WELLINGTON, New Zealand, March 15 (UPI) -- The New Zealand air force inducted the first two of eight NH90 helicopters into limited operational service to be used for training missions.
The two helicopters built in Europe by NH Industries, along with spares, were delivered early December by a chartered Antonov AN 124 cargo aircraft.
NHI built the helicopters in its facility in Marignane, France, and delivered them to the New Zealand Ohakea Air Base, the company said.
NHI, set up in 1992, is owned 62.5 percent by Eurocopter's divisions in France and Germany as well as 32 percent by AgustaWestland in Italy and 5.5 percent by Stork Fokker in the Netherlands.
The two-pilot, twin-engine NH90 had it maiden flight in 1995 and is powered by either General Electric T700-T6E turboshaft engines or Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322-01/9 turboshaft engines.
Maximum speed is around 185 mph and it has an operational ceiling of 20,000 feet.
New Zealand's $771 million deal with NHI includes spares and training. The contract was signed in July 2006 as part of a 10-year, $3.3 billion military equipment development plan.
The NH90s will replace 12 Vietnam War-era Bell-built UH-1 Iroquois helicopters in service since 1966 and be attached to No. 3 squadron at Ohakea Air Base.
New Zealand's NH90s carry twice the Iroquois's payload and handle up to 18 passengers or up to 7,050 pounds.
The helicopters also will be operated from the navy's 9,000-ton, multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury. The $130 million ship was built by Merwede Shipyards in the Netherlands, fitted out by Tenix in Australia and delivered in 2007.
"This milestone illustrates that we are delivering on the plan laid out in the Defense White Paper," New Zealand Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman said at the induction ceremony at Ohakea Air Base, Wellington.
"Like other defense forces around the world we are reprioritizing our resources to provide up-to-date capability for a 21st-century defense force. The NH90 is an outstanding example of the modernization process so far," Coleman said.
The NH90s will considerably improve the defense force's ability to conduct military, counter-terrorism, disaster relief, search and rescue and other operations."
Government departments and agencies that will have access to the NH90 fleet include customs, Maritime New Zealand, Civil Defense and the Department of Conservation.
Operational testing of the aircraft is expected to last until later 2015, a government statement said.