Their distinctive sound - the "thwop thwop thwop" of the rotors - sets the scene in many a war movie, but soon that sound will be just a memory as the last of the RNZAF Iroquois helicopters head to retirement.

The helicopters, affectionately known as Hueys, have been serving the Royal New Zealand Air Force since the 1960s, and will be sorely missed.

Flight-Lieutenant Lachie Johnston, of 3 Squadron, says the sound will be one of the many things he will miss, adding that the choppers have given "fantastic service, to the country and to the people of New Zealand".

Perhaps it is telling that the Iroquois is not being replaced by just one new type, but two. The NH90 will be used for frontline military and civil operations, while the A109LUH will be used for other operational work, as well as NH90 aircrew training. "Hopefully the enemy won't hear us coming in the new ones," says Flt-Lt Johnston, who adds that the carbon fibre and kevlar NH90 is able to carry more soldiers for longer flight times than the Huey.

Advertisement

Two Hueys are based at Stratford Aerodrome this month as part of Exercise Kiwi Koru and I was invited on a flight.

Buckling my seat belt (tightly, the doors of the chopper stayed during the flight), it was easy to see why soldiers and aircrew all have good things to say about this machine. Yes, it's noisy, and passenger comfort is not a focal point but there is no doubt the Iroquois was made to fly. Whether it is due to the machine itself, or the skill of those handling its controls, the chopper takes to the air with impressive ease.

Within seconds of taking off, we are moving quickly over the aerodrome and council farm, tilting gently as the crew look out for enemies of Bekara, the fictitious nation Stratford has become for the purpose of Kiwi Koru.

The open side doors give great visibility, but also leave you feeling exposed, with just a door-mounted machine gun offering protection against the enemy.

Until the end of this month people in Stratford will hear the iconic sound almost daily. Take a moment to look up and watch a piece of our history fly out of sight.