Air Force Provides Vital Skills for Marlborough Agencies

19 September 2019

The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) has concluded its annual high altitude mountain flying helicopter training in Marlborough, which provided an opportunity to assist the Department of Conservation, Ministry for Primary Industries and the Mountain Safety Council, who say this support is invaluable.

Over the course of two weeks, the RNZAF had three NH90 and two A109 helicopters operating from Dip Flat in the St Arnaud Range at the northern end of the Southern Alps.
Commanding Officer of 3SQN Wing Commander (WGCDR) Mike Cannon says the exercise allows the squadron to train while also carrying out essential work for our partner agencies.

“It is a win-win situation, we are getting the flying time we need to keep our crews current in flying in alpine conditions and we are able to help out with some tasking that can only  be done with a helicopter. This involved a number of underslung loads, a skill that is essential in our core role of supporting the NZ Army.

“Eight tonnes of firewood was delivered to remote Department of Conservation huts, windows and pipes were flown to a hut that needed repair work, we also undertook avalanche surveys for DOC and the Mountain Safety Council and wilding pine surveys for the Ministry for Primary Industries,” said WGCDR Cannon.

Department of Conservation’s Paul Dulieu says the information gathered helps them make risk assessments on assets like huts.

“There are a couple of huts that we get quite concerned about in winter because they have the potential to be hit by avalanches. We give the information we’ve gathered to the public so they can make better decisions when venturing into this area. This is the second year we’ve worked with the RNZAF in this way and it is hugely beneficial to both organisations,” said Mr Dulieu.

This annual training exercise, known as Exercise Blackbird has been running in the Marlborough region for many years. It is a good opportunity to train crews in mountainous flying and these skills are often used in New Zealand terrain when the NH90 is conducting search and rescue operations. To date this year the RNZAF has flown 52.3 hours on NH90 search and rescue tasking.

This page was last reviewed on 22 September 2019.