|No aircraft has seen the
length of service in Australia of the Dakota, having notched up 52 years
as transports in the RAAF.
When the decision was made in the
sixties for the elusive "Dakota replacement" it was not an
easy choice; the aircraft which best measured up coming from the rugged
lineage of the de Havilland Aircraft of Canada (DHC) stable. The RAAF
was already familiar with the DHC Beaver and Otter, and the short
takeoff and landing (STOL) field performance of the Caribou was ideal as
a transport for army support work.
Caribou is a twin engined, light tactical transport with rear opening
ramp doors to allow rapid loading and unloading The prototype first flew
on July 30 1958. Eighteen aircraft were ordered for the RAAF in May 1963
and the first aircraft, serialled A4-134 (constructor's number 134), was
handed over at the DHC plant at Downsview, near Toronto, on February 25
Three aircraft were then ferried by 38
Squadron crews 25,700km (16,000 miles) to Australia, via the Atlantic,
Europe and Indian Ocean, arriving at Richmond on April 22. The initial
18 aircraft were serialled with scattered numbers between, A4-134 and
In July 1964, three aircraft on ferry
from Canada were diverted from Butterworth, Malaysia, to deploy with the
increasing Australian involvement to South Vietnam.
The RAAF Transport
Flight Vietnam (RTFV) was formed on July 20 and these three aircraft
were flown to Vung Tau, to be joined by a further three in August. In
1965 a seventh aircraft was added and in June 1966 RTFV became 35
During nearly eight years of operations in Vietnam, the
Caribou, which used the call sign "Wallaby" (with 35 Sqn
becoming known as "Wallaby Airlines"), carried over 600,000
The first RAAF Caribou was lost on
July 1 1964 when A4-134 was written off in a heavy landing at Nowra
Naval Air Station.
The following November a further seven aircraft were
ordered to replace this loss and the six deployed to Vietnam. These
Caribou were delivered in 1966, with scrambled serials between A4-225
Australia's Caribou detachment in
Vietnam began winding down in June 1971, and the last aircraft arrived
back at Richmond on February 26 1972. Meanwhile since 1965, a flight
from 35 Squadron had been operating from Port Moresby, PNG, providing
transport support for the PNG Defence Force. Until their withdrawal in
1975, nearly 27,000 hours were flown by the crews of the three Caribou
of the detachment.
A final four Caribou were delivered
over the 1968 - 1971 period, serialled between A4-264 and A4-299, and
with these aircraft the RAAF was able to support survey operations in
Indonesia in addition to various UN and Red Cross commitments. From
March 1975 to November 1978 a white coloured 35 Sqn Caribou in United
Nations markings operated with the UN Military Observer Group in
India-Pakistan (UNMOGIP). Duties entailed resupply and remanning
observation posts to monitor the ceasefire line in the North West
Frontier. During the fighting in Timor in 1975, Caribou aircraft of 35
Squadron, in Red Cross markings, flew daily mercy missions from Darwin
carrying supplies to refugees in East Timor.
One of the Caribou's great virtues is
the capability to operate from relatively crude dirt strips which cannot
be used by other military transports. This light "footprint"
has been lacking in any of the Caribou's competitors or successors. The
aircraft has been used by the RAAF for flare dropping missions, medical
evacuation, SAR and paratroop training exercises, but the main task is
the airlift of troops, civilians, supplies, ammunition, mail and food.
On July 1 1976, 35 Sqn relocated to
RAAF Townsville from Richmond, and formed a composite unit with Iroquois
helicopters in support of the Army in North Queensland. When the
Iroquois later transferred to the Army, 35 and 38 Squadrons formed No 84
Wing of the Operational Support Group. Until 1988 two Caribou served at
Butterworth with Transport Support Flight, and later 79 Squadron,
supporting Mirage operations and the deployed Army infantry company, as
well as duties for the embassies in the region. Detachments from 35
Squadron provide SAR and local transport requirements for Darwin and
Pearce, as well as supporting Army units with training exercises. An
ongoing requirement for 38 Sqn is the support of the Parachute Training
School at HMAS Albatross at Nowra.
On May 30 1991 the Minister of Defence
announced the Caribou fleet would be reduced from 21 to 14 aircraft, and
A4-164 was the first withdrawn from service in November 1992. With the
move of 38 Sqn to Kimberley in December 1992, aircraft withdrawn from
service will be stored at Amberley to provide a source of spares for the
fleet. The Caribou will be soldiering on to the end of the century,
based in Queensland and maintaining detachments at Darwin and Pearce.