When Māori gave the name Ōhakea to the place of the birds, they wouldn’t have had big silver birds in mind, but that was certainly the thinking of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) when its Ōhakea base, west of Palmerston North, first opened in September 1939 as one of two operational centres for New Zealand’s new bomber aircraft.

The former RNZAF training workhorse – the Harvard

Eighty years on from 1937, the year that the RNZAF became an independent force, RNZAF Base Ōhakea was the host of the 2017 Air Tattoo held over three days at the end of February to mark the special anniversary.

“What you see here is our everyday job,” Base Commander Nick Olney told me of the Tattoo.

“The New Zealand public doesn’t often get to see what the Air Force does – who we are and the way we do what we do. We’re ordinary New Zealanders doing a job, and a high profile public event like this, lets us demonstrate the things we do in everyday operations all around the world.

T6C Texan 11 used in the Black Arrow formation flights

“We’ve got a P-3K2 Orion in the Middle East for example, we’re involved in Afghanistan, the Pacific, Antarctica, and after the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 we moved 1000 people in and out during the first 24 hours in the largest single movement of personnel and freight in RNZAF history.

“We do maritime surveillance, search and rescue, we helped with the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH-370, assisted after Fiji’s cyclone Winstone, and of course responded to last year’s Kaikoura earthquake, delivering essential supplies and evacuating tourists.”


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