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The Post War Years


Throughout the 1946–1949 period, the Air Force struggled to adjust to the new era of peace. The initial priority was to return the personnel and RNZAF equipment deployed overseas to New Zealand, which was finally achieved in early 1946. Demobilisation meant the RNZAF had shrunk to 7,154 personnel in less than a year, by March 1946.

With almost few personnel resources, our Air Force had to maintain No.14 Squadron (Corsairs) in Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, and also decide on the future direction for the Air Force.

In accordance with Government policy (and economic practicalities) a move back to British aircraft began in 1946 with the delivery of second-hand Mosquitoes. Most of the wartime American aircraft were placed in storage to be scrapped, in accordance with Lend-lease agreements.

In New Zealand, the RNZAF was called to assist with internal and external commercial airline operations. Using Dakotas and Lodestars of No.40 Squadron, these operations were absorbed by the New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NZNAC) in 1947, which was formed mainly with personnel and aircraft of No.40 Squadron RNZAF.

The Cold War and ANZAM

The Cold War,  the struggle between the Communist bloc, led by the USSR, and the West, led by the United States, dominated international relations from 1948 until 1990. The Cold War included several conflicts, and influenced others such as the Arab-Israeli struggle, while the rivalry between the East and West flowed over to economic, diplomatic, sporting and cultural areas as well.   

The Cold War first became apparent in 1948 when the USSR imposed a land blockade on the Western-controlled sectors of Berlin. Several RNZAF aircrews were seconded to the RAF to assist with the Berlin Airlift during 1948– 49.

Of note other New Zealanders sent to the UK under the wartime arrangements, elected to stay on in the RAF for their post-war careers.

New Zealand's Defence Policy of the early 1950s was tied to the protection of the UK and Commonwealth interests, and the shared strategic focus was the Middle East. The introduction of Compulsory Military Training in 1949—which included provision for service in the RNZAF—led to the recreation in NZ of the Territorial Air Force.

The new policy included a Commonwealth defence agreement covering the Malayan region—Australia, New Zealand and Malaya (ANZAM). Under these policies, the RNZAF provided a Dakota detachment to Malaya in 1949 and, in 1952, No.14 Squadron deployed from Ohakea to Cyprus, where it was equipped with leased Vampire jet fighters.

In New Zealand the four Territorial squadrons, Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago, were equipped with the 30 Mustangs re-activated from storage, along with a few Tiger Moths and Harvards for each squadron. From 1952-57 No.6 Flying Boat Squadron operated as a Territorial Unit at Hobsonville, flying Catalinas and later Sunderlands.


The start of a Communist terrorist campaign in the (then) British colony of Malaya, and the success of Mao TseTung’s Communist Party in China during 1949, was followed by the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950,

The new war led to a wide-ranging re-equipment programme for the RNZAF with new aircraft including: Vampire jet fighters, Hastings and Bristol Freighter transports, Sunderland flying boats and Devon trainers.

Antarctic Support

To provide support to the British-led Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the RNZAF formed its Antarctic Flight in 1956. The Flight took a DH Beaver and Auster to Antarctica in the summer of 1956/57 to support the New Zealand contribution to the expedition. These annual summer operations continued until 1960.

Later, in 1965, our Air Force recommenced its association with the Antarctic when a C-130 Hercules of No.40 Sqn made the first of what were to become annual flights to the continent during the summer months from November - February each year.

Commonwealth Strategic Reserve 1955-71

In 1955, a new Commonwealth agreement looked to the ‘Far East’—to use the British term—as the forward line of defence. The resulting shift in NZ’s defence policy saw No.14 Squadron move from Cyprus to Tengah in Singapore as part of the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve and re-equip with leased Venom fighter bombers. No.41 Squadron with Freighters established itself at Changi (Singapore) the same year.

During this period and until 1966, post-war maritime operations for the RNZAF were based at Fiji. First with Catalinas, then Sunderlands, No.5 Squadron provided surveillance and reconnaissance of a wide span of the South Pacific Ocean. Participation in allied maritime exercises from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore and down to New Zealand, plus medical evacuation and community assistance tasks around the South Pacific were the squadron's forte.

Continually faced with a shortage of air and ground crews, the TAF was finally disbanded in 1957—after Compulsory Military Training had been replaced by a ballot system involving smaller numbers for service in the Army only.

No.14 Sqn was replaced at Tengah by No.75 Sqn, flying leased Canberra bombers, in 1958. The RNZAF squadrons in Singapore took part in Operation FIREDOG, the RAF's air campaign against communist terrorists in Malaya (1948 - 1960).

During 1959 the RNZAF took delivery of its own Canberra B(I)12 bombers which equipped No.14 Sqn, based at Ohakea. No 75 Sqn relinquished its older Canberras and returned to NZ in 1961.

A major review of Defence Policy in 1961 re-oriented New Zealand's Defence efforts to the South Pacific, and to support for the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve forces in South East Asia, as well as meeting commitments to the allied treaties of ANZUS and SEATO. That year three Douglas DC-6B airliners (from the New Zealand airline TEAL—the predecessor of Air New Zealand) joined No.40 Sqn for long haul transport duties.

From 1962 No.14 Sqn began a regular pattern of deployments to Singapore and Malaya for exercises and to integrate with the Commonwealth and allied air forces in the region. 

A new fleet 1965-70

In 1962 the CAS, Air Vice-Marshal Ian Morrison, successfully lobbied for the replacement of obsolete operational aircraft. The new purchases saw a major shift away from British aircraft to American aircraft to be more compatible with our friends and allies in the region. Hercules and Orions were ordered, along with the Air Force’s first helicopters—Iroquois and Sioux.

The new fleet began arriving during 1965. The arrival of the Orions meant the Sunderland base at Lauthala Bay, Fiji, was closed and maritime operations moved to Whenuapai.

In 1964, No.14 Squadron, flying its New Zealand-owned Canberra B(I)12s, was on a regular exercise to Singapore, when it was directed to remain in-theatre as part of the British Commonwealth build-up of forces to counter the Indonesian ‘confrontation’ against the newly independent state of Malaysia (comprising the former British colonies including those of Borneo—today East Malaysia). Confrontation largely took place in the Borneo territories, but conflict also occurred in West Malaysia and Singapore. New Zealand’s Canberra squadron finally returned to New Zealand in November 1966.


The New Zealand Government committed forces to the Vietnam War in 1965. No.40 Squadron Hercules airlifted NZ troops to South Vietnam, and No.41 Squadron Freighters began regular re-supply missions from Singapore. In 1967 the first RNZAF helicopter pilots commenced duties with No.9 RAAF Squadron in Vietnam. Other pilots served with US Air Force squadrons as Forward Air Controllers, bringing a total of thirty pilots who served in Vietnam between 1967 and 1971.

In 1970 the Air Force took delivery of the Skyhawk attack aircraft. The ageing Vampires of No.75 Sqn were replaced by Strikemaster jet trainers in 1972, while Iroquois helicopters joined No.41 Squadron at Singapore. To provide a medium range transport squadron in New Zealand, No.1 Squadron was reactivated at Whenuapai and equipped with Freighters.

Throughout the 1970s more aircraft changes continued with wartime Harvard trainers replaced by New Zealand-built CT-4 Airtrainers; Freighters, Dakotas and communications Devons were replaced by second-hand Hawker-Siddley Andovers from the RAF (1977). In 1980, the training Devons were replaced with second-hand ex-Air New Zealand Fokker Friendships.

Women in the Air Force

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. Those restrictions were lifted in 1987.

In 1981 two Boeing 727 jet transports were purchased, to replace the DC-6s and support the growing worldwide transport commitments of the Air Force.


The Labour Government's decision in 1984 for NZ to become a nuclear-free zone saw the RNZAF excluded from participation in US and British-sponsored exercises, and a cooling of Defence relations with several other friends and allies. 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 we had traditionally worked with.


During the late 1980s the Government increased the New Zealand Defence Force participation in peacekeeping duties, and by the end of the decade the RNZAF had been represented in: 

  • the Multi-national Force and Observers (MFO) Sinai, Egypt, operating leased helicopters 1982 - 1986 and, with
  • an Andover Detachment in Iran 1988–1990 United Nations International Military Observer Group (UNIMOG).

In the mid-1980s our P-3B Orions were upgraded, a sixth Orion purchased (from the RAAF) and 10 second-hand Skyhawks purchased from the RAN (1984). No.2 Squadron was reactivated at Ohakea and equipped with these Skyhawks. A major upgrade of the Skyhawk avionics systems, Project Kahu, began in 1988.

No.1 Squadron was disbanded and its Andovers taken over by No.42 Squadron which had relocated to Whenuapai.

In 1987 the Air Force celebrated its 50th Anniversary, and the Air Force Museum was opened at Wigram, to permanently record and display the progress of the RNZAF. The last permanent presence in Singapore No.141 Flight (Iroquois) came home in 1989. A comprehensive review of Defence commenced in 1988 was to have a major impact on the Service in the 1990s

Air Force Restructured

The 1990s saw dramatic changes to the RNZAF. Faced with New Zealand Government policies to reduce public spending and a further review of Defence Strategy in 1991, the Air Force underwent radical surgery.

The Air Force Stores Depot at Te Rapa was closed in 1992, Flying Training moved from Wigram to Ohakea in 1993 and bases at Wigram and Shelly Bay were closed in 1995. In the drive for better efficiencies, commercialisation of non-core activities commenced in 1992 and continues today.

During the early 1990s, the personnel strength of the Service fell from 4200, a level which had been maintained from the 1950s to a new standard of around 3500. An increasing number of jobs within the Air Force were ‘civilianised’.

In 1991 No.2 Squadron (Skyhawks) moved to Nowra NSW, Australia where it provided training for the RAN and conversion of RNZAF Skyhawk pilots. Budget pressures continued and re-shaping and further contractions of the Air Force, in the search for better efficiencies, continued during 1997 and 1998.

By 1999 the RNZAF was established at its three New Zealand bases—Auckland, Ohakea and Woodbourne—with the Air Staff at Wellington, and No.2 Squadron at Nowra (Australia). The manpower strength of the RNZAF, including uniformed and civilian personnel remained around 3,500. RNZAF Base Auckland switched to commercial catering in July 1999, the last base to move to commercial contractors for this function.

In July 2001 elements of the RNZAF's Air Command were integrated into the new NZDF Joint Force Headquarters (HQ JFNZ) located at Trentham, next to the long-established Army Camp, near Wellington.

Peacekeeping deployments

External operations by the Air Force expanded during the 1990s. The end of the Cold War came, when the USSR fragmented and Russia adopted democracy.  The 1991 Gulf War (to liberate Kuwait from Iraq) demonstrated the immense capability of allied air power, which had been honed during the Cold War. Cooperation between Russia and the West allowed the United Nations to regain its effectiveness and as a result many more peacekeeping operations were authorised.

In 1990/91 the RNZAF deployed two Hercules and personnel to the Gulf War where they operated as part of a composite RAF Hercules squadron.

In 1993, an Andover detachment of three aircraft and personnel from No.42 Squadron spent five months in Somalia, as New Zealand's contribution to the Unified Task Force intended to bring humanitarian relief to Somalia.  Other 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 during 1994–1996.


The New Zealand Government agreed in November 1997 to provide a Truce Monitoring Group (TMG) to the war-torn island of Bougainville. To meet this task a New Zealand Defence Force contingent of Navy, Army and Air Force elements was raised and dispatched to Bougainville.

The RNZAF contribution to Operation Belisi required crews of No.40 Squadron to provide a daily Hercules flight from NZ to Bougainville for the setting-up phase (23 flights using three aircraft and crews), along with the  preparation and airlift of three Iroquois helicopters and crews with support personnel to Bougainville.

The Helicopter Force Element, formed by the three Iroquois and personnel of the No.3 Squadron detachment, served in Bougainville from December 1997–April 1998. The Iroquois were painted in a highly visible 'Orange Roughie Red' colour scheme prior to moving to Bougainville.

From January 1998, detachment personnel and some of the Iroquois were rotated. In February 1998 the force was reduced to 35 personnel. Following the signing of the peace agreement in Bougainville late April 1998, the TMG was withdrawn. The three Iroquois and personnel arrived back in New Zealand 1-2 May 1998. Seven RNZAF personnel remained within the NZDF contingent in Bougainville to assist the Australian lead Peacekeeping Monitoring Group (PMG) which replaced the TMG. The PMG was finally withdrawn in 2003 and today Bougainville is an autonomous province within PNG.

East Timor

In 1999 pressures for independence within the former Portuguese colony of East Timor (forcibly occupied by Indonesia in 1975) came to a head; after the UN-monitored independence referendum violence broke out. That September, two Hercules of No.40 Squadron joined RAAF Hercules flying between Darwin and Dili (East Timor) evacuating UNAMET and Timorese from the violence that broke out.

This crisis led to the UN authorising an Australian-led intervention (INTERFET) which took over East Timor from Indonesian control, until elections could be held. No 40 Sqn Hercules played a full part, alongside the RAAF, in the INTERFET air bridge which brought the international force into East Timor.

In late September 1999 a detachment of six Iroquois and 140 RNZAF personnel were committed to Dili in East Timor, as a further contribution to the multi-national military force.  Our Iroquois began operations on 1 October 1999. In mid-December the Iroquois detachment moved from Dili to Suai on the western coat of East Timor to directly support the NZ Battalion deployed there. 

No.40 Squadron Hercules and Boeings continued to provide regular re-supply flights to and from East Timor where the NZ contingent became part of the United Nations Force (UNTAET). Some 46 RNZAF personnel were in-theatre with five Iroquois helicopters of No.3 Squadron based at Suai on the South coast of East Timor.

The NZDF remains committed to Timor-Leste today and RNZAF personnel continue to serve there.

Aircraft Upgrades and the end of the Air Combat Force
During 1999, the RNZAF looked forward to the introduction of the F-16 supersonic jet fighter to replace the Skyhawks. But the deal was hotly debated in Parliament and late that year a new government was elected.

Upgrade programmes for the Orion continued, Projects Kestrel (improving the structure and wings of the aircraft) and Sirius (improving avionics) for the P-3 Orion made progress. No.5 Squadron Orions of the Maritime Patrol Force will be given a limited sensor and processing upgrade. They continued with regular surveillance patrols; exercising, both in New Zealand and internationally; and providing oceanic search and rescue cover.

Thirteen leased CT4E Airtrainers were delivered in mid-1999; the CT-4E is a more powerful version of the NZ-built Pacific Aerospace Airtrainer. By leasing, the RNZAF reduced its burden of capital costs and depreciation.

Despite the ANZUS rift still affecting defence relations with the US, elements of the RNZAF participated in several international exercises and competitions during this period.

On 20 March 2000 the Prime Minister announced that the government would not proceed with the F-16 acquisition. In June 2000 a government review of the future of the Air Combat Force began. On 8 May 2001 the Government announced that as a result of the review of capabilities and the Defence funding strategies, the Air Combat Force would be disbanded.

Operational activities of Air Combat Force Skyhawks of No.75 Squadron continued in a limited operational capability until November 2001, after they had deployed for Five Power Defence Arrangement exercises. No.2 Squadron Skyhawks, based at Nowra in New South Wales (Australia) also continued to provide air defence training to the Australian Defence Force until November 2001.

The Air Combat Force comprising, Nos 2, 14, and 75 Squadrons was officially disbanded on 13 December 2001. As a result of these changes, a number of RNZAF personnel were discharged from service, reducing the Air Force personnel strength.