More NH90s arrive as faults tackled

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:00 02/10/2012
NH90 helicopter
ROBERT KITCHIN/Fairfax NZ
BEFORE AND AFTER: An NH90 helicopter flies past as one of the latest of its types arrives at Ohakeah Air Force Base yesterday.

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As the air force took possession of two more NH90s at Ohakea, those overseeing their deployment in New Zealand said issues with the helicopters were being ironed out.

The Defence Force has ordered eight of the new mid-range helicopters, and a ninth for spare parts, at a cost of $771 million.

The first two arrived late last year, with two more being delivered by an Antonov cargo plane to Ohakea yesterday.

The commanding officer of the helicopter transitioning unit, Wing Commander Shaun Sexton, said the French-made choppers were a leap ahead in technology, compared to the Iroquois.

"They are another kettle of fish, at least a generation or a generation and a half [ahead] in terms of technological capacity."

But their early days in New Zealand have not been without difficulty.

A Defence Ministry report published in April said there were several possible issues with the helicopters which could delay when they will become fully operational.

An inadequate supply of spare parts, unreliable software development, a delay in essential equipment, including machinegun mounts, and insufficient publications and data on the aircraft, are listed as the highest risks.

Wing Commander Sexton said progress was being made to resolve those concerns.

"In partnership with NHIndustries, the Ministry of Defence and NZDF, we're working through all of those issues and they're being solved."

While there was still work to do, he was confident the helicopters would be fully operational in about three years.

Another issue raised in the report was the threat of debris being sucked into the engine, but a supplied screen to protect against engine damage meant the NH90 is unable to fly in snowy conditions.

Defence Ministry NH90 project manager Kevin McMahon said new debris shields had been trialled during the past European winter and had passed flight tests.

Another concern in the report was the deployment of the aircraft overseas.

The report said NH90s were unable to be transported by the air force's C130 Hercules.

Mr McMahon said the ministry now believed an NH90 could be transported in a Hercules, though this was not the preferred option as it would require "some dismantling" of the aircraft.

While the helicopters could fly across the Pacific if they could be refuelled, or go aboard the navy multi-role ship HMNZS Canterbury, Mr McMahon said other air forces had military cargo planes that could transport an NH90.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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