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Royal New Zealand Air Force

Page 4 – RNZAF timeline

Timeline showing key events related to the history of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), 1913-2012.


  • The Imperial Air Fleet Committee presents a Blériot XI monoplane – Britannia – to New Zealand as the nucleus of a new flying corps. The plane is flown briefly in New Zealand the following year – the pilot creates a controversy by taking a female passenger on a demonstration flight over Auckland. Placed in storage, the Britannia is shipped back to England to help the war effort.



  • Elementary pilot training begins in New Zealand at the Walsh brothers’ New Zealand Flying School at Kohimaramara, Auckland.


  • Henry Wigram’s Canterbury (NZ) Aviation Company begins training pilots at Sockburn, Christchurch. By war’s end 253 pilots have taken their ‘ticket’ at these schools, the majority with Canterbury Aviation Company during 1918.
  • New Zealander Captain Clive Collett is the first man to jump from a Royal Flying Corps aircraft and land safely by parachute.


  • Invercargill-born Captain Ronald Bannerman becomes the highest-scoring New Zealand pilot during the First World War. He is credited with destroying 15 enemy aircraft and a balloon.


  • Colonel Arthur Bettington – an RAF officer serving as aviation adviser to the New Zealand government – proposes the establishment of a permanent air force. No action is taken but a number of surplus military aircraft are sent to New Zealand from the United Kingdom as gifts.


  • An Air Board is established to administer aviation in New Zealand.


Wigram war memorial
  • The government establishes the New Zealand Permanent Air Force (NZPAF) with a strength of four officers and seven other ranks; its Territorial attachment – the New Zealand Air Force (NZAF) – has around 100 members.
  • The Canterbury Aviation Company’s assets are acquired for the NZPAF with the help of a £10,000 donation from Henry Wigram. The aerodrome – named after Wigram – is New Zealand’s first military aviation base.


  • Construction work begins on a second airbase at Hobsonville, west of Auckland.


Territorial Air Force
  • The NZPAF takes part in its first military operation – a De Havilland Moth seaplane (carried on HMS Dunedin) assists efforts to round up Mau nationalists in Western Samoa.
  • The volunteer NZAF is replaced by a Territorial Air Force (TAF) based around four squadrons, each attached to a major city – Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin.


  • The NZPAF is renamed the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).


  • Wing Commander Ralph Cochrane is seconded from the RAF to review New Zealand’s air defence requirements. He recommends that the RNZAF become a separate service and include two medium bomber squadrons for the defence of New Zealand’s territories.


Ohakea air base
  • The government passes the Air Force Act, establishing the RNZAF as an independent military service. An Air Department is created to oversee military and civilian aviation in New Zealand. Cochrane is appointed the first Chief of Air Staff.
  • Construction begins on new air bases at Whenuapai in Auckland and Ōhakea in Manawatu. A year later another station is added at Woodbourne, near Blenheim.


RNZAF personnel arrive in Canada, 1940
  • At the outbreak of war on 3 September the RNZAF comprises 91 officers and 665 airmen – with 79 officers and 325 airmen in the TAF. A total of 109 aircraft – mainly second-hand – are available for service in New Zealand.
  • The government accepts a British proposal to train New Zealand airmen for the RAF. As part of the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS), New Zealand agrees to provide the RAF with 880 fully-trained pilots a year and send another 1992 partially-trained airmen (520 pilots, 546 observers, and 926 air gunners) to Canada to complete their training.
  • New training schools are established at Whenuapai, New Plymouth, Ōhakea, Harewood (Christchurch), and Taieri (Dunedin). An initial training school is set up at Rongotai (Wellington) and later moves to Levin.


RNZAF pilots at Singapore, circa 1941
  • Concerned at the threat posed by German naval raiders and Japanese military expansion, the New Zealand government asks Britain to provide modern aircraft for local defence. The first of 36 Lockheed Hudson bombers begin arriving in New Zealand mid-year. In addition, four Sunderland flying boats are gifted to the RNZAF to help protect Fiji.
  • When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, the RNZAF have 641 aircraft available – mostly obsolete training aircraft.
  • No. 488 Squadron (RAF) and No. 1 Aerodrome Construction Squadron (RNZAF) take part in the Malayan campaign. New Plymouth-born Flight Sergeant B.S. Wipiti is credited with helping shoot down the first Japanese aircraft brought down over Singapore.
  • The RNZAF becomes the first of the three services to accept women, with the New Zealand Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) formed under Frances ‘Kitty’ Kain.


  • New Zealand pilots take part in the Burma campaign – most with the RAF’s No. 67 Squadron.
  • The Forces Available For Anti-Invasion (FAFAI) scheme sees all available aircraft armed and allotted to shadow defence squadrons.
  • Curtiss P40 Kittyhawk fighter planes begin arriving in New Zealand as part of a Lend-Lease arrangement with the United States. They form the basis of the first New Zealand-based fighter squadrons.
  • No. 3 Squadron (Hudsons) arrive at Guadalcanal and become the first RNZAF squadron to engage the Japanese in direct combat in the South Pacific.


Geoffrey Fisken
  • RNZAF No. 15 Squadron (Kittyhawks) deploys to Guadalcanal. It is relieved by No. 14 Squadron (Kittyhawks) six weeks later. The Commonwealth’s leading ace in the Pacific, Geoff Fisken, scores half his victories with the latter squadron, most while flying Wairarapa Wildcat. By the end of the year, a New Zealand Fighter Wing is established at Ondonga (New Georgia) and a Group HQ at Guadalcanal.
  • Air Vice-Marshal Leonard Isitt becomes the first New Zealand-born Chief of Air Staff. He oversees a build-up of RNZAF in the Solomon Islands.


RNZAF Corsairs over Guadalcanal, 1944
  • RNZAF operations in the South-west Pacific are concentrated on Bougainville, with strikes against Japanese forces on the island and at Rabaul. As US operations move north of the Solomon Islands, the RNZAF remains in the area to harass Japanese ground forces.
  • The RNZAF reaches a peak strength of 42,000 personnel and 1336 aircraft.


Christchurch air force memorial
  • On VJ Day (15 August) more than 7000 RNZAF personnel are stationed in the Solomon Islands. The last airmen are repatriated to New Zealand in early 1946.
  • A Dakota carrying 20 RNZAF personnel (four crew and sixteen others) disappears in heavy cloud enroute to New Zealand from Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. This accident remains the heaviest single loss in RNZAF history.
  • By the end of the war, 3635 RNZAF personnel have been killed on active service, 350 in the Pacific and 3285 in Europe – the majority with RAF Bomber Command.


  • The number of personnel serving in the RNZAF shrinks to 7154.
  • No. 14 Squadron RNZAF (Corsairs) deploy to Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force.
  • About 800 RNZAF airmen stage ‘sit-down’ strikes at Whenuapai, Hobsonville and Mechanics Bay in protest against changes in conditions of service and in support of a 40-hour week. After refusing to an ultimatum to return to work, 267 airmen are eventually discharged.


  • Aircraft and personnel from No. 40 Squadron RNZAF form the basis of a new domestic airline in New Zealand – National Airways Corporation.


  • Aircrews from No. 41 Squadron RNZAF take part in the Berlin airlift – flying more than 400 sorties (mostly carrying coal) to and from Berlin from north-west Germany in response to the Soviet Union’s land and water blockade of the city. More than 2.3 million tonnes of supplies is airlifted in by British and American aircraft by September 1949.
  • The RNZAF organise the first experiments in aerial top dressing using a modified Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber.


  • A detachment of Douglas Dakota transport aircraft from No. 41 Squadron is sent to support British forces in Hong Kong and takes part in supply operations during the Malayan Emergency.


Vampire jet at Ōhakea, 1951
  • No. 14 Squadron moves from Ōhakea to Cyprus as part of New Zealand’s Cold War military commitment in the Middle East. Equipped with Mark 9 Vampire jet fighters, the New Zealanders train with NATO forces and undertake mobility exercises to Africa and goodwill visits around the Middle East.


  • The RNZAF establishes bases in Singapore. No. 41 Squadron (Bristol Freighters) moves to Changi, while No. 14 Squadron (De Havilland Venom fighter-bombers) relocates to Tengah. These squadrons, along with No. 75 Squadron in 1958, take part in the RAF’s Malayan Emergency air campaign.


RNZAF Antarctic Flight


  • The Territorial Air Force (TAF) is disbanded following a review of New Zealand’s defence preparations.


  • Air Vice-Marshal Ian Morrison becomes CAS. He oversees a comprehensive re-equipment programme that sees the RNZAF acquire its first post-war American aircraft – P-3 Orions, C-130 Hercules, and Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters.


RNZAF Bristol Freighter in Vietnam
  • New Zealand commits combat forces to the Vietnam War. No. 40 Squadron (C-130 Hercules) airlifts troops into South Vietnam, while No. 41 Squadron (Bristol Freighters) begins regular resupply missions from Singapore.


  • RNZAF helicopter pilots serve in Vietnam with 9 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (Iroquois), while other pilots are attached to US squadrons as forward air controllers. In total, 30 New Zealand pilots serve in Vietnam between 1967 and 1971. The RNZAF suffers one fatality when a member of the New Zealand Services Medical Team is killed by a landmine.


RNZAF roundel
  • The RNZAF is equipped with Douglas A4 Skyhawk attack aircraft.
  • The distinctive RNZAF roundel with a red kiwi in the centre is introduced.


  • The ageing Vampire fighters are replaced by BAC Strikemaster jet trainers.


  • The Women’s Royal New Zealand Air Force (formerly WAAF) is integrated into the RNZAF, with most gender restrictions on employment and career opportunities removed.
  • Aircraft fleet changes continue with the RNZAF’s elderly Douglas Dakotas and Bristol Freighters replaced by Hawker Siddeley Andovers bought from the RAF.


Farewelling the Queen, 1986
  • Two Boeing 727 jet transports are purchased to support the RNZAF’s international transport commitments.


  • RNZAF personnel are deployed to Egypt as part of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) monitoring the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. The main New Zealand contribution is pilots for a joint Australia–New Zealand helicopter unit. Three servicewomen – Major Anne Bennett (NZ Army), Corporal Gail Chambers, and Corporal Joyce McGee (both RNZAF) – join the MFO in January 1985. They are the first New Zealand women to serve in a peacekeeping operation.


  • New Zealand’s security treaty with Australia and the United States (ANZUS) effectively ends when David Lange’s Labour government adopts a ‘nuclear free’ policy. This leads to the end of RNZAF participation in US and British-sponsored training exercises.


  • Two Hercules join the Allied coalition forces in the Persian Gulf region prior to the outbreak of the Gulf War.
  • No. 2 Squadron (Skyhawks) RNZAF moves to Nowra in New South Wales to provide training for the Royal Australian Navy and help convert RNZAF pilots to Skyhawks.


  • The Air Force Stores Depot at Te Rapa (Hamilton) is closed – the first RNZAF base closure following a government review of defence strategy in 1991.
  • Commercialisation of non-core activities in the RNZAF – including most of the functions of the Repair Depot at Woodbourne – begins. Personnel numbers fall by 700 to around 3500. Increasing numbers of jobs within the service are ‘civilianised’.


  • RNZAF bases at Wigram and Shelly Bay (Wellington) close.


  • The Labour-led government cancels a deal to replace the Skyhawk fleet with General Dynamics F16 Fighting Falcon fighters from the United States.


  • The government scraps the RNZAF’s combat wing, disbanding both Skyhawk squadrons (Nos 2 and 75) and the Aermacchi jet trainer squadron (No. 14).
  • RNZAF Hercules transport troops to Afghanistan in support of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom.


  • No. 40 Squadron transports New Zealand personnel into and out of Bamyan Province, Afghanistan, where they continue to run a Provincial Reconstruction Team.
  • No. 5 Squadron provides an Orion and 38 personnel to fly patrols over the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Strait of Hormuz, notifying coalition naval vessels of any suspicious ships in the region.
  • The RNZAF’s Boeing 727s are replaced with second-hand Boeing 757s purchased from Dutch airline KLM.


  • NHIndustries NH-90 helicopters are selected to replace the RNZAF’s fleet of Bell UH-1 Iroquois.


  • The government announces that RNZAF’s fleet of Bell 47 Sioux training helicopters will be replaced by AgustaWestland A-109s.


  • Several P-3 Orions are deployed to the Pacific after a tsunami (triggered by an 8.1-magnitude earthquake) causes substantial damage and loss of life in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. The following day, a C-130 Hercules carries mobile morgues, medical staff and supplies to the area. RNZAF aircraft help evacuate tourists and provide supply drops for several weeks after the disaster, while RNZAF personnel also provide assistance on the ground.


  • Three RNZAF personnel are killed when an Iroquois helicopter crashes in rugged terrain near Pukerua Bay on the Kāpiti Coast. The helicopter was en route to Wellington from Ōhakea airbase to take part in Anzac Day commemorations.
  • A RNZAF Hercules transports search and rescue teams from Auckland to Christchurch following a 7.1-magnitude earthquake near the city. Two Iroquois helicopters provide aerial reconnaissance and damage assessments.


RNZAF flight after Christchurch earthquake
  • The RNZAF sends three Hercules, two Boeing 757s, an Orion, three Beechcraft Super King Airs, and three Iroquois helicopters to Christchurch following a devastating earthquake that severely damages the city and kills 185 people. The aircraft help deploy police and medical personnel, with the Hercules ferrying casualties and tourists to the North Island in the largest single movement of personnel and freight in RNZAF history.
  • The RNZAF’s new A-109 helicopters fly in public for the first time.


  • The first of the NH-90 helicopters are delivered to the RNZAF.      

How to cite this page

RNZAF timeline, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated