The Air Force – or was it the Navy – dropped in on Raglan unexpectedly last week, arousing plenty of interest from locals intrigued at why a hi-tech helicopter had parked up at the end of their airfield.
The arrival last Wednesday of the Super Seasprite, which had the word “Navy” printed on its fuselage, sparked speculation it could be here to assist with any belated action police might be contemplating over the protest yacht Vega’s deliberate flouting of the Government’s so-called Anadarko amendment creating a no-go area around offshore drilling.
But it seems it was nothing so dramatic – the Defence Force says it was minor technical malfunction that forced the helicopter, which was from the RNZAF’s No 6 squadron at Whenuapai, to divert to Raglan while on its way to the Ohakea air base.
The problem required maintenance support from Whenuapai before the chopper was able to return safely to Whenuapai the next day – but not before aircraft captain Alex Trotter, a navy lieutenant, and his crew enjoyed what he described as “the unexpected engagement” with the locals.
“The Raglan community was extremely supportive of our visit,” he said. “Many locals came down to the airfield to look around the aircraft and engage with the crew about the helicopter and their role in the Defence Force, as well as offering tea, coffee and even a few ideas on how to conduct repairs!
“Overall, thanks to the Raglan community – it was a fantastic experience.”
He added the crew hoped “to get down there again soon”, though how that might happen barring another technical malfunction was not clear.
As to the confusion over whether it was an Air Force or Navy helicopter, a Defence Force spokesperson explained the No 6 squadron is an RNZAF one whose job is to operate the Navy’s air element of five Seasprites. The pilots and airborne tactical officers are all Navy, the helicopter crew are drawn from both the Navy and Air Force, and the helicopters are serviced and maintained by the Air Force.
The five SH-2Gs – which reportedly cost New Zealand about $300 million all-up – are described by Wikipedia as operating from the Navy’s two Anzac class frigates, two Protector class offshore patrol vessels (one of which stirred a lot of interest when it anchored close off the Raglan coastline a year or so ago) and the multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury.