Essential for military operations, the versatility of the NH90 is also a top tier asset when the aircraft is involved in supporting civilians, and there is certainly no lack of opportunities. In November 2016, No. 3 Squadron responded with its aircraft to evacuate several hundred people after the major Kaikoura earthquake. With roads rendered impassable, evacuation by air was the only way in or out.
Another important event was the evacuation of tourists and hikers who suffered burns during the White Island volcanic eruption in 2019. A detachment of NH90s was also sent to Australia (another country using the aircraft) in 2020 to assist local firefighters in their battle against bushfires.
On every mission, across all terrains, the NH90 is prized for its qualities in flight, performance levels, the redundancy of its on-board systems and, as a result, its very high level of safety. “The NH90 was a two-generation step forward for the RNZAF rotary wing fleet,” notes Shaun Sexton, “so it was normal that the air crew have found it easier to fly than the Iroquois, although the more complex mission systems require more of a mission management focus. They also appreciate the high levels of safety and redundancy in the NH90 design and certification. For example, the NH90 has proven itself capable of operating in a very wide range of environments, such as being embarked on the multi-role vessel, HMNZS Canterbury, and flying in New Zealand’s mountainous regions.”
A level of sophistication that has its benefits, as New Zealand pilots highlight, because besides the high level of performance, says Shaun Sexton, “the NH90 is an attractive recruiting tool as it offers a challenging and rewarding career choice, and the RNZAF has no problems recruiting staff to support the NH90.”