RNZAF Airlift capability stretched

October 16th, 2007  

Topic: RNZAF Airlift capability stretched

RNZAF down to one Hercules

By HANK SCHOUTEN and JOHN HENZELL - The Press | Tuesday, 16 October 2007

STUCK ON THE ICE: A Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules sits on ice at McMurdo Base in Antarctica, where it is undergoing repairs.

A Hercules crippled on the ice in Antarctica has left the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) with just one of its seven transport aircraft available for emergencies.

The 40-year-old RNZAF Hercules was on its first Antarctic flight of the summer when it suffered propeller trouble as it was about to take off from a sea-ice runway near McMurdo Base last Wednesday.
With the Hercules stranded on the ice, two others in Canada undergoing upgrades, and a fourth in Afghanistan supporting New Zealand troops, just one Hercules remained available for emergencies. Two RNZAF 757s were also unavailable.
The RNZAF had been set to send the last Hercules to Antarctica with technicians to repair the crippled plane, but they were able to hitch a ride south with the United States Air Force instead.
Air Commodore Peter Stockwell praised the technicians for battling difficult conditions in temperatures as low as -55degC to repair the fault. The plane was due to undergo load-testing before a projected return to New Zealand late this week.
Stockwell said the repair was "a test of fortitude", with the low temperatures forcing the technicians to work in rolling shifts of 10 minutes, with 20 minutes warming up in a hut in between.
"It's difficult for anyone to imagine what it would be like to effect repairs in these conditions, and the team are true professionals," he said.
"I'm very proud of the team, who are working to get this aircraft serviceable in such challenging conditions."
The RNZAF contributes to a logistic pool with the US Air Force as part of an agreement among the New Zealand, US and Italian Antarctic programmes.
The RNZAF would make up for the week of missed flights by adding flights later in the season, Stockwell said.
The day before the Hercules broke down, a US C-17 Globemaster was sidelined for a day in Christchurch with mechanical problems.
Stockwell said the RNZAF was down to a minimum number of aircraft, but it always knew it was going to be short of aircraft at this time.
"Obviously, contingencies like the broken aircraft in Antarctic present us with problems."
National Party defence spokesman Wayne Mapp criticised the air force for having several planes out of service for upgrades at the same time.
"We've got seven capable aircraft, but four of them are out and we're hugely vulnerable to failures," Mapp said.
Stockwell said they put two Hercules into the upgrade programme at the same time to speed up their life-extension programme. It was a matter of balancing the risk of having fewer aircraft now or later if the programme was stretched out.
One of the air force's Boeing 757 transport aircraft is in the US for long-planned modifications, including the installation of a cargo door. The second 757 was also in the US for similar work, but when this was delayed, the air force temporarily put it back into service.

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