Photo Troy Baker D8696-12

KAHU New Zealand, formerly Frontier Helicopters, has taken delivery of the South Pacific’s first civilian version of the famous Blackhawk helicopter.

Owner and pilot Mark Law said the helicopter, also known by its official civilian designation as the Sikorsky S-70, will revolutionise his business.

“This puts us into a category that nobody else is in. Nobody else can lift as much, and there are a lot of heavy items that need to be transported,” he said.

“This is a game changer for New Zealand because there hasn’t been a heavy lift helicopter here for maybe 10 years.”

With all the hoops required to jump through, the arrival of the aircraft has been greatly anticipated.

“We finally received the aircraft after a long, long, wait. We’ve been taking it out to get it approved for operational flight,” he said.

“This is the first time it’s been done for a restricted category aircraft in the Southern Hemisphere.”

Though the helicopter is the civilian configuration, the technology is closely guarded.

“We had to meet all the export requirements from the (United States) department of state and defence department,” he said.

Just by removing those parts of the electrical system related to the military version, the civilian helicopter is 100 kilograms lighter. With a price tag exceeding $31 million for the military version, Mr Law said the cost for the civilian model was nearly double what he thought it might be when he first considered the purchase.

He said the shakedown period, where the helicopter and pilot are tested and confirmed, was particularly important.

“Nobody knew what the process included – not even us. It was a matter of us feeling our way through it,” he said.

The aircraft’s two turbo jet engines can lift 3.6 tonnes, twice as much as any other helicopter in the country. Mr Law said the engines also contributed to improved safety.

“If we have an engine failure, we can still fly on the remaining engine. What that also means, construction or lifting wise, is if there are people near or directly underneath and there is engine loss, it can hold the load long enough to ensure everyone’s safety,” he said.

The helicopter has already seen activity as the company has been involved in the $25-million gondola project at Mt Ruapehu – which just opened last week.

“We’ve been engaged with the company building the gondola at Whakapapa. We’ve lifted the chairlift towers and a lot of other heavy equipment either off or up the mountain,” he said.

Mr Law said the helicopter had been used to locate tiny prefabricated homes into a remote area in the upper reaches of the Whanganui River. It was also ideal for selective logging in remote or hard-to-get-to locations.

With the Blackhawk’s ability to lift almost double that of any other helicopter, Mr Law expects it will see a lot of action when fire season starts.

“Since we’re lifting probably twice as much as any other aircraft and faster, our ability to get water on a fire quickly is greatly enhanced with the Blackhawk,” he said.

“It will definitely take us to Australia to battle fires there.”