On Wednesday 18 July 2012 Wing Commander Shaun Sexton, RNZAF gave the Wellington Branch of the RAeS and update on introducing the A109 Light Utility Helicopter (NZ) into RNZAF service. Wing Commander Sexton is CO of the Helicopter Transition Unit (HTU) at RNZAF Base Ohakea. He was introduced by his air force colleague Squadron Leader Dave Forrest who is the Air Force representative on the Branch Committee.
Shaun noted that that while six aircraft had been purchased for the RNZAF only five would be available as the operating fleet, with the sixth aircraft being reduced to spares to support the fleet. These aircraft had been acquired by the Ministry of Defence contract from Agusta-Westland in Italy where a project team led by WgCdr Barry ‘Patch’ Nelson together with a number of other aircrew and engineering officers and SNCOs to oversee the build and manage the relationship with the manufacturer from the Cascina Costa site adjacent to Milan’s Malpensa airport.
For those who didn’t get to the meeting these RNZAF photos [to come] will provide an impression of the introduction of this new aircraft type at RNZAF Base Ohakea. The HTU was established at Ohakea initially to manage the NH90 IIS but the follow-on A109 contract meant that the HTU needed to be expanded to accommodate IIS for both new aircraft types. Shaun indicated that the HTU now operates from the new hangar complex near State Highway 1 and accommodates both aircraft types with a simulator complex in the tall building directly behind and new aircraft engineering and maintenance facilities have been built and are being equipped in the same site. Along with the HTU, these new facilities will be used by the Joint Project Office to accommodate reps from the various stakeholder groups responsible for their part of the IIS and the Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) programme that is now in progress to prepare standard operating procedures among other things.
To put the A109 size into perspective, Shaun indicated that the A109 was in the 3 ton class, with Huey at 6 ton and NH90 at 10 ton. He noted that the primary role of the A109 was helicopter conversion and noted the importance of and that the first aircrew conversion course was currently in progress but that ab initio helicopter conversion had yet to be planned. The first course is aimed to allow qualified aircrew to progress to the NH90 and SH2 Seasprite with the minimum of transition time. The acquisition and use of simulators forms an important part of the helicopter conversion courses and the simulator is now in use.
Meantime, separate from the HTU the RNZAF rotary wing operational tasks continue to be delivered by 3 SQN with Huey’s that operates from the arch hangar that was once the home of 75 SQN.
Thanks to WGCDR Shaun Sexton for his time to brief the Branch on the introduction of the new helicopter type into the RNZAF. It was great to hear the professional manner that this programme is being managed and the new facilities have been provided to support them.
Des Underwood AMRAeS,