Royal New Zealand Air Force

From Academic Kids

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The Royal New Zealand Air Force or RNZAF is the air operations arm of the New Zealand Defence Force. Motto: Per ardua ad astra "Through hardship to the stars"


History of the RNZAF

New Zealand's military aviation began in 1913 when the New Zealand Army was presented with a Bleriot monoplane by the United Kingdom. In the Great War, New Zealand aircrew (many of them trained at government flying schools near Auckland and Christchurch) flew as part of the British Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service. In 1923 the New Zealand Permanent Air Force was formed: a part of the Army staffed by 72 pilots with Great War experience. It was equipped initially with Avro 504K, De Havilland DH9s and Bristol Fighters, later aquiring Airspeed Oxford, Avro 626, De Havilland Gipsy Moth,Fairey IIIF, Fairey Gordon, Gloster Grebe, Vickers Vildebeest, Blackburn Baffin and small numbers of other types. It was renamed the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1934, and became an independent service in 1937.

World War II in Europe

On the outbreak of World War II, the primary equipment of the RNZAF was 30 Vickers Wellington bombers, which the New Zealand government promptly offered to the United Kingdom, together with the crews to fly them. Many other New Zealanders served in the RAF. The primary role of the RNZAF, however, 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 Moth]], Airspeed Oxford and North American Harvard were manufactured or assembled locally, and second hand biplanes acquired such as [Hawker Hind]] and Vickers Vincents, as well as other types for specialised training such as Avro Anson and Supermarine Walrus.

New Zealand Squadrons of the RAF

The majority of New Zealand aircew served with ordinary units of the RAF, or Fleet Air Arm. Amongst the New Zealanders in the RNZAF were pilots such as the first allied ace, Flying Officer Edgar James ('Cobber') Kain and leaders such as World War I ace, Air Cheif Marshall Sir Keith Park, who commanded 11 Group in the Battle of Britian, the air defence of Malta and in the closing stages of the war, the RAF in South East Asia. Through accident or design, several of these units came to be mostly manned by RNZAF pilots(for example 243 squadron in Singapore, 258 Squadron in the UK and several Wildcat and Hellcat units of the FAA - leading several texts to claim these types of aircraft were used by the RNZAF).

Some squadrons within the Royal Air Force were deliberately set aside for pilots from a particular country. The first of these was 75 Squadron, formed by the Wellingtons and pilots leant by New Zealand in August 1939, and later Short Stirlings, Avro Lancasters and Avro Lincolns. Later New Zealand squadrons were 485, Supermarine Spitfires 486, Hawker Hurricanes, Hawker Typhoons and Hawker Tempests, 487, Lockheed Venturas and De Havilland Mosquitoes 488, Brewster Buffaloes, Hawker Hurricanes, Bristol Beaufighters and De Havilland Mosquitoes 489, Handley Page Hampdens, Bristol Beauforts and Bristol Beaufighters, and 490, Consolidated Catalinas and Short Sunderlands.

The RNZAF in the Pacific

In December 1941 Japan attacked and rapidly conquered much of the area to the north of New Zealand, and it became imperative that New Zealand start building up its own defence rather than simply help the "mother country". Very few combat capable aircraft were available at home, and Britain was unable to help, so (just as Australia did at the same time) 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.

The early lend-lease aircraft were obsolete and incapable of holding their own against the highly skilled and well-equipped Japanese air forces, but nothing else was available and the RNZAF flew with the tools they had to hand, notably at Guadalcanal where No 15 and 14 Sqns equipped with Kittyhawks fought with distinction in mid 1943. Other squadrons flew the elderly but effective Douglas Dauntless and later, the big, modern Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber.

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

As the war progressed, the older types were replaced with powerful modern aircraft: the Kittyhawks gave way to Corsairs and the Hudsons to Venturas. At its peak, in the Pacific the RNZAF had 13 squadrons of Corsair fighters, six of Venturas, two each of Catalinas and Avengers, 25 Sqn's Dauntless dive bombers, and supporting transport aircraft. Worldwide the RNZAF had over 41,000 personnel.

Postwar RNZAF

Following the war (WWII) 14 squadron was sent to Japan as part of teh 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 rejuvenated 14 and 75 squadrons. 42 Squadron, as an operation if not always in name - was maintained as the internal communications/transport squadron and it still operates to this day. The first Gloster Meteor arrived in 1945, introducing the jet age. Equiped from 1946 with De Havilland Mosquito and later De Havilland Vampire, De Havilland Venom,English Electric Canberra, BAC Strikemasters, the RNZAF saw action in Malaya. De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, De Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter and Auster types helped explore Antarctica. Transport aircraft such as the Bristol Freighter, De Havilland Devon, Handley Page Hastings,Douglas DC-6, C-130 Hercules, Hawker Siddeley Andover, Boeing 727 and Boeing 757 operated by 40 and 42 Squadrons flew in support of New Zealand troops in Veitnam, Afghanistan, the Gulf Wars, as well as several UN missions. Bell 47 introduced the helicopter to the RNZAF, and the Bell UH-1 Iroquois of 3 Squadron have been sent to the Sinai and East Timor, while Royal New Zealand Navy Westland Wasp and Kaman SH-2 Seasprite helicopters were nominally in the squadron.

The Current RNZAF

In 2001 the Labour Government, citing a benign security environment, cancelled the purchase of 28 F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters, and disbanded the existing A-4 Skyhawk and Aermacchi MB-339 squadrons. One of the units disbanded included the famous No. 75 Squadron, an ex New Zealand squadron unit in the Royal Air Force that transferred to the RNZAF due to that unit's meritorious service during World War II and last flew A-4 Skyhawk fighter bombers. The other disbanded squadrons were No. 2 Squadron flying A-4 Skyhawks and No. 14 Squadron flying Aermacchi MB-339CB aircraft.

By 2003, the RNZAF was reduced to a total of 50 aircraft and 2,523 personnel (including civilian employees). The RNZAF no longer has any strike capability. Current duties include maritime patrol, search and rescue, and transport.

RNZAF Flying Squadrons and units

Former RNZAF Squadrons

Former New Zealand Squadrons of the Royal Air Force


RNZAF Aircraft

For historical aircraft see List of aircraft of the RNZAF and RNZN.

Maritime Patrol / Search and Rescue Aircraft

Transport Aircraft

Training Aircraft

On Order

See also

External Link

  • RNZAF (

Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

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