|Royal New Zealand Airforce|
|Te Tauaarangi o Aotearoa (Māori)|
|Size||2,477 active personnel|
354 reserve personnel
|Part of||New Zealand Defence Force|
|Motto(s)||Per Ardua ad Astra|
|March||Royal New Zealand Air Force March Past|
|Anniversaries||1 April 1937|
|Commander-in-Chief||Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro|
|Chief of the Defence Force||Air Marshal Kevin Short|
|Chief of the Air Force||Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Clark|
|Deputy Chief of the Air Force||Air Commodore Ian Mower|
The Royal New Zealand Airforce (RNZAF; Māori: Te Tauaarangi o Aotearoa, "The Warriors of the Sky of New Zealand"; previously Te Hokowhitu o Kahurangi, "War Party of the Blue") is the aerial service branch 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.
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 RNZA has shrunk to a strength of around 48 aircraft in 2022, focusing on maritime patrol and transport duties in support of the Royal New Zealand Navy and the New Zealand Army. The RNZA's air combat capability ended in 2001, under the Fifth Labour Government with the disbanding of the A-4 Skyhawk and Aermacchi MB-339 equipped squadrons.
The Air Force is led by an Air Vice-Marshal who holds the appointment of Chief of Air Force. The RNZA motto is the same as that of the Royal Air Force, Per ardua ad astra, meaning "through adversity to the stars".
New Zealand's military aviation began in 1913 when the New Zealand Army was presented with two Blériot monoplanes by the United Kingdom. Both aircraft were however handed back after war broke out.
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.
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. 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.
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).
At the close of hostilities Great Britain offered an Imperial Gift to each of the Dominions of a hundred war-surplus combat aircraft. New Zealand was the last to respond and least enthusiastic. 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 commercial operators.
The importance of aviation in warfare 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. 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. 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 RNZAF Station Hobsonville (with flights at Hamilton and Napier), Wellington and Christchurch though without equipment. A fourth squadron planned for Dunedin had not been raised even by July 1939. 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. 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. The NZPAF was renamed the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1934 and became an independent service in 1937.
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 RNZAF crews were training on them in the UK in 1939; but with the outbreak of war in Europe increasingly likely, the New Zealand government offered the aircraft with their crews to the United Kingdom in August 1939. They became No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF within No 3 Group. 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. 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.
New Zealanders serving with the RAF
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). Three RNZAF pilots were awarded the Victoria Cross while serving with the RAF. 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.
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. 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 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. 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.
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. 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 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. 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. To administer units in the South Pacific, No. 1 (Islands) Group RNZAF was formed on 10 March 1943. 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.
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 the loss of combat capability.
Following the Second World War, No. 14 Squadron RNZAF was sent to Japan as part of the occupation J Force. 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, 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 to 1957 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. 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. 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, 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. 6 Squadron was disbanded while 5 Squadron received P-3B Orions in 1965.
A research flight helped develop Aerial Topdressing.
In 1957, the Territorial Air Force (TAF) was formally disbanded following a review of New Zealand's local defences.
The Malayan Emergency was declared by the British government on 18 June 1948 after several rubber plantation workers were killed in a revenge attack over the deaths of labour activists killed in police charges. This led to the creation of the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), a communist guerrilla organisation. 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. The C-47s were used to airdrop supplies to British and Malay forces fighting the MNLA, 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.
Although no RNZAF units were sent to Korea, a number of New Zealanders flew with other air forces in the conflict. Two men flew Gloster Meteor jets with No. 77 Squadron RAAF; one, Vance Drummond, was shot down and captured. A New Zealand Army artillery lieutenant was attached to a USAF tactical control unit as an observer in light aircraft. New Zealand born Alan Boxer, later a British air marshal, flew B-29 Superfortress missions on USAF attachment. One New Zealander flying in Korea as a lieutenant in the British Royal Navy from HMS Ocean, Cedric Macpherson, was killed on 11 February 1953 when his Hawker Sea Fury was shot down by ground fire. Five New Zealanders took part in Royal Australian Navy missions over Korea from the Australian carrier HMAS Sydney. Some of these pilots were former RNZAF members, others joining directly the British and Australian forces.
Far Eastern Strategic Reserve (FESR)
In 1955, the RNZAF established bases in Singapore and Malaysia. No. 41 Squadron moved to Changi, while No. 14 Squadron relocated to Tengah. These two squadrons represented New Zealand's air contributions to the newly-created Far East Strategic Reserve.
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. In 1955, the squadron was re-equipped with de Havilland Venoms and carried out 115 strike missions. The squadron was replaced in 1958 by No. 75 Squadron flying English Electric Canberras from their operational station in Tengah. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Main article: New Zealand in the Vietnam War
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. The first New Zealand combat troops were airlifted to South Vietnam by No. 40 Squadron in 1965. Aircraft made regular supply runs from Singapore to Saigon. 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 1966, 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 the USAF 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Da Nang Air Base, and USAF 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Bien Hoa Air Base 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 memorial to Watt 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.
ANZUK, and ANZUS Co-operation 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 Westland Wasp Helicopters hunted for Soviet and Chinese 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 Skyhawks 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. 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 Auxiliary Air Force into the Air Force in 1977, removing most restrictions on their employment and career opportunities, with the exception of some aircrew branches.
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 additionally participated in a number of ANZUS joint exercises in this period.
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. 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. The Skyhawk involved is preserved at the Museum of Transport & Technology in Auckland.
Fourth Labour Government, anti nuclear legislation and ANZUS split
Main article: New Zealand nuclear-free zone
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, 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. 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.
Main article: Project Kahu
By the 1980s, the Skyhawks were reaching the end of their effective use. A comprehensive upgrade to the Skyhawk began, along with the purchase of used A-4G Skyhawks from the Royal Australian Navy. The Skyhawk upgrade included 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. To complement these upgrades, 18 new Aermacchi MB-339 were introduced as an advanced jet trainer, replacing the British Aerospace Strikemaster.
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, particularly the Royal Australian Navy, 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. No. 2 Squadron continued to provide air defence training to the ADF until November 2001.
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, led 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. On 14 September 1995, the closing parade was held for the first RNZAF airfield, RNZAF Station Wigram in Christchurch. 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. 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. Despite the reduction in budget and manpower, international deployments by the Air Force were expanded. 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. 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. 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.
Air Combat Force Disbandment
See also: RNZAF Air Combat Force Disbandment
In 1999, the National Government selected an order of 28 F-16A/B 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. Subsequently, most of the RNZAF's fighter pilots left New Zealand to serve in the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Air Force. By 2003 the RNZAF was reduced to a total of 53 aircraft and 2,523 personnel (including civilian employees).
In 2005 the Ministry of Defence selected the 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 Bell 47 (Sioux) training helicopters. 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. The aircraft are utilized 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. 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. In October 2007 the government announced it had selected the Agusta A109 as the preferred replacement for the Sioux helicopters. 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 SH-2 Seasprite and the NH90 helicopter that will come into service in 2010."
In 2008 the Defence Minister expressed the desire to return to service all 17 Aermacchi trainers to supplement Army and Navy operations. Prime Minister John Key said at the time that it was extremely unlikely that any jet training would be restored in 2010.
Three servicemen of No. 3 Squadron RNZAF were killed, and a fourth seriously injured when their Iroquois NZ3806 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. The Iroquois crashed into steep terrain near Pukerua Bay, located in the hills above the Centennial Highway, about 40 km northeast of Wellington. 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. 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.
ANZAC services around the country made special mention of the accident. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 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.
In recent years the RNZAF has been involved in a number of domestic incidents, especially natural disasters that have hit the region.
Main article: List of New Zealand military bases
Main article: Structure of the Royal New Zealand Air Force
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 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 RNZAF is divided into three commands:
Responsible for command, training and generation of all flying training and all Air Force organisations, assigned to enable New Zealand's following capabilities:
RNZAF Base Auckland
RNZAF Base Ohakea
Provides advice and staff support to the Chief of Air Force, enabling them to command the RNZAF, and fulfil prescribed responsibilities to the Chief of Defence Force for the implementation of approved policy and plans. Air Staff comprises
RNZAF Base Woodbourne
Defence Logistics Command personnel are spread across the three air force bases. They provide a range of services needed to sustain aircraft on deployment. Defence Logistics Command is organised into the following areas:
|P-8 Poseidon||United States||ASW / patrol||P-8A||2 ||Total 4 ordered|
|Boeing 757||United States||transport||757-200||2|
|C-130 Hercules||United States||transport||C-130H||4||1 aircraft retired|
|C-130J Super Hercules||United States||transport||C-130J-30||5 on order|
|NHIndustries NH90||France||utility / transport||8||a 9th airframe is used for parts|
|SH-2G Super Seasprite||United States||ASW / patrol||SH-2G(I)||8|
|AgustaWestland AW109||Italy||light utility||5|
|T-6 Texan II||United States||trainer||T-6C||11|
|Beechcraft Super King Air||United States||multi engine trainer||350||4|
Main article: List of aircraft of the Royal New Zealand Air Force and Royal New Zealand Navy
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.
Main article: Black Falcons
The Black Falcons 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.
The Air Force Heritage Flight of New Zealand is a collaborative partnership between the RNZAF and a number of civil organisations created in 2022. Its purpose is to operate heritage aircraft that are relevant to the history and traditions of the air force. Replacing the RNZAF Historic Flight, the air force provides pilots to fly a number of aircraft for the purposes of conducting flypasts and displays around New Zealand.
|North American T-6 Harvard||United States||Trainer||T-6 Mk III||1 (NZ1076)|||
|de Havilland Tiger Moth||British Empire||Trainer||DH.82a||1 (NZ662)|||
|Supermarine Spitfire||British Empire||Fighter||LF Mk. IX E||1 (PV270)|||
|Grumman TBF Avenger||United States||Torpedo bomber||TBF-1C||1 (NZ2518)|||
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.
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.
In 2022 the RNZAF selected the Multicam uniform for all ground trades. The uniform was selected to replace the General Purpose Uniform (GPU) that had been in service since 2015.
GPU was deemed ineffective for a number of reasons, one that it was not suitable for overseas operations due to having no camouflage pattern, and secondly due to its heat retention in warmer climates.
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.
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.
|Air Warfare Officer
Air Warfare Specialist
|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|
|Air Bomber||B lettering|
|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|
Main article: New Zealand military ranks
|Rank group||General/flag officers||Senior officers||Junior officers||Officer cadet|
| Royal New Zealand Air Force
|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|
Requires addition of Air Chief Marshal although this is not used in New Zealand along with Marshal of the RNZAF
|Rank group||Senior NCOs||Junior NCOs||Enlisted|
| Royal New Zealand Air Force
|Warrant Officer||Flight Sergeant||Sergeant||Corporal||Leading Aircraftman||Aircraftman|
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. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. The key tasks which will be performed by the new aircraft will be:
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. 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. The first aircraft was delivered to the Air Force in December 2022 with the other three aircraft to follow in 2023. 
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.