By Julia Mahony
A mighty new RNZAF NH90 helicopter hovered over Lake Rotoiti on Marlborough Anniversary Weekend as AREC supported evaluation of the chopper for LandSAR purposes.
The NH90’s crew were put through their paces during operational tests, including hover loading and night winching from the advanced medium utility helicopter, one of a fleet of eight purchased by the Government from NATO Helicopter Industries (NHI), to replace the Iroquois.
The November SAREX was arranged at picturesque West Bay, Lake Rotoiti by Marlborough LandSAR trainer John Urlich, who works at RNZAF Base Woodbourne. On site was a purpose built EOC truck, manned by AREC Marlborough section leader Paul Rennie ZL2RE, and Bill Cousins ZL2AYZ. SAR teams used VHF hand-helds to relay transmissions to a DOC repeater up on a high knob and back to base.
The Isuzu EOC truck is owned by Marlborough District Council, with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for use during LandSAR and AREC activities. “This was the first time the new truck’s been used in earnest by us,’’ Paul said. “It’s fully contained, sleeps two-three people and has a microwave, sink, whiteboard walls and a 6.5kW generator. It’s a very handy piece of equipment.’’ Tucked behind the truck’s cab is a fully equipped radio section with HF and VHF channelled into local council, marine, DOC, SAR, and power authority repeaters.
“The SAREX was organised so the air force boys could tick all the boxes in the new chopper,’’ Paul said. “They landed at 1415 on Saturday and after all the paperwork was done, flying started at 1630 and was still going at midnight.’’ Dodging the lake’s miniature flying beasts – sand flies – was worth it to witness the chopper’s state-of-the-art capabilities.
The NH90 contains electronic systems which replace old mechanical technology and has a rear ramp for small vehicles such as quad bikes. The RNZAF says it is better suited for conducting civilian tasks than the Iroquois. With its long range and all-weather ability, it will be fast and reliable in civil defence, land and off-shore rescue operations. The speed at which the NH90 could deliver larger groups of searchers into an area made it a valuable tool for LandSAR, John Urlich said.