New choppers fly through first tests

The air force's new NH90 helicopters have passed initial stages of testing and evaluation to allow them to be used for operations within New Zealand.

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

So far, four have been delivered to the Ohakea Air Force Base, and the rest are expected during the next year.

Chief of Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Peter Stockwell called the achievement, which has taken a year of flying, maintenance tests and training, a "significant milestone".

"Approval of the Interim Type Certificate and initial release of operational capability means that we can now undertake some operational tasking." The NH90 is now cleared to undertake New Zealand-based passenger and cargo tasks that will enable non-tactical support to government agencies and the other services."

The NH90 incorporated new technologies and capabilities that represented a "substantial improvement" over the Iroquois helicopters, he said. "We still have plenty of work to do before the NH90 is cleared for full operational tasks and deployed situations, but good progress is being made."

An air force spokesman said areas not developed and tested so far included carrying troops, both in combat and deployed configurations, advanced winching, airborne gunnery, advanced underslung loads, search and rescue support, special operations support, ship-borne operations and overseas deployments

The NH90's introduction into service was not within the expected time frame due to their later than expected delivery.

The helipcopters were not expected to be fully capable until late 2015.

Manawatu Standard