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RNZAF A-4K Skyhawks Refuelling Air-To-Air

These 1960's aircraft could cover the distance from UK to eastern Siberia

The Royal New Zealand Air Force operated a force of over 20 McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks over a period of 31 years from 1970 through to 2001. During this period the aircraft of No. 75 Sqn would often need to travel significant distances due to various deployment requirements, and as such the unit sometimes employed a 'buddy store' system which would enable an A-4 equipped with a centre line fuel tank to refuel other A-4s air-to-air.

Former Royal New Zealand Air Force A-4K Skyhawk NZ6201 is now based at the Classic Flyers Museum in Tauranga, New Zealand. Other former RNZAf Skyhawks can be found in other museums in Australia and New Zealand.  Photo: © Historical Aviation Film Unit

In the late 1960's the Royal New Zealand Air Force was looking to upgrade its strike force which at the time consisted of de Havilland Vampire FB5 fighter-bomber jets. Air Force personnel were hopeful that the New Zealand Goverment would purchase a two-seat, twin engine aircraft that would provide good strike capabilities, with a good range to ensure that New Zealand's relative isolation did not impact the effectiveness of the force. The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom was one option that the Air Force favoured while other types such as the Blackburn Buccaneer were also considered.

In 1970, somewhat unexpectedly, the Government informed the Air Force that they would be purchasing McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk aircraft to replace the ageing de Havilland Vampire fleet. Given that the Skyhawk was a small delta wing, single seat and single engine aircraft this lead to considerable consternation within the Air Force, who were concerned that it was not a good fit for the force.

However, in typical 'Kiwi can-do' style the Air Force adopted the new aircraft, and then proceeded to operate them very successfully for over 30 years. Periodically during this period No 75 Squadron would be required to deploy to locations outside of New Zealand, and the Kiwi pilots became very adept at flying their aircraft over vast distances, often to the amazement of onlookers from other countries military forces.

Shot sometime around 1992, this inflight video of two RNZAF A-4K Skyhawks illustrates how the aircraft could be refueled in the air from their 'buddy store' via a hose and drogue. Former Wing Commander and Commanding Officer of 75 Sqn, John Lanham, describes how the squadron would often use in-flight refuelling to travel vast distances.

The hopes of the Royal New Zealand Air Force's strike wing was once again dashed in 2000. Initially the National (Party) Government under Prime Minister Jenny Shipley had indicated the Skyhawks would be replaced by 28 F-16 Falcons. However after the Labour Government was elected to power in 1998, Prime Minister Helen Clarke (controversially) announced that the Air Force's Strike Wing would be permanently disbanded, and this finally occured on 13 December 2001.

In 2011 eight former RNZAF A-4K and TA-4K Skyhawks were sold to Draken International in the USA. These aircraft are preserved in their RNZAF colour schemes and are used as an adversary squadron against USAF and US Navy fighter aircraft. Most of the other ex-RNZAF Skyhawks have been gifted to various aviation museums in New Zealand and Australia.

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