By David Beck
Rotorua aircraft enthusiasts are being treated to a unique opportunity over the next 11 days.
Today, a Royal New Zealand Air Force fleet touched down at Rotorua Airport for its 105th Wise Owl pilot-training operation.
The purpose of the exercise is for trainee pilots to confirm their formation flying skills in the T-6C Texan II aircraft from an unfamiliar airport.
Squadron leader Nathan Barrack told the Rotorua Daily Post training exercises from an unfamiliar airport helped prepare pilots for being deployed overseas.
"We're putting them into an unfamiliar environment, which we call deployed operations. You're working somewhere else, at the same time learning new things so we're really pushing them to the limit of what they can deal with and maximising their development."
While in Rotorua, the pilots will be performing two formations in the morning, two at midday and two in the afternoon, with aircraft taking off from Rotorua Airport and travelling up to 80km east.
"Routinely New Zealand Defence Force personnel get deployed all over the world, in unfamiliar environments, and they need to show adaptability and problem-solving," Barrack said.
"In a year or two, these guys will be doing just that, wherever the Government decides to send them to carry out military operations on behalf of New Zealanders.
"The trainee pilots are only with us for a short time and we need to show them as much as we can. This helps them develop their judgement and decision making so they can safely operate in the future."
Barrack said the Air Force was scheduled to hold Wise Owl training in Rotorua last year but it was postponed due to Covid-19 and the resulting lockdowns.
"It's unusual for us to be here for a long period. We've been to other regions for Wise Owls but we do try to mix it up.
"We made sure that we did get here this year, particularly for the people we promised we were coming. It's great for us and it's great for the region."
Rotorua Airport operations manager Logan Charters-Leahy said the airport staff were happy to be hosting the New Zealand Air Force.
"It's a great event," he said.
"This is our second attempt, due to Covid, but we're really pleased they've been able to come in. We hope all the students and instructors will get a great experience for it."
Charters-Leahy said Rotorua being a centralised location made it ideal for this sort of activity and that the Air Force's attendance would not disrupt normal flights in and out of the airport.
"We've got some great terrain around the place which is what they're primarily looking for and we've got the capacity to be able to host them seamlessly as well.
"We absolutely expect some enthusiasts to come for a look and we welcome it. The Air Force are planning to do around 13 or 14 flights a day so they'll be able to see plenty.
The Air Force will be using the airport until May 28.
"There is a targeted recruitment day on Saturday which some Rotorua schools will attend,"
There's a large number of students coming in and there will be a large number of trades for them to come and talk to."