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New helicopters lead way for air force fleet

Published: 10:04AM Thursday March 24, 2011 Source: Fairfax

Two Agusta Westland A109s will be the first new operational aircraft to go into service with the air force since it started flying Skyhawk fighter bombers in 1970.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force has taken delivery of its first new operational aircraft in more than four decades.

Crates containing two Italian-made AgustaWestland A109 helicopters (similar to the pictured helicopter) have been delivered to the air force base at Ohakea - the first of a new $1 billion fleet of aircraft which will start going into service in the next year.

Work has started on assembling the first one and it is expected to take to the air soon.

The second machine will be kept for spares, and the remaining four A109s are expected to be delivered by September.

Five A109s, ordered in 2008 at a cost of $139 million, are scheduled to be in service before the end of the year and the Government announced last year it was going to order another three.

Designated as light utility and training helicopters, they will replace two-seater Sioux trainers which first flew in the mid-1960s.

But they will also be available for a wide range of other uses and provide backup for eight larger Nato helicopter NH90s now on order from France at a cost of $770m.

The NH90s, due to be delivered by early next year, will replace Iroquois helicopters in service since 1966.

The first NH90 was test flown in France two years ago but deliveries have been held up by certification delays.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said the helicopters would be "a quantum leap forward for the air force".

New air force chief Air Vice-Marshal Peter Stockwell said the introduction of eight NH90 and five A109s into 3 Squadron was going to be a big challenge.

"It will take some time to put the aircraft into operations. It's brand new technology for us - it is a big step up for the air force and pushes us out there, but we've got a lot of work to bring them into service."

New technology

Agusta Westland A109LUH

Maximum takeoff weight: 3175kg

Number of passengers: 6

Cruise speed: 285kmh

Endurance: 3hrs 30mins Range (with auxiliary fuel): 650km

Underslung load: 500kg

Rescue winch can lift 270kg or two people.

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