Whitianga locals had a bit of a different view last month, as a Royal New Zealand Navy Seasprite SH-2G(I) helicopter took to the skies over the Coromandel region.

The helicopter, along with the aircrew and maintenance team from No. 6 Squadron RNZAF, were based out of Whitianga Airfield and undertook mountain flying training in the area.

It was the first time Sub Lieutenant (SLT) Tom Usher was able to put his hand to mountain flying.

“It was really exciting to go into the mountains and try something different. We look after the tactical side of things, being a maritime warfare capable helicopter, so we’re usually based off the back of a ship. My primary role is the management of weapons and sensors in a tactical environment, so mountain flying is a smaller part of my role, but we need to train in different environments so we can respond when called upon, so it’s really invaluable,” says the 30-year-old Aucklander.

Commanding Officer No. 6 Squadron, Commander Alex Trotter, says the Coromandel provides very challenging terrain to fly around, especially with associated weather such as strong winds and low cloud.

“The Coromandel is an excellent representation of the type of South Pacific environment that we are expected to operate in, with very similar terrain to places like the Solomon Islands, the Kermadecs and Sub-Antarctic island chains. It’s a mixture of very sharp relief with high ridges and pinnacles, leading into deep, forested valleys. This is very challenging terrain to fly around, so training our crews here sets them up for success when we ask them to conduct land-based operations,” says CDR Trotter.

SLT Usher was able to practice manoeuvres for the first time during the week-long training, including approaching pinnacles, ridgeline crossings, up-valley and down-valley approaches.