New Zealand air force new helicopters arrive

Updated: 2011-12-06 10:24


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WELLINGTON,New Zealand - New Zealand's air force began a "quantum leap" in its capabilities Tuesday with the arrival of the its first new French-made NH90 helicopters.

Two new NH90s  the first of eight on order  arrived aboard an Antonov AN 124 transport aircraft, said Defence Minister Wayne Mapp.

"These helicopters will provide a quantum leap in capability for the RNZAF," said Mapp in a statement.

"The NH90s will give the NZDF better capability to conduct military, counter-terrorism, disaster relief, search and rescue, and other operations."

The NH90s had more than triple the power of the Royal New Zealand Air Force's (RNZAF) current Vietnam War-era Iroquois helicopters and could carry more than double the payload further and faster.

Its twin engines would enable it to operate safely from and increase the versatility of the navy's sealift and amphibious support vessel, HMNZS Canterbury, said Mapp.

The Canterbury is capable of carrying four NH90s for deployment ashore in support of army operations and to help with relief activities.

"The Iroquois has been a fantastic workhorse for over 40 years, but they are overdue for replacement," said Mapp.

The other six NH90s would be progressively delivered from next year as part of the contract worth NZ$771 million($601.38 million).

They are part of a comprehensive modernization of the RNZAF's helicopters, which include five new A109 helicopters delivered earlier this year to replace the old Sioux helicopters.

"These helicopters are another step in the modernisation of the NZDF (New Zealand Defence Force). The recently released Capability Plan details a range of new projects that will further the modernisation agenda," said Mapp.

The plan included new advanced training aircraft, upgrading or replacing the Seasprite helicopters, a replacement for the replenishment tanks HMNZS Endeavour and new trucks.

Then Defence Minister Phil Goff, who signed the contract for the NH90s with NHI, based in the south of France, in 2006, said at the time that the new helicopters were intended to be the " cornerstone" of the NZDF capability for the next 30 years.

Compared to the Iroquois, the NH90 can carry 19 rather than eight passengers or 12 fully equipped troops as opposed to five, according to the Ministry of Defence.

It is also a third faster than the Iroquois with a cruising speed of 260 km per hour, a maximum range of 800 km compared with the Iroquois' 330 km and can lift up to 4,000 kg compared with 820 kg.

They were also chosen by New Zealand because they were interoperable with the Australian Air Force, which also operates NH90s.

In October, Mapp announced moves to develop a new advanced pilot training capability for the RNZAF, including new advanced trainer aircraft.

New training was required in order to operate the air force's upgraded P3 Orion and C-130 Hercules aircraft and the NH90 helicopters, he said.