German skies beckon to pilots

Last updated 12:21 10/04/2008
JOHNATHAN CAMERON/Manawatu Standard
FLYING HIGH: Lieutenant-Colonel Hermann Grube, left, and Squadron Leader Rudolf Lendt at Ohakea Air Base yesterday.

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Kiwis could soon take to German skies under a two-way training scheme the Air Force hopes will help to avoid costly teething problems with the $700 million NH90 helicopter fleet, due at Ohakea in 2010.

Three senior German air force officers have been visiting Ohakea this week to discuss the plan, which, if approved, will see a pilot and crewman sent to the Buckeburg base for a two-year stint starting next year.

The former will work as an instructor with the EC135 helicopter fleet and the other on the NH90.

They will be a straight swap for two German pilots who will come to train on the Iroquois at Ohakea.

Wing Commander Ron Thacker said the chance to engage in the initiative was huge for New Zealand.

"Having a close working relationship is nothing but good and to have two of our own over there, and their's here, can only add to that," he said.

"Germany was basically the first to purchase the NH90 and they're about four years ahead of where we are. They have had to work out all the system kinks and, basically, by using their experiences we have a massive advantage and will save ourselves a lot of heartache."

Lieutenant-Colonel Hermann Grube and Squadron Leader Rudolf Lendt, speaking while the third member of their team enjoyed a flight in a Tiger Moth, said the German Air Force was yet to master the NH90's systems.

"We've skipped 50 years of helicopter technology in one step," Sqd Ldr Lendt said. "From the [Iroquois] it's a step into an entire new century and it's a very complex system.

"The maintenance aspects have proved the biggest task and it's still going to take us some time to get used to it."

Lt Col Grube said the German Air Force had so far received eight - the same number New Zealand has purchased - of the 80 NH90s they had ordered. Only four of their pilots are trained sufficiently to fly them.

"We got them in January last year but because of the problems had to stop flying until about December. We only have about 300 hours in them, so not much at all. There's a long way to go," Lt Col Grube said.

"But they're very impressive."

The NH90 helicopter has a maximum speed of 300km/h, can be flown without using the manual controls and carry an external load of 2.5-tonne as well as 20 troops.

It will replace the New Zealand Air Force's aging fleet of Iroquois.

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- Manawatu Standard

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