The helicopter is an integral part of aviation history. Today helicopters are essential for deer hunting, conservation and aerial topdressing. In East Timor, RNZAF Iroquois helicopters were vital to the NZ Battalion’s peace enforcement and border security role.
When the familiar thock thock thock of an Iroquois helicopter resounds over the crowd at Whittaker’s Wings over Wairarapa, it will bring back more than 30 years of memories. Thanks to the Vietnam War and countless movies and TV shows, the Iroquois has come to symbolise the modern helicopter and its role in supporting troops or undertaking Search and Rescue. The RNZAF Iroquois on display first entered service in 1966 and since then these versatile helicopters have flown in the Antarctic, from ships and throughout New Zealand, as well as in Malaysia, East Timor and the Pacific islands.
Attempts to fly helicopters were made as early as 1908, but it was Igor Sikorsky, a Russian aviation pioneer who migrated to the United States, who first solved the problems of controlling the rotors and achieving stable vertical flight. The rotor is in essence two rotating ‘wings’ which create lift by moving through the air in the manner of a conventional wing. However the secret of control and forward flight is to control the whole ‘disc’ formed by the rotating blades, to allow forward flight. This means the helicopter pilot has to operate a ‘collective’ control as well as the conventional joystick.
The Korean War proved the battlefield value of helicopters then the Vietnam War confirmed the helicopter’s place in modern conflict. The Bell UH-1 Iroquois, or ‘Huey’ as it became known within the military, was designed and developed in the late 1950s. The larger UH-1H version came off the production lines in 1966 – the RNZAF was the first foreign customer for this version of the Iroquois.
While the RNZAF operates some of the oldest Iroquois in the world, they also have the brand-new Seasprite helicopters for operation from our frigates. It is anticipated that one Seasprite will also be on display, showing its power, manouverability and its weapon load. Maritime helicopters are integral to modern naval operations and this month, one Seasprite is deployed on operational service in the Arabian Sea aboard HMNZS Te Kaha.