Air Force practises flying missions in Central Otago

Apr 17, 2024

Warbirds over Wānaka may be over but air force aircraft have still been spotted in Central Otago skies, being used as crucial training grounds.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force is rounding up a nine-day air drop exercise aimed at honing skills for the real thing.

A C-130 Hercules from RNZAF No.40 Squadron has been flying over Wānaka, Cromwell, Alexandra and surrounds carrying out Exercise Skytrain.

Readying to drop (Image: Supplied).

The focus has been on tactical low-level flying and delivering and picking up loads in scenarios where areas could be under threat.

In a statement today, the air force says the flying techniques practised are essential in keeping RNZAF aircrews’ flying currency up-to-date, and are the skills used in real-life operations.

The Hercules and RNZAF personnel from bases in Auckland, Ōhakea and Woodbourne were deployed to Wānaka Airport, alongside personnel from the New Zealand Army.

RNZAF ground trades, including security forces, air movements, aircraft and safety and surface technicians, rescue fire service, aviation fuel, logistics, intelligence and communication and information systems specialists were also all involved.

“An important part of our training is being able to operate effectively and successfully away from our home base,” the Detachment Commander, Wing Commander Brad Scott, says.

“So every year we run a Skytrain exercise in New Zealand to test and build our deployment resilience. 

“It exercises our entire deployed system, including our support elements, which are critical for airborne operations."

The training and experience achieved through this exercise were directly relatable to real-world scenarios, Wing Commander Scott says.

“This is to support such things as the Cyclone Gabrielle response or deployment on U.S. Air Force-led Operation Christmas Drop out of Guam, where we deliver pallet loads of goods via a C-130 to people living on remote islands and atolls in the Pacific."

A C-130 Hercules has been a regular sight in Central Otago and Lake Districts skies (Image: Supplied).

Exercise Skytrain encompassed much of Central Otago into the Mackenzie Country, with some flying sorties going as far afield as Hokitika, Timaru and Invercargill.

Air drop sorties were focussed on three drop zones in the Ida Valley and Maniatoto Valley near Ranfurly. Other missions saw the aircraft land and load or unload personnel or equipment with engines running.

“The terrain around Wānaka is irreplaceable for low-level flying techniques and it’s great to exercise there and engage with the local community while supporting local businesses,” Wing Commander Scott says.

Main image (Supplied): Air drop sorties were focussed on three drop zones in the Ida Valley and Maniatoto Valley near Ranfurly.

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