RNZAF Hercules II

One of five 40 Squadron RNZAF C-130Hs, which included the first three production H models and were delivered in April 1965, crossing a remote Pacific island. The squadron’s duties include flights to the Antarctic base at McMurdo.

The RNZAF has provided Hercules air support to cultural activities in New Zealand and neighbouring South Pacific countries. One such task was in July 1980, when Hercules NZ7005 captained by Wing Commander Ken Gayfer (then CO 40 Squadron) flew to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in support of the South Pacific Festival of the Arts. The extremes of the climate, topography and lack of air traffic control facilities were matched by the variety of passengers and freight carried. Now an Air Commodore, Wing Commander Gayfer recalls one colourful occasion.

‘The first task was to convey a PNG Cabinet Minister and his wife, plus twenty or so locals to a remote part of PNG where there was to be an official ceremony connected with the festival. I assessed the status of the Minister to warrant VIP treatment and accordingly saluted him on board. He was dressed in a smart business suit. On arrival I climbed out and raced to position myself by the steps so as to provide the same courtesy. I noticed a welcoming group of fifty women was arranged in neat rows in order to complete a ritual tribal dance of welcome, clad in only grass skirts. Then to my astonishment the Minister appeared down the aircraft steps wearing only a loincloth and a massive headdress, followed by his wife in similar minimal attire to that of the women dancers! They had changed in the aircraft just prior to landing.’

In March 1981 a commercial airline strike in Australia stranded thousands of civilian passengers on both sides of the Tasman. The RAAF and RNZAF were tasked to move the backlog of passengers across ‘the ditch’. 40 Squadron Hercules flew around the clock for four days using four aircraft and four crews, moving approximately 800 passengers between Whenuapai, Richmond and Wigram. Military bases were used each side of the Tasman to avoid further escalation of the industrial situation. On 11 April HRH The Prince of Wales on completion of a brief New Zealand tour flew from Christchurch to Canberra in VIP rigged NZ7002 captained by Wing Commander Ken Gayfer. The flight returned to Whenuapai having safely delivered its Royal passenger to Canberra. The introduction of the Boeings to 40 Squadron in July 1981 saw most VIP roles passed to these newcomers. However Royalty did again travel on a standard Hercules, when HRH Prince Edward flew on NZ7004. The journey from Christchurch to Antarctica and return, in December 1982 was captained by Squadron Leader Trevor Butler. In May 1981 NZ7004 flew to Dobbins AFB in the United States to undergo the first Outer Wing Modifications required by Lockheed. All five of the Hercules had completed this programme by the end of October 1981. During 1984 and 1985 the fleet underwent a Fuselage Improvement Programme at the RNZAF’s engineering facility at Woodbourne. An avionics upgrade was also started in conjunction with this programme.

From July to September 1981 a controversial Rugby Tour by the South Africans caused civil disturbances at each venue. Hercules’ were used to transport police contingents to the venues. This event coincided with the requirement to position and recover aircraft in the USA for wing modifications. Even the Base Commander of RNZAF Auckland, Group Captain Peter Adamson, returned to the cockpit to assist when a shortage of crews prevailed during this hectic period. A ‘first’ for the Squadron occurred during Operation ‘Ice Cube 81’ in November. An engine change on a Hercules was required at McMurdo in Antarctic and the aircraft remained on the ice at Williams Field, near McMurdo Station for several days during the change.

Between 1982 and 1986 the RNZAF supplied personnel to the Multi National Force of Observers (MFO) based at El Gorah in the Sinai, to operate Iroquois helicopters. In support of this deployment NZ7001 under the command of Squadron Leader Trevor Butler left Whenuapai on 3 August 1982 for El Gorah. This was to become a regular task for the Squadron over the next four years.

‘On behalf of our people and children, a very sincere thank you. You have saved our lives.’ These were the words of Mr Pau Toke, chairman of the Penrhyn Island Council, to the crew of NZ7004 on completion of a mercy mission to the island. This mission began on 11 September 1982, when NZ7004 under the command of Captain Don Stone (a USAF exchange officer on the Squadron), flew from Whenuapai to Rarotonga. From there 5,000 gallons of fresh water was carried in two sorties to Penrhyn Island, 727 miles north of Rarotonga. The island was suffering from a drought and a call for immediate assistance was made to the New Zealand Government by the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands. Once again it was Hercules of 40 Squadron that sprung to the rescue.

Pitcairn Island, a remote island in the South Pacific, is mostly populated by descendants of mutineers from HMS Bounty. On 22 February 1983, Hercules NZ7004 (captained by Squadron Leader Trevor Butler) over flew the island on its way back from the United States. The primary reason for this flight was to assess the feasibility of airdropping a bulldozer onto this small rugged island. The island’s first mail drop was made during the flight. Once back at Whenuapai, planning commenced to airdrop a 28,000lb bulldozer. On 30 May 1983 NZ7005 captained by Squadron Leader Trevor Butler, headed for Pitcairn. The co-pilot was Captain Mark Barrels USAF. Along for the ride was Group Captain Mason, the British Defence Attaché to New Zealand.

The actual airdrop mission was launched from Tahiti on 31 May 1983 during a nonstop 3000 kilometre flight. The bulldozer was broken down into two loads, with the first drop made just after dawn. Winds ebbed low enough for the load to descend under six 100 foot diameter cargo parachutes. Following a ‘streamer’ run to gauge the strength of the residual wind, the command ‘green light’ was given to extract the load. It was released over a football field drop zone in a small valley with sharp cliffs and ocean at either end. The load roared out of the aircraft with the rollers screaming and protesting at the weight and speed at which the bulldozer accelerated. Anxious loadmasters, Flight Lieutenant Warren Dale and Flight Sergeant Dave Neilson, moved to the ramp and monitored the sequence of parachutes as they deployed. They were rewarded with the sight of a fireworks display as the parachute ground release cartridges ripple fired. The bulldozer landed perfectly and was quickly joined by the second platform containing its cab and blade assemblies. Almost the entire population of the island was standing on the hills of the valley to see the loads come in. The people were rewarded with the sight of an immaculate airdrop performance and the bulldozer starting up – it was dropped with fuel and a battery ready for immediate service. It also arrived with newspapers and fresh fruit installed – courtesy of 40 Squadron.

Spare cargo space on international Hercules flights is often offered to charitable institutions for free carriage of goods and supplies. Some of the wide range of charitable goods carried by Hercules are: medicines, vaccines, hospital equipment, library books, school desks, chairs, kitset classrooms, sewing machines, clothing, generators, solar power panels, outboard motors, boats, bicycles, building material, roofing iron, refrigerators, tractors, along with lots of toys and teddy bears for children. When an aircraft carrying such goods arrives at a remote island airfield, the reception is overwhelming. A loadmaster recalls one welcome. ‘Everyone came to thank us,’ he said. They sang, danced and gave us floral leis and headpieces to wear. We looked really colourful as we took off from the coral runway. The only problem in departing was clearing the children away from the aircraft before we started the engines. We used to save up our flight rations and have carefully timed lolly scrambles at a safe distance from the aircraft.’

The hot and humid climate of Western Samoa was the setting for a major New Zealand Defence Force exercise, ‘Joint Venture 1988’. Most of the RNZAF’s Hercules deployed to the tropical island during April and early May 1988. The effort to lift support material for 75 Squadron Skyhawks, 3 Squadron Iroquois, New Zealand Army units and the RNZAF’s base camp in Western Samoa, placed a huge demand on the Hercules fleet. Operating from the main camp at Faleolo, the Hercules detachment flew many missions around the islands in support of the exercise. Regular deployments of this nature have allowed validation of the RNZAF’s deployable equipment pack-ups and ability to move away from the home base of Whenuapai at short notice.

The summer of 1989/90 marked the 25th season that RNZAF Hercules had travelled to Antarctica through Operation ‘Ice Cube’. As in previous years, the Hercules carried a wide range of freight and passengers of many nations to and from Williams Field at McMurdo Station. During the return trip on some flights ‘penguin counts’ and ‘iceberg surveys’ were carried out by New Zealand scientists. (In November 1984 NZ7002 captained by Squadron Leader Murray Sinclair, air dropped a scientific laboratory at Vanda Station, together with CDS system fuel and spares).

The 1990s started in traditional fashion with two devastating cyclones through the Pacific Islands to the north of New Zealand. The first was Cyclone OFA which ravaged Western Samoa, Nuie, the Tokelaus, the northern Tongan islands, American Samoa and Tuvalu in February 1990. The RNZAF provided an Orion aircraft to fly reconnaissance over the Tokelaus. This revealed that 45 percent of homes had been destroyed. On 13 February a Hercules was despatched to Apia (Western Samoa) with food, emergency building materials and Air Force engineers and equipment to re-establish communications with the outside world. The Hercules then began air dropping supplies to outlying islands. A further Hercules followed with specialist equipment to fix broken water mains and a number of generators to restore power to essential services. While this group of island states was recovering from this disaster, Cyclone ‘Peni’ arrived in the Cook Islands, causing damage to a number of small island communities. Hercules support for Cyclone ‘Peni’ involved one aircraft departing Whenuapai on 5 March, spending six days in the Cook Island area flying more than 8000 nautical miles and carrying almost 200,000lbs of freight. Within four days of commencing operations from Rarotonga, the aircraft had delivered thousands of pounds of civil aid to ten destinations within seven of the fifteen islands making up the northern and southern chains of the Cooks group. As well as the air crew, ground crews and movements teams spent long hours preparing loads for delivery.

With 1990 opening with a flurry of activity, the rest of the year seemed to settle down to the usual round of internal and overseas taskings, maintenance programmes and training. In September the New Zealand Government agreed to provide assistance to the large number of refugees trying to escape the Middle East, as the political situation deteriorated. Hercules NZ7002 was sent to Egypt with 16 tonnes of milk powder and then flew on to Amman, Jordan, where it carried refugees from the area. Two flights were completed to Karachi, Pakistan and another to Manila in the Philippines on the way home. A 40 Squadron Boeing 727 also diverted from a UK task to assist with the refugee flights. Towards the end of 1990 the Hercules crews were looking forward to a quiet Christmas; perhaps the cyclones would stay away for a change. However, another ‘cyclone’ was whirling its way through Kuwait! Along with many other nations, New Zealand responded to the call for help to this small nation when the Gulf crisis erupted. The NZ Government agreed to a Detachment of two Hercules and 46 personnel joining an RAF Hercules Squadron based at Riyadh (Saudi Arabia).

As the rest of the Air Force began the Christmas rundown in December 1990 40 Squadron personnel were frantically arranging last minute requirements to support a detachment of two aircraft in an operational area for an unspecified duration. Finally, the green light and on 20 December 1990 NZ7001, captained by Flight Lieutenant Tony Davies, followed by NZ7002 under the command of Flight Lieutenant David Wake, lifted off from Whenuapai. Arriving in Riyadh on 24 December, the Detachment wasted no time and commenced its first mission on 27 December. Working as part of the RAF Hercules Squadron, the Kiwi Hercs had flown almost 300 hours by the end of the first seven weeks. Tasking included the transportation of supplies and personnel to various locations during the build-up to the land war. It was a big adjustment for the New Zealanders to realise a chemical attack could be a reality. And then the Scud attacks began. Flight Lieutenant Rex Fraser remembers his feelings during those attacks: ‘It’s quite scary when you see missiles exploding outside your window and you’re trying to hurry to put your gear on (NBC kit) in the dark. Everything is for real and you’ve got to know what to do and do it quickly.’

On 14 January 1991 another Hercules, NZ7003 under the command of Wing Commander ‘Bob’ Henderson, (CO 40 Squadron), left Whenuapai with a further eight aircrew personnel to boost the RNZAF’s contribution. NZ7002 returned to New Zealand on 20 January. In his diary, Wing Commander Henderson records some of his impressions of the Detachment’s actions: ‘Monday 23 January. Thirteen days after leaving New Zealand. Flew today to Lzah and Qaisumah (Hafar al Batin) by the border. Lzah is a rough strip cut from the desert rock to the north of Jubail on the coast. We found the strip by using the aircraft’s inertial navigation system and the co-pilot identified it as we went through about 200 feet, by saying ‘there’s a windsock’. Then flew at 500ft along the ‘pipeline’ – the road from Jubail inland to Qaisumah. There were literally hundreds of vehicles on the road and helicopters flying below us, along the road. Very impressive. This flying is rather exhilarating. Our extra aircrew arrived this evening about midnight. All looking rather hyped up in their ‘marine’ haircuts. The lucky beggars were spared an air raid tonight!’

NZ7004 replaced NZ7001 on 1 March and on 12 April, NZ7003 and NZ7004 touched down at Whenuapai, returning some of the detachment to a welcome from the New Zealand Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Jim Bolger. A RAF TriStar and another Hercules carried the balance of personnel and equipment back to New Zealand.

While the focus of attention had naturally been with the Hercules Detachment in the Gulf, the RNZAF’s remaining Hercules had carried out a wide range of routine tasks in New Zealand and overseas. While on a standard flight in support of a ‘Vanguard’ exercise redeployment from Malaysia, a Hercules was diverted to carry 10 tonnes of milk powder and medical supplies to cyclone torn Dacca in Bangladesh. Another Hercules also flew charitable freight to various Pacific Island nations and to Papua New Guinea.

On 17 April 1991 a Hercules was despatched to Wellington to help with operation ‘Pluto Nine’ which had started the previous day. By the time the operation finished on 19 April, four Andovers and one Hercules had carried 819 passengers and 338 cars during 160 flights between Wellington/Woodbourne/Wellington. In June the RNZAF took back the Depot Level Maintenance (DLM) of the Hercules fleet. It was decided that this work, carried out by Air New Zealand since 1977, could be undertaken more efficiently and economically at RNZAF Woodbourne’s maintenance depot. An ingenious bogey arrangement was developed which allowed each Hercules, with main wheels removed, to be lowered and moved sideways into the hangar. A Hercules major re-fit takes about ninety days and involves both RNZAF and civilian engineers employed at the depot.

The annual cyclone season started early for 40 Squadron, when in mid December Cyclone ‘Val’ hit Western Samoa. A Hercules on stand-by since 10 December left early on the morning of the 12th for Faleolo (Western Samoa). On board was a 3 Squadron Iroquois which had not been assembled upon return from the Antarctic. A second Hercules quickly followed with an Air Loading Team, communications equipment and operators, Army personnel, media representatives, tarpaulins and oxygen cylinders for the local hospital. A third Hercules carried emergency supplies, fuel and a 400KVa generator in a 20 feet shipping container. It arrived on 14 December and was followed throughout the remainder of the month by a further four flights. So much for a quiet Christmas!

During the first part of 1992 the Hercules of 40 Squadron followed a fairly quiet routine. There was the usual activity in the Antarctic at the beginning of the year, support to the annual Army exercise in the Waiouru training area, winning of the annual ‘Bullseye’ competition in Canada for the second year in succession and delivery of a 3 Squadron Iroquois to England for Exercise ‘Helimeet 92’ – all before June 1992. Between 10 and 20 June the Hercules were busy carrying helicopters, material and personnel between New Zealand and Faleolo, in support of the first major tropical exercise held in three years. Once again external influences disrupted 40 Squadron’s plans for a quiet Christmas break. On 23 December the New Zealand Government’s offer to provide a Detachment of three Andovers and 69 personnel in Somalia, as part of the Unified Task Force, was accepted. The New Zealand endeavour, code named Operation ‘Samaritan’, was to take place in early January 1993. Over the Christmas break, 40 Squadron technical staff prepared three Hercules and a Boeing to deploy the Detachment to Mogadishu. Just down the tarmac Whenuapai, Base Auckland, 42 Squadron staff were busily preparing the three Andovers and myriad of stores and support material that the detachment would require for up to six months away from home.

On 2 January 1993 three Hercules and a Boeing headed for Somalia. The three Hercules rendezvoused with the Boeing in the Seychelles prior to the final leg into Mogadishu. On 5 January 1993, the Boeing with the majority of personnel arrived at Mogadishu and one hour later the first Hercules, NZ7001 under the command of Flight Lieutenant Tony Davies, arrived. The following day the remaining two Hercules arrived. NZ7002 (Flight Lieutenant Mike Morgan) and NZ7004 (Flight Lieutenant Dennis O’Connor) disgorged the mountains of equipment required by the detachment. The Hercules stayed on the ground long enough to unload and refuel before heading out of the extremely busy airfield. The next Hercules trip to this war-torn country was on 3 February when NZ7001, under the command of Wing Commander Bob Henderson, lifted off from Whenuapai for the re-supply trip to Mogadishu.

The crew of the Hercules joined the detachment in hosting a traditional Maori hangi to celebrate New Zealand’s national day of celebration (Waitangi Day) on 6 February. Total flying time for the round trip was 56 hours.

The Andovers were withdrawn in May 1993 and three Hercules transported the detachment back home. Other support flights for the NZ Army supply platoon at Mogadishu have since been flown.

During late March 1993, two Hercules, crews and support staff spent two weeks low-level tactical training at RNZAF Wigram. Between four and six sorties were undertaken per day over the South Island in the event known as Exercise ‘Skytrain’. These included the dropping of equipment at various drop-zones and night flying. The experience gained during ‘Skytrain’ was used the following month during the ‘Bullseye’ competition in Australia. However the Canadians beat the Kiwis by a narrow margin and the trophy was reluctantly surrendered for the first time in three years. It was also the first time a Royal Air Force team had entered.

On 13 May 1993 NZ7002 captained by Flight Lieutenant Dennis O’Connor left New Zealand with 25,000 ration packs gifted b; the NZ Government to refugees it Bosnia. The aircraft delivered the Ration Packs to Frankfurt where they were forwarded to Bosnia by the UN. During May the Hercules’ autopilots were replaced with a new automatic flight control system. This process was carried out at the Repair Depot at Woodbourne with the last aircraft fitted by the end of the year.

The 1993 year ended with twelve flights to Antarctica. The 4 Squadron Detachment operated from Christchurch International Airport, alongside its USAF (141), USN (LC-130) and US National Science Foundation (LC-130) counterparts. Also based at Christchurch was; RNZAF Mobile Air Loading Team, supplemented by New Zealand Army personnel, providing support for all aircraft on route to Antarctica.

During one flight, the weather closed in and the Hercules, well beyond the Point of Safe Return (PSR) diverted to an Italian airfield at Terra Nova, Antarctica. Following a very warm welcome and overnight stay with the Italians, the Hercules continued on to Williams Field. On another flight, 13,000lbs of explosives were air dropped in three areas of the polar plateau for seismic investigations by scientists at the ice. This operation was a first for the Squadron.

Christmas 1993 was relatively quiet for the Hercules crews and support personnel. Tasks included a routine trip to Somalia to transport New Zealand Army personnel and an emergency flight to Sydney with monsoon fire-fighting buckets and technicians to help extinguish huge bush fires threatening Sydney suburbs. The buckets and personnel were returned in early January.

During the first half of 1994 40 Squadron Hercules carried out the usual range of internal and external tasks. In April two Hercules, two Andovers and one Iroquois supported by 130 personnel carried out tactical air training during Exercise ‘Skytrain’. This year’s pre-‘Bullseye’ practice paid off with one of the crews under the command of Flight Lieutenant Robert Purvis winning back the ‘Bullseye’ trophy for the RNZAF.

The most rewarding task during the first half of 1994 was from 4-8 June when a Hercules was involved in the search for eleven yachts hit by a severe storm in the Pacific. A total of 21 people were plucked from their vessels during the five day mission. As the full extent of the searches began unfolding 5 Squadron RNZAF sought assistance from 40 Squadron. A Hercules and crew of ten personnel spent twelve hours in the air, locating three vessels. Winds of up to 80 knots and thrashing rain made for a challenging flight. It was thanks to the professionalism and dedication of the crew that the mission proved successful.

By June 1994 each of the five Hercules in the RNZAF had flown the following total hours: NZ7001 19,636.3; NZ7002 20,243.6 NZ7003 20,327; NZ7004 16,651.3; NZ7005 160,69.5.1

As of 2008 the Squadron began modernising its Hercules aircraft with new avionics, centre wing refurbishment, aircraft systems upgrade and complete re-wiring and replacement of major parts and interior to extend their life expectancy (for NZ$234 million). The package for each aircraft was known as the Life Extension Programme (LEP). Initially two aircraft were completed in Canada however the programme ran into difficulties when the company tasked with carrying out the refurbishments went into receivership. The remaining aircraft were then completed by Safe Air in Blenheim, New Zealand. The Hercules fleet now operate with glass cockpits and had one of the most extensive upgrades ever completed on this type of aircraft anywhere in the world. The last Hercules aircraft to be upgraded NZ7002 was completed by the end of 2015.

The new millennium brought with it a fresh set of the challenges for the streamlined RNZAF. New Zealand’s decision to join the ‘war on terror’ following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States led to a succession of air deployments to the Middle East during the early 2000s. When the Christchurch earthquake struck on 22 February 2011 the RNZAF (along with army and navy) responded within a few hours. On the afternoon of the quake, an RNZAF Orion flew over the city taking photographs of damaged infrastructure, while a Boeing 757 arrived with search and rescue teams and medical personnel. Other RNZAF aircraft helped deploy police and medical personnel and evacuate casualties and tourists. Three months after the attack on the Twin Towers, two Hercules from 40 Squadron carried elements of the NZSAS to Pakistan following the invasion of Afghanistan. Another detachment was sent to Kyrgyzstan in 2003 to fly cargo and personnel into Afghanistan, while 5 Squadron Orions carried out surveillance flights around the Gulf region in 2003–2004 during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. These deployments signalled the beginning of a new operational era for the RNZAF. Humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in the Pacific and Middle East reinforced the importance of strategic and tactical air transport, maritime surveillance and helicopter support for army and naval forces. They also exposed the limitations of the air force’s ageing equipment. In 2002 the government announced a major upgrade programme that has seen the modernisation of the Hercules and Orions and the renewal of the helicopter fleet,

The Hercules fleet was due to be replaced by 2018. The Boeing 757s were also upgraded with new avionics and more powerful engines. A cargo door was also fitted to allow pallet loading and an aero medical facility if needed. In 2015 the RNZAF was looking to replace the C-130 Hercules fleet as well as the Boeing 757s. This is due to take place over the next five years due to the C-130s and Boeing 757s reaching the end of their flying life. A replacement for the Boeing 757s looks likely to be the C-17 Globemaster and the replacement for the Hercules fleet being either the Embraer KC-390, the A-400M, or the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules.


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