>Nicely gift-wrapped too….


There are distinct similarities between trying to dispose of a 5 year old Sony 32″ flat-screen TV and some 40+ year old Douglas A4 Skyhawk ground attack aircraft.

Ours cost €1500, it’s now worth sod-all and threepence and you can get a brand spanking new one with a screen the size of a barn door for about €600 at the moment.

I have no idea how much the Skyhawks cost the New Zealand government back in 1970, but I know the story behind it all.

I know, because I was there.

In 1967, the RNZAF was trying (and heroically failing) to turn me into a navigator. Failing primarily due to my utter lack of navigation skills and the fact that they had too few aircraft to risk me with one.

The fact is that New Zealand’s surrounded by a shitload of water and water tends not to feature railway lines or roads or power lines that you can follow home when you’re lost.

But having signed the Official Secrets Act, we were privy to strategic planning stuff so that we (well, not ME, but the others..) knew which aircraft we’d be flying.

We were going to buy some new aircraft.

At the time, fighters were De Havilland Vampires (first flight: 1943….) and strike aircraft were English Electric Canberras (first flight: 1949…)

Which wasn’t a real problem, because New Zealand had no real enemies and they got to play the usual war games with Australia and the US and provide support for the Royal Air Force in the Suez conflict and the Malayan Emergency.

Things got a bit tricky, though, when Air New Zealand introduced its first jet aircraft in 1965.

Because a DC8 was faster at cruise than a Vampire or Canberra was at full tack.

Embarrassing, to say the least.

So Treasury looked at the hardware budget and told the airforce how much they could spend.

It wasn’t much.

The staff officer from Wellington who came down to Wigram said something like “Well, we can afford half an F-111 or 2 and a bit Phantoms. The Americans have got a REALLY good deal on Skyhawks, though, so we’re going to buy 14 of them. Not new, of course, but in really good nick. AND they’ve got arrestor hooks”

Everyone looks blank, knowing full well that New Zealand doesn’t have an aircraft carrier.

“Not that we can actually USE them” he continued ” but maybe the Aussies and Yanks will let us land on theirs, so we’re going to paint a carrier deck on the runway at Ohakea and practice there”

Honestly. I’m not making this up.

So the 14 Skyhawks turned up in 1970 and 75 Squadron proceeded to do what fast jet squadrons do, which is to train like crazy and take part in ANZUS exercises. (In which they regularly showed the Aussies and Yanks what hitting targets is all about)

And then in 1984, the new Labour government declared New Zealand off-limits for anything nucular (thus pronounced so that the Americans knew what they were talking about)

To which the Yanks said “Well, you can’t play with us anymore, then”

So 75 Squadron proceeded to do what fast jet squadrons do, which is to train like crazy.

It only took another 17 years for another Labour government to say what everyone had known all along:

“We don’t need a strike capability, because there’s no-one to local to strike and the people who actually DO need striking are too far away”

Exit all fast jet pilots to the RAAF and RAF.

What to do with the Skyhawks?

“We’ll sell them”

“No you won’t” said the Yanks “Not with all that good avionic stuff in them, anyway”

And so they just sat there for 10 years, with various wide boys popping up out of the woodwork with tiresome frequency and presenting rubber cheques for a bunch of aircraft that date back to a design as old as I am.

So if you’re looking for a birthday present or a belated Christmas present for someone who could use something like that, just write to the NZ Gummint.

I’m sure they’ll be pleased to hear from you.

Gift-wrapping free of charge

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