to Vietnam. Arriving at Vung Tau in June, No 9 Squadron began immediate operations in support of Australian ground forces. Army roles included airlift and resupply, aeromedical 'dust-off' evacuation and insertion and extraction of SAS troops. Two of an enlarged version of the Iroquois, the UH-1D, were delivered over 1966-67 to Vung Tau as replacements. 65-10041 became A2-041 (later changed to A2-085). Six months later, in May 1967, 66-1166 was received by No 9 Squadron and although A2-166 was to be allocated, it became A2-649. It appears that there had been some confusion on the last three of the US military serials.

The larger cabin of the "Delta" enabled carriage of an additional four passengers. A further six were delivered to No 5 Squadron (A2-505 to A2-510), but the UH-1D was soon superseded in production by the UH-1H, which had the same enlarged fuselage powered by the 1300 shp T53-L-13. RAAF Deltas were later retrofitted to this standard. Sixteen UH-1Hs were ordered to replace the UH-1B's in No 9 Squadron and were delivered direct from the US Army to Vung Tau. A2-376 to A2-383 were received in February 1968, followed in July by A2-766 to -773. This enabled the withdrawal of the Bravos from Vietnam to Australia, where these aircraft were able to reinforce search and rescue flights at Darwin, Williamtown, Pearce and Butterworth, and the type was also flown by the Aircraft Research and Development Unit. As No 5 Squadron was the training unit for No 9 Squadron, the search and rescue flights and the Royal Australian Navy, in addition to providing Army support throughout Australia, a further seven UH-1Hs were ordered for 1970 delivery: A2-484 to A2-490.

During 1969 gunship modifications were carried out on some aircraft by No 9 Squadron. These aircraft could be converted from the "Slick" transport configuration to "Bushranger" gunships. Meanwhile, No 9 Squadron received two more Hotel models: A2-149 and A2-110. With the loss on operations of A2-381 and A2-769 in October 1969 (both wrecks were later completely destroyed by SAS demolition teams), two replacements were ordered from the US Army. 69-15415 and 69-15435 were delivered in July 1970 and serialled A2-703 and -723. With the subsequent loss of A2-768, -767 and -723, two further replacements were received in mid-1971: A2-455 and A2-915. No 9 Squadron returned from Vietnam to Amberley in December 1971. Five more UH-1Hs were delivered in 1973 and these later equipped No 35 Squadron at Townsville.

The Royal Australian Navy has also operated the Iroquois: three UH-1B and four UH-1C models. Serialled N9-881 to N9-883, the first batch were delivered in 1964. A further four UH-1Cs, N9-3101 to N9-3104, were delivered over 1965–66.

However, these seven were not the only Iroquois operated by the Navy. Aviators and ground crew formed the RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam flying American Iroquois as part of the US Army 135th Assault Helicopter Company. RAN crews flew the Iroquois on gunship and troop-carrying missions from 1967 until 1971 from their base at Camp Blackhorse, 60 miles north-west of Vung Tau, and later Camp Bearcat, Bien Hou Province. The flight's motto was appropriate - "Get the Bloody Job Done". RAN aircrew also flew with No 9 Squadron in Vietnam.

In Australia the RAN Iroquois served with HC723 Squadron at HMAS Albatross on utility, training and search and rescue tasks. After being withdrawn from service, in 1987 the surviving aircraft re-entered service due to the withdrawal of the Wessex. The final three ageing UH-1s – N9-887, N9-3101 and N9-3104 – were then finally paid off from RAN service on 31 May 1989.

A major though little-known role for Iroquois detachments has been survey operations. Much work has been carried out over the past quarter century in mapping the remote areas of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Another peace-time task has been providing support to United Nations peace-keeping forces in the Middle East. All-white RAAF UH-1Hs with UN markings served with the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) in Egypt at Ismalia (1976–79) and with the UN Multi-National Force and Observers (MFO) in Sinai (1982–85).

In December 1984, the Bravos were replaced in service by the Squirrel in the training and search and rescue roles. The last UH-1B in service was A2-384, flown by No 5 Squadron until March 1985. The last RAAF Bravo Flight was on 21 May 1985 when A2-1019, ear-marked for display at the Australian War Memorial, staged a ceremonial flight over Canberra. Surviving aircraft were stored and offered for disposal in December 1985. Seven have since been exported to the USA.

With the loss of the RAAF rotary-wing capability, the remaining 25 Iroquois were transferred to the Army's No 171 Squadron and Aviation School at Oakey and No 5 Aviation Regiment at Townsville. In August 1991 A2-376, of No 171 Squadron, achieved 10,000 flying hours.

Rarely has an aircraft type seen such diverse operation with Australian forces and given such long and sterling service as the Bell UH-1 Iroquois.

TECHNICAL DATA: Bell UH-1H Iroquois

DESCRIPTION:

Multi-role utility and transport helicopter.

POWER PLANT:

1400shp (de-rated to 1300) Lycoming T53-L-13 turboshaft.

DIMENSIONS:

Diameter of main rotor 14.63 m (48ft); length 12.77 m (41ft 1 in); height 4.42 m (14ft 6in).

WEIGHTS:

Empty 2255 kg (4937 lb); loaded 4309 kg (9500 lb).

PERFORMANCE:

Max speed 204km/h (110 kt); range at low level 511km (275nm) at max weight; Service ceiling 12,600 ft (3840 m).

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