Royal New Zealand Air Force

The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) (Māori: Te Tauaarangi o Aotearoa, "New Zealand Warriors of the Sky"; previously Te Hokowhitu o Kahurangi, "War Party of the Blue"[6]) is the air force component of the New Zealand Defence Force. It was formed from New Zealand elements of the British Royal Air Force, becoming an independent force in 1923, although many RNZAF aircrew continued to serve in the Royal Air Force until the end of the 1940s.

Royal New Zealand Air Force
Māori: Te Tauaarangi o Aotearoa
RNZAF Crest.svg
Founded1913 (first military aviation)
1923 (New Zealand Permanent Air Force formed)
1 April 1937 (independent service)
Country New Zealand
TypeAir force
RoleMaritime patrol, air transport
SizeAvailable: 2,834
  • 2,516 Full Time
  • 318 Reserves[1]
  • 49 aircraft[2]
Part ofNew Zealand Defence Force
Motto(s)Latin: Per Ardua ad Astra
"Through Adversity to the Stars"
MarchRoyal New Zealand Air Force March Past
Anniversaries1 April 1937
Engagements Edit this at Wikidata
Commander-in-ChiefGovernor-General Dame Cindy Kiro[4]
Chief of the Defence ForceAir Marshal Kevin Short
Chief of the Air ForceAir Vice Marshal Andrew Clark[5]
Deputy Chief of the Air ForceAir Commodore Ian Mower
Pilot's Flying BadgeBadge (AM 2001.25.31-1).jpg
LogoLogo of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.svg
RoundelRoundel of New Zealand.svg Roundel of New Zealand – Low Visibility – Type 2.svg
Fin flashRNZAF fin flash.svg
FlagAir Force Ensign of New Zealand.svg
Aircraft flown

The RNZAF fought in World War II, Malaya, Korean War, Vietnam and the Gulf War as well as undertaking various United Nations peacekeeping missions. From a 1945 peak of over 1,000 combat aircraft the RNZAF has shrunk to a strength of around 49 active aircraft in 2021, primarily focusing on maritime patrol and transport duties in support of the Royal New Zealand Navy and the New Zealand Army. The RNZAF's air combat capability ended in 2001, under the Fifth Labour Government with the disbanding of the A-4 Skyhawk and Aermacchi MB-339 based squadrons.

The Air Force is led by an air vice-marshal who holds the appointment of Chief of Air Force. The RNZAF motto is the same as that of the Royal Air Force, Per ardua ad astra, meaning "Through adversity to the stars".[7]


New Zealand's military aviation began in 1913 when the New Zealand Army was presented with two Blériot monoplanes by the United Kingdom.[8] These machines were grounded after a young woman was given a joyride.[9] Both aircraft were however handed back after war broke out.[8]

World War IEdit

In the Great War, New Zealand aircrew flew as part of the Royal Flying Corps (British Army), British Royal Naval Air Service, and the Australian Flying Corps. New Zealand pilots serving with British Empire forces saw service in all theatres. Fifteen became aces, with the top scorer being Keith Caldwell having, depending on how it is counted, more than 24 victories.[citation needed]

The government assisted two private schools to train pilots for the conflict. The Walsh brothers flying school at Auckland was founded by Leo and Vivian Walsh—pioneers who had made the first controlled flight in New Zealand.[10] From 1915 pilots trained on the Walsh Brothers Flying Boats including Curtiss machines, aircraft of their own design and, later in the war, the first two aircraft made by Boeing.

In 1916 Sir Henry Wigram established the Canterbury Aviation Company at Sockburn, Christchurch, and purchased Caudron biplanes from Britain for pilot training. He gave the aerodrome, later Wigram Aerodrome, to the government for defence purposes.[11]

At the end of the war many New Zealand pilots stayed with the new Royal Air Force and several had attained high rank by the outbreak of World War II. Others returned to New Zealand and, serving part-time, provided the nucleus of the New Zealand Permanent Air Force (NZPAF).

New Zealand Permanent Air ForceEdit

Supermarine Walrus of the RNZAF's seaplane training flight.

At the close of hostilities Great Britain offered an Imperial Gift to each of the Dominions of a hundred war-surplus combat aircraft.[12] New Zealand was the last to respond and least enthusiastic.[13] When the 33 total aircraft, Avro 504s, Bristol F.2 Fighters and, De Havilland designed, Airco DH.4s and Airco DH.9s did reach New Zealand they were either placed in storage or loaned to the flying schools, barnstormers and nascent commercial operators.[citation needed] Several of the military aircraft were heavily modified—a 504 becoming a 3-seat floatplane and a DH-9 acquiring an enclosed passenger cabin.

The importance of aviation in war was belatedly recognised, largely thanks to the efforts of visionary parliamentarian Sir Henry Wigram. On 14 June 1923 the New Zealand Permanent Air Force was gazetted: a part of the Army initially staffed by a total of four officers and two other ranks as full-time staff, plus the New Zealand Air Force with 102 officers on the Reserve lists.[14] It was initially equipped with the surviving Avro 504K, the DH.4s, DH.9s and Bristol Fighters. These operated from an airfield outside Christchurch at Sockburn. In 1926 Wigram donated £2,500 for the purchase of modern fighters and Gloster Grebes were acquired. Sockburn was later renamed RNZAF Station Wigram, a name adopted by the suburb which grew up around the airfield. It is the site of the present Royal New Zealand Air Force Museum. A trickle of new-build Bristol Fighters and other new types joined the NZPAF in the late 1920s and early 1930s. A Lewis gun-equipped De Havilland Gipsy Moth floatplane took part in naval operations against rebels in Samoa.[14] The NZPAF's first action came in 1930 when the Moth dropped an improvised bomb made out of a treacle tin on to a ship suspected of gun-running. The bomb did no damage, and the target turned out to be a local missionary vessel. A territorial wing of the New Zealand Air Force was raised in 1930 with three squadrons at Hobsonville (with flights at Hamilton and Napier),[15] Wellington and Christchurch though without equipment. A fourth squadron planned for Dunedin had not been raised even by July 1939.[16] More creditably, Fairey IIIFs made a dramatic maritime rescue and in the aftermath of the Napier earthquake the NZPAF flew in urgently needed supplies and medical equipment.

Like other western air arms a major expansion began from the mid-1930s. The NZPAF ordered twelve Vickers Vildebeests in 1933–34 to form two bomber-reconnaissance flights at Hobsonville and Wigram.[17] In 1937 29 Blackburn Baffins were purchased specifically to equip the Territorial Air Force for coastal reconnaissance work. An initial shipment of 16 Vickers Vincent bomber-reconnaissance biplanes arrived in July 1939. More modern British types eventually arrived, including significant numbers of Airspeed Oxfords, Avro 626s, Fairey Gordons.[citation needed] The NZPAF was renamed the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1934 and became an independent service in 1937.

World War IIEdit

Vickers Wellington bombers of the RNZAF in England, 1939.

At the outbreak of World War II the primary equipment of the RNZAF was to be 30 Vickers Wellington bombers ordered in 1938. The aircraft were completed and about to be delivered in 1939; but with the outbreak of war in Europe increasingly likely, the New Zealand government offered the aircraft with RNZAF crews to the United Kingdom in August 1939.[18] They became No. 75 Squadron RAF. Many other New Zealanders were serving in the Royal Air Force.

The primary role of the RNZAF was to take advantage of New Zealand's distance from the conflict by training aircrew as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme, alongside the other major former British colonies, Canada, Australia and South Africa. For this task large numbers of de Havilland Tiger Moths, Airspeed Oxfords and North American Harvards were manufactured or assembled locally; second-hand biplanes—such as Hawker Hinds and Vickers Vincents—were also acquired, as well as other types for specialised training such as Avro Ansons and Supermarine Walruses.[citation needed] Only when German surface raiders and Japanese submarines became active was it realised that a combat force would be needed in New Zealand in addition to the trainers.[citation needed]

New Zealanders serving with the RAFEdit

The restored Mk IX Spitfire once flown by NZ ace Johnnie Houlton DFC with 485 (NZ) Squadron. It was converted to a dual configuration in 1946.

The majority of RNZAF personnel served with RAF units, six RNZAF Article XV squadrons, which were RNZAF units attached to RAF formations, and the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm (FAA). They served in Europe, the Mediterranean, South East Asia and other theatres. Commonwealth personnel under RAF operational control were pooled for operational practicality and many RNZAF airmen also served with Royal Australian Air Force or Royal Canadian Air Force Article XV squadrons.

New Zealanders in the RAF itself included pilots, such as the first RAF ace of the war, Flying Officer Cobber Kain and Alan Deere (whose book Nine Lives was one of the early post-war accounts of combat); and leaders such as the World War I ace, Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park, who commanded No. 11 Group RAF in the Battle of Britain and went on to the air defence of Malta (and, in the closing stages of the war, Commonwealth air units under South East Asia Command) and Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham Air Tactical Commander during the Normandy landings in June 1944 (Coningham and Park had remained with the RAF after WWI).

Air Chief Marshal Park, the famous NZ commander of No. 11 Group RAF in the Battle of Britain

Three RNZAF pilots were awarded the Victoria Cross while serving with the RAF.[19] James Allen Ward, a Sergeant Pilot with 75 Squadron, was first, when he climbed out onto the wing of his Vickers Wellington bomber to smother an engine fire in flight on 7 July 1941. In 1943 then Wing Commander Leonard Trent continued to lead an extremely hazardous, but vital, attack at the head of 487 Squadron until every aircraft was shot down. The same year, Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg, serving with No. 200 Squadron RAF was piloting a Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber when it encountered a U-boat on the surface off the African coast. He attacked U-468 but as he did so, the aircraft was hit by the U-boat's anti-aircraft fire and burst into flames. The aircraft continued the attack and sank the U-boat but crashed shortly afterwards, with all the crew being killed. The crew's actions were reported by the U-boat's survivors, and the Victoria Cross was awarded as a result.

The first NZ squadron to serve with the RAF was not strictly an Article XIV squadron. No. 75 Squadron RAF was formed by RNZAF aircrews and Vickers Wellington bombers in August 1939. The squadron later flew Short Stirlings, Avro Lancasters and Avro Lincolns. Through accident or design, other RAF units came to be mostly manned by RNZAF pilots, including No. 67 Squadron RAF (which ace Geoffrey Fisken served with) and No. 243 Squadron RAF in Singapore, No. 258 Squadron RAF in the UK. Several Grumman Martlet and Grumman Hellcat units of the FAA also had New Zealanders in their ranks, leading some texts to claim these types were used by the RNZAF.

New Zealand Article XV Squadrons included No. 485, which flew Supermarine Spitfires throughout the war; No. 486 (Hawker Hurricanes, Hawker Typhoons and Hawker Tempests); No. 487, (Lockheed Venturas and de Havilland Mosquitoes); No. 488, (Brewster Buffaloes, Hurricanes, Bristol Beaufighters and Mosquitoes); No. 489, (Bristol Blenheims, Bristol Beauforts, Handley Page Hampdens, Beaufighters and Mosquitoes); and No. 490, equipped with Consolidated Catalinas and Short Sunderlands.

RNZAF in the PacificEdit

P-51D preserved in No. 3 (Canterbury) TAF colours

The presence of German raiders led to the formation of New Zealand-based combat units—initially rearming types, like the Vildebeest, and hurriedly converting impressed airliners, such as the de Havilland DH.86 to carry bombs.[citation needed] Lockheed Hudsons were obtained early in 1941 to take over this role. No. 5 Squadron with Vickers Vincents and Short Singapores was sent to protect Fiji.

In December 1941 Japan attacked and rapidly conquered much of the area to the north of New Zealand. With the apparent threat of imminent invasion New Zealand was forced to look to her own defence, as well as to help the United Kingdom. Trainers and more airliners in New Zealand were camouflaged and armed and various types, such as the North American Harvard, Hawker Hind, Airspeed Oxford and even the de Havilland Tiger Moth, formed shadow bomber, army co-operation and fighter squadrons for use in the event of invasion.[20] Hudsons moved forward into the South Pacific while No. 5 Squadron, at RNZAF Station Laucala Bay in Fiji, commenced operations against the Japanese despite its obsolete equipment. In New Zealand preparations intensified and in 1942 three Groups were established to direct air and, if necessary, air defence operations. Northern Group RNZAF was located in Auckland, Central Group RNZAF in Wellington and Southern Group RNZAF in Christchurch.

The vulnerability of New Zealand to Axis naval activity was demonstrated when a submarine-launched Japanese float plane overflew Wellington and Auckland, where it was chased ineffectually by a Tiger Moth. As few combat-capable aircraft were available at home and Britain was unable to help, New Zealand turned to the United States and signed a Lend-Lease agreement.[citation needed] Gradually at first, America was able to supply New Zealand with aircraft for use in the Pacific Theatre— initially, in 1942, Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks and additional Harvards and Hudsons. The fall of Singapore led to some evacuated RNZAF pilots, that had been serving in the RAF there, becoming available in New Zealand. These men provided an experienced nucleus around which new fighter squadrons, the first being No. 14 Squadron RNZAF formed at Masterton, were established.

From mid-1943, at Guadalcanal, starting with No. 15 and No. 14 Squadrons, several RNZAF Kittyhawk units fought with distinction. Several RNZAF pilots became aces against the Japanese, including Geoff Fisken, the Commonwealth's leading ace in the Pacific war. Other squadrons flew the elderly but effective Douglas Dauntless and, later, the modern Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber. From 12 October 1943, as part of Operation Cartwheel, RNZAF aircraft joined an allied air campaign against Japanese held airfields and the port of Rabaul.

The RNZAF took on a significant part of the maritime reconnaissance task with Catalina (and later Sunderland) flying boats and Hudson bombers.

The role of the RNZAF changed as the allies moved onto the offensive. The Americans, leaders of the Allied nations in the Pacific, planned to bypass major Japanese strongholds, instead capturing a handful of island bases to provide a supply chain for an eventual attack on Japan itself. The Allied advance started from the South Pacific. The RNZAF was part of the force tasked with securing the line of advance by incapacitating bypassed Japanese strongholds, for example, Rabaul.

As the war progressed the older types were replaced with more powerful modern aircraft; Kittyhawks gave way to Vought F4U Corsairs, while Hudsons were replaced by Venturas. At the close of war the RNZAF was planning to bring 320 North American P-51 Mustangs into service as part replacement for the F4U.

At its peak, in the Pacific, the RNZAF had 34 squadrons – 25 of which were based outside New Zealand and in action against Japanese forces.[citation needed] Thirteen of these squadrons were equipped with Corsairs six with Venturas, two with Catalinas, two with Avengers and two with Douglas Dakota transport aircraft. The RNZAF also had a squadron of Dauntless dive bombers, several mixed transport and communications squadrons, a flight of Short Sunderlands and almost 1,000 training machines.[citation needed] To administer units in the South Pacific, No. 1 (Islands) Group RNZAF was formed on 10 March 1943.[21] In addition to this, several hundred RNZAF personnel saw action with RAF squadrons or the FAA in Burma, Singapore and the South Pacific.

By 1945 the RNZAF had over 41,000 personnel, including just over 10,000 aircrew who served with the RAF in Europe and Africa.[citation needed]

Wartime RNZAF SquadronsEdit

Squadron(s) Role(s) Aircraft Type(s)
No. 1 Squadron RNZAF Reconnaissance Vickers Vincent, Vickers Vildebeest, Airspeed Oxford, Lockheed Hudson, Lockheed Ventura
No. 2 Squadron RNZAF Reconnaissance Vickers Vincent, Vickers Vildebeest, De Havilland Express, Airspeed Oxford, Lockheed Hudson, Lockheed Ventura
No. 3 Squadron RNZAF Reconnaissance Blackburn Baffin, Vickers Vincent, Vickers Vildebeest, Airspeed Oxford, Lockheed Hudson, Lockheed Ventura
No. 4 Squadron RNZAF Reconnaissance De Havilland Express, De Havilland Dragon Rapide, Vickers Vincent, Lockheed Hudson, Lockheed Ventura
No. 5 Squadron RNZAF Reconnaissance

Close air support

Maritime patrol

Short Singapore, Vickers Vincent, Consolidated PBY Catalina
No. 6 Squadron RNZAF Close air support

Maritime patrol

Hawker Hind, North American Harvard, Consolidated PBY Catalina
No. 7 Squadron RNZAF Reconnaissance Vickers Vincent, Vickers Vildebeest
No. 8 Squadron RNZAF Reconnaissance Vickers Vincent, Vickers Vildebeest, Airspeed Oxford, North American Harvard, Lockheed Ventura
No. 9 Squadron RNZAF Reconnaissance Lockheed Hudson, Lockheed Ventura
No. 10 Squadron RNZAF Reconnaissance Airspeed Oxford, Lockheed Hudson
No. 14 Squadron RNZAF

No. 16 Squadron RNZAF

No. 17 Squadron RNZAF

No. 18 Squadron RNZAF

Fighter North American Harvard, Curtiss Warhawk, Vought Corsair
No. 19 Squadron RNZAF Fighter Curtiss Warhawk, Vought Corsair
No. 20 Squadron RNZAF

No. 21 Squadron RNZAF

Close air support


Hawker Hind, North American Harvard, Curtiss Warhawk, Vought Corsair
No. 22 Squadron RNZAF Close air support


Vickers Vincent, North American Harvard, Curtiss Warhawk, Vought Corsair
No. 23 Squadron RNZAF

No. 24 Squadron RNZAF

Fighter Vought F-4U Corsair
No. 25 Squadron RNZAF Fighter-bomber North American Harvard, Douglas SBD Dauntless, Vought Corsair
No. 26 Squadron RNZAF Fighter-bomber Douglas SBD Dauntless, Vought Corsair
No. 30 Squadron RNZAF Fighter-bomber Vickers Vincent, North American Harvard, Grumman TBF Avenger
No. 31 Squadron RNZAF Fighter-bomber North American Harvard, Grumman TBF Avenger
No. 40 Squadron RNZAF

No. 41 Squadron RNZAF

Transport Lockheed Lodestar, Douglas Dakota, Lockheed Hudson
No. 42 Squadron RNZAF Command and Control De Havilland Domine
New Zealand Units embedded in the Royal Air ForceEdit
Squadron(s) Role(s) Aircraft Type(s)
No. 75 Squadron RAF Bomber Vickers Wellington, Short Stirling, Avro Lancaster
No. 485 Squadron RAF Fighter Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Tempest
No. 486 Squadron RAF Fighter-bomber Hawker Hurricane, Hawker Typhoon, Hawker Tempest
No. 487 Squadron RAF Fighter-bomber Lockheed Ventura, De Havilland Mosquito
No. 488 Squadron RAF Fighter

Night fighter

Brewster Buffalo, Hawker Hurricane

Bristol Beaufighter, De Havilland Mosquito

No. 489 Squadron RAF Torpedo Bomber Bristol Beaufort, Bristol Blenheim, Handley Page Hampden, Bristol Beaufighter, De Havilland Mosquito
No. 490 Squadron RAF Maritime Patrol Consolidated PBY Catalina, Short Sunderland

Postwar RNZAFEdit

In the post war period the RNZAF dealt progressively with demobilisation and disposal of its large obsolete fleet, rearmament to support the Cold War, some loss of training opportunities with the American suspension of ANZUS Treaty obligations in protest at New Zealand becoming a nuclear free zone, social changes which saw women become combat pilots, and most recently loss of fast jets as part of the continuing funding cuts, that have seen the air force decline from over a thousand aircraft to just fifty.

Following the Second World War, No. 14 Squadron RNZAF was sent to Japan as part of the occupation J Force.[22] The rest of the air force rapidly divested itself of aircraft and manpower and settled mainly into training and transport mode before the advent of the rejuvenated No. 14 Squadron RNZAF and No. 75 Squadron RNZAF.

From 1949 Compulsory Military Training reinvigorated the reserve component of the Air Force. The four Territorial squadrons, No. 1 Squadron RNZAF (Auckland), Wellington, Canterbury and No. 4 Squadron, Territorial Air Force, at Taieri Aerodrome, Mosgiel, Otago, were equipped with the 30 Mustangs re-activated from storage, along with a few Tiger Moths and Harvards for each squadron. No. 4 Squadron TAF was active from at least 1951–55. From 1952–57 No. 6 Flying Boat Squadron operated as a Territorial unit at Hobsonville, flying Catalinas and later Sunderlands.

A Gloster Meteor arrived in 1945, introducing the jet age.[citation needed] The force was equipped from 1946 with the De Havilland Mosquito before the arrival of De Havilland Vampires. Initially used in peacekeeping in Cyprus and Singapore the Vampires were supplemented by loaned De Havilland Venoms and, later, English Electric Canberras, both of which saw action in the Malayan Emergency and subsequent confrontation with Indonesia.[citation needed]

Hastings C.3 of 40 Squadron RNZAF in 1953

Internal communications and transport and other services were maintained by No. 42 Squadron RNZAF. It supported the Army and Navy using Grumman TBM-1 Avengers (to tow drogue targets for gunnery), the Territorial Air Force's North American P-51D Mustangs and North American Harvards, the VIPs with De Havilland Devons, also used for support, communications and multi-engine conversion training, and Douglas C-47, Douglas DC-6, and Handley Page Hastings for VIP and communications support. Nos. 5 and 6 Squadrons traded their lend-lease Catalinas for Short Sunderland MR5s operating in maritime patrol and search and rescue roles from Hobsonville and Laucala Bay, Fiji.[23] 6 Squadron was disbanded while 5 Squadron received P-3B Orions in 1965.

A research flight helped develop Aerial Topdressing.[citation needed]

In 1957, the Territorial Air Force (TAF) was formally disbanded following a review of New Zealand's local defences.

Early Cold War ModernisationEdit

The Chief of Air Staff appointed in June 1962 was Air Vice Marshal Ian G. Morrison, who was to oversee the modernisation of the RNZAF.[24] Greener stated that Morrison '..saw the three elements of the Air Force—strike capability, transport, and maritime patrol—as being of equal value, and sought improvements in aircraft in each area. The following aircraft were purchased or put on order.

Morrisons modernisation program saw the RNZAF switch primarily from British to American aircraft, reflecting the strategic alliances at the time. The arrival of the Bell 47 introduced the helicopter to the RNZAF.

Much of the postwar period the RNZAF was administered through two groups. Operations Group RNZAF at Auckland at one time supervising Strike, Transport and Maritime Operations Wings.[25] Operations Group was formed on 1 July 1965, initially under the command of Air Commodore K.W. Trigance. At RNZAF Station Wigram in the outskirts of Christchurch was Training Group RNZAF, active by May 1948.[26] It was operational to the early 1970s at least, responsible for training and support.[27] On 1 June 1972, Training Group become Support Group RNZAF, which included the Command and Staff College, No. 1 Technical Training School, the Aerospace Medical Unit, and No. 1 Stores Depot RNZAF at RNZAF Te Rapa.[28] Later No. 1 Repair Depot RNZAF at RNZAF Base Woodbourne joined the organisation.

Malayan EmergencyEdit

The Malayan Emergency began in June 1948 after guerillas of the Malayan Races Liberation Army, the militant arm of the Malayan Communist Party killed three British rubber planters. New Zealand's first contribution came in 1949, when C-47 Dakotas of RNZAF No. 41 Squadron were attached to the Royal Air Force's Far East Air Force.[29] The C-47s were used to airdrop supplies to British and Malay forces fighting the MRLA, away from their usual station location in Hong Kong. By the time the aircraft were withdrawn in late 1951, 211 sorties had been carried out, dropping 284,000 kg of supplies.

In 1955, the RNZAF established bases in Singapore and Malaysia. No. 41 Squadron moved to Changi, while No. 14 Squadron relocated to Tengah.

On 1 May 1955, the air force carried out its first strike mission since the end of World War II, and its first with jet aircraft, using de Havilland Vampires of No. 14 Squadron RNZAF.[30] In 1955, the squadron was re-equipped with de Havilland Venoms and carried out 115 strike missions, which fell into two categories – 'Firedogs' (pre-planned bombing, strafing, and rocket attacks against guerrilla targets) and 'Smash Hits' (immediate on-call strikes against opportunity targets in response to a guerilla raid or 'hot' information).[31] The squadron was replaced in 1958 by No. 75 Squadron flying English Electric Canberras from their operational station in Tengah.[32] In July 1955 No. 41 Squadron returned to Malaya and resumed supply dropping operations in support of anti-guerrilla forces, this time using the Bristol Freighter. Bristol Freighter serial NZ5901 crashed in the Cameron Highlands during supply drop operations on 10 December 1956. The aircraft flew into a valley and collided with a 4000 foot fog shrouded ridge. SQNLDR Alexander Tie, FLTOFF William Devescovi, FLTOFF Douglas Nelson and 5 passengers were killed, while a single passenger survived and was later rescued.

Antarctic FlightEdit

The RNZAF Antarctic Flight was formed in 1956 to assist the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, equipped with an Auster Mk.7c purchased from the UK Air Ministry (NZ1707), De Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter (NZ6081), and a De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver (NZ6001, changed to NZ6010 to remove overlapping numbers with an RNZAF Gloster Meteor), with hardened and equipped with skis.[33][34][35] It helped transport men, dog teams and supplies, and carried out geological mapping over the summers of 1956, 1957 and 1958 before disbanding in 1960. Operations in Antarctica resumed in 1965 when a Hercules flew the first of what have become annual summer flights from Christchurch to the continent. To the present day, the RNZAF operates both Boeing 757 and Lockheed C-130 Hercules to Phoenix Airfield, Williams Field, and the Ice Runway.

Vietnam WarEdit

From 1962, the primary RNZAF contribution to the Vietnam war was No. 40 Squadron RNZAF and No. 41 Squadron RNZAF providing troop transport for New Zealand, Australian and American troops using Handley Page Hastings, Bristol 170 Freighter and Lockheed C-130 Hercules.[36] he first New Zealand combat troops were airlifted to South Vietnam by No. 40 Squadron in 1965.[37] Aircraft made regular supply runs from Singapore to Saigon. The distinctive shape of the Bristol Freighter in particular became a familiar sight at Tan Son Thut Air Base alongside their South Vietnamese and American counterparts.

RNZAF Bristol 170 Freighter at Qui Nhon, 1969

In 1965, the personnel of No. 14 Squadron RNZAF, equipped with Canberra bombers hoped for an attachment to United States Air Force squadrons flying the B-57 (The American Derivative of the English Electric Canberra). Air Vice-Marshall Ian Morrison was reluctant to have New Zealand's aircraft involved, due to fears of being able to sustain the high attrition rate of aircraft lost over North Vietnam, of particular concern with the aging New Zealand variants of the Canberra. However, Canberra bombers were deployed in a non combat role, with crew observing American operations, and deploying to South Vietnam to conduct joint training with the USAF.

In June 1996, No. 9 Squadron RAAF had gone to South Vietnam and based itself at Vung Tau, equipped with Bell UH-1 Iroquois aircraft .Politically and operationally, it was advantageous for the RNZAF to assist the Australians, who were facing a shortage of available pilots. In all, 16 RNZAF officers would serve in operational service in Vietnam with No. 9 Squadron RAAF. Flight Lieutenant Bill Waterhouse, the RNZAF's only Maori helicopter pilot at the time was killed in January 1969 flying an Iroquois in Canberra while preparing for service in South Vietnam.


The RNZAF additionally provided assistance in a Forward Air Control role in Vietnam flying with USAF squadrons with O-1, O-2 and OV-10 aircraft. A small detachment of RNZAF ground crew from No. 75 Squadron RNZAF were also attached to a U.S Marine Corps VMA-311 A-4 Skyhawk unit at Chu Lai.

RNZAF personnel were numerous in the New Zealand Services Medical Team (NZSMT) and one went on to be part of the subsequent New Zealand Army Training Team (NZATTV.) RNZAF personnel were also posted to HQ V Force and worked primarily in Saigon in a range of liaison duties. One RNZAF member of the NZSMT, Sgt Gordon Watt, was killed by an improvised trap in 1970, the RNZAF's only casualty of the war. A plaque and memorial toWatt is on display at the Ohakea Base Medical flight, and there is also the "Gordon Watt Memorial Award" for the RNZAF's top medic award, named in his honour.

Flights to support the medical team at Qui Nhon and the New Zealand embassy in Saigon continued after the withdrawal of New Zealand ground forces in 1971. In early April 1975 the squadron established a detachment at Tan Son Nhat International Airport near Saigon to evacuate New Zealand personnel from the country as North Vietnamese forces rapidly advanced. The last No. 41 Squadron flight out of the country departed on 21 April carrying 38 embassy staff (including the New Zealand Ambassador) and refugees, just prior to the fall of Saigon.[38][39]

ANZUK, and ANZUS Co-operationEdit

RNZAF A-4 Skyhawk NZ6206 at Clark Air Base in the Philippines during Exercise Cope Thunder 1982, The Aircraft involved in the Kin Nan Incident.

Following the end of conflict in Vietnam, the RNZAF adopted a stronger maritime focus. Long range surveillance patrols became more frequent in the waters around New Zealand as P-3 Orion crews and Navy embedded Westland Wasp Helicopters hunted for Soviet and Chinese submarines and vessels in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone. At the same time, aircrews adopted closer ties with the United States and Australia through the ANZUS alliance. The first overseas deployment of the new A-4 Skyhawk's occurred in 1971 to RAAF Base Williamtown and HMAS Albatross in Australia. Skyhawk crews would be supported by Hercules, Andover, and later Boeing 727 aircraft to provide ground support crew and allow the setup of mobile TACAN stations. Additionally eight single seater Skyhawk's were sent to Singapore to participate in Exercise Vanguard.[40] Deployments occurred on a regular basis to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

No. 14 Squadron took up the role of advanced training. It briefly operated a small number (up to four) of two-seat A-4 Skyhawks and two-seat T.11 Vampires before re-equipping with 16 BAC Strikemaster light attack aircraft in 1972. Bristol Freighters, Douglas Dakotas and De Havilland Devon were replaced by Hawker Siddeley Andover and second hand Fokker F-27 Frendships. Additionally, three Boeing 727 aircraft were purchased in 1981 for use as air transport. Cessna 421C Golden Eagle aircraft were also used for transport and VIP duties.

Another major change during this decade was the integration of the Women's Royal New Zealand Air Force into the Air Force in 1977, removing most restrictions on their employment and career opportunities, with the exception of some aircrew branches.

The Kin Nan IncidentEdit

The Kin Nan Incident occurred in March 1976. The Kin Nan was a Taiwanese squid fishing boat operating illegally within New Zealand waters. Following a failure to reply to warning shots and messages from two RNZN Patrol boats, several Skyhawks, were sent to intercept the ship, armed with Zuni rockets and 20mm rounds.[41][42] A Skyhawk operated by Jim Jennings (NZ6206) fired a 53 round burst at the boat, causing it to stop and allow the Navy to board it.[40] The Skyhawk involved is still preserved at the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland.[43]

Joint ExercisesEdit

Throughout the 1970s, RNZAF Ohakea would also see significant visits from the Royal Air Force, United States Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force. The RNZAF participated in a number of ANZUS joint exercises in this period:

Fourth Labour Government, Anti Nuclear Legislation and ANZUS SplitEdit

Following the end of the US friendly Muldoon government, and the subsequent election of David Lange and the Fourth Labour Government, the RNZAF severed overt military ties with the United States and United Kingdom, with the New Zealand military reoriented towards more globalist and international roles such as United Nations peacekeeping. Under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987,[44][45] territorial sea, land and airspace of New Zealand became nuclear-free zones. This had a dramatic effect on the efficiencies of the Air Force's combat squadrons. With the lack of opportunities to practice operations skills, it became extremely difficult to maintain pace with the Air Forces New Zealand had traditionally worked with.[46]

By the late 1980s, the RNZAF held an active role in United Nations operations in the Sinai Peninsula and Iran. This time period also saw the end of involvement in Singapore.

No. 1 Squadron was deactivated in December 1984, and its Andovers were transferred to No. 42 Squadron.[47]

Project KahuEdit

By the 1980s, the Skyhawks were reaching the end of their effective use. Three options were considered; the purchase of more capable second hand aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom II, new aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, or an upgrade for the A-4 Skyhawk. Eventually, a comprehensive upgrade to the Skyhawk was chosen, along with the purchase of used A-4G Skyhawks from the Royal Australian Navy.

Aermacchi MB-339 alongside an A-4K 'Kahu' Skyhawk at the RNZAF Museum

The Skyhawk upgrade was extremely comprehensive, including a new radar, HOTAS controls, glass cockpit with HUD and new inertial navigation system. The aircraft also received armament upgrades including the capability to fire AIM-9L Sidewinders, AGM-65 Mavericks and GBU-16 Paveway II laser-guided bombs. The cost of the project was NZ$140 million and gave the RNZAF Skyhawks the electronic “eyes and ears” of a modern fighter aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon or F/A-18 Hornet.[48] Despite cooling of NZ-US relations over New Zealands new anti-nuclear policy, the US Congress gave its approval in December 1985, while other work was accomplished by New Zealand based companies such as Pacific Aerospace.

To complement these upgrades, 18 new Aermacchi MB-339 were introduced as an advanced jet trainer, replacing the British Aerospace Strikemaster.

Wing Commander Ian Gore said "The Skyhawk has gone from an aircraft with no systems you could rely on, to one with the capability of modern front-line fighters, at a fraction of the cost."[49]

Flight Lieutenant Murray Neilson noted: "We were constantly surprised how well we performed in air-to-air combat against superior aircraft, especially the F-16 … Kahu has brought the Skyhawk into the 1990s."[50]

The 1997 White Paper commented further: "The aircraft are old but sturdy. They have been rewinged and seven years ago were given a major upgrade. They have sufficient life left to perform effectively into the next decade."

However, while the upgrades took place, it was further planned to eventually replace the Skyhawk fleet with leased F-16 Aircraft from the United States in the near future.

RNZAF Boeing 727 in 2001.

50th Anniversary of the RNZAFEdit

The 50th anniversary of the RNZAF was celebrated with a gold painted Skyhawk and large scale formations with Skyhawks and Strikemasters. An airshow at RNZAF Ohakea was held, with visiting aircraft from the Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force.

In February 1991 No. 2 Squadron was reformed, then relocated to HMAS Albatross in Australia with the updated Kahu Skyhawks to provide the Australian Defence Force (ADF), particularly the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), with Air Defence Support, participating in exercises with RAN warships. The squadron was equipped with two A-4K and four TA-4K aircraft supported by 50 to 60 personnel. The highlight of the RAN exercises was the successful sinking of the decommissioned HMAS Adroit in August 1994 by No. 2 Squadron Skyhawks. No. 2 Squadron continued to provide air defence training to the ADF until November 2001.

Post War ReductionsEdit

The end of the Cold War saw dramatic changes in the composition of the RNZAF. With government policies from the Fourth Labour Government urging to reduce public spending, the RNZAF began to consolidate its facilities, lead by Minister of Defence Bob Tizard. The Air Force Stores Depot at Te Rapa was closed in 1992, with redevelopment into The Base Shopping Centre.[46][51] On 14 September 1995, the closing parade was held for the first established RNZAF airfield, RNZAF Station Wigram in Christchurch.[52] The support base RNZAF Shelly Bay, located on Wellington's Miramar peninsula also closed. The helicopter and former seaplane base RNZAF Hobsonville was sold to Housing New Zealand, and is being redeveloped as a residential area by the Hobsonville Land Company.[53] Initially the RNZAF remained a tenant on the land, however all remaining units based there have now relocated to other sites. Both Wigram and Hobsonvillle have been redeveloped into housing areas, while Shelly Bay remains abandoned. Following the neoliberal ideology of the 1990s, non core activities such as maintenance and food catering have been privatized and contracted out.

On 30 April 1995 Operations Group and Support Group were brought together to form RNZAF Air Command, under the leadership of an air commodore. Air Command was itself disbanded in 2001 when the post became the Air Component Commander at Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand, located at Trentham, Upper Hutt.

RNZAF C-130H Hercules

Peacekeeping Operations and Overseas Deployments in the 1990s and 2000sEdit

Despite the significant reduction in budget and manpower, international deployments by the Air Force were expanded.[46] During the Gulf War, two Hercules and personnel of No. 40 Squadron were deployed to the Gulf War, where they operated as part of a Royal Air Force Hercules Squadron.[54] No. 2 Squadron RNZAF continued service at Nowra in New South Wales, Australia, providing training for the Royal Australian Navy and conversion for RNZAF Skyhawk pilots. No. 42 Squadron spent five months deployed in Somalia, with three Andover transport planes. Humanitarian airlifts were conducted by Hercules and Boeing aircraft of No. 40 Squadron in the Middle East and Rwanda. No. 40 Squadron also provided air transport support to the NZ Army contingent in Bosnia.

The RNZAF had a sizable involvement in the Bougainville conflict, involving C-130 transport aircraft UH-1 Iroquois, and Westland Wasp helicopters. Both the Iroquois and Wasps were painted in a highly visible orange 'Orange Roughie Red' colour scheme prior to deployment in Bougainville. Aircraft also supported several UN missions such as UNTAET while carrying out peacetime tasks for governmental and civilian purposes.

Westland Wasp helicopters were replaced with Kaman SH-2 Seasprite helicopters, awaiting further orders of SH-2G Super Seasprites.

40 Squadron Boeing 757–200 and C-130H Hercules flanked by 5 Squadron P-3K Orions breaking formation during the Whenuapai air show in March 2009.

21st century government defence changesEdit

In 1999, the National Government selected an order of 28 F-16A/B Fighting Falcon aircraft to replace the fleet of A-4 Skyhawks but this procurement was cancelled in 2001 following election by the incoming Labour Government under Helen Clark. This was followed by the disbanding of No 2 and No 75 Skyhawk squadrons and the No 14 Aermacchi squadron, removing the RNZAF's air combat capability.[55] Subsequently, most of the RNZAF's fighter pilots left New Zealand to serve in the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Air Force.[56] By 2003 the RNZAF was reduced to a total of 53 aircraft and 2,523 personnel (including civilian employees).

In 2005 the New Zealand Ministry of Defence selected the NHI NH90 helicopter to replace the RNZAF's ageing fleet of 14 UH-1H Iroquois. The NZ government allocated NZ$550 million to replace the Iroquois and a small fleet of Bell 47 (Sioux) training helicopters.[citation needed] In late 2005 the government announced that the surviving A-4Ks and Aermacchi MB-339Cs, 17 of each type, (not counting A-4s in museums), were to be sold to US company Tactical Air Systems for use in jet training, subject to the US government approval.[citation needed] Tactical Air Systems announced RNZAF colour schemes would be preserved, "out of respect for the history and traditions of the RNZAF". The US State Department expressed concerns about having two squadrons of combat jets operating over the US in private hands so the aircraft were put into storage at Woodbourne.[citation needed] The Aermacchi fleet is still in flying condition but the A-4K fleet was covered in protective latex and moved to outside storage in 2007 to make way for the C-130H upgrade.[citation needed] It is most likely that the A-4Ks will be donated to museums or remain at RNZAF Base Woodbourne for training purposes for RNZAF Technicians, as the cost of refurbishing them (estimated at $34 million) was deemed too expensive by the government.[citation needed] In November 2011, a private defence contractor in the United States, Draken International, purchased eight of the stored RNZAF A-4K Skyhawks and nine of the Aermacchi MB-339s.[citation needed] The aircraft are utilised for commercial air services as an adversary squadron.

New Zealand took an option to purchase C-130J Hercules from Lockheed Martin as a part of an Australian purchase in the late 1990s but following the 1999 election the new Labour government decided not to proceed with the purchase. Instead a NZD$226m service life extension programme (LEP) was arranged with L3 Spar Aerospace of Canada in 2004.[57] This involved replacement of various mechanical, avionic, and structural components, and the design and installation of flight deck communications and navigation improvements to meet evolving air traffic management regulations.[58] The first aircraft was modified in Canada with the rest to be modified by the Air New Zealand subsidiary, Safe Air, in Blenheim, New Zealand. Safe Air has since dropped the contract, causing the Ministry of Defence to form a team of contractors and RNZAF supervisors to finish the LEP project. The LEP will see the C-130 Hercules with the most flying hours in the world remain in use until about 2025.

Since 2001, RNZAF P-3K Orions and C-130 Hercules have made periodic deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

The Naval Support Flight was separated from 3 Squadron to re-form 6 Squadron in October 2005.[citation needed] In October 2007 the government announced it had selected the Agusta A109 as the preferred replacement for the Sioux helicopters.[59] Defence Minister Phil Goff declared "In common with the Seasprite helicopter already in service and the eight new NH-90s on order for the RNZAF, the A109 is wheeled and capable of deployment from our Navy vessels". Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Graham Lintott, said the A109 "will provide an effective platform to train aircrew in basic helicopter operations plus the advanced skills required to operate both the Navy SH-2G Seasprite and the highly capable RNZAF NH90 helicopter that will come into service in 2010."[60]

In 2008 the Defence Minister expressed the desire to return to service all 17 Aermacchi trainers to supplement Army and Navy operations.[61] Prime Minister John Key said at the time that it was extremely unlikely that any jet training would be restored in 2010.[62]

Plans to close RNZAF Whenuapai (and consolidate all operations to Ohakea) made by the previous government, were overturned in March 2009.[63] As of 2010, the RNZAF maintain 3 Air Bases (Whenuapai, Ohakea, Woodbourne) and Air Movements Terminals located at Wellington International Airport, and Christchurch International Airport.

2010 Anzac Day UH-1H Iroquois Crash and Operational FailingsEdit

RNZAF UH-1H Iroquois NZ3806 of No. 3 Squadron, the aircraft involved in the 2010 Anzac Day accident.

Three servicemen of No. 3 Squadron RNZAF were killed, and a fourth seriously injured when their Iroquois NZ3806 BLACK 2 crashed in heavy fog, while travelling in a group of two other aircraft the early morning from RNZAF Base Ohakea to Wellington, as part of a flypast for the ANZAC Day dawn service.[64][65] The Iroquois crashed into steep terrain near Pukerua Bay, located in the hills above the Centennial Highway, about 40 km northeast of Wellington. The aircraft was described by One News reporter Michael Parkin as "flattened and not little grey dot in green bush". It was reported that significant low lying cloud was present in the area. Flight Lieutenant Hayden Madsen, Flying Officer Daniel Gregory and Corporal Benjamin Carson were killed in the accident, while Sergeant Stevin Creeggan sustained serious injuries and was required to be sent to Wellington Hospital for treatment.[66] Rescue operations and recovery of the bodies were conducted by another UH-1H aircraft from No. 3 Squadron RNZAF, as well as a Wellington Westpac Rescue Helicopter BK117, although efforts were hampered by the heavy fog in the area. Residents of the local Pukerua Bay area were woken early in the morning by the noise of low flying helicopters, before hearing a loud bang.

ANZAC services around the country made special mention of the accident. However, at times, including with a speech from Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand, limited knowledge on the number of crew passed away was evident at the highest level, initially stating that 4 deaths had occurred, rather than 3. This was found to have been due to incorrect information provided to the Minister of Defence. Members of the Royal New Zealand Air Force Band performed Edward Elgar's rendition of For the Fallen in memoriam. Prime Minister John Key reported the news to crowds at ANZAC Cove, stating: "Our thoughts and our heartfelt condolences go out to the families of the lost, along with the servicemen and women of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, as they mourn the loss of three good mates." A full military funeral service with guard of honour was held for the three fallen servicemen at RNZAF Base Ohakea.[67]


The Court of Inquiry found that a number of factors had created an environment where the crew had underestimated operating risks and, consequently, undertook inadequate preparation, particular in regards to the use of night vision equipment, and preparing for inclement weather.[68] The current advent of instrument meteorological conditions was thought to have resulted in an overload of crew capacity, compounded with low flying experience and training deficiencies in the RNZAF as a whole.[69] The air force's accident report cited training problems particularly in regards to instrument flying and night vision goggles, with the lack of instructor manuals or guides due to resourcing and logistical issues. Additionally the report found that four of the six pilots in the formation three helicopters did not have adequate flying qualifications for the flight, and the lead pilot was not qualified to lead the formation, stating that at present the air force was unable to "adequately and reliably ensure safe and effective military air operations". Several issues with the chain of command and restrictions of operating in Wellington airspace were also highlighted. It also found there was a culture of "rule breaking" among No. 3 Squadron. Furthermore, the analysis report stated that the need to minimize accommodation costs incurred by No. 3 Squadron due to pressure on the Air Force budget contributed to the decision to fly early in the morning, rather than during daylight hours of the previous day.

After suffering serious injuries from the crash, Sergeant Stevin Creeggan returned to service in January 2011. However, after claiming poor support, and an unsupportive culture of assistance and medical care, Creeggan left the Air Force in 2014. The New Zealand Herald stated:

"As Stevin struggled with new health issues, and reintegration into the air force, it became apparent no one would be held accountable for his injuries, or the deaths of his colleagues. Worse, it seemed to the Creeggans that Stevin's insistence on medical treatment for shoulder and eye problems was meeting resistance. He found himself working in a small room, effectively shuffling paper, alone and distant from his colleagues."[70]

in 2014, the New Zealand Defence Force pleaded guilty on failing to provide an adequately safe workplace in a private prosecution taken by Creeggan, and ordered to pay a total reparation of $90,000[71] Creeggan told the Wellington District Court of his injuries and health problems, as well as survivor's guilt. Lawyer Tim MacKenzie said that the Air Force had failed to ensure the crew had sufficient training and experience, allowing a lax culture, which may have led personnel to believe they could cut corners. Defence Force lawyer, Nigel Luci-Smith, said it accepts it failed to prevent the tragedy, additionally stating that the New Zealand Defence Force unreservedly apologises to the men and their families and the people of New Zealand for the short-comings that failed to prevent loss of life and the injuries to Sergeant Creeggan.[71]

Several debates were held in parliament as to the cause of inadequate training and resources, with some attributing this to the significant cuts made to the Air Force under the previous Helen Clark led Labour Government, while others were critical of Minister of Defence Jonathan Coleman.

Recent activitiesEdit

In recent years the RNZAF has been involved in a number of domestic incidents, especially natural disasters that have hit the region.

  • Following the 2009 Samoa earthquake and tsunami the RNZAF deployed several P-3 Orions initially to assess the damage and search for bodies in the immediate aftermath of the incident. The day after the tsunami a C-130 Hercules carrying mobile morgues, medical staff and supplies to the area helped with recovery efforts. Following this the RNZAF worked closely with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), the US Navy and US Air Force to provide airlifts and supply drops for several weeks after the disaster. RNZAF also provided assistance on the ground in both Samoa and Tonga. The RNZAF and Air New Zealand also arranged for the evacuation of all tourists from Samoa to Auckland.
  • In the aftermath of the 2010 Canterbury earthquake on 4 September 2010 a C-130 Hercules transported Search and Rescue Teams from Whenuapai Air Base to Christchurch that morning to aid in relief efforts. This was followed later in the afternoon by the deployment from Ohakea Air Base of two Iroquois Helicopters which provided aerial reconnaissance and damage assessments. Due to disrupted supplies at Christchurch Airport an RNZAF fuel tanker was also despatched from Ohakea Air Base to supply these aircraft.
  • Responding to the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake the RNZAF deployed three C-130 Hercules, two Boeing 757s, a P-3 Orion, three Beechcraft B200 aircraft and three Bell UH-1H helicopters to assist the people of Christchurch. The aircraft flew around the clock to deploy police and medical personnel. C-130s and B757s also acted as aero-medical aircraft and evacuated victims and tourists to Wellington and Auckland in the North Island. This was the single biggest movement of personnel and freight by the RNZAF in its history. C-130s from the RAAF and RSAF were also deployed to the area and worked in conjunction with the RNZAF.
  • In December 2011 the Russian fishing vessel Sparta struck an iceberg in the Ross Sea, RNZAF C-130s made two flights from New Zealand to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, air-dropping supplies to the crew en route.[72]
  • In 2013 the RNZAF sent one C-130 Hercules to the Philippines after a hurricane for disaster relief and evacuation of locals.
  • Following the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-370 in March 2014, an RNZAF P-3K2 Orion was deployed to RAAF Base Butterworth to assist with the search for the Boeing 777. The Orion aircraft and crew was then re-tasked and conducted their operations from RAAF Base Pearce near Perth, Western Australia, searching the Southern Indian Ocean for MH-370 alongside other international aircraft and crews.
  • To safeguard trade routes from the threat of piracy, a P-3K2 Orion was deployed to the Middle East from July 2014 until December 2015. The Orion conducted anti-piracy and maritime surveillance activities in support of the Combined Maritime Forces coalition in the region.[73]
  • Responding to Cyclone Winston that devastated Fiji in February 2016 the RNZAF deployed a P-3 Orion, C-130 Hercules and Boeing 757, and two NH-90s aboard HMNZS Canterbury. Specialist NZ Fire Service teams and NZ Army engineers flew to Fiji in the Boeing 757.
  • In response to the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake the magnitude 7.8 earthquake devastated North Canterbury and Kaikoura. The RNZAF deployed four NH-90 helicopters, C-130 Hercules, and a P-3K2 Orion for survey damage. The RNZAF NH-90s were tasked with evacuating over 1000 tourists and transporting food and supplies to the town of Kaikoura and surrounding areas. The US Navy and Royal Malaysian Air Force also offered helicopters to assist with the evacuation of tourists and transportation of rescue personnel. The Royal New Zealand Navy's multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury and off-shore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington were deployed to Kaikoura to provide aid supplies and evacuate people.[74] HMCS Vancouver, HMAS Darwin and USS Sampson, in New Zealand waters for the RNZN's 75th birthday celebrations in Auckland, were redirected by their respective governments to assist.[75] Nearly 200 people had been airlifted out of Kaikoura by late evening on 15 November, with about 1,000 still to be evacuated on the following morning.[76]

2021 Evacuation of AfghanistanEdit

RNZAF C-130H Hercules (NZ7005) of No. 40 Squadron

Following the Fall of Kabul on 15 August 2021, the New Zealand Government dispatched a single C-130 Hercules plane (NZ7005) with a contingent of troops to assist in the evacuation of New Zealand citizens and Afghans who had aided the NZ Defence Force from Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport.[77] On 26 August, the RNZAF suspended its evacuation flights following the 2021 Kabul airport attacks. By that stage, about 300 of the 520 people in Afghanistan registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade had been evacuated.[78] By 28 August, the NZDF had evacuated 370 people from Afghanistan who were flown to the United Arab Emirates, awaiting transportation to New Zealand.[79]

Active bases and facilitiesEdit

Air basesEdit

RNZAF Air Bases

Support facilitiesEdit

Training areasEdit


Current strengthEdit

The RNZAF's force operates in conjunction with the rest of the New Zealand Defence Force. The chain of command runs from Defence Force headquarters at Aitken Street in central Wellington to Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand (HQ JFNZ) at Trentham in Upper Hutt. Under the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand (a rear admiral, air vice marshal, or major general, depending on rotation) is the Air Component Commander, an Air Commodore. The Air Component Commander directs the RNZAF through the triservice staff of HQ JFNZ.

No. 485 Wing RNZAF, established at RNZAF Base Auckland on 1 July 2002, supervises the operational squadrons.[80] It draws its heritage from the former Strike Wing, which parented 14 and 75 Squadrons at RNZAF Base Ohakea for many years. Strike Wing adopted its badge from the former No. 485 Squadron RAF of the Second World War. When Strike Wing disbanded with the retirement of the Skyhawks, a new name had to be found for the supervisory wing, as Strike Wing at Ohakea was to merge with the Operations Wing in Auckland. The result was that the World War II numbering of the original squadron was chosen.

Nos 485 and 488 Wings were disestablished in early 2015 and effectively replaced by Base Commanders.[81] Woodbourne was the first base to make the change, synchronised with a routine change of command; Ohakea and Auckland followed. As part of the same reorganisation, the headquarters of No. 209 (Expeditionary Support) Squadron was disestablished, and RNZAF Security Forces, Air Movements, Aviation Refuelling, RNZAF Rescue Fire, Base Medical Flight, Survival Training Centre and other sub-units reassigned into what is now known as Operations Squadron.[82]

Current flying squadronsEdit

Squadron Aircraft Role Air Base
No. 3 Squadron NHIndustries NH90

AgustaWestland AW109

Battlefield Transport, Search and Rescue, Heavy Lifting RNZAF Base Ohakea
No. 5 Squadron Lockheed P-3K2 Orion Anti Ship, Anti Submarine, Maritime Patrol, Search and Rescue RNZAF Base Auckland
No. 6 Squadron Kaman SH-2G(I) Super Seasprite Anti Ship, Maritime Patrol RNZAF Base Auckland
No. 14 Squadron Beechcraft T-6C Texan II Pilot Training RNZAF Base Ohakea
No. 40 Squadron Lockheed C-130H(NZ) Hercules

Boeing 757-2K2 Combi

Tactical Airlift, Strategic Airlift, VIP Transport RNZAF Base Auckland
No. 42 Squadron Beechcraft Super King Air 350 Transport, Aircrew Training, Pilot Training RNZAF Base Ohakea
Central Flying School RNZAF Beechcraft T-6C Texan II Flight Instructor Training RNZAF Base Ohakea
RNZAF Historic Flight De Havilland Tiger Moth

North American T-6 Texan

Historic Flight RNZAF Base Ohakea

Other unitsEdit

A C-130H of No. 40 Squadron at 2019 Australian International Airshow

RNZAF Base AucklandEdit

  • No. 230 (Mission Support) Squadron – Headquarters for the Intelligence and Communications sections
  • Aeronautical Standards and Safety Office
  • Aviation Medicine Unit
  • RNZAF Parachute Training and Support Unit
  • RNZAF Survival Training Centre
  • RNZAF Military Working Dog Training School
  • Operations Squadron

RNZAF Base OhakeaEdit

  • Air Power Development Centre (APDC)
  • Operations Squadron
  • No. 230 (Mission Support) Squadron – Small operational detachment
  • Headquarters Material Support Wing

RNZAF Base WoodbourneEdit

  • Command and Recruit Training Squadron – Airman and Officer initial training. Also houses promotional courses, and all RNZAF Security Forces training
  • Ground Training Wing – Initial trade training for most technical career fields


Current inventoryEdit

A P-3K Orion in flight during Whenuapai Open Day 2005
An AW109 lifts off from RNZAF Base Ohakea
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Maritime Patrol
P-3 Orion United States ASW / patrol P-3K2 6[83]
Boeing P-8 United States ASW / patrol 4 on order[83]
Boeing 757 United States transport 2[83]
C-130 Hercules United States transport C-130H 5[83]
C-130J Super Hercules United States Transport C-130J-30 5 on order[84]
NHIndustries NH90 France / Italy utility / transport 8[83] a 9th airframe is used for parts[85]
SH-2G Super Seasprite United States ASW / patrol 8[83]
AgustaWestland AW109 Italy light utility 5[83]
Trainer Aircraft
T-6 Texan II United States trainer T-6C 11[83]
Super King Air United States multi engine trainer 350 4[83]

Central Flying SchoolEdit

The Central Flying School (CFS) is the smallest flying unit, which commenced operations in January 1957. The primary role is the training of Qualified Flying Instructors, and the review process of maintenance and flying instruction standards. The school also operates the Historic Aircraft Flight, which allows selected instructors to fly older types like the Harvard and Tiger Moth. Their more public role has been carried out with the flying display teams the Red Checkers, and the now current team the Black Falcons.[86]

Retired aircraftEdit

Some notable combat aircraft that were operated by the air force consisted of the de Havilland Vampire, BAC Strikemaster, A-4K/TA-4K Skyhawk and the CT-4 Airtrainer. Transport aircraft were the Bristol Type 170, C-47 Dakota, Auster Autocar, Airspeed Consul, Boeing 727, and the Short Sunderland. Helicopters consisted of the Westland Wasp, Bell 47G and the Bell UH-1H. Training aircraft were the Airspeed Oxford.[87][88][89]

Symbols, flags and emblemsEdit

A member of the RNZAF Parachute Training and Support Unit trails the paratrooper flag during the air show at Whenuapai in March 2009.

The RNZAF ensign was approved in 1939, based on the ensign of the Royal Air Force, with the letters "NZ" inserted within the roundel.

Until the 1950s NZPAF and RNZAF aircraft flew with Royal Air Force roundels; sometimes only the "NZ" prefix to the serial number revealed its nationality within the Commonwealth. A white kiwi or silver fern on a black background or a New Zealand flag frequently appeared on RNZAF aircraft, and also on RAF aircraft with NZ aircrew. Map outlines of New Zealand with a Kiwi superimposed appeared on the tails of Canberras flown from Singapore in the Malayan Emergency; Venoms used in the conflict had a white kiwi on a black tail.

From the mid-1950s RNZAF roundels were modified by a fern frond within the inner red circle. Several colours were tried, including green, gold and finally white. The first two were too difficult to spot and the last looked too much like a white feather that further attempts with ferns were dropped and the Kiwi bird was adopted at the end of the 1960s. To assist camouflage in the 1980s the white was sometimes eliminated, giving a red kiwi within a blue circle (e.g. on Hercules, Aermacchis and Skyhawks). The kiwi roundel is now frequently a black circle around a black kiwi (Hercules, Iroquois) or two-tone grey (Orion, Sea Sprite). The nose is always forward and on wings the legs are inwards, towards to the fuselage.

Ranks and uniformEdit

An identity card issued to all ranks during World War II. This one belonged to RNZAF WAAF Judith Copeland.

RNZAF rank titles and uniform remain similar to the Royal Air Force. The rank structure of the RNZAF was established within the context of the desire to ensure that the service remained separate from both the Army and Navy. The rank structure for the RNZAF came to be

Junior Ranks: Recruit, Aircraftman, Leading Aircraftman.

Non-Commissioned Officers: Corporal, Sergeant, Flight Sergeant, Warrant Officer.

Commissioned Officers: Officer Cadet, Pilot Officer, Flying Officer, Flight Lieutenant, Squadron Leader, Wing Commander, Group Captain, Air Commodore, Air Vice Marshal, Air Marshal.

RNZAF service dress uniform is deep blue in colour with light blue coloured rank worn on the sleeves of the uniform. There are many variations of the uniform that RNZAF personnel wear during the course of their duties. Since 2010 the shoulder identifier says "ROYAL NEW ZEALAND AIR FORCE", this was to correct a perceived confusion with the uniform of the New Zealand Police, despite many other more obvious differences.

General Purpose Uniform (GPU)Edit

In March 2015 the RNZAF began trialling a two piece blue uniform. This uniform is designed to replace personnel wearing Disruptive Pattern Material (DPM) which has been in service since the 1980s. As of March 2016, GPU had become the primary working dress for the RNZAF, replacing the DPM uniform.

The new GPU uniform is to distinguish the RNZAF from NZ Army personnel of which there tended to be some confusion from the general public due to the same DPM uniform being worn.

When deployed overseas on missions RNZAF ground personnel wear the Multiterrain Camouflage Uniform more commonly known as MCU.

The RNZAF is currently conducting a review of both the GPU and MCU uniform in favour of having one Multicam uniform for all ground units. A decision is expected in 2020.

Aircrew uniformEdit

In 2016 as part of the Air Warrior project, RNZAF aircrew began trialling MultiCam uniform to replace the DPM variant they have been using since the late 1980s. Trials for the uniform will be completed in 2016.

For all flying duties aircrew wear a Nomex flame retardant green coloured one or two piece flight suit. Operations to a desert environment see aircrew wear a sand coloured version of the green uniform.

Aircrew Flying Badges and Uniform Name PatchesEdit

RNZAF Flying Badge

RNZAF badges closely follow the style inherited from the Royal Air Force, with a badge worn on the left breast. A key difference is that pilot's wings bear the letters NZ rather than RAF, and that the single wing of other aircrew still have the letters of the trade they represent.

RNZAF Flying Badges
Crew Designation Details Active Retired
Pilot NZ lettering 1923
Air Warfare Officer

Air Warfare Specialist

AW lettering 2007
Air Engineer E lettering 1942
Air Loadmaster LM lettering 1970
Air Ordnanceman AC lettering 1966
Helicopter Loadmaster HL lettering 2016
Flight Steward FS lettering 1980
Parachute Jump Instructor Parachute patch 1963
Helicopter Crewman HC lettering 1966 2016
Navigator N lettering 1942 2007
Air Bomber B lettering
Air Electronics Officer

Air Electronics Operator

AE lettering 1966 2007
Air Quartermaster QM lettering 1965 1970
Air Signaller S lettering 1948 1977
Air Gunner AG lettering 1939 1953
Observer O letter outline 1934 1942

Rank structure and insigniaEdit

Rank group General/flag officers Field/senior officers Junior officers Officer cadet
  Royal New Zealand Air Force[90]
Marshal of the RNZAF Air marshal Air vice-marshal Air commodore Group captain Wing commander Squadron leader Flight lieutenant Flying officer Pilot officer Officer cadet
Rank group Senior NCOs Junior NCOs Enlisted
  Royal New Zealand Air Force[90]
Warrant Officer Flight Sergeant Sergeant Corporal Leading Aircraftman Aircraftman

Display teamsEdit

RNZAF T-6 Texan of No. 14 Squadron

Black FalconsEdit

The Black Falcons (Continuation) are the current aerobatic display team of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, replacing their predecessor "The Red Checkers".

In January 2016 the Central Flying School (CFS) began flying 11 Beechcraft T-6 Texan II, sharing the aircraft with No. 14 Squadron. The team is made up of Qualified Flying Instructors of the Central Flying School and No.14 Squadron. The bulk of the team generally come from CFS, with the Team Leader (Falcon 1), normally also holding the post of Officer Commanding Central Flying School. The new team's first display was scheduled for the 2017 Wings over Wairarapa airshow, although bad weather caused the displays to be cancelled. Instead the first display was held at the RNZAF 80th Anniversary Air Tattoo at the team's home base, RNZAF Base Ohakea the following week.

Previous Display TeamsEdit

Additionally, further unnamed aerobatics teams briefly formed for airshows and demonstration events.

Future of the RNZAFEdit

The Royal New Zealand Air Force has a number of plans to modernise its fleet and improve its capabilities.These are described in the Defence Capability Plan 2019 and the Major Projects Report 2020.[91] The primary focus for further investments in defence capability will be the replacement of existing maritime surveillance and transport capability. These two aspects represent the bulk of RNZAF capability. Following the replacement of these aircraft, facilities and systems, the focus of increased investment will be on delivering greater effectiveness for government objectives. While several projects are underway, the financial restrictions bought by the COVID-19 pandemic, global and national economic downturn, the future of several of these projects are in doubt.[92]

Although discussed in the media and defence circles from time to time, there has been no plans to re-instate the strike wing under the 2019 Defence Capability Plan. The strike wing was disbanded under the Labour Government in 2001 without replacement of the A-4 Skyhawk and Aermacchi MB-339 aircraft.

Future Air Mobility CapabilityEdit

New Zealand took an option to purchase C-130J Hercules from Lockheed Martin as a part of an Australian purchase in the late 1990s but following the 1999 election the new Labour government under Helen Clark decided not to proceed with the purchase, choosing to perform a life extension program for the existing C-130H aircraft. New Zealand possesses some of the earliest C-130H Hercules off the Lockheed production line, with the most recorded flying hours in the world remaining in use.

In September 2017, the National Party led government approved the Future Air Mobility Capability project to identify options for an affective and flexible air transport capability that would be able to support the armed forces operations. Several aircraft were considered, with various aircraft performing demonstration visits including the Airbus A400M Atlas, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, Embraer KC-390 Millennium, Kawasaki C-2, and Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules.[93][94][95]

In June 2019 the Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Hercules was identified due to its mature platform, and flexibility and continuity with the RNZAF's existing fleet of aircraft. On 5 June 2020 the Government announced that a fleet of five C-130J-30 would replace the current fleet of C-130H Hercules operated by the Royal New Zealand Air Force for tactical airlift operations. The C-130J had been selected as the preferred platform in 2019 and the aircraft and a full mission flight simulator are being acquired through the United States' Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process. Deliveries are scheduled to commence in 2024, with all five aircraft in country by mid-2025.

The two Boeing 757 aircraft operated by the Air Force are in severe need of replacement, due to significant technical and operational issues. However, due to financial constraints, a replacement is not scheduled until at least 2028.[96] The capability will be able to move personnel and cargo within the South Pacific, to Antarctica, and in support of coalition operations further afield, supporting missions from humanitarian and disaster relief to operations in high-risk conflict zones.

Air Surveillance Maritime PatrolEdit

The need to replace the RNZAF's aging P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft was outlined in the Strategic Defence Policy Statement in 2018. In July 2018, the government approved the acquisition of four Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft.[97][98] The key tasks which will be performed by the new aircraft will be:

  • Participation in international task groups and exercises
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief
  • Protection of New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone and the Southern Ocean

It will be able to engage in warfare, as they are armed with torpedoes, harpoon anti-ship missiles and other weapons, and are able to drop and monitor sonobuoys and hunt submarines. The P-8A aircraft are scheduled for delivery from the United States in 2024. The acquisition of the aircraft will coincide with No. 5 Squadron RNZAF relocating from RNZAF Base Auckland to RNZAF Base Ohakea. First work on upgrading instrastructure at Ohakea began by the Minister of Defence Ron Mark in November 2019, with the construction of new hangars, ground services and training facilities.[99][100] Progress on this infrastructure was halted for a short time due to COVID-19 but as of 2021, construction is continuing.

As of 2021 Royal New Zealand Air Force aircrew continue to be trained on the new aircraft in the United States. This ensures New Zealand will have enough qualified personnel to operate the P-8As when they arrive in New Zealand. In September 2020 the inaugural Royal New Zealand Air Force crew for the P-8A graduated training at Jacksonville Florida, USA. The team is the first New Zealand crew to transition to the P-8A and will now begin work to qualify as instructors to help train the rest of 5 Squadron's aircrews as they transition from the P-3K2 Orion to the P-8A Poseidon.[101]

Enhanced Maritime Awareness CapabilityEdit

The Enhanced Maritime Awareness Capability project will support the Government's maritime security strategy, providing air surveillance capabilities in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone and the Southern Ocean. This additional capability will free up the new P-8A maritime patrol aircraft fleet to fly more missions in the South Pacific and further afield. Investment in a range of capabilities will be considered, including satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and traditional fixed-wing aircraft.

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External linksEdit