Lieutenant Ariel Baltis in front of the visiting United States Navy P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft at RNZAF Base Whenuapai.
21 November 2016
For United States Navy pilot Lieutenant Ariel Baltis it is all about the chemistry.
As captain of the visiting US Navy P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, for her nothing beats the chemistry of a crew fully engaged in the task, and when the task is a real-time mission supporting the New Zealand Defence Force’s response to the Kaikoura earthquake it just makes it all the better.
Since the disaster the aircraft’s crew have helped by flying over the affected area and providing images to allow officials to assess damage and start planning the recovery.
Based at the Royal New Zealand Air Force base at Whenuapai, Auckland, the crew was originally in New Zealand to support the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary celebrations and take part in a flypast for the International Naval Review.
However, news of the event reached the crew as the aircraft landed at Whenuapai at the end of its trip from its home base in Hawaii.
“We were really honoured to be asked to help, and get involved in real-world operations to help the people,” Lieutenant Baltis said.
A native of Ohio, Lieutenant Baltis, 27, has always had a passion for flying, hardly surprising because her father was also a naval aviator. She obtained her private pilots’ licence while at university, completing a degree in chemistry, and then received a commission in the US Navy.
She was drawn to flying the P-3C Orion long-range aircraft because she enjoys the challenge of flying at low levels in a large aircraft.
“It is also great because the Orion has a big crew. It is like having your own family,” she said.
The Orion normally has 12 people on board.
Lieutenant Baltis and her crew will leave Whenuapai on Wednesday to rejoin their squadron, VP47.
Before they leave they will complete some of the originally planned exercises with the naval vessels in town for the commemorations.
The RNZAF’s No. 5 Squadron operates six P-3K2 Orion aircraft, with the same airframe but upgraded avionics and electronic sensors.