Air Force Tests High-Altitude Flying in Marlborough Mountains

26 June 2018

The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) is testing the alpine flying ability of its helicopters and crews around the mountains of Marlborough, a skill essential to search and rescue operations.

No. 3 Squadron has deployed three NH90 and two A109 helicopters and crews on Exercise Blackbird. They will be operating out of the Dip Flat Defence Area in Marlborough from June 25 for 10 days.

Commanding Office of No. 3 Squadron Wing Commander Mike Cannon said the training was essential for safe flying in mountainous terrain.

“The exercise is designed to train our helicopter crews in high-altitude mountain flying operations, which is an essential skill at home and abroad. In New Zealand you’ll often see those skills demonstrated in search and rescue operations by our NH90 crews,” Wing Commander Cannon said.

“Being able to train in areas away from our home base Ohakea is vital to maintain, test and enhance the already outstanding skills of our personnel.”

The A109 helicopter is used to train the RNZAF helicopter crews, who will move on to the NH90 or Seasprite helicopters.

“There will be more than 100 personnel involved in this exercise, which includes refuelling, information systems, maintenance, safety, medical, catering and logistics teams, as well as our helicopter crews,” Wing Commander Cannon said.

“It’s basically a deployed forward operating base, living under canvas and in cabins, with all the skills and equipment required as if it was an operation.”

As well as training in the region, crews will also help the Department of Conservation with alpine safety.

This page was last reviewed on 7 February 2019.