Australia permanently grounds MRH-90 fleet after fatal crash

Australia has retired its 45-strong fleet of MRH-90 Taipan tactical transport helicopters early, following a fatal accident that occurred near Hamilton Island, Queensland, during Exercise Talisman Sabre 23 on July 28.

The fleet was immediately grounded and, on September 29, the Australian Department of Defence (DOD) announced that the “MRH-90 Taipan helicopters will not return to flying operations before their planned withdrawal date of December 2024.”

Australia announced in 2004 that it would order 12 NH90s (designated the MRH-90 Taipan in Australian service) to supplement the Australian Army Aviation Corps’ S-70A-9 Black Hawk helicopters. In June 2006, the Australian Defence Force announced that it would order 34 additional NH90s to replace its Black Hawk and Sea King Mk 50 helicopters, four of which would be manufactured in Europe with the remaining 42 by Australian Aerospace (an Airbus Helicopters subsidiary) in Brisbane.

A pair of MRH-90 Taipan tactical transport helicopters from the Australian Army Aviation Corps’ Army Aviation Training Centre prepare to take-off from Oakey/Holsworthy Barracks in New South Wales on May 13, 2022.
A pair of MRH-90 Taipan tactical transport helicopters from the Australian Army Aviation Corps’ Army Aviation Training Centre prepare to take-off from Oakey/Holsworthy Barracks in New South Wales on May 13, 2022. Australian DOD/Bradley Richardson

An additional MRH-90 was subsequently supplied to Australia in lieu of penalty payments. In total, 40 MRH-90s were operated by the Army’s 5th and 6th Aviation Regiments at RAAF Base Townsville, Queensland, and Holsworthy Barracks in New South Wales, respectively; with the remaining seven helicopters being operated by the Royal Australian Navy’s No 808 Squadron.

Final Operational Capability was delayed by some five years due to procurement problems and technical deficiencies but was finally achieved in April 2019. Thereafter, the fleet experienced a litany of availability, supportability and operational shortcomings. The Navy aircraft were retired in April 2022 and will be replaced by 13 MH-60R Seahawks. It was announced in 2021 that the Army’s MRH-90s would be replaced by 40 UH-60M Black Hawks by December 2024.

In March 2023, an MRH-90 was forced to make a controlled ditching at night during a training exercise, and the entire Taipan fleet was grounded. After being returned to service, another MRH-90 crashed off the coast of Hamilton Island during Exercise Talisman Sabre, killing the four onboard crew members. The type is now permanently grounded and will not fly again.