Representing some truly unique Kiwi history, is a DC-3 that is the only surviving RNZAF World War II veteran aircraft still operating today in a front-line service.
ZK-AWP was built in 1945 at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA. The Oklahoma City factory was constructed to cope with wartime production in 1941, immediately post Pearl Harbour.
With a wing span of 29m, length of 20m and height of almost 4.5m and powered by two Pratt and Whitney R-1830-92 engines with 1250 bhp each, it was ideally suited to military service. DC-3s operated comfortably into unpaved fields of 1000 metres or sometimes less, carrying a standard load of three tons and featuring a range of 1200 nautical miles.
With its delivery crew ZK-AWP left its „birthplace” at Oklahoma City, USA in April 1945 – on the day the Red Army overran the German High Command in Berlin – and flew to Hamilton, New Zealand. From May that year it became RNZAF Dakota NZ3543 and was assigned to 41 Squadron RNZAF until 1952.
The aircraft’s time in the military was interesting and varied. In Asia it was used for supply drops and immediately post-war for ferrying servicemen home to New Zealand.
In 1952 it was handed over as NZ3543 at Whenuapai to New Zealand National Airways Corporation. It entered service on the 2nd of April 1953, clocking up 10 hours and 20 minutes on the first day.
The aircraft continued in passenger flights for some years after being sold to service Samoa and is still remembered with some fondness in the Pacific. ZK-AWP caused some excitement when it transited through Nadi, Fiji in December last year, some forty years later.
Sold to Southern Air Super Ltd in 1973, the machine was converted into a top-dresser.
In this role, considered by many to be its definitive role in New Zealand, it completed 6722 hours of strenuous flying. At the end of its ag-flying days in the mid 1980’s, it was converted to a freighter for Classic Air Services and then latterly, Fieldair Freight.
The year 2000 saw AWP placed on the international market after some 46,000 flying hours. It joined the team at Pionair Adventures Ltd on charter work and spent many happy hours flying tours around NZ and Australia. In June 2002 while attempting to take off in deep snow at Mt Cook (Glentanner Station) the aircraft skidded off the runway and was substantially damaged. The incident was filmed by a TVNZ film crew present on the day and made headline news that night! It was repaired by Fieldair staff on site to enable a ferry flight to Palmerston North where it was repaired and renamed „Lucille”.
On the 2nd June 2004, at the request of the Crown Prince of Tonga, it left Christchurch equipped with long range fuel tanks and only 7.5 hours later landed at Fua’amotou, Kingdom of Tonga, to work with the Shore Line Group „Peau Vava’u”, in partnership with Pionair, along with its sister-ship ZK-AMY.
In 2006 a violent riot broke out in the Tongan capital of Nuku’Alofa and widespread areas of the Tongan Capital were destroyed by fire and looters, including AWP’s operators, Peau Vava’u’s head office. Due to fears that AWP would be destroyed by the angry mob, it was locked away in its hangar and stayed safely thus for the next three years gathering dust and cobwebs.
The aircraft and hangar were purchased later by Craig Emeny from Air Chathams in New Zealand and major work was undertaken to return the machine to airworthiness.
In 2010 AWP began flying scheduled passenger services again for the wholly owned Air Chathams subsidiary, Chathams Pacific. In this role, the aircraft served the Tongan people reliably and safely until Chathams Pacific voluntarily concluded operations in March 2013. It covered scheduled routes to the island groups of Ha’apai, Vava’u and the Niuas, flying a programme exceeding 100hr a month in the busy season.
The aircraft was then flown „home” to New Zealand in December 2013 via Fiji, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island, arriving at Auckland some 20.1 flying hours later.
Now 69 years later, it remains in commercial service and represents a very important part of Kiwi history. It remains today the last flying piston engined example of the RNZAF C-47 fleet, the last flying example of the NAC DC-3 fleet and the last flying example of the Fieldair fleet.
ZK-AWP will be available for rides at the Airshow, details to go onto www.warbirdsoverwanaka.com shortly.
Source / Author: Warbirds Over Wanaka
Photo: Warbirds Over Wanaka