Defence 'happy' with new choppers

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 10/03/2012

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The Defence Force has welcomed its first new $85 million helicopter and is confident the fleet will be problem-free, despite a plague of issues with the machines overseas.

Military brass held a blessing ceremony in Wellington yesterday, following the NH90's maiden flight from Ohakea Air Base.

Nine of the medium-range helicopters were ordered for $771m in 2006 to replace the ageing fleet of Iroquois but, despite test flights in France two years ago, delivery was delayed because of software integration and certification issues.

The first two arrived late last year, with the remaining seven due to arrive by late next year. One will never fly and will be used for spare parts.

Despite being state of the art, the helicopters have been far from problem-free overseas.

Germany was one of the first countries to take delivery of the NH90 and problems soon emerged, including limited interior space and seats that could not support their weight.

Australia also ordered a large number of the machines but after serious difficulties the helicopters are still only cleared for testing and training.

Problems with the Australian NH90s include compressor blades rubbing in the engine causing uneven cooldown, leaving the chopper unable to be flown after a few hours.

Failure with transmission oil cooler fans, windscreen cracking, the navigation system failing to align and the helicopter's floor fracturing under troops' boots have also been identified as issues.

Most of the Australian NH90s are assembled in Australia, not in Europe as the New Zealand machines are.

Chief of Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Peter Stockwell said he was confident New Zealand's NH90s would not suffer from the same problems as overseas.

The country's most expensive aircraft acquisition since the 1960s, the choppers were the latest variant and different from their Australian counterparts, he said.

"There's nothing at the moment that gives us cause for concern ... if there was, we wouldn't be flying them today."

A spokesman for Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said the minister was aware of the overseas problems and had received advice that all related matters were under control.

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