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Royal New Zealand Air Force

The Royal New Zealand Air Force or RNZAF is the air operations arm of the New Zealand Defence Force.

Table of contents
1 History of the RNZAF
2 The Current RNZAF
3 External Link

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 renamed the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1934, and became an independent service in 1937.

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.

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.

The Current RNZAF

In 2001 the Labour Government, citing a benign security environment, cancelled the purchase of F-16 fighters, and disbanded the existing Skyhawk and Aermacchi 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

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.

External Link