Author Topic: BAe Eagle in RNZAF service  (Read 4439 times)

Offline KiwiZac

  • The Modeller Formerly Known As K5054NZ
BAe Eagle in RNZAF service
« on: November 27, 2014, 09:26:29 AM »
Updated with NZ8001 photo 16/11/2019

In 1967 New Zealand was visited by company-owned BAC TSR.2 demonstrator XR220, which was on a worldwide sales tour. Temporarily painted up in mock Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) markings as "NZ6755", the aircraft operated out of Whenuapai Air Force base, Auckland for a period of 6 days. The government at the time, led by Keith Holyoake, gave the aircraft consideration but instead decided to decline the aircraft, with the country's strike capability continuing to be shouldered by the aircraft the TSR.2 was replacing, the BAC Canberra. Despite this decision, New Zealand was to play host to the service version of the aircraft, the BAC Eagle, as the Royal Australian Air Force negotiated an agreement to licence-build a fleet of GR.1s (later upgraded to GR.1A standard) and later GR.3s, which often flew to New Zealand for training exercises and air pageants. The Canberra force was replaced by McDonnell Douglas A-4K Skyhawks in 1970.

In March 1984 the head of the RNZAF, Air-Vice Marshal DM Crooks CB OBE began talks with British Aerospace to purchase six BAe Eagle GR.6 strike aircraft and one T3 trainer in order to supplement the 24 T/A-4K Skyhawks then in service. The GR.6 aircraft were upgraded GR.1 airframes which had flown with the Royal Air Force (with 6, 40, 16 and 33 Squadrons) from 1968 to 1985. For New Zealand service the aircraft would carry the serials NZ8001-07, serving as part of the reformed 9 Squadron (which had flown Lockheed Hudsons under the Bomber Reconnaissance title during World War 2). The deal was publicly finalised at a press conference in April 1985.

Modifications made to the aircraft at BAe Warton included upgraded radar and targeting systems, all-weather terrain-following avionics originally designed for the short-lived MRCA variable geometry aircraft, an electronic countermeasures (ECM) package, and modified, cleaner-burning Olympus engines producing 31,500lbs of thrust at takeoff. In addition to the six GR.6 aircraft purchased, option was available to purchase a second batch of six GR.6s and another trainer should the need arise. In the event, this offer was never followed up and the second "package deal" batch was sold to the Royal Saudi Air Force.

Pilots from 9 Sqn underwent extensive familiarisation training at RAF Valley from early May 1985, with groups of pilots and "back-seaters" going to active squadrons to experience life at service stations. Kiwi fliers were hosted at RAF bases Coningsby, Lossiemouth, Laarbruch and Butterworth.

In October 1986 AVM Crooks was replaced by AVM P Neville OBE AFC, who oversaw the delivery of the seven Eagles. The plan was ambitious: ferry the aircraft in pairs (the T3 aircraft would follow later) to their base at Ohakea, New Zealand from Warton via Farnborough, RAF bases at Akoutiri, Butterworth and finally RAAF Amberley (home of No.82 Wing RAAF). The flight would take place over the week of November 13-20 1986. The six aircraft arrived in New Zealand in style, performing a formation arrival over Auckland city, before overflying major cities and finally making an appearance at their Ohakea base. The aircraft were welcomed by an official party including AVM Neville, Prime Minister Jim Bolger and several senior members of the aerospace and defence industries. Eagle T.3 NZ8007 arrived two months later, and the first Eagle pilot to solo on the type in New Zealand (Flt Lt Mark Hughes) did so at Ohakea in February.

The aircraft had their public debut with a display at the RNZAF 50th Anniversary Air Shows at Ohakea on April 4/5 and Whenuapai on April 11/12, where they were welcomed with open arms by the New Zealand public. They soon became popular attendants at every airshow in the country.

The crisis in the Persian Gulf in 1991 saw the RNZAF ready to participate in its first "hot" conflict since the Malayan Emergency of the 1960s. Prime Minister Bolger made available 9 Sqn to the allied forces, and in the event only two aircraft (NZ8002 and '05, both repainted in a maritime scheme) departed for Kuwait in the company of a mixed detachment of 1 and 6 Squadron RAAF aircraft, with the group based in Diego Garcia (as related in Tony Morgan's comprehensive history of the Eagle in RAAF service, reproduced here:,5824.0.html). There the aircraft undertook maritime reconnaissance missions, and stayed on for the six months following the end of the conflict. The aircraft returned home to a warm welcome from crew relatives and friends, and an appreciative government.

The next few years were relatively quiet for 9 Sqn: apart from training/familiarisation flights and regular ANZUS exercises with the RAAF and USAF (on one memorable occasion, Eagle NZ8003 was photographed with RAAF GR.3 A8-42 and USAF FB-112A 73-89733 in March 1998) the aircraft saw little action. NZ8006 suffered a bird strike to the canopy in April 1994, but damage was minor and the aircraft quickly returned to service.

The first major accident involving the Eagle fleet occurred when NZ8004 was practising for "Airshow NZ" (to be held at Ardmore Airport in Auckland) in March 2003. The aircraft was operating out of RNZAF Base Whenuapai when, over the Hauraki Gulf, the aircraft suffered a bird strike to the left engine. The engine "flamed out" and lost power and pilot Flt Lt Duncan Parker turned back for Whenuapai for an emergency landing. However, the aircraft soon lost power to the right engine and it would have been unsafe to carry on any further. Once his back-seater P/O Tom Walker had ejected, Flt Lt Parker readied the aircraft for an ocean ditching by turning out to sea away from the urban Auckland area, dumping fuel and lowering his flaps. He ejected at 250ft, and the aircraft hit the water, soon after sinking to the ocean floor. Both crew were rescued by the Westpac Trust rescue helicopter. The remains were recovered and placed in secure storage at RNZAF Woodbourne, later being transferred to the RNZAF Museum at Wigram after serviceable parts were stripped from it. (The display was performed at the Ardmore show a week later by Flt Lt Parker in NZ8001, to a rapturous reception)

Following the military action against Iraq by the "Coalition of the Willing" in April 2003, Eagle NZ8002 travelled to Kuwait to conduct maritime patrol operations in the Persian Gulf. Since then the role has continued, albeit by RNZAF P-3K Orion aircraft. Recent violence, however, has led the RNZAF to return an Eagle to the area, coincidentally NZ8002 was the aircraft selected to carry out the task once more. Every six months the aircraft is rotated home and replaced by NZ8005. Due to this service both aircraft have been painted in a variation of the maritime scheme used in Operation Desert Storm. Although the deployment came to an end in 2007 both aircraft remain in the maritime scheme.

In early 2005 Indonesia threatened military action against Australia. Five GR.6s of 9 Sqn arrived in Australia on April 7 in order to reinforce the allied presence there, following a hasty repaint in desert camouflage as worn by the RAAF's Mirage 4000-5 Mk2s. The full story of the action is told by Yannick Smaldore in his diary record of the incident (no longer available online as of 2014 - ZY). Thankfully, the conflict ended without loss for the New Zealand Eagle contingent, who returned home to a hero's welcome in July.

Since the Indonesian Crisis the Eagles of 9 Sqn were boosted with the addition of a further two GR.6 aircraft, former Royal Saudi Air Force aircraft refurbished by BAe. The aircraft, serialled NZ8008 and 09, were ferried along the same route as the original batch, and in fact the delivery was timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the arrival of the original Eagles.

Despite the new acquisitions the fleet suffered another loss and the squadron its greatest tragedy on July 12 2010, when NZ8003 went missing on a navigation exercise in the Southern Alps. After a mammoth search-and-rescue operation lasting 12 days the wreckage of the aircraft was found on the side of Mount Hutt, both crewmembers (Flg Off Gregory Archibald Plt Off Craig Harkness) having failed to eject. A Board of Enquiry ruled the aircraft had flown into the mountain after its TFR gear malfunctioned, and that both men were killed on impact. The fleet was grounded while the equipment was examined, however it was found to have been isolated to NZ8003.

But the RNZAF's service aircraft are not the only aircraft of the TSR.2 series resident in New Zealand: a former RAF instructional airframe arrived in New Zealand for the RNZAF Museum at Wigram, Christchurch in exchange for the remains of a Bristol Bulldog and two de Havilland Vampires. The aircraft was externally restored to GR.6 specifications and placed on display as NZ8001, being unveiled at a ceremony on November 20 1996 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the type's entry into RNZAF service. To commemorate the occasion the real NZ8001, crewed by Sqn Ldr Mark Hughes and Flt Lt Kevin Howells, performed a 15-minute display over RNZAF Base Wigram. In addition, the nose section of former RAAF GR.3 A8-42 (extensively damaged after an engine fire in 1998) arrived in New Zealand in early 1999 for the RNZAF Museum's Ohakea wing, to become a flight simulator. The conversion included a computer monitor in each instrument console, throttles and control stick linked to the computer and sounds played via speakers. This became operational in January 2000, and in late 2005 received a software upgrade including more realistic graphics and authentic sounds played via a pilot’s helmet.

Twice attempts have been made to operate an Eagle on the New Zealand civil register as a “warbird” similar to XS950/G-ATSR in the UK. A private syndicate was formed to purchase and operate a former 617Sqn Eagle GR.1 from the UK in 1997 however the Asian Currency Crash the following year meant several backers had to withdraw. A renewed effort in 2005 failed to garner support from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority which cited concerns over such a “complicated type” being in civilian hands.

GR.6 NZ8001
GR.6 NZ8002 (used for Middle East maritime patrol operating from Iraq, six month crew/aircraft rotation)
GR.6 NZ8003 (destroyed following flight into terrain 12/06/10
GR.6 NZ8004 (destroyed following engine failure 10/03/03)
GR.6 NZ8005 (used for Middle East maritime patrol operating from Iraq, six month crew/aircraft rotation)
GR.6 NZ8006 (bird strike 08/04/94)
T.3 NZ8007
GR.6 NZ8008 (delivered 20/11/06)
GR.6 NZ8009 (delivered 20/11/06)

- The aircraft on display at Air Force World, RNZAF Base Wigram, Christchurch, is former RAF instructional airframe XS947. The aircraft is currently on public display in the main aircraft hall painted as GR.6 NZ8001.
- A book chronicling the Eagle's RNZAF service was released in time to coincide with 20th anniversary celebrations in November 2006. The book, Talons From The Sky, was written by former Eagle and Skyhawk pilot the late Ross Ewing.
- The model company "Flying Kiwis" issued a version of the Airfix 1/72 scale BAC TSR.2 model kit with decals and replacement parts to create any of the RNZAF service aircraft in 1997. This was reissued in 2003 with new decals in order to make NZ8002/05 in their maritime patrol schemes. The company also released a 20th anniversary edition of the popular kit, including decals for NZ8008 and '09. Ventura Models manufactured a conversion set to enable modellers to build T3 NZ8007, although this is currently out of production and very scarce. Ventura also issued decal sheets for the entire RNZAF fleet in 1/144, 1/72 and 1/48 scales and these were still available at the time of writing.

Air Force (television series) episode seven, Screentime Productions, 2004
“The BAC/CAC Eagle in RAAF Service”; MORGAN, Tony aka "Spellbinder99", 2005
Classic Wings (magazine) Vol.12 No.5 2005
Classic Wings Downunder (magazine) Vol.4 No.4 Oct-Dec 97
Flying Kiwis New Product Releases (promotional material); Flying Kiwis 1998
“The Indonesian Crisis"; SMALDORE, Yannick, 2005
"New Zealand Military Aircraft Serials and History",
New Zealand Wings (magazine) Dec 86, June 87, March-October 91, June 94
Portrait Of An Air Force: The Royal New Zealand Air Force 1937-1987; BENTLEY, Geoffrey and CONLY, Maurice, Grantham House 1987
RNZAF Golden Anniversary Souvenir Booklet; EWING, Sqn Ldr Ross (editor), RNZAF 1987
Talons From The Sky: Twenty Years of the BAe Eagle in New Zealand Service; EWING, Ross, Reed 2006
"Ten Years of the Eagle in RNZAF Service", RNZAF Public Relations 1996

NZ8001 “Poster Girl”
finishedgirl by Zac Yates, on Flickr
NZ8001 was the first Eagle to come onto the RNZAF's inventory, on August 8 1986. After using XR222 as a testbed for the avionics to be fitted to the GR.6 aircraft, BAe used NZ8001 as practically a prototype for the GR.6 series. Test flights were carried out from BAe Warton throughout 1986, in RNZAF camouflage but without national markings. It wasn't until the weekend before delivery to New Zealand that the national markings were applied - in fact, it was the last of the batch to have these painted on.

Upon arrival in New Zealand in November 1986 NZ8001 became the "flagship" of the fleet, featuring prominently in print and television adverts for air force recruitment. It also was the aircraft used at air shows, its first being the Royal New Zealand Aero Club pageant in February 1987. Until 1998's Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow '01 remained the display machine, being replaced by NZ8004 (lost whilst practicing for Airshow NZ in 2001) that year.

When, in 1995, the RNZAF Museum began its search overseas for a suitable static display aircraft, it was decided early on that NZ8001 would be the aircraft represented. This was due to her use as a publicity machine for most of her service life, and as such was easily recognized. Instructional airframe XS947 was donated to the museum by the RAF's technical college and it was shipped to New Zealand in July of 1995. A largely cosmetic restoration then followed, with a fixed deadline of November 1996 for completion put forth. The deadline was met, and saw the three-tone camouflage as worn by the fleet (and NZ8001) upon delivery a decade before applied to the aircraft.

The rollout of the "new" NZ8001 at Wigram on November 20 was well attended by the press, former crew from No. 9 Sqn and the public. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the type's entry into RNZAF service and to celebrate the completion of the restoration project, the "old" NZ8001 (operating from RNZAF Base Ohakea in the North Island) performed several low-level flybys at Wigram, giving a real show to the assembled crowd of around 1500. Pilot for the display was Sqn Ldr Mark Hughes, coincidentally the first pilot to convert onto the Eagle in New Zealand. During a "go-around" flyby, one photographer managed to snap both NZ8001s together, a sight unseen before then and since. A large print of this image is on display near NZ8001/XS947 at Air Force World.

Following this performance, NZ8001 received artwork on her nose of a blonde in a "pin-up" pose - thereafter the aircraft was known as "Poster Girl", and a tradition of giving each individual Eagle a name and associated artwork came into being.
« Last Edit: November 16, 2019, 05:28:10 AM by KiwiZac »

Offline Buzzbomb

  • Low Concentration Span, oft wanders betwixt projects
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Re: BAe Eagle in RNZAF service
« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2014, 11:37:07 AM »
Just terrific they way these read.
Good Stuff

Offline KiwiZac

  • The Modeller Formerly Known As K5054NZ
Re: BAe Eagle in RNZAF service
« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2014, 08:25:59 AM »
 :-[ You're too kind! Thank you.

I've updated it, and added the first individual airframe story.
« Last Edit: November 16, 2019, 05:27:12 AM by KiwiZac »

Offline KiwiZac

  • The Modeller Formerly Known As K5054NZ
Re: BAe Eagle in RNZAF service
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2019, 05:09:18 AM »
Bump...  8)

Box o Eagles by Zac Yates, on Flickr
« Last Edit: November 16, 2019, 05:16:50 AM by KiwiZac »