The 5th Aviation Regiment (5 Avn Regt) is an Australian Army aviation unit. Formed in 1987 after the Army took over responsibility for operating helicopters from the Royal Australian Air Force, the regiment is based at RAAF Base Townsville, in Queensland. It currently forms part of the 16th (Aviation) Brigade and it operates the majority of the Army's transport helicopters. Throughout its existence, the regiment has been deployed overseas numerous times, supporting both peacekeeping and warlike operations. Since its formation elements of the regiment have made operational deployments to Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Iraq, Indonesia and Pakistan.
The 5th Aviation Regiment was formed at Townsville, Queensland, on 20 November 1987 to operate the S-70A-9 Black Hawk and UH-1 Iroquois helicopters which had previously been operated by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) following the decision to transfer these assets to the Australian Army. In 1989, No. 9 Squadron RAAF (S-70A) became the regiment's 'A' Squadron and No. 35 Squadron RAAF (UH-1) became 'B' Squadron. 'B' Squadron was later re-equipped with Black Hawks. The regiment was subsequently expanded in 1995 when 'C' Squadron was formed to operate CH-47 Chinook and UH-1 Iroquois helicopters (the later in the aerial fire support role).
In May 1993 six Black Hawks and 109 personnel from 'B' Squadron were deployed to Battambang airport in north-west Cambodia, forming the Army Aviation Group deployed in support of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in that country. The aircraft were painted in UN white and fitted with armour plating and door mounted machine-guns for the operation due to the threat of ground fire. They were subsequently used to resupply UN positions along the Thai-Laos border, as well as the transportation of electoral officials and ballot boxes, and for aeromedical evacuation. The helicopters were fired on at least three times, with one receiving minor damage from small arms fire. They returned to Townsville in July 1993.
On the evening of 12 June 1996 two Black Hawk helicopters from the regiment carrying soldiers from the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) collided during an exercise at the High Range Training Area near Townsville. The activity took place sometime after 18:30, requiring the pilots to use night vision goggles. Six aircraft had been approaching the target area when, 30 seconds from the landing zone, one of the helicopters veered to the right, clipping the tail rotor of another helicopter. One Black Hawk crashed immediately, while the other was able to make a crash landing but burst into flames. Fifteen members of the SASR and three from the 5th Aviation Regiment lost their lives in the accident. Meanwhile, the Iroquois helicopters were transferred to the 1st Aviation Regiment in 1998.
In September 1999, the regiment deployed 12 Black Hawks as part of the Australian-led International Force East Timor (INTERFET), flying directly into Dili from Darwin on the second day of the operation to provide airlift and limited aerial fire support to the force on the ground. The detachment was initially based at the Dili Heliport, but was redeployed to Balibo in July 2000 following the transition to the UN mission. In April 2002 it moved again, this time to Moleana. By 2004 the regiment provided a 24-hour aeromedical evacuation capability in support of the Australian infantry battalion deployed along the East Timor-Indonesian border, as well as the insertion and extraction of reaction forces.
Between March and May 2003, a detachment from 'C' Squadron of three CH-47 Chinooks supported the Special Forces Task Group provided airlift to other coalition forces as part of the Australian force deployed during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In late 2003, 'A' Squadron and the UH-1 equipped 171st Squadron swapped designations, with the former 'A' Squadron becoming an independent squadron supporting Special Operations Command. The 'new' (UH-1 equipped) 'A' Squadron was subsequently re-equipped with 12 MRH-90 medium helicopters, while it was planned that 'B' Squadron would also be equipped with these aircraft by 2015.
Following an earthquake in October 2005, a detachment of Black Hawks were sent to Pakistan to assist the ADF medical team deployed there and provide humanitarian assistance to remote villages. Later, a detachment of two CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the regiment was deployed to Afghanistan between late March 2006 and April 2007. In early 2008, two Chinooks were deployed with Rotary Wing Group 1 (RWG 1) and then again with Rotary Wing Group 2 (RWG 2) in June 2008 as part of Operation Slipper where they took part in combat operations. These operations continued in 2009 and 2010. Two years after being withdrawn, eight Black Hawks were deployed to East Timor in May 2006 as part of Operation Astute as a result of the deteriorating situation in the country. Three Black Hawks helped distribute aid to victims of flooding in Oro Province, Papua New Guinea in late 2007 as part of Operation Papua New Guinea Assist.
On 31 May 2011, a Chinook from C Squadron crashed while operating in Afghanistan. The aircraft was conducting a re-supply mission in company with a US Army Chinook in Zabul Province when it crashed, injuring six personnel on board. The most seriously wounded, passenger Lieutenant Marcus Case, was evacuated by the accompanying US Army helicopter but later died of his injuries. He was an Australian Army pilot deployed with No. 5 Flight RAAF at Kandahar. The other five injured survived the crash and were evacuated to Kandahar. The helicopter, a CH-47D (ADF serial A15-102) attached to the US Army 159th Combat Aviation Brigade at Kandahar, was assessed as being unrecoverable and was subsequently destroyed at the site of the crash. There was no insurgent activity at the time of the crash, and enemy fire was ruled out as a contributing cause. The eleventh, and final, deployment of Chinooks to Afghanistan was completed on 14 September 2013. In June 2014, all six of the regiment's Chinooks flew together for the first time in 19 years.
In August 2014, the regiment transferred the last of its Black Hawk helicopters to the 6th Aviation Regiment based at Holsworthy in Sydney. 'B' Squadron is replacing the type with MRH-90s, joining 'A' Squadron which has already re-equipped with the new helicopters. The regiment's six CH-47Ds were subsequently replaced by seven CH-47F models, with the last of the airframes being delivered in 2015. A further three CH-47F Chinooks were acquired in 2016.
The 5th Aviation Regiment currently consists of:Headquarters Squadron
A Squadron (MRH-90)
B Squadron (MRH-90)
C Squadron (CH-47 Chinook)
Technical Support Squadron
Logistic Support Squadron
Together with the 1st and 6th Aviation Regiments, the 5th Aviation Regiment forms part of the 16th (Aviation) Brigade and is currently based in Townsville, Queensland.