Unfamiliar Airspace Training
By FLTLT Paul Allen-Baines, Chaplain, RNZAF Base Woodbourne
Napier Aerodrome was transformed during 14–24 June into a Deployed Operating Base for the Defence Force’s biannual Exercise Wiseowl. Comprising 110 Royal New Zealand Air Force and three Army personnel, Exercise Wiseowl gives Air Force pilots under training the opportunity to hone their flying skills in a deployed base environment. Flight Lieutenant (Padre) Paul Allen-Baines was there.
This was my first Wiseowl exercise and I soon realised that it offered more than flying—much more. Set up as a mini-deployment situation, it called on multiple trades in the Royal New Zealand Air Force plus Army (catering) to ensure that personnel and equipment requirements were met. There was a system and plan for everything and every trade was tested.
My primary role was Public Information Officer. In this role I liaised with the local media, public and schools; and enjoyed having bragging rights about the RNZAF. I also doubled as a Chaplain with my colleague, FLTLT Murray Thompson, from Base Ohakea.
Logistically, the place hummed with finely-tuned organisation. The Ops and Mess Tents were the hub of much activity. Many trades were represented, demonstrating to the local community that the RNZAF runs a high class, multi-faceted team of professionals. This was a key element to Exercise Wiseowl, as people in the community often think only of pilots when they think of the Air Force, and we are so much more.
Alongside the Trainee Pilots, new instructors were also being trained. Detachment Commander for the Exercise, Squadron Leader Anthony Budd said, “Although it is a challenging exercise for the young pilots, learning to fly in unfamiliar airspace is an important part of their training. It is also a great opportunity to set up base operations in a different environment.”
Exercise Wiseowl usually operates in summertime, so the winter conditions provided a change for many returning personnel. The weather was a challenge at times, which gave our Trainee Pilots a bit more to think about.
Promotionally, people from the community came onto camp and experienced a ‘M.A.S.H.-type environment’:
- ablution blocks
- air security
- water storage, and
- a high-tech filtering system.
We were a self-contained unit—the showers were hot, the food was great, the water was pure—but sleeping in a tent in Napier in June was cold and a bit breezy.
Flight Lieutenant Katrina Chipman—our Recruitment Officer for the Hawke’s Bay region—promoted us well. She had organised a timetable for secondary schools to come to visit and see what we were up to.
Young adults spent time with personnel to find out what it’s like to serve in the RNZAF. It was a great way to demonstrate the many opportunities that the RNZAF and New Zealand Defence Force have to offer.
Saturday was an Open Day and literally thousands of locals came to have a look at the Harvard, Spitfire, Iroquois and CT-4E Airtrainers—both on the ground and in the air. Visitors particularly enjoyed the experience of sitting in an Air Trainer, Iroquois and the Fire Truck. And a unique photo opportunity arose when a 1936 Rolls Royce ‘rolled up’ alongside the Spitfire—both powered by Merlin engines.
I was very impressed with the professional conduct of the RNZAF personnel during Exercise Wiseowl. Right from the start, everyone mucked in together, with all personnel working collectively to achieve our goals. The exercise was successful, and the Napier community was given an excellent example of their Air Force in action.