RNZAF helicopters achieve milestones on exercise
The AW109s received a type certificate on 10 November, signifying their full release to service, an achievement reached six years after arriving in New Zealand. The NH90, meanwhile, has logged a capability release for embarked operations.
No.3 squadron personnel spent one week aboard the multirole ship HMNZS Canterbury at the start of the exercise, enabling the NH90’s embarked capability to be released for non-tactical operations.
This embarked phase included the ship-to-shore movement of 116 military personnel and cargo by two helicopters, the first such large-scale movement by Kiwi NH90s from a ship.
No.3 Squadron, which contributed three NH90s and a single AW109, operated within a contingent of about 130 personnel to deliver rotary-winged support for the multilateral Exercise Southern Katipo.
During the exercise, which still had a week to run when Shephard visited, the NH90s had achieved about 125 flight hours, while the solitary AW109 had performed 25 hours. This was slightly higher than the squadron had expected.
Wg Cdr Mike Cannon, commanding officer of 3 Squadron, told Shephard, ‘The NH90 is a great aircraft for us. It’s doing well.’ It is currently achieving 75% rates of availability, aided by the fact that the manufacturer has a point of contact stationed at Ohakea to grant technical support.
Cannon said that possessing a smaller fleet of NH90s – eight in the case of the RNZAF – also ensures more agility in terms of maintaining the aircraft. New gun mounts that had been recently introduced were used during the exercise too; these are based on Australia’s solution.
Flt Lt Mike Garrett, flight commander of 3 Squadron, said the helicopters ‘have done really well’. Servicings have been conducted in the field, including a blade change on one.
Other missions in support of the exercise’s Light Task Group have included troop insertions by day and night, CASEVAC, inserting communications relays and even searching for smuggling boats in the Marlborough Sounds.
Army and air force personnel noted that it can be difficult to match schedules so that soldiers and helicopters can operate together. This is one advantage of an exercise such as Southern Katipo, since the two partners can integrate more closely and ‘get more insights into each other’.
During the exercise, No.3 Squadron also performed several flights for local authorities, including reconnaissance of a new mountain bike trail and a water catchment, and search-and-rescue training for LandSAR personnel.
The AW109LUHs are being heavily used for training by the squadron, often at the expense of the light utility role, Cannon said. However, he described the platform as a ‘force multiplier’ on missions such as Southern Katipo.
There they were being used for overwatch missions, for example. New Zealand’s AW109s were fitted for but not with such imaging sensors, but Cannon said he would like to see an EO/IR capability fitted at some stage.
A Defence Capability Plan released in 2010 suggested that three additional AW109LUHs would be acquired, but this notion has now disappeared.
Whilst the RNZAF is otherwise pleased with its AW109s, support from Leonardo can be slower than that for the NH90s. For example, there is a lag of 12 hours because of the time difference with Europe, while it can be difficult getting support during the Italian summer holiday season.
The Malaysian Army, which also operates the AW109LUH platform, uses the RNZAF’s level 3 full-flight simulator at Ohakea Air Base for training.