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Three Decades of Lockheed Hercules operations with No. 40 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force
by Paul Harrison
Note: This article originally appeared as a RNZAF News Special in July 1994, I have ommitted the photographs that accompanied the magazine special when I edited the article for online viewing(mainly because they did not scan well from the magazine paper). Some pictures of the RNZAF Herks can viewed in the foreign section of the Image Archive if you like. Due to length, this article is separated into 4 sections, one for each decade discussed.
|From the Beginning- The 1960s|
|Into a New Decade- No. 40 in the '70s|
|Tales of VIPs and SARs- the 1980s|
|Into Turbulence- The Rocky 1990s|
From the beginning: the 1960s
"There is no doubt that the C-130E is the right aircraft for the job. It will perform effectively, efficiently and economically, in both strategic and tactical roles."
These were the words of Air Vice Marshal Ian Morrison, Chief of Air Staff, RNZAF in August 1962. Now, 32 years later we can reflect on the accuracy of those words. In this special RNZAF News feature, we look back over the history of this fascinating aircraft and highlight its diverse range of tasks.
In the beginning
When the RNZAF entered the 1960s, its heavy transport fleet consisted of three Handley Page Hastings CMkIIIs (NZ5801-5803). These aircraft were required to cover the globe to meet RNZAF and New Zealand Government requirements. Delivered during 1952 and 1953, the Hastings were World War Two technology, and were at the end of their economical life. Furthermore, as "taildraggers" with only side doors for loading, they were not suitable for the vast range of cargoes moved by the RNZAF.
The search for a replacement heavy transport aircraft commenced as a result of the 1961 "Defence White Paper", which directed replacement of the existing transport fleet. As an interim measure, three DC-6 aircraft (NZ3661-3663) were purchased from Tasman Empire Airlines Limited (TEAL) to augment the Hastings.
Air Staff in Defence Headquarters, Wellington, commenced research into the selection of a suitable aircraft to replace the Hastings and DC-6s. One of the officers involved, Wing Commander Richard Bolt, described the process for developing the specifications for the new transport. "I took the specifications and information on the Hercules from the Lockheed brochures, and this formed the basis for the Air Staff Requirement." The proposal also required the selected aircraft to carry out maritime surveillance using "roll-on" maritime modules. The maritime role was later dropped when the Orion aircraft became the obvious choice for this role. The 17th of June 1963 was a red-letter day for the RNZAF.
"HERCULES ARE ON!! - three now, five later"
The headlines of the RNZAF News said it all. Cabinet had approved an immediate order of three C-130E aircraft, including spares and support equipment, at a cost of 13.5 million (NZ). Approval in principle was also given for the eventual purchase of five maritime versions. New Zealand was to become the fifth nation to purchase the Hercules aircraft.
By July 1964, the production of the RNZAF's first three Hercules (NZ7001-7003) was under way at the Lockheed plant at Marietta, Georgia in the United States. By then the choice had been made to take the new C130H model aircraft: the first production models of this variant. At that time, the primary difference, between the E and H models was the more powerful T56-A-15 engines in the H model.
Three technical officers and 32 airmen commenced 16 weeks of training at Travis Air Force Base (AFB) in the United States on June 17 1964. They then trained at various AFBs for the remainder of that year. Three aircrews were sent to the US for conversion training at the end of 1964.
It was a profound shock to the aircrews when they arrived for training at Lackland AFB to find that they were scheduled to attend a school for "language training". Air Commodore Carey Adamson, a Flying Officer at the time, recalls the incident.
"We were to take a written test to establish our level of proficiency in English. This we refused to do. A senior officer was summoned and it was quickly apparent that there had been a major misunderstanding. Whoever had made up the training package for the RNZAF was not aware that New Zealanders spoke English.
"It was not possible to bring forward the rest of our training, so we spent the time at Lackland learning about the Constitution, the history of the United States, the federal system of Government, the philosophy and rules of American football, and the finer technical points of baseball. This information was not wasted and proved valuable in following years."
Air Commodore Adamson also recalls the delivery flights of the Hercules. "We went to the Lockheed plant in Georgia to pick up our new aircraft and on 1 April 1965 our crew flew NZ7002 for the first time. That was the beginning of a 13-year personal relationship with a magnificent and elegant lady. We went on a navigational exercise on 5 April to check out cruise procedures and left for New Zealand on 8 April 1965." The other two Hercules also headed home that day.
Navigator Bob Howe, then a Flight Lieutenant, recalls his arrival in Wellington, New Zealand on NZ7003. "We were directed to return to Wellington first for a reception by the Prime Minister and the Chief of Air Staff. Two things stand out about the arrival: Firstly we got too close for comfort to the Hutt Valley power lines on a holding run; and secondly we knew we were home when a civil pilot, forced to hold because of our arrival, complained "what about us taxpayers?"
Shortly after noon on 14 April 1965, the first three Hercules arrived at Wellington's Rongotal Airport, to a formal reception ceremony headed by the Prime Minister (The Right Honourable Keith Jacka Holyoake) " I am sure we have chosen wisely and well, "he said of the Hercules.
In the months immediately after arrival, the three Hercules were seen above most New Zealand cities and towns as the RNZAF showed off its new acquisitions. Overseas trips were undertaken. On 29 April 1965, NZ7001 and its crew flew from RNZAF Base Auckland to Honolulu. Covering 3840nm in 12 hours and 20 minutes, it was the longest distance flown by New Zealand civil or military aircraft in a single day. Another major overseas trip was in May 1965, when one aircraft flew to Singapore and returned home via the Philippines where it uplifted support equipment for No.5 Squadron Sunderlands.
South Vietnam 1965-1975
The first major operation carried out by the RNZAF's new Hercules took them straight into a war! The three aircraft airlifted the New Zealand Army's No.161 Artillery Battery and its equipment from New Zealand to Bien Hoa AFB in South Vietnam. Over seven days the aircraft carried 96 soldiers, five 105mm howitzers, 14 laden Landrovers, eight trailers, two water tankers and other equipment, in total 70 tons. The first flight was made on 14 July and the last on 21 July 1965. Each aircraft stopped only for fuel and a crew change at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Just 20 hours after leaving New Zealand the soldiers were in the harsh operational environment of South Vietnam.
There was much public dissension over the role of the New Zealand Armed Forces in the Vietnam War. The Air Force's involvement in the carriage of the Army Artillery units was conducted in utmost secrecy before the event. Sergeant Air Quartermaster Vern Carter remembers the degree of subterfuge used to disguise the involvement.
"We were scheduled to fly to Singapore, leaving Whenuavai (RNZAF Base Auckland) on Monday morning 5 July 1965. We loadies were asked to come in on the Sunday morning and supervise the loading.
On arrival at the Squadron hangar, there were no signs of aircraft on the tarmac. Instead we were confronted by the sight of 161 Battery's Land Rovers and artillery waiting outside. They had driven up from Papakura at 0600hrs to avoid confrontation with the Progressive Youth Movement which was opposed to the
Vietnam War. Thus we learnt that our ultimate destination was a little further than Singapore and we also learnt the reason for those nasty 'plague' jabs. Loading was a doddle, though carried out inside the hangar, and the seats were rigged for the accompanying gunners.
The technique for landing (at Bien Hoa, Vietnam] was to spiral down from 20,000ft, remaining within the confines of the airfield, or you could get shot at by the VC around the perimeter of the field. When the aircraft commenced descent, the gunner's staff sergeant leapt to his feet and bellowed 'Load weapons'. 'Whoa,' yelled a startled Air Quartermaster. 'Not on my aircraft you don't.' He visualized everyone disappearing through a small hole in the side of the still pressurized aircraft. The first confrontation of the war!' No.40 Squadron Hercules were to continue regular flights in support of New Zealand's contribution to this war, flying into Saigon and Vung Tau.
Variety of tasks: "The labours of Hercules"
In July 1965, a Hercules made the first around-the world flight for this new RNZAF type, completing a circuit of the globe in 85 hours. Back home they assisted No.3 Squadron Bristol Freighter aircraft in redistributing civilian prisoners throughout New Zealand after prison riots at Mt Eden (Auckland) and Paparua (Christchurch). The Hercules were beginning to show their versatility.
On 12 September 1965, New Zealand Prime Minister Keith Holyoake used NZ7003 on a VIP trip from Rarotonga to Wellington. It was the first of many overseas VIP missions the Hercules flew until the Boeing 727s took over the role on their arrival in 1981.
Towards the end of 1965, the three Hercules of No.40 Squadron were busily engaged on a wide range of worldwide tasks. In October 1965, they provided support to No.14 Squadron Canberras in a major international exercise in Australia. The first paradrops were made over RNZAF Base Auckland and training exercises to develop supply-dropping techniques were carried out over Matamata airfield.
In December 1965 the RNZAF's first six Bell Sioux helicopters were delivered from the United States by Hercules. They went to Hobsonville at RNZAF Base Auckland, the home of No. 3 Battlefield Support Squadron (No.3 BSS). In June 1966 the Hercules began delivery of five new Iroquois helicopters to No.3 BSS.
To the Deep South
"The first flight out of Christchurch, the first ever made to the Antarctic by an RNZAF aircraft, left at noon on Wednesday, 27 October and the last flight landed there at 5.25 on Saturday, 30 October 1965. "
This statement in the RNZAF News was the first comment on what has become the annual sojourn of No. 40 Squadron to the great white continent. Air Commodore Carey Adamson, then a young Flying Officer copilot, was on that first trip. He recalls this historic flight: "We had to deliberately fly past a point of no return to a destination with no alternate. We had heard horror stories of the destination weather closing in with no warning and shutting down the airfield in a matter of minutes. Although we knew all the theory, we were not sure what landing on the ice would actually be like.
When the coast of Antarctica came into sight, the intercom became silent as everyone took in the grandeur of the scenery and the alien nature of the continent. After seven hours and 10 minutes the first RNZAF flight to the Antarctic ended with an uneventful landing at Wiliams Field We proved that we now had the means to support our own people with our own aircraft."
During this first venture to the deep south, Hercules NZ7003 traveled 12,900 miles on round trips between Christchurch and Williams Field (McMurdo), carrying a total of 75,0001b of miscellaneous cargo for the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme (NZARP) and for the United States "DEEP FREEZE" programme.
"It was different and challenging flying," Captain of the flight, Wing Commander Allan Wood AFC said. "It was with joy and pride that we watched the first RNZAF Hercules land at McMurdo Sound Antarctica, " said Mr M. M. Prebble, the leader of the New Zealand Party at Scott Base.
The fleet expands
In 1968 the New Zealand Government announced it had approved the purchase of a further two Hercules. These new aircraft (NZ7004 and NZ7005) were officially accepted at Dobbins AFB during the first week of January 1969, and arrived in New Zealand on the 9th. On 28 July 1969, the Squadron had all five Hercules in the air for the first five-ship formation over Auckland city.
During May - June 1969, Hercules carried out flights to the Cook Islands in support of a Government requirement to assist this island nation. These flights were typical of those still carried out today by the Hercules to various island nations of the South Pacific. One of the first occasions the Hercules showed its skills to the New Zealand public was in April 1968. A severe tropical storm disrupted commercial shipping and Hercules were used to carry passengers over Cook Strait. Up to 90 people a time were carried on the 12 minute flight between Wellington and Blenheim.
The geographical nature of New Zealand, with Cook Strait dividing the landmass, made for an interesting industrial dispute situation. New Zealand Railways ran a ferry service between the two main islands. The link was treated as an extension of the national highway system, so when threatened by industrial action, the Government used other means to ensure the link was maintained.
In late 1969 a Hercules and three Bristol Freighters carried priority freight across the Cook Straight when industrial action halted the ferry service. Code named Operation PLUTO, 1750 tons of freight were transported over 22 days. The operation has been regularly repeated, with the range of cargo expanded to include light vehicles and passengers. The most recent was on April 19 1991.
Next page: Into a New Decade- No. 40 in the '70s
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