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SIOUX A1-404

Sioux A1-404 landing at the Australian War MemorialThe first helicopter exhibited at the Australian War Memorial, a Bell 47G-3B-1, more commonly known as a Sioux, was used in the saving of 32 Australian soldiers' lives during Operation RENMARK in SVN on February 21, 1967.

During the operation, an armoured personnel carrier was blown up in a minefield, and the crew and passengers injured.

Troops in the following APC dismounted and moved forward to assist the wounded and were themselves wounded by a VC claymore mine, sited and timed to hit the rescue party.

After the second explosion there were 32 soldiers trapped in the minefield.

"By his skill, fortitude and special efforts to lift out the wounded at all costs, Capt Campbell set an outstanding example as a soldier and Army pilot, and his actions reflect great credit on himself, his unit and Army Aviation," was some of the wording on the citation of Maj — then Capt — Jim Campbell's Distinguished Flying Cross.

Capt Campbell, the helicopter pilot, flew his Sioux A1-404 — into the minefield, carrying a medical officer to the scene of the explosions.

He chose this course of action so that quick evacuation might save the lives of the more seriously wounded.

Capt Campbell was fully aware that his aircraft could have been destroyed by a mine explosion triggered by the helicopter skids or the down blast of the rotors.

In spite of this, he repeatedly landed in the minefield in order to evacuate the wounded to another landing point from which it was considered safe for larger RAAF helicopters to operate.

The Sioux was first delivered to 16 Army Light Aircraft Squadron at RAAF Amberley on December 1, 1960.

Australia first showed interest in the aircraft during the Korean conflict where, from 1951, they were used for casualty evacuation, liaison, communications and resupply.

After years of discussion between the Department of Defence, the RAAF and the Army, an order was finally placed for 11 of the helicopters in 1959.

The initial cost was $A38,997 each, but when spares, training of servicing staff, publications, special tools and equipment, and the services of a Bell helicopter field representative were added, the final cost finished at $A876,038 for the 11 aircraft.

On today's values each aircraft would have cost $477,834.

Upon delivery, it was found that the noisy and naked-looking aircraft had a few shortcomings which took more than a year to rectify.

Among other problems which had to be overcome, it had no gyro instruments, no HF radio and no turn and balance.

To counter the latter problem some ingenious pilots tied a length of white wool on to the VHF aerial which protruded through the bubble-like cockpit.

When streaming directly aft, this would indicate balanced flight.

The gravest defect, however, was a missing component of the VHF-FM radio in the 30-70 Mhz frequency range, which was used to talk to soldiers on the ground.

When this mistake was fixed, the Sioux proved to be a reliable aircraft.

The Bell 47-G2, and later models, were not particularly comfortable aircraft to fly.

In summer the bubble cockpit was a hothouse and, while both doors could be taken off, the risk of losing maps, flight plans and other important documents was considerable.

In winter, the discomfort came in the form of no heating and the tendency for the cockpit to mist up.
It was beyond the reach of all but the longest-armed pilot to wipe away the mist.

It was a slow aircraft, 70 knots being a good cruising speed, and the two fuel tanks, vertically mounted on a Lycoming VO 435 engine, held a total of 35 gallons of avgas.

Between late 1960 and April, 1969, the Army acquired 64 series 47 Bells.

These were followed by G3B-1 models which were equipped with gyro instruments, a new range of radios and were turbo charged.

A total of 31 Sioux were written off — including seven in New Guinea and eight in Vietnam.

A1-404 made its last flight in June, 1979, when Maj Campbell flew it from Oakey, Queensland, to the Australian War Memorial where it is now on display in the aircraft section.

Sioux helicopters were phased out of service in 1974 when they were superseded by the faster, more powerful Kiowa.

Webmaster's Note: The wounded soldiers the article referred to were members of B Company 5RAR when on the 21st February 1967, mounted on APCs, a 500lb land mine along with  several anti-personal mines were detonated. To read a first hand account by Battalion's RMO "Doc" White, Click Here