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Military Helicopter Crews to Test Skills in Marlborough Mountains

30 August 2019

The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) and Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) are testing their helicopters and crews around the mountain regions of Marlborough as part of two 10-day training exercises running simultaneously.

No. 3 Squadron, normally located at RNZAF Base Ohakea, is deploying three NH90 and two A109 helicopters on Exercise Blackbird and will be operating out of the Dip Flat Defence Area in Marlborough, while No. 6 Squadron, from RNZAF Base Auckland, is deploying three SH-2G(I) helicopters to Woodbourne Air Base for Exercise Bluebird.

Commanding Officer of No. 3 Squadron Wing Commander Mike Cannon said as well as the mountain flying, Exercise Bluebird provided an opportunity to project a rotary-wing task unit to a challenging environment, honing skills that would be required in deployed operations.

Both exercises will run within the Raglan and Rainbow Conservation area, Tapuae-O-Uenuku Scenic Reserve, Inland Kaikoura Ranges and Mt Richmond Forest Park areas from Monday, 2 September until Friday, 13 September.

Commanding Officer of No. 6 Squadron Commander Sam Greenhalgh said the exercises were designed to train the helicopter crews in high-altitude mountain flying operations, which was an essential skill at home and abroad.

“As well as conducting flying in the region, crews will also learn and practise theory in meteorological considerations and alpine survival,” Commander Greenhalgh said.

In New Zealand those essential, life-saving skills are demonstrated in search and rescue operations.

During the exercise the crews will also help the Department of Conservation with track marking and carry equipment and building materials into hard to reach areas.

More than 100 personnel would deploy to Dip Flat for Exercise Blackbird and would live in tents and cabins, Wing Commander Cannon said.

“These personnel bring with them all the skills and equipment required for an operation,” he said. That will include refuelling, information systems, maintenance, safety, medical, catering and logistics teams, as well as helicopter crews.

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