Skyhawk popular exhibit

PRIDE AND JOY: Ashburton Aviation Museum’s Dennis Swaney with the Aircraft of the Year runner up, the McDonnell Douglas Skyhawk.
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If you want to get up close and personal to the runner up to Aircraft of the Year2023 – the McDonnell Douglas Skyhawk – you only need to head out to the Ashburton Aviation Museum.

Aviation enthusiast and vicepresident Dennis Swaney said it was a unique museum in that there were no roped-off sections or displays.

‘‘You can get under or next to the vast array of aircraft on display. As a museum we wanted to create this opportunity for people to be able to get really near the planes,’’ Swaney said.

Thousands voted for their favourite aircraft from among the Air Force Museum’s collection of 33 historic aircraft in the poll. Attracting less controversy than the Bird of the Century, public voting for the Air Force Museum of New Zealand’s inaugural Aircraft of the Year competition resulted in a win for the NZ4203 Lockheed P-3K2 Orion.

But the Skyhawk was hot on its tail. In fact there was only 4 per cent difference between the top three – the two aircraft and a helicopter. The Orion finished with 19 per cent of the votes, the Skyhawk was close behind with 17 per cent, while it was the Bell UH-1H Iroquois coming in third with 15 per cent.

VAST COLLECTION: The Skyhawk among other former Royal New Zealand Air Force planes at Ashburton Aviation Museum.

The Skyhawk at the Ashburton Aviation Museum means the museum has a complete set of planes flown previously by the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

‘‘It is owned by the American Air Force and loaned to us by the Air Force Museum of New Zealand . It’s the only plane in our collection we don’t own.

‘‘The US Air Force fly in every couple of years to look at it. We don’t touch or move it,’’ Swaney said.

The museum’s’s Skyhawk is one of 14 that came to New Zealand in 1970 at a cost of $24.65 million, as replacements for Canberra bombers.

As a ship board-fighter, it has an arrestor hook, this having been used by the RNZAF for landings on the secondary runway at Ohakea, saving wear on tyres and brakes and the parachute which was deployed on ordinary runways.

The Skyhawks only once fired a shot in anger. On March 30, 1975, two aircraft were sent to intercept a Taiwanese squid boat fishing inside New Zealand’s 12-mile limit, which would not stop for the navy. Shots fired across the bow and the boat stopped.

The museum has enjoyed a high number of visitors over the holidays, with the Skyhawk being a popular exhibit.

  • – Ashburton Aviation Museum at the Ashburton Airport is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from 1 to 3pm and Wednesday and Saturday from 9am to 3pm. The museum is available for hire for weddings, conferences, funerals and other events.