Last Orion returning from Middle East terrorist patrol
The air force is coming home from the Middle East after nearly a year searching for terrorists and illegal cargo in the Gulf of Oman.

The last air force Orion to serve as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the multi-national task force hunting for terrorists and sympathisers of Osama bin Laden, was due to touch down at the air force's Whenuapai base in Auckland today.

Last night a C130 Hercules loaded with an inflatable hangar and the support equipment and spares arrived in New Zealand and today about 15 flight crew and maintenance staff will return in the Orion.

The first of four crew rotations left New Zealand in May last year and the last was due back in November but the Government extended New Zealand's commitment in October until this month.

The air force has refused to reveal which country the Orion and 40 staff was based in for the United States-led "war against terrorism".

New Zealand also had a naval presence in the Gulf with the two Anzac frigates HMNZS Te Kaha and HMNZS Te Mana taking turns to patrol the area and intercept suspicious ships and vessels.

Orion crew member, Flight Lieutenant Mike Pearson, who was in one of the rotations, said the crew and maintenance staff had to deal with an environment they had not operated in before.

"They were running into a lot of issues we had just never come across."

He said during the extreme summer rubber boot soles melted and left footprints on wing surfaces when maintenance staff walked on the wings.

Large air conditioning units were also used to cool the interior of the aircraft for a couple of hours before each flight.

In winter the temperature could rise above 40 degrees celsius but as the area cooled off as winter approached, the temperature dropped to the low 30s, Flt Lt Pearson said.

However, he said although it was hot it was dry, and did not have the humidity of Auckland.

"Aircraft are funny things, they love being flown. They were being worked very hard and compared with Whenuapai which is quite humid, it was nice dry conditions so there were very few problems."

The returning Orion was due to be met by Prime Minister Helen Clark, Defence Minister Mark Burton and several defence VIPs.