Press Release

Kestrel Aviation have confirmed that their extensive fleet of Bell ‘medium’ helicopters are once again ready to assist fire agencies this summer. After a busy maintenance period during the winter, Kestrel’s team of engineers took the opportunity to position some of the Bell 412, 212 and Sikorsky S-76 fleet for a show of capability that will be strategically placed around Victoria this fire season.

The company currently operates a fleet of six Bell 412s, five Bell 212’s, three S-76’s and a Bell 206L. The fleet is boosted with the support and partnership of both Erickson Incorporated and Firehawk Helicopters who bring in a fleet of S-64 Air Crane and UH-60 Firehawks for the Southern Hemisphere’s fire season.  

The founder of Kestrel Aviation, Ray Cronin, identified a need for quality helicopter training in Australia’s early 1980s. He also decided to be the change he wanted to see in the industry by starting Kestrel Aviation.


Ray Cronin, is Kestrel Aviation’s founder. From the humble beginnings in Moorabbin as a rotary aviation training provider,  today the company is large provider to the Aerial Fire Fighting industry in Australia. 

As the industry changed over the years, Kestrel continued to change and adapt, adjusting the business focus. As the company grew, Cronin moved to a new location, from its Moorabbin base in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne to Mangalore, situated an hour north of Melbourne.


Kestrel’s base at Mangalore has grown with the edition of two new hangars built in 2019 to house the fleet and spares inventory for the company.

A major change for the company came about in 2013.  Kestrel partnered with Erickson Air-Crane which are based in Oregon. Initially it was the operation of a couple of the Air-Cranes within Victoria and NSW. This was soon grown to include operations in South Australia and Western Australia. Today the two companies operate six S-64 Air Crane helicopters around Australia. For the 2020/21 season, the following six machines will be located and start their contracts as listed below:

  • Bankstown, New South Wales, HT730, N189AC, Gypsy Lady, starts 11/1/2020
  • Bankstown, New South Wales, HT739, N247AC , Jerry, 12/1/2020
  • Essendon, Victoria, HT341, N154AC, Georgia Peach, 12/2/2020
  • Moorabbin, Victoria, HT342, N194AC, Delilah, 12/23/2020
  • Brukunga (Adelaide Hills), South Australia, HT743, N218AC, Elsie, 12/17/2020
  • Serpentine (Perth), Western Australia, HT740, N243AC, Marty, 12/20/2020
ASO Fire Granville 6 (1 of 1)

Kestrel and Erickson have been operating the S-64 in Australia together since 2013.

Having taken the opportunity with Douglas Aerospace at Wagga Wagga to repaint more of the fleet in the iconic red and white livery, communities will be able to clearly identify when a Kestrel helicopter is hard at work fighting fires. The impressive sight of aircraft out on the aprons at the bespoke facility at Mangalore was a first for Kestrel since the construction of two additional hangars in 2019.

Joining the S-64s will be two UH-60 Firehawks. Florida based Firehawk Helicopters has partnered with Kestrel again this season. This will see two Firehawks helicopters on Australian fire grounds.


N2FH is seen during last years season when it was operating from Bairnsdale.

Based at Mangalore in central Victoria, Kestrel operates Australia’s largest fleet of Bell mediums. Fitted with the industry leading Conair 85-KE belly tank, these powerful aircraft are a proven and effective capability to front line firefighters. Capable of winch, rappel, long line and night firebombing operations, Kestrel has become a trusted partner of fire agencies around Australia.


Considerable effort has been put into the repainting of the fleet into the companies, red and white corporate colours. Bell 206 VH-KHQ was the machine used during this photoshoot.

Managing Director, Ray Cronin, commented:

“Our engineering team have done an excellent job this year to ensure that the Kestrel fleet maintains its position as one of the most reliable operators on the fire ground. Having continued to operate safely and effectively through the coronavirus pandemic, we are well placed to assist the fire agencies with keeping local communities safe from the threat of fires. Whilst we anticipate a more normal start to the season than last year due to a number of significant rain events, our state of readiness we remain at a peak.”

Kestrel Aviation is a proudly Australian owned specialist aviation provider with over thirty-five (35) years’ experience assisting government and commercial clients safely achieve their aerial project needs Australia- wide and internationally.



Aviation Spotters Online wishes to thank Ray, Justin and the whole team at Kestrel in putting this photo shoot together and for the support.  It was so great to see the machines looking as great as they did.  ASO wishes all the people at Kestrel a safe fire season in 2020/21.

Dave Soderstrom 

Media contact: Justin Charlesworth, 03 5796 2373 or justin@kestrelaviation.com.au

Photos by Aviation Spotters Online, Dave ‘Soda’ Soderstrom,