Helicopters Take to the Skies Over Marlborough

An RNZAF SH-2G(I) Seasprite naval helicopter flies over St Arnaud Range during Exercise Bluebird in 2016.

An RNZAF SH-2G(I) Seasprite naval helicopter flies over St Arnaud Range during Exercise Bluebird in 2016.

25 August 2017

Two Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) helicopter squadrons will take to the skies in and around Marlborough over the next month to conduct training.

The flying training exercises start with Exercise Blackbird next week and Exercise Bluebird will take place in mid-September.

Exercise Blackbird will involve No.3 Squadron RNZAF deploying four NH90 helicopters from RNZAF Base Ohakea in the central North Island to the RNZAF’s Dip Flat Camp in Wairau Valley, Marlborough, to practise mountain-flying operations and alpine survival training. 

“Flying in mountainous terrain is extremely challenging, even in a highly capable helicopter like the NH90,” Detachment Commander Squadron Leader Tim Costley said.

“Mountain flying is difficult and potentially dangerous mostly because of the wind, which causes extreme up and down draughts,” Squadron Leader Costley said.

“These downdraughts can be strong enough to mean a helicopter pulling full power is still forced into a descent by the wind. The greatest danger from these is when landing, particularly on high mountains.

“We train the crews to identify where these invisible downdraughts will be, then to fly in such a way as to mean the helicopter is never forced to descend into terrain.”

The NH90 had conducted a number of challenging rescues, including plucking a tramper off Mt Taranaki and leading the response to the Kaikoura earthquake, Squadron Leader Costley said. 

Exercise Blackbird ensured RNZAF crews were ready to respond at a moment’s notice when required for any such search and rescue callout over the next year, he said.

Exercise Blackbird will run from 28 August to 1 September and will be followed closely by Exercise Bluebird, involving similar training for No. 6 Squadron’s SH-2G(I) Seasprite naval helicopters.

That exercise, which runs from 11-22 September, will involve about 50 personnel from the Auckland-based squadron and support units.

“This training prepares the crew for mountain flying when undertaking core tasking, such as routine resupply flights to Raoul and Auckland islands,” No. 6 Squadron Public Information Officer Flight Lieutenant Kerryn Dryden said.

“Most recently, mountain flying was carried out when No.6 Squadron provided civilian support in Kaikoura at the end of last year,” she said.

For both exercises, support will be provided from RNZAF Base Woodbourne and the mountain flying will be conducted throughout the Dip Flat-Wairau Valley area.

Later in September the rotors will be replaced by propellers as Exercise Bullseye takes off from Woodbourne. 

Transport aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force will be competing with RNZAF crews on navigation skills, air-drop accuracy and all-round performance in this annual competition.

All of the activity is aimed at preparing for Exercise Southern Katipo 17, the New Zealand Defence Force’s largest military exercise, to be held all around the upper South Island in October and November.

This page was last reviewed on 27 August 2017.